Monthly Archives: June 2018

Hollywood lighting for photographers

Hollywood lighting for drama and a cinematic look

What is Hollywood Lighting?

“Hollywood lighting” is an expression photographers use to describe the cinematic style of lighting that was used in the “good old days” of classic black and white films, and “film noir”.

I think it comes down to controlling light and shadow – both being equally important. The lighting is very stylish, and tends towards a steep tonal curve (ie deep blacks and bright whites).

I like watching films like “Casablanca” and “The Third Man” for see inspirational Hollywood lighting.

It is my personal view that any photographer who cares about the quality of his or her work should constantly be on the lookout for inspiration. It is not a question of “copying”, but trying to emulate a style that you have seen. There is a lot to be learnt by looking at the work of others.

Lighting for film versus lighting for still photography

Film (and video) requires continuous lighting – obviously!

But because still photographers capture still images, so we have a luxury of choice. We can opt for continuous lighting or flash. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and there is a large choice of technologies available.

Some photographers who want to specialise in “Hollywood lighting” invest heavily in specialist lighting. But most phtoographers who wants to emulate this style will probably want to use equipment they already own.

I am going to describe a method whereby a photographer who uses studio flash can emulate Hollywood lighting very simply. The trick is to use reflective dishes fitted with grids. Incidentally, this is one of the very first things I learned from Damian McGillicuddy, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I have learnt a great deal over the years from this thoroughly decent chap.

Using grids to emulate fresnel lighting

In the classic days of black and white Hollywood films, fresnel lenses (pronounced fray-nel) were often used to control the spread of light. Fresnel lenses act by collimating light produced by a bulb. Let me explain that; light spreads out in all directions from a bulb, but if the emitted light goes through a lens that makes the light rays travel parallel to each other, that is collimated light.

A grid performs a very similar effect. It doesn’t achieve it by changing the direction of the light, but by restricting the amount it can spread out. It does this by forcing the light through small tubes – the grid. Grids vary – some restrict the spread of light much more than others.

The models in these photos were lit using a 21cm Elinchrom refector dish fitted with a grid. If you aren’t a professional photographer and you follow that link, you will probably be surprised by how much these things cost; “that much for just that?” But grids are not that easy to manufacture. Still, the cost is a small fraction of what you have to pay for proper fresnel ligthing systems.

“Classic” black and white photography

It wasn’t just film studios that used “Hollywood lighting”. Many portrait photographers have used, and even specialised, in this style of lighting. A quick Google search will pull out many examples.

That is so cool! I just did a Google search to verify my last sentence, and was delighted to see six of my own images appear in the search results. Result!

Hollywood lighting, Yulia Volosnikova, Luke Clampitt, location photo shoot

Luke Clampitt and Yulia Volosnikova as Hollywood stars

Hollywood lighting, Yulia Volosnikova, beauty photography

Yulia Volosnikova transformed into Hollywood star by Hollywood lighting

Hollywood lighting, Yulia Volosnikova, beauty photography

“Hollywood star” Yulia Volosnikova

Using Hollywood Lighting to sculpt faces

Because Hollywood lighting is collimated – at least to a degree – it is very “hard”. That means it creates relatively hard edges to shadows. This lighting flatter thin faces, but can be very unflattering to people who have round faces.

Furthermore, because Hollywood lighting is conducive to area of strong shadow, it can help an experienced photographer flatter certain types of subjects.

Consider the image of Yulia Volosnikova (above). I have deliberately shot her as a “Hollywood star”. Let us briefly look at the important points;

1. I have used a main key light on her face to flatter. The position of the light source relative to the model is critical. Notice the strong catch lights in Yulia’s eyes, and consider how they contribute to the image. The main key light was an Ilux Summit 600 fitted with an Elinchrom 21cm dish plus grid.

2. There is a rim light coming from behind Yulia, to the right as we look at her. This defines her left should, and also her right cheek, neck and throat. The position of this light also is critical. (By “critical” I do not mean there is only one exactly correct position, but rather that small changes in position cause major changes in the effect the light has on the model). this light was provided by a speedlight.

3. While I was shooting this series of images, in this location, I also had a fill light pointing at the model, behind the photographer’s right shoulder. This light was turned off for this particular image. The intensity of the fill light can be adjusted to change the darkness of the shadows.

4. One of the nice things about modern digital cameras is you can inspect the photographs you have just taken on the back of your camera. Looking at Yulia’s images, I decided I need to shine more light on her hair, from both sides. I acheived this using two more speedlights, one on each side of Yulia’s head. It was important that the light from these did not spread out and ruin the shadows elsewhere on Yulia. I found I could achieve this simply by using the speedlights withour any lighting modifiers.

In summary; the above photo of Yulia was captured using FOUR lights;
(a) main key light
(b) rim light
(c and d) two speedlights on either side of her head.

Sultry “Hollywood starlet” Serena

PortraitX, Hollywood lighting, Samantha Akasha Beck, film noir

PortraitX organiser and guru Samantha Akasha Beck, photographed in “film noir” style

Hollywood lighting, film noir, Yulia Volosnikova

“Hollywood star” Yulia Volosnikova with “Magician and Illusionist” Marcus Phoenix Godfrey

Credits

Models:

Yulia Volosnikova, make up by Rhian Gillah
Serena Fox (black silky dress), make up by Jade Memphis Hunt
Samantha Akasha Beck (filing cabinet), I think did her own make up
Luke Clampitt
Marcus Phoenix Godfrey (magician)

I am grateful to Empress Design and Print for the location, and PortraitX for organising the shoot.

One to one photo tutoring

Are you a budding photographer who would like to get some personal one to one tuition on a PortraitX photo shoot? If you are then contact me.

Behind the scenes (BTS) video

Video captured and edited by Matt Tress of Shinzou Media

Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park

Jackdaws and Red Deer in Richmond Park

What is the relationship between red deer and jackdaws?

I took these photos in Richmond Park, where red deer (Cervus elaphus) and jackdaws (Corvus monedula) are very common and easy to watch. Although it is very common to see jackdaws standing on the deer, I am not sure why they do this, although they certainly appear to be looking for something in the deers’ fur. A quick online search suggests the jackdaws are eating ticks and bugs, in which case they will be doing the deer a service. But do the deer know this? The deer certainly seem very tolerant of the birds, which clamber all over their heads and ears. No matter how often I see this behaviour it always amuses me, and it makes me feel good.

It has also been claimed that jackdaws pluck loose hair from the deer, and also loose velvet from growing antlers on the stags for nest material. Seems like a very reasonable suggestion, and it has probably been witnessed too.

Usually the deer hardly react to the jackdaws at all, but sometimes they do. The doe in these photographs only seemed to react when the jackdaw put all it’s weight on one ear. She didn’t shake her head to remove the bird, but moved her head just enough to make the jackdaw move.

If you do a quick google search you will find loads of other photos of jackdaws walking over red deer, and this is very common behaviour.

Soft spot for Jackdaws

I have always had a soft spot for jackdaws. Undoubtedly my personal fondness for these birds started as a boy, when for a few weeks a yound jackdaw became “tame”. It all started in a very hot dry summer, and my father investigated noises coming from our water tub. He discovered a young jackdaw, presumably drawn to the water, desperate for something to drink. The bird was not fully fledged, and was not yet a strong flyer – preferring to walk.

As an example, once one of our cats started heading for the bird, and rather than flying, it started walking towards me as fast as it could – looking a bit worried. Fortunately I reached the jackdaw before our cat did.

I loved animals and natural histroy when I was a boy, so it was bliss for me that the Jackdaw would sit on my shoulder for long periods of time. It was a strange sensation when the bird looked at me, because it stretched out it’s head, and looked “downwards” at me, perpendicular to the line of it’s beak. I realised that the angle of their eyes is perfectly adapted for looking below when they are flying, so when he (or she) wanted to give me a beady eye, he (or she) would turn his (or her) head so as to look at me with binocular vision, looking 90 degrees “downwards”.

Like many members of the crow family, Jackdaws are considered intelligent for beings with bird brains. They are also quite playful. I was also touched to read “males and females pair up in their first year of life, but they do not begin to breed for another year”.

Jacdaws “nibbling” eyelashes

The young jackdaw I befriended as a child like to “nibble” at my eyelashes. I don’t know how else to describe it, and it was quite unerving having that big hard beak immediately next to my eyes. But s/he did it with great care. This behaviour is reminiscent of the way they poke around on the faces of the deer, where they often seem to be looking for something near the deers’ eyes. I don’t think “my” jackdaw found any ticks or bugs around my eyes. What I am saying is that this kind of behaviour seems to be instinctive to jackdaws.

Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park Jackdaw perching on the head of a Red Deer doe in Richmond Park

 

 

Technical photo info

I am not a professional wild life photographer, and I only take wild life photographs as a hobby.

Camera: Olympus OM-D EM-1 mark 2
Lens: Olympus M-Zuiko ED 300mm 1:4 IS PRO
F4, 1/125s, iso 400
Tripod mounted
Although in many respects this camera is a technical marvel, I am reluctant to use it at a higher iso than 800 because of the noise that starts creeping in.

 

Ring collared parakeet

Is this ring necked parakeet drunk?

Photographing parakeets

Have you ever watched someone who is very drunk walk? They tend to wobble and hold on to objects for support. I was out walking with my camera and saw something that reminded me of that. It was a ring necked parakeet walking along a branch.

So I took a few snaps. It seemed a good opportunity to test my 300mm Olympus lens.

I have always thought there is something “comical” about the faces (expressions?) of parrots. The ring necked parakeet is a beautiful bird. Even if it does make a lot of noise and is a pest to fruit gardeners.

By association… one of the sounds they make closely resembles the beep made by studio flash heads after recharging. I was walking through Richmond Park once, and wondered why there were so many flash units going off in the woods all round me.

Slideshow

But I digress.. I took a few photos of the parakeet and made a slideshow. I hope you enjoy it (1minute 47 seconds). (I have a license for the music). NB Once the video has started, you can right click and view the video at it’s proper size.

You may be wondering why I didn’t capture the bird’s behaviour with video?  I am a stills photographer, and haven’t gotten around to fiddling with video yet. On the good side of course, because these are a series of still images, one can tell that the parakeet really does walk with his beak. To be honest I am not certain if the parakeet actually grips something the first time. What do you think?

Am I following in the footsteps of the photographer Eadward Muybridge? It was he who famously used photography to investigate whether all four feet of a galloping horse are ever all  off the ground at the same time. (I thank fellow photographer Chris for reminding me about Eadward Muybridge at a recent “PortraitX” photo shoot. He also told me that Eadward Muybridge came from my home town, which is Kingston upon Thames). But I am just fooling – what I am doing is not really comparable to that.ring collared parakeet ring collared parakeet ring collared parakeet

 

 

 

Technical

The photos were taken using the Olympus OMD EM-1 mark 2 fitted with the 300mm Zuiko lens. This camera is a “micro four thirds” camera, so the magnification of the 300mm lens (at the focus distance) is the same as a 600mm lens on a full frame camera. This means wobble is an issue. These photos were taken using a tripod. Settings were F5.6, 1/160s, iso 400. I have found that noise starts to become a problem even at an iso of 800 using this camera. This means that if you want to keep the iso below 800, one does not have a lot of leeway when it comes to deciding what shutter speed and aperture to use. I was surprised to see so much movement blur in the parakeets feet at a shutter speed of 1/160s! I guess although the body moves slowly along the branch, at moments his wee feet move with lightning speed.

Caveat

I am not a professional wildlife photographer, and I only take wildlife photos as a hobby. The main reason I invested in the Olympus camera system was to get hold of a professional quality long zoom without having to buy, or lug around, a huge zoom for a full frame camera.