Jill Greenberg's Lighting Setups Laid Bear

Reverse-engineering Jill Greenberg's light is always a fun way to spend a few minutes. But we are gonna make it easy on you today, as this vid shows her shooting a bear with that trademark lighting setup included for your viewing pleasure.

Her Jillness also talks about the time-honored publicity magnet of making toddlers cry, and even shows you a little workflow in the process. (Panther eyes, anyone?)

But that's not all, kids. Today we have a Jill Greenberg double-feature, with the back half coming after the jump.


Reading the cool photo editor blog featured in Saturday's speedlinks, commenter RuthDeb found another YouTube video of Greenberg photographing pop diva Gwen Stefani.

In the first few seconds of the video, you get a bird's eye view that shows the whole lighting scheme, naked to the world. If you do not have twelve seconds to wait, I'll spoil it: Two big brollies, ringlight, twin back/rimlights, an overhead beauty dish and a background light. You know, the same way you light shots of your own baby.

(After that it is all about Gwen, who apparently likes to play photo editor.)


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Anonymous aigi is a cowboy today said...

I found this video a couple of weeks ago in my podcast subscription. The Cool Hunting Videos are always worth watching. They deal a lot with design, clothing and music, but every once in a while they cover photography. So no harm to add it to your podcast subscription list. Check coolhunting.com for the feed.

Although it might be a controversial at times, I still find Jill Greenberg's work very inspiring. The images of the bears just blew me away.

October 09, 2007 3:17 AM  
Anonymous mapletune said...

i wonder whats up with the flash sound effects... anyone?

October 09, 2007 3:38 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Cool videos and information as always.

Now I just need a super hot model, makeup artist, hair dresser, couple managers....

October 09, 2007 7:15 AM  
Blogger Casey Jay Benson said...

I would like to get people opinions about how the lighting is set up. I really like the effect that she is getting.

October 09, 2007 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Daron said...

The world could use less people like her -- what a sociopath! Tormenting children and calling it art?!??! This does not deserve a Strobist mention -- come on David, you are better than this.

October 09, 2007 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I'm off to buy a couple more flashes.

I wonder how long is takes her to balance all that light properly *lol*

October 09, 2007 10:25 AM  
Blogger Mike S. said...

I love the lighting--really I do. I just wonder if it will wear as well, when revisited in five years, as might a more classical approach to portraiture and portrait lighting. I'm thinking specifically of Greg Gorman, and even Michael Grecco (who I think blends the contemporary and the classical well) and others. Not knocking Jill's style, or the lighting principles it embodies, since we can all learn smething from them....

Ah, Gwen Stefani--AKA "Quince Defani" in the malapropic parlance of my kids, American Idol junkies that they are (no, it's not all Masterpiece Theatre around here.) I wonder if, paid what Jill is no doubt getting--if she's half the businessperson she is photographer--I could be ho' enough to endure hours of vacuous, soul-sucking celebrity vapid nothingness. Not too sure I want to know the answer--especially if as enticement I got to play with all those cool lighting toys while regarding Quince's well-displayed "appurtenances".

I hate myself.

October 09, 2007 10:41 AM  
Anonymous James K said...

Daron: Anyone that has kids knows they'll cry and wail at the smallest of things. And in a matter of seconds, they'll be right with the world with barely a memory of the "trauma". We don't learn to carry baggage until we're older. I seriously doubt any damage was done.

Mike S.: It may take hours or even days to prepare an exqusite meal that'll be gone in less than an hour. Does that make it any less fulfilling? What I mean is, should weighing a piece of work's future relevancy affect your appreciation of it right now? Just enjoy it for what it is. Beautiful.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to pinch my kids.

October 09, 2007 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with daron.

And Gwen was so pathetic with her "crying" photo...

October 09, 2007 2:05 PM  
Blogger Michael Shattuck said...

Those few seconds with the lighting gear in the video were great...of course thanks David for explaining what we were really seeing. 7 lights! Wow!

Now I just need to figure out a DIY way to emulate just 2 speedlights! Now there's a challenge!

October 09, 2007 2:36 PM  
Blogger Mrs. L. Jenkins. said...

I am a big fan of Jill Greenberg's work. After stumbling upon some rants against her I started looking up more information on how she gets the kids to cry.

James K is right... kids will cry at ANYTHING. Jill just took advantage of that.

She would do things as simple as having their mom walk out of sight, or giving them a piece of candy and taking it back.

Creative? Definitely
Sociopath? Absolutely not.


October 09, 2007 4:03 PM  
Blogger chadw said...

I like your statement about how reverse engineering her lighting is a fun way to spend a few minutes.

I don't get why someone with her resources and access to subjects would stick with a, dare I say it, gimicky lighting scheme.

I know there's such a thing as "having a personal style", but there's also doing the same thing over and over again.

October 09, 2007 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Wade Gardner said...

Chad -

What isn't gimmicky about life today, especially as it pertains to anything in the "art" world or the photography world or the sports world or the political world or the…

Life is a big fat chubby ol gimmick. start breathin'.

October 10, 2007 12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Andy Warhol made a profession of being gimmicky and laughed all the way to the bank. If you're having fun and making money without hurting anyone...why not?

October 10, 2007 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why do you think the brollies are so big and what part do they play in the exposure?...fill - seems mainly rim and ring lit? with the beauty dish on top?

any guesses?

October 10, 2007 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about that she obviously gets a lot of her "look" with some Photoshop actions.

October 10, 2007 5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While kids will indeed cry with little provocation (I have two), purposely causing misery for the sake of this chick's career ambitions requires a certain soulless disregard for others. The suffering, however brief or quickly forgotten, is no less real. And when inflicting it serves no purpose for the child (e.g., discipline, medical care, etc.), it's sociopathic.

(Art? C'mon. It's about the money and the publicity (which is a subset of money). Let's be real.)

October 10, 2007 9:24 PM  
Blogger Stan said...

I bought her "Monkey Portraits" and was quite surprised to see how poorly she controlled the specular highlights in the eyes of many of the subjects. Very distracting -- you can often see her entire lighting setup reflected in the eyes. Apparently she doesn't know how to hide the lighting, or to how to confine the highlights to a single "eye light."

This is a terrific site. Many good ideas and tutorials.

October 11, 2007 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quite like the look but her work isnt vary varied from a lighting perspective - 2 rimlights - 2 brollies, one top light and a ring flash whether its a monkey or ms stefani....

I wonder too why such large brollies - seems mainly lit by the ringflash and rim lighting?

October 11, 2007 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Daron, there isn't any excuse in the world to make a children cry and get profit of it ... those "artistic visions" are in reality morbid reasons to make stupid things like making a little kid cry and call it "art"...

I bet she wouldn't like that someones makes her cry and take an entire photoshoot of that...

October 12, 2007 5:46 PM  
Blogger be said...

I have all these lighting including the ring light to try her set up. It's harder that you'd think. As well she does a fair bit of work on the images in post.

I can make my own child cry by telling him to eat his supper. It's easy. Those images certainly push some buttons.

October 16, 2007 8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She mention a long 'macro' lens on the monkeys...anyone guess which lens she used? 180mm??

November 12, 2007 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally don’t think it’s crying children that’s bothering people so much. I am a father of two girls and have photographed them crying many times and ended up with run of the mill crying photos. This lady has a unique ability to take a photo and manipulate it to such an extent it reaches into the heart of your emotions. IMHO that is where all the controversy is coming from. My primary complaint about her work is that it’s not mine.
She is more than a photographer. She’s an artist.

Just a thought

November 12, 2007 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the last comment... her photos are beautiful. Babies cry, it's a large part of what babies do... I find the honesty and reality of the situation, portrayed in such a surrealistic way, very beautiful. Those kids will be psyched to have those photos in 30 years.

November 12, 2007 3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eye Candy... says it all ... in Ya Face Nothing new about her style, Jean Baptiste Mondino, & David Lachapell Pioneered this in the eighties early Nineties, it became very common. Just the subject matter has changed, even the kids crying is a variation on Rankins crying adults story he did in Dazed & Confused in the 90's
Add to the Lighting (a lot of Fill light, produced by the umbrellas octabanks, the defintion and shaping is created by the backlight rim light.. A lot is achieved by over exposing her neg film, i doubt she has to do much in P.S. the creamy look she gets is a direct pay off from over exposing film... The only thing PS would be used for is compositing and manipulating the image structure.. Its photo illustration.. before all them there was Jean Paul Goude..
What Jill is good at is Marketing, the ideas she referenced.

November 13, 2007 4:53 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Jill Greenberg emulated with 2 speedlights and a piece of foam board.


November 13, 2007 9:40 PM  
Blogger Ryan R. Dlugosz said...

Stan -

I would suggest that Jill is probably aware that she has multiple catch lights in the eyes and it perfectly OK with it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's a key part of her style.

Weren't rules meant to be broken?

January 03, 2008 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Pamela Vasquez said...

It detect envy in much of the above comments. She needs to be complimented on her work. It may be rather consistent, but it is still great.

January 27, 2008 6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

although art may often convey or even celebrate harm,,,it should never be the cause of harm. Lighting is awesome...causing toddlers to cry is simply wrong.

April 02, 2008 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


she does all of the PS retouching.

August 10, 2008 2:00 AM  
Blogger Chus said...

This is what I think: Jill Greenberg

September 15, 2008 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Randy Tay said...


Those pictures of children, aren't they in some degrees of undress? How come she doesn't get into trouble with the law or being accused as a sexual predator???? Just because she is Jill Greenberg?

September 18, 2008 9:18 AM  
Blogger J. said...

Over and above the revoltingly bizarre and demeaning artifice of making children cry (point?).

Next time, I'd actually rather hear about her unnatural lighting from her assistants as, I'm sure many who've worked with photogs at her level may know, it's the assistants who do not only all the work schlepping-wise, but are also the ones who know most about lighting gear, ratios etc. Annie L and her ilk are, basically personalities who push buttons and are great at schmoozing.

October 26, 2009 1:09 PM  
Blogger captaindash said...

Wow, this is the most bitter comment section I've ever read. From saying Annie L etc know less about lighting ratios etc than their assistants, to getting mad that Jill has made herself famous with her "one look". Jill has the knowledge to do all sorts of things, but this one look lands her the big bucks so she runs with it. You would too.

Ever teased, or perhaps been a bit too cross with a child and they cried and you felt bad? Of course you have. So the difference between you and a sociopath isn't your actions, but the guilt afterwards? That's a very self centered way to look at it. You probably don't want to keep score in sports because the losing team might develop low self esteem.
These kids are going to feel absolutely privileged to have these photos when they grow up.

January 10, 2010 6:57 PM  
Blogger ldw406 said...

I wish I had such a photo when I was a child.

February 05, 2010 6:11 AM  
Blogger Arturo said...

Well, I think that the people are missing so many things about using child for photos and films.
Are so of you profesionals, and had work with child?
I have work in movies and comerciasl, specially comercials, and when tehy use child all the crew are trying to keep them happy, there is not restrictions on the shooting of a comercial for them, if they want food they have, if they want play the play, any fucking console in the market. So you get monster that they want everything and NOW, and the production team, agencya and producer acept only for money question, so maybe this is even worst for the "fragile" psique of a child, let them believe they are "UNIQUE" and when they grow and get ugly trow them the cruelty of this world.

October 13, 2010 2:46 AM  
Blogger Albert Phan said...

1. You will never get the light effects in her final images through only using her light set up. Expert, labor-intensive retouching plays a HEAVY part in getting that pristine and shiny look. Look up Amy Dresser, Greenberg's main retoucher nowadays.

2. To that guy who said she uses "Photoshop actions," look at point 1. It's more like 2-4 hours of manual retouching than any sort of plug in or action.

Word has it that she used to retouch herself, but finally gave that job to Amy Dresser. Before you criticize her for it, realize that it's no different than hiring a make-up artist or a stylist.

March 10, 2011 5:55 PM  

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