The Simple Light: Platon Videos

UPDATE: Apparently, Platon's site is not equipped to handle the inbound traffic level you guys are generating. Long story short, we sorta crashed it. That was certainly not our intention, and they are working on it as we speak.

UPDATE #2: He's back up!


If you aren't familiar with the work of British photographer Platon (pronounced "plah-TOHN") you should check his stuff out. The A-List editorial and commercial photog shoots almost all of his photos with one soft frontal light source (sometimes adding a background light) and a wide-angle lens.

You'll see lots of stuff that you'll recognize on his site - he did that controversial shot of Bill Clinton, spread-eagle in chair for Esquire for example. (He coaxed the expression by asking the President to "show me the love.")

His site has an "interviews" page, containing three videos, all of which I all found very interesting. This guy is working with a simple (albeit not cheap) setup and continues to explore a very well-defined lighting style through his body of work. Nothing particularly complex about it, either.

This is the kind of stuff you can do at home with your dSLR and an umbrella'd speedlight. But the devil, er, the quality, is in the details. And Platon's example is an excellent lead to follow if you are looking to expand your thinking without expanding your gear bag.

One thing to pay close attention to while watching these videos is the way he interacts with his subjects. Once the light is set up, that's really what makes the photos.

:: Platon's Website ::
:: Platon Videos ::



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Blogger The Nothing said...

Great photographer with a look of his own, but when will get get tired of shooting the same portrait over and over?

February 20, 2008 12:49 AM  
Blogger Ivan Makarov said...

David -

I'm glad you are pointing readers to his work. I discovered him a few months back when he was used as a photographer for TIME's Man of the Year to photograph Putin. Anyone doing that job would have caught my attention, and if you read the story, Putin is not the one who liked to pose for anybody, yet he spent couple of hours with Platon and he forced Putin to pose in a way he never posed before.

I couldn't help but spent a couple of hours reading up and looking up his work. His images are simple and light is not very impressive when compared to what's out there, but the expressions that he captures are essays about these people's personalities, character and history. I'm surprised we are not discussing his work more extensively.

February 20, 2008 1:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DH, I think you just kill his bandwidth... streaming is as slow as snail...


February 20, 2008 1:15 AM  
Blogger patricia.d.ryan said...

Very nice. I enjoy the simplistic complexity, and getting the back-story of pictures, that really, can speak on their own. Thanks for the link!

February 20, 2008 2:09 AM  
Blogger doernerc said...

cool stuff. did he do the cover photo for TIME's person of the year last year (Putin)? That photo on his site look familiar.

Also thanks for coming to speak at UF today. The lecture was very interesting and quite helpful, even with the time constraints.

February 20, 2008 3:17 AM  
Anonymous ShaolinTiger said...

I can't view the vids on Firefox or IE, any chance someone can put them on Youtube or a more friendly platform..

February 20, 2008 4:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Hail singulus radix of lux lucis! he reminds me of William Coupon, who by the way is still cranking along, check out his site too. Great single light portraits and some beautiful tasteful nudes. Thanks for sharing.

February 20, 2008 7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting videos. Very Small, but interesting. I find he violates his own "code". I have no love for the New York minister, but the way he treats this person visually is abominable. So rather than putting his subject at ease to get the best of them, if he doesn't like their politics, or in this case, their religion, he uses his newly gained trust to obtain an image that the subject would never want made. The same holds true for the session with GW the father. He inserts his own interpretation of the Presidents personality into the images when I believe he's missed the mark. And badly. And while I'm sure Bill Clinton is his personal hero, would the first Bubba really want a wide angle shot between his legs, a terrifying reminder of the controversy of his last few months in office? In this case I bet Bill has a life-size copy in his Harlem flat. While Platon wisely indicates there is room in the portrait room for only one ego, his is obviously not quite tamed. There is no better way to illustrate this concept. Thanks for the lesson David.

February 20, 2008 8:20 AM  
Blogger christopherbautista said...

The motorola shots are amazing.

February 20, 2008 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Hobby,

Not sure if you know about this or if this is the appropriate place to post this (we need a general comments board!) but a former featured photographer here, Rebekka, recently discovered that her pictures are being sold on iStockphoto by someone else!


February 20, 2008 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Don't forget about your post last year to a WSJ ad campaign he shot -- it's very insightful as well.

February 20, 2008 8:54 AM  
Blogger lilcrazyfuzzy said...

Excellent, really enjoyed these, thanks for sharing

February 20, 2008 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

all three vids are the same for me-a CNN clip and i didn't see the image David has in the blog.

February 20, 2008 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, in case you haven't seen it yet, George Jardine's latest Lightroom PodCast is with Gregory Heisler:


February 20, 2008 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ShaolinTiger said...

I can't view the vids on Firefox or IE, any chance someone can put them on Youtube or a more friendly platform...

have you got quicktime installed? that could be your problem

February 20, 2008 10:06 AM  
Blogger Sean "Madman" Sullivan said...

Seems all 3 vids are the same. :/

February 20, 2008 10:34 AM  
Blogger Christian said...

I was trying to analyze the lighting for the "floating head" pics and wondering if someone could help. (For instance the Mac Brown pic) There's tons of falloff so I'm thinking either something snooted or gridded or a very close light source and a small aperture. I was thinking snoot or grid, but then I noticed the shadow under the nose was quite soft and I associate snoots and grids with hard light. Can someone enlighten me? I've not yet played with them myself. (still on the safe, soft light)


February 20, 2008 11:31 AM  
Blogger Christopher T. Assaf said...

Platon is one of my favorite photographers, and I really love his book. Canbnot recommend it enough.

Photo Edge

February 20, 2008 12:30 PM  
Anonymous vance said...

Any thoughts on how he achieves the conical shaped light on his typically grey/blue seamless he seems to use often? Is he using a grid up high,letting it spread out as it reaches the floor and then manipulating/shaping it in Photoshop?

It doesn't seem as though he has enough room between the seamless and his subject to get the control of background lighting that is present in the final image. Without it contaminating his subject that is.

February 20, 2008 1:33 PM  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Anybody who can hang out with Marilyn Manson, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and make Ozzy cry tears of love is a hero in my book! His style seems simplistic at a glance, but his photos aren't to show off his lighting skills. They're to bring out the personality of his subject in a powerful image.
Cycle61 Photography

February 20, 2008 1:58 PM  
Blogger Alfred said...

Great and painless way of lighting. I had to try it as soon as I read this blog

February 20, 2008 4:36 PM  
Anonymous luke Larsson said...

A weird thing happened to me today after reading about this guy and watching his videos. I decided to picked up my new rolling stone with Britney Spears on the cover and give it a read. I've been putting it off for a few days now (not a big fan of Britney). I was flipping through the pages until I found an article about Clive Davis and J records. I had flipped to the middle of the story and had to go back a few pages to the beginning. When I did, there was a close up head shot of Clive Davis staring me down. I thought to myself, "This looks familiar, This looks like that Platon guy I just read about on strobist. So I moved my eyes down the page to see who the photographer was and it was Platon. It was way to weird. Before today I had never heard of this guy or seen any of his work and I could already point his stuff out.

February 20, 2008 5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in case you can't view the video, here is the direct link

February 21, 2008 2:07 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

I seem to be suffering from the "same three vid" senario :(

February 21, 2008 2:35 AM  
Blogger Chuck said...

You know, I'm reminded of the post of Jill Greenberg. She does alot of portraiture just like Platon. Although the style/technique is quite different, Platon seems to be stuck in the same one light rut, just like Greenberg is stuck in her familiar style. I'm not trying to take anything away from either photographer, but if you think Greenberg needs variety, this guy does too.

Again, I dont want to bash either photographer here. It takes someone special to brand a style like Greenberg has and to gain pull the type of clients she gets. What makes Platon special to me is the expressions, emotions and access to his celebrity subjects.

February 21, 2008 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only see the cnn video too and I have quicktime installed? Anyway to solve this problem?

February 21, 2008 10:20 AM  
Blogger onitsuaf said...

I would pretty much appreciate if someone could shed some light (pun intended) on how does Platon get that "negative separation light" in most of his studio stuff. is that simply one front soft light and a couple of black screens at either side of the model? is that all it takes to get that look? it looks great over the white background!

February 21, 2008 12:04 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

This site has exceeded the allotted bandwidth.

Oops, I think you sent a little too much traffic his way :o Hopefully it gets sorted, I'm looking forward to seeing more!

February 21, 2008 12:05 PM  
Blogger Photoplasia said...

Looks like we killed his site - 'exceeded bandwidth'...

The pains of popularity.

February 21, 2008 12:24 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

His bandwidth limit got hit today!
No Platon for us today!

February 21, 2008 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's a shame. I'm glad I caught it this morning. Amazing work. The setup shot is still linked to his site though.

February 21, 2008 12:59 PM  
Blogger THE FARTIST said...



February 21, 2008 1:33 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

The site may be back up? The link took me to his site to a CNN interview clip, which was quite interesting.

I was caught by him saying "There is no room for two egos in the studio, I go in humble....". Not to dis Annie, but in her video of her shoot with QE2, I was stuck by the two enormous egos in the room....

Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Either way, I can't come close to shooting the quality of either of them!!


February 21, 2008 3:11 PM  
Anonymous August Kryger said...

FYI, he won the second place POYI award for best portrait for his shot of Putin, just yesterday.

Here's the link:

and, if you're in Columbia, MO, the judging is still going on ... open to the public ... and something to behold.

Feel free to drop by my flickr page at

February 21, 2008 7:59 PM  
Blogger MASilva said...

Really great to be turned onto these artists!

I'm also very interested in the "floating head" effect and the unusual halo that appears around the subjects with the blue background. For the floating head I would assume a soft light with some kind of gobo work. The halo's are a bit more of a mystery. In some instances it would appear that the high (high up that is) light allows the subject and the background to be lit at once without the subject casing a shadow. In other pics the background seems to be lit separately as was suggested in the post. The odd thing for me is the wonderful way the halo seems to change shape, and conform to the subject's outline - I can't imagine the way he works, he's constructing a gobo for this. I would assume some kind of Photoshop manipulation, or maybe its a clever trick of the curvature of the backdrop. Any thoughts?

February 28, 2008 2:55 PM  
Blogger AlexJB said...

the shaping of light around the subject totally looks like photoshop tomfoolery to me, which is fine. you couldn't get folks faces so clean so close without doing things in PS.

IMHO, platon's genius is not about lighting, it's about connecting with the subject and getting their personality exposed for long enough to capture on film. which is something that you can't bottle, but which is an essential quality for a rockstar portrait photographer.

May 23, 2008 1:10 PM  
Blogger syd said...

Which video is the still at the top of this blog post taken from? I can't seem to find it in any of the 3 vids on his site.

May 25, 2008 6:47 PM  

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