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Behind the Scenes with Martin Schoeller

Are you female?

Can you bench press a Cooper Mini?

Does the volume knob your tanning machine go to eleven?

Are you a lighting geek?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, this is your lucky day.

From a documentary on women bodybuilders, a YouTube video of a shoot of Vicki Nixon by Martin Schoeller. Annotated video, after the jump.

And, as with the Annie Shoots the Queen video, I had to pull out the red pencil on this one.

Follow the Bouncing Ball

0:03 - Tarrytown, NY, home of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".

0:04 - 0:11 - How many books have Bill Clinton and Marilyn Manson in them? Not many.

0:43 - Bodybuilder tanning machine now available with rotisserie attachment, sold separately.

1:00 -- Note the paper over the door. Schoeller is building bounce surfaces everywhere. He shoots lights into them for fill and specular highlights.

1:02 - How do I light thee? Let me count the ways... Number one: Overhead beauty dish.

1:03 - Eight-by-ten view camera. (Compared to Greenfield-Sanders, this is a "small-chip" camera.) Also at this mark, you can see the fill/specular heads aiming (well, the one on the left, anyway) which fire off of the paper dropped behind and around the camera.

1:05 - Here's the on-axis paper surfaces. This gets a huge light source from all around the lens axis, effectively making a large soft-box-ring-light sort of thing.

1:12 - There's the key light setup for the face: A strip light on each side and a largish reflector above the eyeline.

1:19 - Put aside the light for a moment and listen. He is helping her get past her pre-planned "smile-for-the-camera" face.

1:23 - 1:35 - Bring her to a neutral expression. Explain why that is better than the big-teeth smile. Then bring some measured warmth back in.

1:38 - "I call it a smirk." I love this. A smirk is happy, confident, revealing -- and everyone knows exactly what you mean when you direct them with that word. It's a partial, no-teeth smile. I am so gonna rip this idea off.

1:42 - Biggie: Schoeller is out of eye contact with the subject, but is still keeping the vibe going with a running, three-way conversation. Don't lose the subject while you are screwing around with your lights and camera.

1:43 - Seriously, look at that light reflecting environment he has created. Ever shoot a photo in a shower stall, or small, white bathroom? You can't go wrong. He just makes that environment out of paper.

1:55 - See that quick glance? He does not look comfy on the front side of the lens. He's got a lot running through his mind right now, yet still keeps the subject interaction going.

1:59 - And there's the other fill-off-the-paper light.

2:01 - On the left side of the vid frame: There is the bottom/fill light for her face. That's a lotta lighting for a torso shot, no?

2:22 - I have people in the audience that tell me when I "flatten out," too...

2:28 - There's the best view of the light wall in the back. He can leave the bottom of the doorway, because he is blocking the light that would have come from there with his body and the camera. No need for paper there. It's a lot of gear and setup, to be sure. But the principle works down at the speedlight end of the scale, too.

2:30 - And there's your background light, gelled.

2:33 - She's not just hot -- she's ready to pass out. The modeling lights on those strips look brutal. Are they quartz lights? I can't imagine he'd do that to her. Still, you have to think she appreciates the free tanning session...

2:42 - Best look yet at the overall frontal light. Can't tell if he is using it, but that head at back-upper-center-right would continue the wrap from the overhead beauty dish. Assuming another on the left, too, if it is being used.

2:44 - Bad: "Stop slouching." Good: "Make yourself really tall, with a long neck."

2:53 to End - Dude is a human motor drive. That's pretty coordinated: Ripping off 8x10 frames without an assistant and keeping a conversation going at the same time.


You can see the results of this series of photos (though not this particular subject) here. I have to say, I am not particularly into this lighting style for torso. Nor an I into the female bodybuilding thing, either.

But I love his close-up studies (hard to just call them "head shots") that follow if you keep clicking through the series. And this video gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the way Schoeller designs his light -- including at least half a dozen things I found very useful.

If you are into annotated lighting vids, the Annie/Queen one is here. And if you want the strip lights without laying out the cash, we have you covered there, too.

So, did you learn anything from this vid? Sound off in the comments.


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