On Assignment: Samantha McEwen

Spring for me usually means two things: allergies and photographing HCAC Rising Stars. The allergies suck, but the HCAC shoots pretty much equalize things.

I sneeze and sniffle (actually not so much this year since I ditched antihistamines for lots of antioxidant-ladened fruit.) But I also get to work with a bunch of creative people. As with the allergies, I experiment and try new things.

This shot of Samantha is done with just one, huge on-axis light. That giant specular is playing all over her skin and the background wall.

Which, believe it or not, is actually flat black.

I know, right? Surprised me, too.

I expected the huge specular to add a nice lustre to her skin. That's why I lit her that way. But bringing the wall up from black to—oddly—a wispy blue was a nice surprise.

This was the first time I had ever shot a portrait with just one huge source on axis, but it won't be the last. Definitely want to experiment more with that.

Coming in very close (as in 100%) on Sam's eye, you can see exactly what her skin is also seeing: a wall of light. Bear in mind, her eye is spherical, so the reflection is like a fisheye lens. The light is an umbrella, being fired through a queen-sized sheet, just a few feet from her skin.

So, let's think about specularity for just a minute. The total energy of light is netted out by the exposure. (If you add more light, close the aperture. Volume reaching the chip remains the same.)

But what is different is the size of the light source and thus the amount of light per square inch of the light source. This is why big light sources give completely different speculars than small sources. The reflection (AKA the specular) is bigger and less intense per square inch.

So let's back off of the on-axis light by a little more than two stops and use it as fill to a top-center key. This will change the character of her skin and, even more, the tone of the wall. (Because the wall tone, which is truly very near black, is in each of these cases being recorded as a specular highlight.)

Same environment. I just added an 60" Softlighter on a C-stand arm over the top of the giant sheet-light. This top light now becomes the key and we drop the "bed sheet light" to be the fill.

So her skin, which still has a giant, creamy specular, looks completely different. In each picture there is a balance between specular and true tonality. The top image, built on the on-axis light, is more specular and the bottom image (exposed for the top-front umbrella) is balanced more toward the true tonality.

Here is the BTS for both photos, remembering only the light firing through the sheet was used for the top image:

Same setting, two very different images. And since our viewpoint has moved for this photo, the specular reflection is still visible to us but in a different location.

Why isn't it more blue? Because it is not a specular of a flash pop but rather the tungsten modeling light.

Next: Tenor Luke Grooms


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