Chris Knight Breaks Down His Cinema and Art-Inspired Lighting Scenes

August 16, 2017

By Chris Knight

All Photos © Chris Knight

Vintage Glamour

At a private workshop in New York with the model Ragnhild Jevne from Ford Models, we were going for a Vanity Fair-inspired, Old Hollywood-style fashion portrait, using an old ladder and a decorative lamp to fill out the scene.

The key light was a Profoto D1 with a 65-inch Extra Large Deep White Umbrella with diffusion, placed high and camera right. The fill was behind the camera, a second D1 with a 51-inch Large Deep White Umbrella with diffusion, which helped control the overall contrast in the image. A third D1 was placed high and behind the background with a 33-inch Small Deep White Umbrella to accentuate the haze from the haze machine I had going at the bottom of the set at camera left, which was mainly meant to lower the overall contrast in the image and give a little more physicality to the light, making the beams show up in the photo.

I love the idea of giving the light in an image more weight beyond just lighting the subject or scene, but the machine itself was tricky to work with; it was either too strong or too subtle. We ended up using a fan to blow it off the model while still keeping it pretty heavy in the room to create just the right amount of contrast.

Lastly, a small speed light was gelled and placed inside the lamp on set for creative effect. Everything worked together to create soft light and play up the cinematic atmosphere.

Camera: Pentax 645Z Medium Format
Lens: Pentax 90mm f/2.8 Macro
Exposure: f/13 at 1/80th of a second
ISO: 100

The Boxer

When I had the opportunity to work with model and actor Greg T Brown, I knew he would be perfect for a turn-of-the-century boxer character. The feel of the image was to be an homage to the early Pictorialist photographers of the 20th century, like Alfred Stieglitz and Eva Watson-Schütze.

The key light shaped by a snoot with a 10-degree grid was directed on the subject’s face, which created a focused stream of light that added just a touch more illumination to the face than the body. Behind the camera, a diffused 65-inch Extra Large Profoto Deep Umbrella controlled overall fill and made sure enough information was visible in the shadows. A ring flash was attached to the camera to accentuate the sweat, muscles and leathery textures in the image. The combination created a low-key image with lots of detail in the shadows and a spectacular accentuation on the shiny textures.

The fact that it was shot during a demo at a convention center, with about 15 people standing directly behind me, didn’t faze Greg. He absolutely nailed it and stayed in character the whole time.

Camera: Pentax 645
Lens: Pentax 55mm f/2.8
Exposure: f/8 at 1/125th of a second
ISO: 100

Slice of Light

This is a portrait of model Patrick Sullivan, taken during a test shoot with grooming by the makeup and hair stylist Katy Albright, and it’s my favorite shot of the day. It’s also one of the earliest examples of the dramatic portrait work I’m doing now.

The key light was a bare Profoto head, shot through a crack in a v-flat. The fill was a second light bounced off the inside of another v-flat to add a little brightness to the shadows.

The experimentation with the light and not quite knowing what I wanted was the challenge here. I was trying an entirely new idea and really had no certain way to get there. That’s still one of my favorite parts of photography—just experimenting and figuring out something new. You never know where it will take you.

Camera: Hasselblad H5D
Lens: Hasselblad Macro 120mm f/4 II
Exposure: f/6.3 at 1/640th of a second
ISO: 100

Chris Knight is a fashion and portrait photographer in New York City. His latest book, The Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Crafting Light and Shadow (Rocky Nook), is out July 13.

Related Articles:

How I Light: Nick Fancher on Creating Dramatically Illuminated Portraits with Plenty of Experimentation

How I Light: The Gradual Development of Felix Kunze’s Soft and Polished Portraiture

How I Light: Marko Marinkovic on Crafting Expressive and Textural Luminance in His Wedding Photography

CreativeLive Video Tutorial: Exploring Low-Key Light with Chris Knight