Tips + Techniques

Three Up-Close Portrait Studies with Studio Lighting

November 20, 2017

By Angela Marklew

All Photos © Angela Marklew

Color Chrome Combo

I met Clifford on the set of a music video. He had a great face and I suggested we shoot together—thankfully he agreed. Clifford and I had no plan other than to (hopefully) create some compelling and dynamic portraits. I knew I wanted to try using gels, and this was my first attempt at creating an image with very saturated gelled lighting.

Based on color theory, I needed to have some kind of complementary color palette in order to get good separation with minimal bleed mixing. I pulled orange and teal gels first, then grabbed a purple as that color combo, when looking at the actual gels, was pleasing to my eye.

In order to have control over the intensity and direction of the light, I chose to use a grid at camera left with the teal gel because I didn’t want any spill from it onto the background. I used the orange gel with barn doors at camera right and opened them wide so the light was hitting the tan background while also wrapping around the subject’s face. The last light I set up was the front light, gelled purple. I wanted it to hit both the subject and the backdrop, so I used a 7-inch reflector positioned above the camera, pointed slightly down at the subject.

I originally had the purple and orange gels switched, but the orange was too bright and pushed too much light onto the background as the front light. The most challenging thing about working with gelled lighting in general is figuring out the right color combinations for the subject. Since this shoot, I’ve developed a handful of color combos that I know will work, but I’m always surprised by how the same color combo can look completely different based on the subject’s skin tone.

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: 100mm Macro Exposure: f/10 at 1/160th
ISO: 100
Lighting: Purple-gelled Dynalite head with 7-inch reflector, teal-gelled Dynalite head with 40-degree grid, orange-gelled Dynalite head with barn door

Palm Project

This was an outtake from a beauty editorial shot over the summer for The Art of Hairstyling, a blog that wanted to feature healthy, glowing skin and wet hair styling. The original plan was to shoot outdoors and use direct afternoon sun combined with some palm leaves to create contrast and interesting shadows, but on the day of the shoot the weather was overcast, so I had to come up with something on the fly.

While we needed to shoot in a studio, I wanted to keep the feel of sunlight, so I used a smaller, directional light source placed above the model, pointing down. I also tacked on a snoot that I had never used before and figured it would likely do the job—better than any of my other modifiers. To place a recognizable shadow across both the model and background, we placed the model about 3 feet from the seamless. I had someone hold a palm frond between the light and the model, constantly moving it until I saw the shadow I wanted.

Dealing with the model’s shadow on the backdrop was a challenge, too. I knew I couldn’t light the background, as that would kill the shadow effect, so instead I shot from slightly below and framed the shot to crop out as much of her shadow as possible.

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: 100mm Macro
Exposure: f/11 at 1/160th
ISO: 100
Lighting: Dynalite head with snoot

Curlicue Contrast

For another Art of Hairstyling shoot, I wanted to do a close beauty crop and I wanted the background to remain bright to contrast with the model’s hair. The beauty dish is my go-to for beauty shoots (as the name suggests). I originally set it up above camera, pointing slightly down at the model, and I placed a light bounced into an umbrella to rake across the backdrop, knock down any shadows and create a bright white.

My first test shot felt flat, so I moved the beauty dish slightly off to the side to create some shadowing on the face without really affecting the hair. I do most of my beauty and portrait work out of my “living room studio”—it’s a small space that doesn’t allow for much separation between the camera, lights, model and background. The main challenge here was lighting the backdrop without highlighting the side of the model’s face. In this scenario, mini stands are a lifesaver. They allow me to place a light below the level of the model’s head (even as she’s seated) while still pointing it at the right direction to rake light across the background.

We wound up deciding on black and white for the final image to eliminate the distracting color of the model’s sweater.

Angela Marklew is a beauty, fashion and portrait photographer based in Venice, California. Before she was a photographer, she worked as a chemist testing explosives for the Canadian government.