Category Archives: Beauty of Lighting

themes on light and the beauty of lighting

Something Unexpected!

I had an unexpected surprise yesterday morning.  A kid stopped by that I was interviewing for a model.  He is from Montana but works in the oil fields down in Colorado and was taking off to head back there today for work.  We jumped right into shooting, or testing,  to see how he would photograph.  The natural winter light was beautiful in the studio so we continued to shoot for an hour or so.  Wow, he was just sensational to work with.  Totally a natural!  I am jacked to resume shooting on this project again.  Now I really need to get myself in gear and begin actively looking for some new subjects.  I spent the morning working through his images and began texting some of them to him as I worked.  They looked very good naturally without much adjusting.   He will be back to Montana in a couple of weeks so we can begin working again.  If there is anyone out there that would like to work with me or knows of someone that would become a good subject let me know.  It seems quite difficult to find people here in Missoula.

The Moment Of Vision

I often see a vision that becomes quite sensual to me, a beautiful man, standing naked, in the shadows of the room. I watch the light play on his skin in the darkness as only the shape of his figure is outlined by the highlights across his sensuous skin as he moves about in that darkness, lit only by a streetlight, faint, dim, dappled with emotion, spilling through the window. He subtly moves to expose the youthful shape of his abs, not well defined, but in the darkness I have felt their tightness, another shift and I recognize the powerful contour of his arms filled with tension. As he turns toward the window I recognize the flatness of his chest muscles as they ripple from the darkness yet the highlights expose a supple softness of his skin that I want to reach out, touch, caress. It transports me to a timeless place when I was young and suddenly the vitality of my own youth comes flooding back. He is unaware I am watching him so intently as I am inspired by this remarkable moment as if suspended in time. How do I bring this into the studio? How do I reveal my own thoughts, feelings and the emotions that overwhelm me? I am utterly entranced by the sensation of this remarkable beauty and merely desire to bask in it for an eternity, but know this moment is fleeting, and soon he will dress and go home. The essence of that moment lingers on however fleeting it may have been, savoring it, reliving it, playing it over in my head as it dances through my thoughts for days to come.

The Exhaustion of Joyous Occasions

As much as I tried yesterday I could not find a half hour of time to even get on my computer.  It was Montana State vs Montana Grizzlies, Brawl Of The Wild Game at Montana State in Bozeman.  The biggest game of the season, the Grizzles being the underdog ranked #7 in the nation against the #1 FCS team.  Needless to say it was an upset and the Griz beat the Bobcats 36-10.  Since the game was in Bozeman, Glenn planned a party in the studio to watch it on television.  So my day began with a breakdown of all my lighting equipment and hauling to the basement.

I also had a later afternoon wedding I was booked to shoot.  It was an all day process of prepping and shooting that from early afternoon through the reception late last night.  I love weddings, but they a tremendous amount of work for a photographer.  The process of preparations takes several days leading up to the wedding as well as becomes all-consuming on the day of the event.  My process and approach for weddings is much the same as my process for nudes.  I like to get to know the couple so we all become comfortable with each other and I just become a part of the wedding party.  I love candidly shooting all day as events unfold.  I approach it as an insider documentary style and get great results because most of it becomes very candid and allows everyone to just naturally become who they are as if I am not even present.  I completely engage and interact as a participant instead of as a casual observer hired in from the outside.  I then put the entire wedding together as a series of slideshows put to music that becomes the couple’s remembrance of the day.  Most often when they come back to the studio to see the final presentation both the bride and groom are so deeply moved by the presentation, they become weepy.  I have so intimately entered their world and captured the essence of who they actually are and often capture things they were completely unaware of happing around them.

My approach to the wedding as well as all photography is to first assess the natural light and merely enhance what it already there.  And yes this becomes quite a challenge with weddings because you are constantly bouncing around from space to space throughout the day.  The bride’s chamber, the groom’s chamber, hair salons, the church, the altar, and the reception hall.  I typically will go to all the locations days ahead and test shoot so I know specifically what I am dealing with.  This is one process that doesn’t get easier with each wedding because each one is in a different location or space and each wedding is uniquely its own.  There is absolutely no formula to follow.  Yes the sequence of events are the same, and I know better what to look for, but they are never consistent.  I love weddings for this reason.  It’s like highly emotional theatrical events that unfold before your eyes that you become caught up in.  Some one said to me last night, you have one of the best jobs in the world getting to shoot people at their greatest moments of joy.  I paused and thought about it for a moment and replied, absolutely it is one of the pleasures of my life.

But by the end of the day, I am utterly exhausted.  I feel like I have poured my entire soul into the day.  I often don’t realize the soreness until I collapse on the sofa at home, then it settles in and I can barely move.  They have always exhausted me, even when I was younger.  I realize I had been working for 8 hours solid with very little breaks, yet I feel elated because the images I saw though out the day were so beautiful.  This was my last big event I must shoot of the year and know I can now begin to focus on my naked men.  But today is a day of recovery, very little of anything else.  I am scheduling a massage for the afternoon and nothing else.  I will sit with the kitties in the widow and watch it snow outside.

Looking for the Catch Light in Their Eyes

Yesterday I began a discussion about analyzing light in a photograph to use it to your advantage.  The discussion began with my looking at a book of rare vintage nudes from the 60’s.  And there was a prime example of what I wanted to talk about in one of the images but I can find a decent enough image of it online to show my examples so I am going to take this image of Travis.  It’s harder to do on an image that I already know and have created.  To me my own lighting techniques are so simplistic that they are hard to describe but here goes.  My concept for the image was to show a gritty dirty mechanic sort of guy who had been working in a shop possibly most of his life.  Growing up in small towns in Montana there are guys I know well and in high school I was particularly drawn to one kid who really exited me.  He was a smart kid from a poorer family and work to help supplement and support his family.  I watched him struggle most of the time and often worked instead of having fun with some of the rest of us his own age.  He had an alliance to duty and I felt he often felt trapped in that world longing to be out from under its burden.  He always seemed to live in a very fractured world.  Yet there was something sexy and sensual in his honesty and how humble his work in the garage became.  Every time I would visit he would just dirty in his coveralls, grime smeared across his face.  The smell of the grease and mechanic dirt somehow become intoxicating to me and I found a strong desire to somehow be closer to him and somehow ease his fractured world.

I used Travis as me subject for this study because he so much reminded me of the person I used to know.  So now that you know the history of the image I want you to begin looking that the image and analyze to see if I have indeed captured the properties of my intent tough the use of light.  Typically I do this with images I don’t know the story behind and try to discover the artist’s connection to the subject though their use of light and exposure.  The first thing I look at is the overall feel of the image.  What does it stir or evoke within myself?  There is a distance yet longing with in his eyes and a power and a strength in his hands that embrace the chain the bind him around his neck with a sort of comfort while he stands back, distant, yet there is a longing in his bloodshot eyes to connect to something different.  Once you have established the over all mood, you must search the image for what supports that feeling.  How does the light impact the psychology of the image?  How many lights did the photographer use and where were they placed.  The first place to begin to look for how a photographer uses light is to look at the catch light in the subject’s eyes.  If you can zoom in close it will give you a lot of detail what the shape of the light was and where it was placed.  On Travis you will see I used two lights in the front one a very long narrow light with a soft filter almost straight out in front, slightly to the right.  You will also see just a faint small secondary light to the left that fills in the shadows on the left side of his face.  This is what captures the longing in his eyes.  I then used two very strong lights one to the left, not very high to sculpt the right side and a secondary light with little filter over his left shoulder.  These are slightly behind him because I wanted there to be shadows on his face that represented and fractured light coming from different angels across his face, enhancing him being pulled in different directions accentuation his own fractured world.  To discover the placement of these lights you look at where the highlights hit and the shadows fall.  You see dappled patches of highlights across his face that mirrors the dappled grime on his face.  Look at how the shadows fall on the veins of his hands and try to visualize where the light would need to be outside of the image to create such an effect.  Then the image is slightly underexposed to give it a pervasive darkness that was really the mood I remember about this kid.

I can spend hours and hours looking at photographs trying to analyze the intensity of their felling.  I think many photographers once they learn the tools of their craft subliminally allow those powerful tools to work for them.  We don’t really have the time to necessarily analyze the image as we are taking them, but all we have ever learned just instinctively comes into play.

Though my thoughts of this boy go back to when we were both 16, nothing developed between us, just a remarkable friendship, but I still remember that longing to become a part of his world; to somehow linger beside him.  He ended up marring my best friend and entered a world of greater joy that I had never seen within him before.  He finally seemed content.  Years later I heard of his passing, probable suicide, and a sickness filled the pit of my stomach.  I know I have become a success with this image, when I gaze deep into Travis’ eyes and am haunted by the memory of our faded youth.

The Value of Tear Sheets

I have recently been working through the Reed Massengill book Uncovered: Rare Vintage Male Nudes and am struck by the remarkable beauty of the images, not so much the models that are paraded though out the book, but by the photographer’s skills in crafting the images.  One particular photographer from the 60’s, I think who had an exceptional eye, was Al Urban, a photographer I had never even heard about.  He used stark backgrounds and you can tell from the images spent quite a lot of time working with the light to create a perfect balance.  As a photographer and I suppose particularly as a lighting designer, I learned early to pay close attention to light, the source, the color, the quality.  Photography is a process that I think really can’t be taught. Sure, you need to learn the basic skills of how the camera functions and when you yourself have absolute control of the tool, but the remainder of what you need to know is, how do I relate to this subject and that is developed through your power of observation.  The best way to learn your craft is to study the masters who have crafted images before you.  I used to love fashion magazines, not for the stories, but for the remarkable lighting in the images the photographers created to sell the products.  My ideal Sunday would be to buy a stack of magazines and slowly go through them page by page ripping out all the images that excited me in any way.  Sometimes it’s a look in one, sometimes it’s a line in another, a makeup technique, a piece of clothing, an exposed neck.  Every image had a quality that I adored.  I would scatter these images across the floor and study them for hours or even days.  Soon I began to understand the dynamic of what made a specific image so alluring. Soon a set of skills begins to develop that helps us to evaluate the image.  Since I am so drawn to light, that is the first thing I began to explore in the image.  Then I take the concept from the original inspiration, bring it into my studio and begin to explore the properties of lighting within the images.   I began with hot lights because I was fascinated with the old Hollywood glamour lighting styles and knew I could maintain absolute control and could actually see the results.  Then each month I added another piece of equipment that would do something else until eventually I had strobes and eventually designing my studio to channel the natural light into in certain ways.  Everyone that walks into my studio seems mesmerized by the remarkable structure of light of the building.  This all begins with understanding the photograph and is fed by an impulse.  It’s funny as I write this the morning sun is coming over the hill and the room took on an extraordinary glow, since the trees are barren and can no longer filter on the east side of the house.  I now wish I had someone naked standing before me to use this beautiful radiance as an example.   And in this moment I feel in tune with the universe and as it gives this extraordinary moment just as I write about it.  I digress, today’s topic was going to the about viewing a photograph for the lighting properties, but suddenly the preface on light seems to have taken up the entire blog.  Tomorrow I will talk about how to evaluate images to extract their lighting values.