Friday, February 18, 2011

Eldritch Light

Since I am on an apparent binge of showing some of my re-lighting images, I thought I would take this opportunity to show you another one.

For this shoot I spied this unusual ensemble one of the models had brought with her.  I was also keenly aware I needed a prop to go with it and happened to have this handy lantern hanging around.  I am sure all of you have tons of weird things you never imagine using in your images, and this is a good example of something we had on a shelf that worked well with the plan I had in my tiny brain.

Lighting The Model
In this situation I already had a black background setup from another shot I was just doing, so I had to think fast as to how to shoot this very dark outfit on black and still have it be visible.  The key here is to side light it from both sides as well as to key light her from the front.  So, three lights in a Y pattern were enough to pull from out from the black background and yet also to sculpt her form.

Posing The Model
Because we now have this interesting prop, we want a pose that works with it.  I tried several unique ideas and this is the one I like the most.  Several of the others also look great, but I think I will make one into a graveyard image at some point in the future but this one was solid enough to work with just an obscure idea and not something photo-realistic.

Photoshop & Post Production
From the untouched image you can see we are properly exposed but again we face the reality that black on black that will be... well, black.  So, I need to push her "forward" by making a significant difference between the model and the background.  Normally I would not have shot this on black, but sometimes you don't get options so we deal with what we have.  Luckily we knew this before hand and lit her well enough to make extraction easy enough for what we need to do here.

So, the first thing I did was to isolate her and add a texture to the background but not to the model.  This was done using a mask on the texture layer where the model should be untouched by the texture.  Next thing we need to do is increase the brightness of the image, and I did this the easy way by making a curve adjustment layer set to screen and clip it to the model layer.  You can do with by holding down the ALT key and dragging a layer between two layers in the layer list.  In the end this screen layer will act just like a copy of the entire image set to the screen blending mode, but takes a lot less memory.  That brightened things up plenty and in some areas I used a soft brush on the mask to slightly darken some of the areas that were looking blown-out.

Finally we need to fix the obvious in that the lantern isn't putting out any light.  Now, I could have put something in the lantern, like a speedlight, but they are too large, but I probably could have scrounged around and located something if given enough time.  Besides, I really felt the "fake" type of lighting I was imagining didn't really require a photo realistic look.

This lighting effect was a building up of many layers all set to various blending modes from hard-light to screen.  Each one was a slightly larger "glow" added to the layers already in place with a large soft brush using a whitish color.  As you can see the final glow is quite large, but because the opacity of each layer is low, and the blending modes really mute the effect, we end up with something pretty cool looking.

After playing with a few more layers of various lighting we apply to the model using blending modes a few layers to light the face, arms, legs and other things that might receive light from the lantern and much more interesting that a real light might have looked (or at least that is my story, and I am sticking to it).

As a final step I added a layer or two with some bokeh (those round blurry circles).  These bokeh circles actually come from another photo I had that was out of focus from a trip somewhere, so again I am using all kinds of things I had laying around.

Oh, as a bit of a bonus, I have another image of this same model in another outfit.  This was shot in the freight elevator we have in the studio.  Unfortunately the lights in the elevator don't work, so I had to add it in post.  I used the same techniques for the most part.

Again, the key to this method is using a lot of subtle layers that all work together.  Trying to do all of this on a single layer would probably result in something craptacular, so just take your time and stack up the effects.

As always your comments are appreciated and motivate me to write more articles.  So if you found this at all interesting take a moment to add a comment or click the "Like" button up top to get this onto Facebook.


  1. The second shot i really like. Do you do any dodge and burning in post? I prefer to do that as I can place 'light' where i want to.

    I still need to learn about how to properly use the layer modes, i.e. screen, multiply, etc. :)

  2. Almost every image has a bit of dodge and burn in it. I use that a ton on skin as well to even out the tones.


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