Saturday, April 9, 2011

Case Study: Shooting against White on Location

The classic look of shooting against a white wall on location popularized by legendary photographer Herb Ritts, is back in fashion. Calvin Klein has adopted this long back for their underwear campaigns. In this case study we will go through different ways to light the model outdoors, and also how to recreate this look indoors with artificial light.

Herb Ritts was known for his black and white photos and portraits of similar style to the sculpture of classical Greece . He loved using natural light. Most of his subjects were shot on the roof top of his studio in LA, against a custom made white wall with sunlight. 

Some of his most famous photos are both male and female nudes. His famous black and white portraits include celebrities such as Cindy Crawford , Madonna , Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor.

All his images are so simple yet very strong. He loved shooting nudes, both male and female. He left behind a legacy of his work in form of photography books, which every aspiring fashion photographer should flip through at least once.

Herb Ritts (Stern Fotografie)NotoriousHerb Ritts: The Golden Hour: A Photographer's Life and His WorldHerb Ritts: Work

Solve Sundsbo is one of todays topmost fashion photographer, who originally assisted another genius, Nick Knight. He does shoots in this style once in a while. Take a look at this video of his shoot for Numero magazine with model Edita Vilkeviciute. You won't see the photographer, but only how the hard light sculpts the model.

He recently shot model Isabeli Fontana on a white wall in natural light for a fashion editorial.  Here he used light to fill in the shadows from below the model, with either strobe/ring flash or a large bright silver reflector. Both will work fine to achieve this look.

The best time to do such a shoot is when the sun is at at an angle of 45 degree to the model. Herb Ritts had built his open air studio wall keeping this in mind. 

What if your wall is opposite the sun? or What if you don't have a wall to start with?

Well, you can get this same look using white painted wooden panels. Take a look at LA based fashion photographer Robert Voltaire shooting model Olanna Taskey using three white painted wooden panel as background and floor. Observe how he waits to shoot till the sun is brighter. All he is armed with is a 20mm lens on the Nikon D90 and a reflector.

Some of Roberts work...

Another LA based fashion photographer, Kesler Tran has adopted and nailed this look down on location and in studio. Take a look at this first behind the scene video from him where he shoots model Kara Tolbert. First bit of the video is in studio, and then later begins the sessions against a white wall on location.

Another amazing behind the scene video from Kesler, where he takes his white wooden panel walls on location. Here he uses a Vagabond and Alienbee (battery powered studio light) to recreate sun light on a cloudy day. The beauty dish on the boom acts as the min light source.

Some of Keslers work...

All the above examples should tell you how to get such a shoot done in natural light on a white wall. It's not rocket science. All you need is a really good sensual model who can express herself. This look right from the times of Herb Ritts, was used to depict sensuality and human form. Use this technique for something else, chances are it won't be as strong a visual.

Okay, now lets see how to recreate this look of the sun in studio. You have already seen Kesler shooting with an open beauty dish in the above video. You can shoot against a white seamless paper or any white wall indoors. The model should be close to the background. To replicate the sun light, you can use a strobe with grid honeycomb or spot fresnel. 
Profoto 100789 Fresnel Small Spotlight (Black) 
This can be a very expensive light modifier, so is not recommended for all. Below is another video from Kesler using a similar housing to recreate this look inside a studio.

Besides a beauty dish and fresnel, other ways to achieve this look is a large softbox without diffuser, bare strobe and even a bare speedlight.

Below are some images and behind the scenes from a shoot from NY based photographer Ron Purdy's shoot for Soma magazine, using a single bare softbox.

To sum it up, the key points to get this look indoors or outdoors is to have the model close to the white background, the light should be from 45deg above and far from the model producing well defined shadows. You can use a fill light or reflector to fill in shadows if you wish. 

Disclaimer: All photographs and videos used in this article are copyright of their respective owners.

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