Male Fashion Photography – Using a small studio well
I was getting my hair cut today, and the hair stylist mentioned he takes some photos in a small 2mx3m room.
That got me thinking about how you'd get great fashion photography in a space like that. The haircut was awesome by the way!
Here's what we're working with
- The studio is 2mx3m.
- All the walls are cream, and one wall is curved.
- It's often used for other things, so nothing should be permanently set up.
- I'm assuming there's no natural lighting. That would change the game completely.
There's no fashion photography lighting there at the moment.
Here's the thoughts about what we're dealing with in a space like this:
- Spill - A relatively small room with off-white walls is going to spew light everywhere. It'll bounce of the walls, so we'll have to control the spill.
- The curved wall - I'm not sure exactly how curved the wall is, but you could use it either as the backdrop, or bounce of it. The problem with using it as the backdrop is that you're probably going to end up with the same gradient all the time, or distorted shadows that might not look right. Good for a change-up, but you probably wouldn't want to do it all the time.
- The wall colour - cream is not ideal for a male headshot. Also, in such a small space you'd be struggling to get the model far enough from the background distance so that your lights don't hit the backdrop. If the lights are hitting the backdrop, it's going to make the picture very cream and bland. This can work for female, beauty shots, but not mens hair shots.
- Budget - while there's a good camera handy, there's no easy 'bung up a huge octabox' solution here, which would give a good falloff at a close distance.
- Multi-use - if it was going to be a dedicated space, you'd probably paint one wall a dark grey or even black to cut down on spill and let you put the model closer to the wall.
The looks we can go for
Male lighting seems to be going in two opposite directions at once:
Cross-lit - putting the lights to the side rather than up in front as with female beauty lighting. This gives a real masculine, acion-hero look. Apparently it stems from 90s Sports Illustrated portraits.
Heavily front-lit - the ringlight look that is everywhere these days. Hard light showing a shadow against the wall, and the subject close to the wall.
These are both great for the current situation, because they need much less room than more traditional portrait lighting. With more traditional rembrandt lighting you'd usually want 1.5 metres between the subject and background, which doesn't leave you much space to work in a 2m x 3m room. See this site by Neil Snape for some awesome examples and detailed explanations of more classic beauty lighting.
So where does that leave us?
There's a few options:
- One side light and a reflector - the reflector will take up less room than a second light.
- Use two lights - and use the longer 3m side as the backdrop
- Use a hairlight and front light - this is tricky in this space, but is more classic.
- Use a single hard front light - this is edgy, but might get old fast without different backdrops. It also would require the most post, because it's not so flattering.
How to accomplish these looks in this space (and on a budget)
Right. First the light.
In my opinion, the best bet is a cheap quartz or tungsten worklight from a hardware store. Speedlights are all good and well, but without a modelling light, you're going to go spare and stab your eyes out trying to control spill in a white room... or just zoom the light in, making it very hard light that looks cheap and obviously 'strobist'. 'but you can put a speedlight in a softbox!' I hear you say. Well maybe, but you still get that distinctive speedlight colour temperature and short flash duration. And if you aren't moving around, you don't want the hassle of batteries.
Also, the great thing about these worklights is that you can try a few because they are quite cheap. Ideally get one that can 'focus' and move from spot to flood, and a good range of power settings. Because they weren't intended for use as photography lights don't assume that the most expensive worklights are better for your purposes. Find one which covers the bare filament if you can.
You could use the quartz lights either in soft boxes, bare with nothing on them, or with some diffusion material in front of them (attached with some gaffer tape etc, make sure it doesn't get too hot). So make sure you get something that can handle heat, like the Rosco Diffusal Kit which is cheap as chips and handy because you can get many different looks out of it. Same deal with the softboxes. Make sure they are heat resistant - I think Lowel makes some decent priced ones. Personally I think the hassles of involving a softbox aren't worth it on a budget, because it'll tie you into buying lights that can connect to them. But you can check out these kinds of cheaper lights if you're keen.
Now I'm going to discuss the lighting set-ups in turn.
Name says it all. Set up a light on one site, then have a white surface on the other side to fill in the other side. What you can also use is a mirror, to throw some hard light. If you're using a mirror it will look more like you have two distinct light sources. This is great for male hair shots, because you can make the mirror your 'hair' light, defining the outline of the hair and the model's shoulders.
The key here is to get a dark backdrop. Ideally you'll get a narrow roll of 'seamless' backdrop paper, cut some off and then gaffer-tape it to the wall. Then you don't have to ass around with backdrop stands, wasting precious space. Remember to store it upright, or it'll get warped.
The variables to remember here are moving the subject different distances to the background (it'll change the background colour), the distance of the main or 'key' light to the subject, and the distance and angle of the reflector/mirror to the key light. Keep moving the key light until you like the shadows on the face. Keep an eye on the shadow of the nose.
Same as above but with the added cost of another light, but also the flexibility it brings. You can also angle the light towards the background or use a colour gel on it to change the colour of the hairlight and background.
Similarly, you could put both lights on one side, but with one aimed at the background to throw a splash of colour there.
You want one light to be brighter than the other. Play with the ratios.
You're likely to have the brighter light slightly in front of the model, and the other lightly behind.
The tricky part here is controlling the spill.
The best bet is to use black fabric either side of the model. This'll stop the walls either side acting as fill lights and getting all up in your grill. This will wash out the picture and make the lighting flat. Make sure the fabric is heavy enough to stop light passing through.
Get the light up high to make it flattering, and use a white reflector, or anything white in front of the model to fill up the shadows.
You can also try different things with the light - aim it at the wall behind you, to bounce it off the wall and make a bigger light source. Because you have the fabric panels either side, you should be able to avoid too much spill.
Use a mirror behind the model as the hair light.
If you're feeling adventurous, the best setup is (in my opinion) to use the light as the hairlight, and a mirror as the key. This is because a smaller, harder light is better as the hairlight. When that light reaches the mirror, the effective size of the lightsource becomes that of the mirror. So you'll get awesome soft light from the mirror, compared to if you use the constant light as the key.
Here is to get the model close to the background. And get the light undiffused.
A handy thing about this technique is that, because the model can be so close to the background you give yourself a lot more room to move around. You aren't going to be restricted as to your angles and poses. But be careful to make sure you aren't casting a shadow on the model as well.
You can try aiming it at the wall behind you here, but you'll probably need to aim the light directly at the model.
The trick with making this interesting is to use the wall. You can have the model's back against the wall (let's say the right wall), and their face towards you, with the light over your left shoulder. Play with the angle of the light compared to the model's face.
If the shadows aren't sharp enough, move the light further back. You can also experiment with using a different wall as a fill, of using a reflector to one side of their face.
These are the main tips:
Black fabric - either side of the model, this can really add shadow and depth to your picture.
Try different things - Remember the variables and tweak them - the distances to play with are: subject background, key light subject, key light reflector.
Bounce - if you've used the black fabric well to control excessspill, use the light coloured walls to your advantage and bounce the light off them.
Use constant light sources - this will make it MUCH easier to see spill, and to visualise the photo before you start snapping away.
Backdrop - Get a small amount of dark background to get your pictures looking great. It'll make the model stand out from the background.
Ambient - Kill all the ambient light. Most of your problems will come from too much light, rather than too little. Especially in a place like Perth, you can get a lot of light streaming through those windows!
Okay, now I'm going to get some example pictures some time soon!