Guest Contributor- Michael White & Chiaroscuro Lighting

Hey everyone,

Let me introduce you to Michael White, a photographer from Campbell, CA. I first met Michael when he attended a lighting class of mine. He was a standout student and went on to begin a serious self guided study program that has lead him down many interesting paths. He plans his shoots with care, searching out locations and models, to create challenges for himself. Many of his sessions are designed to explore techniques of his favorite photographers. I hope we hear more from him.

- Jeffery Luhn


Chiaroscuro ("light-dark") in art is characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for using contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modeling three-dimensional objects such as the human body (Wikipedia:

I first came across this term while studying the great Dutch masters of the 17th century and their art, although this style of lighting can easily be traced back to the 15th century it was made popular by the work of Caravaggio at around 1600 with paintings like “The Calling of St Matthew”

This style of lighting was taken up by many others including, most notably, Rembrandt van Rijn althoughmany other artists used this style during the 17th century to great effect.

I became fascinated with the warm and contrasty look of these paintings and I loved how it brought the viewers attention directly to the subject and allowed the periphery to go dark, sometimes completely black. I have heard several people, including Joe McNally quote the line: “If you want to make something interesting, don’t light all of it” and I have taken that to heart. To that end I have started using small hot-shoe flash units to light my subjects to achieve a dramatic effect in my work.

My first attempt, the main light is on a boom above and to camera right, no lights on the background, another flash unit behind an umbrella set to a low power to fill in from camera left. [figure 1]


Figure 1

This image of Liliana was shot with two lights, a very small softbox on camera left slightly behind her and another light behind another small softbox. [figure 2]


Figure 2

I then started experimenting with Grids to concentrate the light further and yet give a soft feather on the edges as in this photo of MacKenzie. [Figure 3]


Figure 3

For these shots of Kiana I have a hairlight on a boom above her, an umbrella to camera right and a grid light on camera left. This is the same brown background but I have a teal saturation/hue adjustment layer which I have masked Kiana out in figure 4, but left the original color in figure 5.


Figure 4

Figure 5

Due to thesensitivityof some of these photos, we only posted a few ofMichael'simages. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his website:

What did you think of this style? Have you used it before? Would you consider using it? Let us know in the comments section below.

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