Jay P Morgan: Creating the Spooky Portrait


In this lesson, photographer Jay P. Morgan demonstrates how to make a "smoke tube of death" and how he used it in his cemetery grave digger shoot. You'll see the camera settings and lighting techniques he used, as well as how he created a low angle look from inside the grave.



For this shoot, I wanted to have smoke all over the graveyard and to be able to place it where I wanted it. A single source smoker emits from one place but a smoke tube allowed us to place smoke in specific places. We brought in tomb stones for the shot which were placed in our back yard. The smoke tube wove throughout the stones and created a curtain of smoke behind the scene.

Below was our first image. We chose camera settings that helped us to expose for the kerosene flame in the gravedigger's lantern and allowed for our strobes to be the main light source. The grave digger was holding an actual lamp with kerosene. The flame was quite bright and we didn't need to open the aperture up too much or drag the shutter too long. We shot at f/8 at 1/30th of a second and ISO 320. I used 320 ISO because it was easier to get a good exposure on the flame and I didn't need as much power from the strobes.

Next, we added a Photoflex TRITONFLASH strobe with a grid for a key light on the gravedigger's face. We were using a 10 degree grid to keep the light controlled and imitate the look of the lantern. I just wanted a small pool of light on his face. We had a full Rosco CTO or Orange on this light. I did this to bring the color closer to the color of the flame in the lantern. The flame was still warmer but much closer when I set my color temperature at 4000 degrees. His face would be neutral at 3500 degrees so we made his face warm and the lantern even warmer.

We then added a Dynalite head with a Photoflex Small OctoDome attached. This opened up the smoke and separated him from the scene. We added a full Rosco CTB on this light to cool it off in the background.

Next, we added a Dynalite head from the deep camera-right side to do the same thing as the head on the camera-left side. It backlit the smoke and separated him from the scene. We also added a full Rosco CTB on this light to cool it off in the background.

Our last light was another TRITONFLASH head on the camera right side closer to the talent to give us some separation and to rim his side. This light had a small OctoDome attached, but no gel.

For a final touch, we added a chill box with the Rosco 1900 Smoker upfront to spread smoke out onto the ground at his feet. I love the look of smoke laying on the ground. It makes for an engaging foreground.

We had built a fake open grave using three boards cut 18 inches wide and one inch thick. We attached these together making a u shape and placed them on the ground. Our gravedigger stood on a studio box to get his feet at the top of the open grave. We covered it with sod that we turned over and put into place with screws. I laid on the ground and shot looking straight up. I used the 16-35mm lens to get the wide angle look. Our smoke was directed over his head to help him separate from the night sky.

To see more of Jay P. Morgan's work, visit his Pro Showcase page.


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