With very little planning, Paul Markow uses what he has on hand and what his assistant can gather, to set up the scene. The model is gorgeous, and that helps, but the heart of this lesson is how Paul solves the lighting and composition challenges.
- The Concept, Prep and Setup
- Initial Shot
- Adding Light Modification
- Working Towards the Final
- The Tasteful Result
- Repertoire of Work
The Concept, The Prep, and The Setup
For this particular shoot, I had very little time to come up with a concept, as the weekend was the only thing separating me from my current shoot and this Monday morning one. The ad campaign had come together quickly while I was out of town on another shoot. It was planned at the last minute, but we still had to come up with a strong concept.
The client had picked out a great model, but really didn’t have an idea how to use her for the shot. When 9am on Monday rolled around, the agency arrived with no layouts, no sketches, and no comparable photos. The only instructions we got were to get a .wholesome sexy shoot. out of our model for the campaign. Pretty vague, right? Well it got a bit more complicated when I was told the client would be arriving within the hour expecting results. I could feel the sweat starting to form on my brow.
After a moment of creative panic (which I showed to no one of course), we decided a beach scene was perfect, mainly because I knew I had a great sky background in the studio. Using what I had on hand saved me a lot of time, but still needing some props to bring the scene to life, we looked at our options. My studio manager had a white-washed Adirondack chair and a beach umbrella at home, so while the model was in make-up, he rushed to grab them. Meanwhile, my assistant made a quick trip to The Home Depot® for sand and a palm tree plant.
In a feat of time engineering, my manager returned with the chair and umbrella and my assistant arrived with the sand and palm tree just as the model was leaving make-up.
I had the model take a seat in the chair while I tested how well the natural light was working and what I would need to enhance it.
I decided to use the simplest and largest form of window lighting, which is my garage door, as it faces north and allows for indirect, soft north light.
For those interested, my camera was adjusted to the following settings:
- Exposure Mode: Manual
- Shutter speed: 1/100th of a second
- Aperture: f/4.5
- ISO: 160
- Focal length: 144mm
- File Format: Raw
The result gave me pretty good light overall, but I found it to be somewhat flat. To help relieve that, I decided to add some light modifiers.
Adding Light Modification
I attached an Extra Small Photoflex® OctoDome® nxt onto my flash with a 1/2 CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel taped onto the inside of the front face. Full CTO converts flash light to tungsten balanced light, or 3200K. So by using the 1/2 CTO gel, I was able to create a pleasant warm quality of light.
I placed this light approximately 7 feet from the model and powered the flash to its lowest setting. I also had the model stand up and turn her body to face camera right, and then asked her to cover her chest with a straw hat we had kicking around the studio. I removed the beach umbrella and palm tree for this shot, as I found them somewhat distracting.
Editor’s notes: Although Paul has not mentioned it in his text, he is following some very important rules:
Like many good glamor photos, this was shaping up to be a very simply constructed composition; a beautiful model, a few subtle props and a non-distracting background. Paul is simplifying the image with every step. All of the attention is focused on the model and any element that does not contribute to her importance is being downplayed or removed.
By using soft north light, Paul is avoiding any harsh directional lighting that could cause hard shadows. The low contrast of the scene delivers a dreamy feeling. The limited color palette also adds to the idealized setting, but all together the shot lacks drama. Instinctively Paul sees that the light is too soft and blue on the model, so he adds the Photoflex; extra small OctoDome; with a warming filter to create a .color break.. Note that the flash in the OctoDome; is intentionally turned down so it doesn.t overwhelm the scene. The result is a warm glowing subject against a cool background. This is a clever technique to achieve depth and color contrast in an otherwise bland scene.
Because the background was inside the studio, approximately 10 feet from the door, I used a Photoflex® Medium OctoDome® (5 feet in diameter) and a Medium LiteDome® (approximately 2 feet by 3 feet), to provide a general exposure lift and brighten the sky to a more realistic level.
Note that these two additional light modifiers were only lighting the background, while the sky light and the Extra Small OctoDome® nxt were my primary lights. Had this been an actual beach scene and not a studio set, the two background lights would have been unnecessary. To put all this into perspective, I put together a bird’s eye view chart that illustrates my whole setup.
Working Towards the Final
I repositioned myself slightly, changed my camera orientation from horizontal to vertical, altered my focal length to 111mm, and set my aperture to f/4.0. The rest of my camera settings remained the same.
The model gave me a series of great poses, which I was sure to capture. Here’s one of my favorites.
I really liked the result here. Because of the model’s placement just inside the door of the studio and the fact that our background lights were not affecting her at all, we achieved a really nice separation shadow along her back and arm, which was ideal for this particular setup since the background was very light in color. If we didn’t have that separation, we would risk losing that clear separation.
The Extra Small OctoDome® nxt lit her quite nicely and eliminated the flat textures that I was unsatisfied with initially.
In reviewing the shot further, though, I remembered that the client wanted a “wholesome” sexy photo, and seeing a bit more of her chest than was tasteful led me to want to alter her position slightly.
The Tasteful Result
I asked the model to place a flower in her hair (to add some non-distracting interest to the photo) and then had her face me directly, still covering her chest with the straw hat.
Here is another vantage point of the final setup. I altered the camera settings slightly from the original test shot:
- Exposure Mode: Manual
- Shutter speed: 1/125th of a second
- Aperture: f/ 4.0
- ISO: 160
- Focal length: 100mm
- File Format: Raw
With everything set, I took a final series of shots. Here’s the one that really stood out.
To me, this image fulfilled the requirements of a “wholesome sexy photo”: a beautiful model who shows just enough skin to emanate a sexy vibe without going over the edge into an overtly sexual image.
With a simple lighting setup and a quick concept, we were able to pull off a great shoot in a relatively short amount of time. And on top of that, the client loved it!
Written and photographed by Paul Markow