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One Light Portraits - part 1 of 1 2 3 4 5

by Dave Montizambert Published 01/11/2005

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Earlier this year my mentor and friend Dean Collins of Finelight and Software Cinema died of cancer.

Dean was responsible for a huge chunk of my knowledge and success in photography as he was for many others.

As a tribute to Dean I would like to show you a fascinating lighting technique that he taught me in the first days of studying with him, back in the early 1980s. He gave me an exercise that seemed impossible - create a dramatic portrait of a person against a pure white background. A daunting task to a beginner, however it got worse, I had to do it with just one light! With that one light I was expected to create soft wrap-around light on the subject, use it to make a pure white background, use it to control shadow density, and use it to create a separation or hair light. This kind of image was typically done with 5 to 7 lights. I thought Dean was prejudiced against Canadians or that it was some kind of cruel initiation joke. Using my muse Sylvianne as a model, (she bounces light really nicely and she doesn't hit me up for modelling and usage fees), let's look at how we might accomplish this task.


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Frame One

Sylvianne is lit by a relatively small light source set approximately 5 to 6 feet away. The light has a standard 7-inch parabolic reflector on it and it has a layer of frosted acetate such as Roscolux Tuff Frost over it to even out the hotspots created by this reflector. Lee Filters & Gels make a similar product. As you can see, the light quality is hard. Some of the light is spilling past Sylvianne on to the grey background. To even out the illumination between Sylvianne and the background the light head is feathered slightly away from her and onto the background.

With the camera aperture set to f8.5, both the background and the lit side of her face are illuminated to their proper tonal values, which both happen to be about one stop brighter than middle grey


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1st Published 01/11/2005
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