Posted by: David Vernon | May 17, 2010

Inspiration Starts the Week

It’s nice to start the day with a good portfolio. And it’s even better when the portfolio can teach you a lot. More on Brad Trent in a moment.

It’s also a pretty simple matter when you read David Hobby’s blog, aka Strobist. Definitely the go-to site for all things lighting on the Internet. And while you can learn a ton about lighting with flashes there – lighting is just that – it’s lighting. Doesn’t matter if you have flashes, strobes, hotlights, or coldlights. Angles are angles and what works for one basically works for any of the others.

So if you’re living under a rock this morning – and haven’t been over to Strobist today – let me clue you in on editorial photographer Brad Trent. Trent photographs a lot of people for magazines and other publications. He does it with a certain look that is derived in a large part from excellent lighting technique, but as he says on his site “By it’s very nature, shooting the type of portraits I do requires a certain amount of preparation and styling and lighting and therefore … it ain’t real!”

His unreal style however has a very slick look. If only you could see how he did it all, ya know, it’s be pretty cool. Wait. What? You can? Really? I just have to click this here link and all the secrets will be revealed? Awesome – I love the Internet.

Trent started embracing the behind-the-scenes setups of his lighting design and he shows you how it’s done. And how’s it done? Simply. One light. Two lights. Maybe three lights. And usually not much more. Some observations for you to take away:

  • Okay – so he used big powerful strobes (Prophoto Acutes). But the design he uses can be replicated with small flash and a few modifiers. You don’t have to have $10K in lighting gear to make this happen. It helps if you want to overcome a lot of daylight – but you don’t always have to do that.
  • The beauty dish is a heck of a modifier. Harder than a soft box for an edgier look – but softer then a bare bulb. It’s on my shopping list. He seems to have a lot of success with one boomed high beauty dish. Love the tones in this shot. One Beauty Dish only. Oh yeah – one more one beauty dish special. This shot is gorgeous.
  • Like so many things we teach, one key light and one kicker can take you miles and miles.
  • Also trendy is the one key light and two kicker setup – with those kickers rimming the subject from 4pm and 8pm
  • Another modifier he loves: grids. A fantastic way to control the spill and measure of light. You can’t always see it, but I’m guessing almost all strobes without a soft box, umbrella or beauty dish are grid-spotted.

So if you dig the light, check out Trent’s pages – and take some notes – it’s good for you.

UPDATE: Brad stopped by the blog last night and left a pretty detailed comment about his post-processing – after Tim Sheets and I hypothesized about it in earlier comments – mentioning high-pass sharpening and tone mapping. Brad confessed all so I’m pulling it out of the comments so you can see it here:

“You’re pretty much spot-on regarding what it is I do. You’re prolly right about being able to replicate most of the look & feel of my lighting with less power, but when you primarily work with medium format, hi-rez digital capture like I do, you’re sort of forced into using studio strobes, ‘cuz no matter how good things have gotten over the past few years, a Leaf back set to ISO 400 instead of my normal 50 still kinda looks like Hell. Then again, I always have a couple of assistants to lug my 500-600lbs of gear around…and as has already been noted on a few sites today, I ain’t exactly Cartier-Bresson! The boat sailed long ago on my pure photojournalism days.

I posted a follow-up on David’s blog regarding the beauty dishes I use…besides both the silver and white Profoto 20″ dish, we also use Mola’s a lot! Their bigger size and differing contrasts are a lot of fun to play around with and being in NYC it’s easy enough to rent the larger ones when the situations arise. I don’t think I’ve used a bank light as a main source in at least ten years!

If there is one thing I rely on (or lean on) too much, it’s the kickers! I know it, my editors know it and my assistants certainly know it, but whether it’s a crutch or it’s become part of my personal style, I kinda see things in my head with that glowing rim light! Kickers, ring lights, grids and fresnel spots…they’re all part of my normal lighting kit and because I ‘see’ things in kind of a higher-than-normal-contrast way, these lights are my friends!

Which dovetails nicely into that question of my post-processing workflow. Yes…you got me….my stuff is unnaturally contrasty…but I can honestly say that unless I were to Google it now (and it’s too effing late for that) I wouldn’t have a clue what ‘tone mapping ‘ is….yes, the high pass filter is in there, but hardly ‘massive’…usually a radius of about 150 pixels, set to ‘Soft Light’ and the opacity between 60 and 80 percent. Now if I were doing a ‘massive’ contrast correction, then my radius would prolly be around 25-50 pixels, set at ‘Overlay’ or ‘Hard Light’ and I’d keep the opacity full, but at that point you get all sorts of nasty haloes and banding in smooth tones. Don’t confuse a few levels & curve corrections and a bit of desaturated color with a heavy High Pass filter. Oh yeah…I’ll set a contrast layer to ‘Multiply’ every once and a while just to keep you scamps guessin’…!!! I process my RAW files contrasty and I continue to ramp up the ratios all through my workflow. I guess I’ll never shoot lifestyle stuff for “Real Simple”…..

OK…it’s really late and thanks to you guys I gotta go Google ‘tone mapping’ now….later!”

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Responses

  1. ….and apply a liberal dose of post processing….

    You think he uses a massive high pass sharpen or some sort of tone mapping??

  2. Yeah – there’s definitely something to that. I think both things are here – although I like the idea of tone mapping – even if by some other method.

  3. I just got back from a late dinner and a friend pointed me to your post…thanx for the kind words…I’ve had my e-mail box completely filled since about 9:00AM this morning!

    You’re pretty much spot-on regarding what it is I do. You’re prolly right about being able to replicate most of the look & feel of my lighting with less power, but when you primarily work with medium format, hi-rez digital capture like I do, you’re sort of forced into using studio strobes, ‘cuz no matter how good things have gotten over the past few years, a Leaf back set to ISO 400 instead of my normal 50 still kinda looks like Hell. Then again, I always have a couple of assistants to lug my 500-600lbs of gear around…and as has already been noted on a few sites today, I ain’t exactly Cartier-Bresson! The boat sailed long ago on my pure photojournalism days.

    I posted a follow-up on David’s blog regarding the beauty dishes I use…besides both the silver and white Profoto 20″ dish, we also use Mola’s a lot! Their bigger size and differing contrasts are a lot of fun to play around with and being in NYC it’s easy enough to rent the larger ones when the situations arise. I don’t think I’ve used a bank light as a main source in at least ten years!

    If there is one thing I rely on (or lean on) too much, it’s the kickers! I know it, my editors know it and my assistants certainly know it, but whether it’s a crutch or it’s become part of my personal style, I kinda see things in my head with that glowing rim light! Kickers, ring lights, grids and fresnel spots…they’re all part of my normal lighting kit and because I ‘see’ things in kind of a higher-than-normal-contrast way, these lights are my friends!

    Which dovetails nicely into that question of my post-processing workflow. Yes…you got me….my stuff is unnaturally contrasty…but I can honestly say that unless I were to Google it now (and it’s too effing late for that) I wouldn’t have a clue what ‘tone mapping ‘ is….yes, the high pass filter is in there, but hardly ‘massive’…usually a radius of about 150 pixels, set to ‘Soft Light’ and the opacity between 60 and 80 percent. Now if I were doing a ‘massive’ contrast correction, then my radius would prolly be around 25-50 pixels, set at ‘Overlay’ or ‘Hard Light’ and I’d keep the opacity full, but at that point you get all sorts of nasty haloes and banding in smooth tones. Don’t confuse a few levels & curve corrections and a bit of desaturated color with a heavy High Pass filter. Oh yeah…I’ll set a contrast layer to ‘Multiply’ every once and a while just to keep you scamps guessin’…!!! I process my RAW files contrasty and I continue to ramp up the ratios all through my workflow. I guess I’ll never shoot lifestyle stuff for “Real Simple”…..

    OK…it’s really late and thanks to you guys I gotta go Google ‘tone mapping’ now….later!

    BT

  4. Well there you go Tim – we’ve ruined him on tone mapping. But I guess you got your answer.

    Thanks for stopping by Brad – you’ve definitely inspired a few of us today.

  5. Awesome!!

    I was just speculating..never even considered that Brad would stop by and answer!! Very cool!!

    The high pass sharpening….I have an action set up that does exactly that…150px, soft light, and usually adjust the opacity to the 70-80% range. 🙂


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