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Black on Black on Black

To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown, “Grids: When you absolutely, positively got to kill every lumen in the room, accept no substitutes.” Have a room that you want to make black? You don’t even need a black backdrop or the dark cover of night. All you need is a flash, a grid, and a room. As long as your subject isn’t standing within 5 feet of a wall, you will have no problem killing all of the ambient light.

Case in point. I was doing a shoot with Dani, who was in black body paint, wearing all black above the waist. I wanted the whole scene to be black, save for Dani and the textures of her outfit. It was a conceptual fashion shoot, this portion being the Hell portion of a Heaven/Hell-themed shoot. (The as-yet-to-be-shot Heaven scenario will, fittingly, be all white.)

I met Dani at the makeup artist’s house, about an hour after they got started on the makeup, to give them a head start with the lengthy application. I knew that the basement was going to be an optimal shooting space because it was windowless but wide open and barren (Figure 11.6). I quickly set up the sole flash (Figure 11.7), and then waited another hour while they put the finishing touches on the makeup and hair (so much for the head start).

Figure 11.6

Figure 11.6 The setup. This time we were shooting in the basement of my makeup artist’s home. Even though it lacked a black backdrop, I had no problem creating a black environment with the use of my flash settings.

Figure 11.7

Figure 11.7 The diagram. A moderate flash output of 1/8 was enough to knock out the ambient light in the basement. The added grid on the flash contained the light from spilling onto the nearby walls, helping to create a black environment.

The shoot actually went rather quickly (15 minutes). As you can see in Figure 11.8, Dani was wearing a crop top. Although her unpainted abdomen and sweatpants are visible in the shot, this wasn’t a big issue. Because the light falloff was so dramatic from her bust to her torso, a quick adjustment in Lightroom would have the image looking right as rain (Figure 11.9).

Figure 11.8

Figure 11.8 The raw file. Dani’s midriff and sweatpants are visible but can easily be removed in post.

Figure 11.9

Figure 11.9 The Lightroom settings. Because the image was, for all intents and purposes, black and white, I toggled over into Black & White mode to allow for a quicker editing process.

When I got the file into Lightroom, I thought that the editing would go a certain way (easily), but it turned out to go a totally different route (hard). The hard light and the too-good camera sensor captured far more orangey skin tones than I expected. I was fortunate that the image was relatively colorless, so I toggled over to Black & White mode. The nice thing about editing a file as black and white is that the color channels only control luminance. This way I could lower the Orange, Yellow, and Red channels (her skin color) and control the way the highlights, shadows, and midtones appeared. This method of tweaking specific color channels is a bit more focused adjustment than just sliding the global Highlights or Shadows sliders. Now I had details in both the shadows and the highlights, and Dani was looking perfect in purgatory (Figure 11.10).

Figure 11.10

Figure 11.10 The final image. Once I brought down the highlights and brought up the shadows, Dani looked exactly how I had envisioned she would look in a hopeless, black void.

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