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How to Create Moody Light for Your Photo Shoot

📄 Contents

  1. The First Rule of Moody Lighting...
  2. Black on Black on Black
  3. Are You Gellin'?
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In this excerpt from Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations, Nick Fancher shows you a number of different techniques to achieve that moody light effect during a photo shoot, including colored gels, flash grids, and blacking out the scene except for the subject.
This chapter is from the book

Moody light is my absolute favorite type of light. It can be so cinematic and theatrical. It’s like placing my subjects on a stage and letting them become a character, someone else. The term moody light encompasses a number of different techniques—colored gels, flash grids, blacking out the scene except for the subject—and I’ll cover all of these scenarios in this chapter.

The First Rule of Moody Lighting...

... is you don’t talk about moody lighting. Okay, I’m kidding, but I was seriously aiming to invoke Tyler Durden from Fight Club in this shoot I did with model Alex Prange. Although we weren’t re-creating a particular scene from the film, we wanted to capture the character’s badass presence. Alex has the body of Brad Pitt in the movie as well as the swagger, so all I needed to do was get the light nailed down.

As you can see in Figure 11.1, Alex was about 5 feet in front of a white vinyl backdrop. The nice thing about a vinyl or fabric backdrop as opposed to a paper sweep is that it has a nice, wavy texture. Although the texture can be played down or outright eliminated depending on the direction and intensity of light on it, I decided to highlight the texture in this shot.

Figure 11.1

Figure 11.1 The setup. Alex is pumped up and ready to get his Fight Club on. It’s kind of fitting that we were shooting in a creepy basement.

I placed my background light low and close to the backdrop, aiming upward (it’s hidden behind the small, black V-flat). I also made sure that the background light output matched the output of the main light, in order to retain some detail in the white backdrop. (Usually, I make the background light 2 to 3 stops brighter than the main light to blow out the background to pure white.)

After setting up my background and background light (Figure 11.2), I asked Alex to step into the scene. I placed him about 4 feet in front of the backdrop—close enough to get a little bit of kickback light falling onto the edges of his arms and profile. One of the perks of having small quarters to shoot in is that light can bounce around, accenting the subject. (Bouncing light can quickly become more curse than blessing when you want to contain your light, however, as you’ll learn in a bit.)

Figure 11.2

Figure 11.2 The lighting diagram. My background light had the same output as my main light, in order to retain detail in the white sweep.

For my main light, I opted to use my trusty Honl grid to get contrasty, hard light. Hard light, which creates hard shadow and bright highlights, was just what Alex’s many muscles needed to really stand out (Figure 11.3). One thing to keep in mind when lighting a subject with a grid is that if he moves much at all, the small area of light will quickly fall off of him. Sometimes this can make for cool, unintentional shots where the subject’s face goes to shadow while his torso is lit, and so on. But if you want his face to be lit, as most portraits require, you need to instruct the subject to stay within the confined area of the flash output.

Figure 11.3

Figure 11.3 The raw file. The hard main light helped to define his muscles.

My post work on this image was pretty similar to my normal color-grading routine, except for this shot I wanted to outline the hard lines of his muscles. To do so, I slid the Clarity to +63. I also wanted the shot to have a warmer look, so I desaturated the Blue and Cyan channels (Figure 11.4). After making a slight crop, the image was finished (Figure 11.5).

Figure 11.4

Figure 11.4 The Lightroom settings are much like those for my normal color grading, save for the extra Clarity, which highlights the hard light and muscles of the model.

Figure 11.5

Figure 11.5 I am Jack’s final shot.

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