It's rare that I shoot classic and clean beauty lighting these days. As photographer who is fascinated by light a lot of my shoots consist of around 4 or 5 lights, not just because I can but because I believe it adds something extra to my images. A lot of the cleaner beauty work you see is often achieved by only a couple of really well placed lights with modifiers that complement the subject. There is certainly nothing wrong with this simplicity and you will often find that photographers will say that this type of lighting does not 'get in the way' of the image. What they mean by that is that the viewer is presented with the subject without being distracted by the complicated lighting. This is the type of lighting technique we are all too familiar with when viewing fashion imagery these days. The vibrant, contrasting lighting of white background fashion images that displays the garment not the photography.
Recently I had the opportunity to play with a cleaner and simpler look with my lighting when I was fortunate enough to photograph the stunning model Natasha Jayne Heard The lighting required was to display Natasha's physique in as clean and simple a way possible without my lighting getting in the way. The images taken on the shoot are displayed here down below and I'd like to discuss some of the quick and easy ways I got the looks.
First and foremost for this type of brief you want the image to have the impression of being lit by a single light source. The reason I mention this is because this is simplest way for our eyes to visually process a shot, as soon as we start adding background lights, hair lights and rim lights the image becomes harder for us to visually process. Although I use those additional lights a lot in my shots, it's because I want the viewer to linger on the image a little longer and if you're careful complex lighting can achieve that. With this shoot however I wanted all of the focus and attention on Natasha not my lighting.
To start off I used a very beautifying light modifier, the beauty dish. Mine was a 21" silver beauty with a diffusion cover and I placed it slightly above models head height and angled down at about 45 degrees. The resulting image can be seen here and although on first impression it doesn't look too bad I felt that there was certainly some room for improvement. Although I liked the contouring and structure the harder single light gave me on the skin it was getting a bit dark towards the bottom of frame and the shadows of the body were mixing with the shadows on the background. These aren't massive issues but it would be lazy photography if I didn't try to address them. The main issue being the confusing shadows on the body mixing with the background shadows, leaving them like this gives the impression of the model being far bigger than she actually is. Definitely not ideal.
One remedy to this would be to bring her further away from the wall. The result would be less confusing shadows but a darker background and it still wouldn't rectify the slightly darker bottom half of the image. Another alternative to fixing this is too introduce a fill light. A fill light could be positioned on the floor and aimed up at the model to fill in some of those shadows. That's a good idea but we are shooting 3/4 length shots, the fill light will be more powerful at the legs than the head resulting in an awful effect that gives the image the clear look of it being lit by two light sources; something that we want to avoid. You see this horrendous type of lighting a lot and it comes from the mentality that because you can shoot portraits and head shots with that setup you can shoot 3/4 and full length shots with it. This is certainly not the case and caution should always be taken when you start to transfer your portrait lighting set ups to longer body shots.
So we want a light that will fill in the shadows but not give the appearance of the light coming from any given direction, cue the ring light. The ring light is so often overlooked as a fill light, most of the time you see it begin used in fashion to blast away any shadows as a single key light. The effect is pretty cool don't get me wrong and its certainly very beautifying but it is a little lazy and it certainly does have its limitations. By combining my ring light with my beauty dish I am able to get the best of both worlds; strong directional and beautifying light from my beauty dish plus softer shadows and a clearer distinction between the model and the background.
For this shoot I used my Bowens Ringlite converter, this is an awesome alternative to an actual ring flash as it does just about the same thing as an actual ring flash but only at a quarter of the price. It does this by not having a flash bulb of its own inside but by evenly channeling the flash already on your strobe around its interior offering a slightly more affordable alternative to the cumbersome purpose built ring flashes.
To get the look I wanted I had to make sure that the Ringlite wasn't too powerful, remember this is a fill light now so you want it to be less powerful than the beauty dish key light. I played with a couple of different ratios but for the most part I liked it when the ring light was about a stop less powerful than the beauty dish.
Of course once I'd taken a few clean and classic shots I couldn't resist adding a bit of colour into the mix via some gels. This was actually a really simple and effective technique as all I did was find some old gels, cut a hole in the middle of them and then stick them to the front of my Ringlite.
There is a huge amount of scope to experiment and play with this basic concept of having a Ringlite/flash as a fill light and because this fill light is actually coming directly from the camera position i.e the viewers point of view, you can get away with using it in so many different set ups. The Ringlite does have an optimum use range in my opinion and thats probably the half and 3/4 length body shots. Any closer than that and effect is too powerful, any further away and the effect gets lost. That medium range has the ability to enhance the shape on the body by allowing the light to fall off towards the edges. See how the sides of the thighs and torso fall off to shadow? That's because the Ringlite is lighting the closest thing to it and is falling to shadow on the things that are further away than that. Get the exposure spot on with the ring light and you can get some stunningly beautiful shots via the contouring of light on your model.
If you're fortunate enough to get your hands on one of these Ringlite Converters then I'd definitely recommend it as they are certainly a very versatile piece of kit to have in your arsenal. Start out by just using it as a key light to begin with, get those classic fashion shots against a white wall and get a feel for how the light looks. Once you've played with that for a bit you'll have a better understanding of the light fall-off so you then can start to play around with some of more interesting uses for it like as a fill light and so on.
Let me know how you get on and if you've already got the Ringlite Converter or another ring flash then feel free to let me know some of your thoughts or set ups too.
Here's a link to take a look at the Bowens Ringlite Converter