Friday, July 16, 2010

diCorcia dissection

Marc Jacobs shot by Philip Lorca-diCorcia for W Magazine:

Someone posted this image in a photograph forum I frequent. At first I just posted, I like it, the lighting is so evocative, and clicked post. But last night I realized that was just a cop out art student level critique, and I should go in and explain a bit more in depth and so I did an actual reading of the photo. I'm going to cross post it here.

The turquoise/orange color contrast has always appealed to me, as it's a contrasting color arrangement that doesn't seem to really work with pigments often, but when done with light it's really contemporary and can have a great affect of "volumizing" because of the contrast. The bathroom and closet are orange, the midground of the guy is turquoise, then the girl (is it even a girl? I can't tell at this resolution. It looks like it should be a girl, but the arm is kind of manly) is orange again. This lends a lot of depth to the image by vibrating between the two colors.

The scene itself, kind of a morning after vibe, in an upscale hotel. You can see suitcases in the closet, and the bed style plus photo over the bed says more hotel than bedroom in a house. You can tell it's upscale by the nice photo and fabric print, but the key clue is the closet that is only lit on the bottom where the coats hang, leaving the top part unlit. This also makes me remember that almost every light source is probably an actual flash, no ambient on a production of this scale, so either diCorcia copied it exactly, or had the foresight to engineer this detail.

Every light source is soft except that hitting the man on the bed corner. The fact it's hard, it's rim, and it's blue, gives him a hard, cold and calculated feel, almost remorseless for whatever debauchery he was up to hours previous. You also have the fact that he's dark on a black background, so he would be lost, but the harsh rim light gives silhouette and the hard long shadows on the bed draw your eye to him. You get two strong focal points, the figure in the bed in the bottom right, and him sitting on the edge in the upper left. There are so many compositional elements adding depth to this image.

The whole thing is luxurious, moody, and hints at an entire story. I love it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I really loved the newest Lady GaGa music video (what gay man didn't?) but beyond the tight bodies and amazing costumes and dance moves, was some really phenomenal lighting. After the 4th or 5th watch through I started trying to figure out some of the lighting setups.

First scene that intrigued me was this tight framing of her face toward the beginning. The razor sharp shadows tell me it's a tightly controlled spot light, and it's aimed perfectly so it doesn't hit her head. This gives attention and lighting to her face, but lets the crazy head gear lighting show, as well as the background lighting create a framing device. It gives it a very otherworldly feel by using light in the main portion, then shadow framing it, then light again framing that. Most lighting schemes either leave the subject lit and background unlit, or the subject unlit and the background lit. The times when it is lit > unlit > lit, the ratios are much closer, creating volume but not this level of contrast. The other thing to note, is while the goggles leave a jet black shadow, the nose doesn't leave any. This requires very precise positioning, because if the light was moved up or further to the right, you'd get a very black very hard edged nose shadow from it. This probably also means her face is very, *very* heavily powdered to prevent any specular shine on her skin.

The scene I liked the most, however, is the above. Very difficult lighting to pull off on a scene this size with so many subjects. My best guess is a huge softbox, large enough to cover the entire stage area, probably 10x20 meters, and potentially gridded or with barn doors to prevent spill (the floor going quickly to black is what makes me think this). I think it's a large softbox because of how soft the shading is, and how even it is on each person and no matter how they move throughout the space of the scene.

What is very likely is the size of the space being huge to prevent light leakage from illuminating the background. One thing that gives these scenes their signature look, is the soft overhead lighting, on a pure black background. This is most likely a stage in a large hanger or warehouse. By having the background being far away in all directions, you don't get any bounce contaminating the shadows on the subjects, and you don't get any light on the background, allowing it to go to black.

I liked this look so much I decided to try it out myself.


This is my 1.5 meter softlighter directly over head. I have lowish ceilings or I would have put it higher, which would have resulted with similar levels of shading, but less falloff from head down to feet. Because I also have a small room I was working in, the background is actually a black paper background. The setup is similar though, in that it's a soft, overhead source, large enough to cover the subject, but controlled so it doesn't hit the background.

I think again this is a brilliant lighting decision in the original GaGa video, because it's the type of lighting we don't normally get to see. The most often occurring soft lighting is on overcast days, but it then comes from all directions, and backgrounds are also hit, ensuring everything is soft. Sometimes we get soft window lighting in houses with dark interiors, but then that lighting is from the side. It's only in controlled lighting environments that you can get soft overhead lighting, but with dark backgrounds. This gives it a highly elevated distinct look, separating it from the lighting achievable from most music videos without unlimited budgets.