I recently had someone message me and ask me how I achieved the stark contrast in the fitness series of my buddy, Sean Elliot, an aspiring young actor. While much of the contrast was achieved using curves adjustment layers in my post processing, the additional contrast would not have come out well if it weren’t for the hard-edged lighting I used.
Portraits on black seamless are somewhat more difficult than portraits on white seamless because you need to carefully control light spill on to the background. In order for the background to appear black (and not a dark gray), you need to have enough space between the subject and background, so that the strobes lighting the subject, don’t also light the background. In a room with white walls, this is especially difficult because light will bounce off the ceilings and walls. Additionally, you need a room where you can eliminate all ambient lighting. These two factors led to me moving out of my small studio in the back of my basement in to the main living area of my basement. In this main living area, I had much more depth, which meant I could increase the distance of both my camera from the subject and the subject from the background.
The original intent of this series was to replicate the Gatorade flourescent sweat campaign. I wanted to do as much in camera as possible, but glowing sweat is not something that is all that easy to create. I learned highlighters, under black light, glow mysteriously. I went to the store and bought a package of highlighters of different colors and spent several days soaking the highlighter sponges from the inside of the pens, in water. My idea was to photograph Sean on one day and then on the next day, spray this highlighter water on a human analog and then composite the drops on to Sean’s face. Here is a picture of the what the drops look like under blacklight.
The reason I couldn’t spray the water on Sean directly (aside from it staining his clothes and his face) was to expose the drops I needed to use a long exposure; longer than Sean could possibly stay still for. Another reason is the black lights would mess up with my light setup, which you can see below.
Sean’s mark was the small weight on the ground.
Take note of the ghetto boom arm. Always improvise if you don’t have the right tools to get the job done.
A view from the camera room.
After a bunch of time in front of the computer editing, I was not satisfied with the outcome of the sweat. My photos with the sweat resembled some strange african disease. I just couldn’t get it to look how I imagined it in my head and so I scrapped that idea and adapted the pictures to be more of a Nike style fitness shoot. The Nike and Gatorade brands use remarkably similar lighting in their ad campaigns. I really didn’t need to do much, other than re-saturate the photo a bit.
And here is the final image, along with an animation of my editing.