LIghting like Leonardo da Vinci. Kinda.

Many years ago, when I  was still in the huge downtown studio,  I read a scholarly article about how Leonardo da Vinci executed his drawings and portrait studies in anticipation of painting.  It was fascinating to me to understand that he went to great lengths to understand the lighting and then went beyond what he saw in nature and invented his own inimitable lighting style.  The article centered around the way light flowed onto Leonardo's subjects and his construction of light modifiers to create a light which he used when concepting the modeling of faces.

His technique was to stretch a large, white cloth over top of the entirety of a central courtyard.  The cloth, two stories above his model, softened the light and gave it an unusual character.

After reading this I went into the studio and tried to make the biggest light diffuser I could.  I put two six foot by six foot frames together and put diffusion across both of them.  Then I put a series of large, soft light sources behind the whole construction.  I used a Norman 2000 watt second pack with four heads.  Each head was fitted with a beauty dish and each beauty dish was covered with a diffuser of its own.  The lights were as close to the 18 foot ceiling of the studio as I could get them while the diffuser is just out of the frame above the model's head.  My one mistake with this shot was that I filled the light from beneath too much.  I would have preferred deeper shadows under the model's chin and at the edges of her beautiful cheeks.  And, in retrospect,  I would also have preferred her to be looking directly into the lens.

Alas, my studio is too small now to re-do my experiments.  In order to add a bit more snap overall I probably would use a one stop diffuser instead of a two stop diffuser.  A bit more collimated light would add just the right touch.

It's wonderful to know that artists experimented endlessly with light, even before the invention of photography.  Being able to understand and appreciate graceful light is a talent in and of itself.  I posted this as a counterpoint to all the overdone lighting I saw today on the web.  Sometimes it's better to make simpler images.


Wolfgang Lonien said...

Wow. Awesome. This one has written "Beauty" all over it...

Mindless said...

I think she is beautiful on the pictures and despite of I like darker shadows usually, I feel these soft shadows on her face are perfect... I want to study her face and not just the eyes. ;)

Oh, and it is good to hear that great photographers think too simple lights are better than overdo it... :)

Anonymous said...

Awesomely beautiful..

Alan said...

Simply beautiful shot and lighting.

Thanks for sharing the images, technique and self-criticism. One of my greatest weaknesses in photo is my use of lighting. Your info is greatly appreciated!

Anonymous said...

It's kind of funny to read all the comments that say over and over again, "It's not the camera, it's the photographer." Or, "It's not the arrow, it's the indian." So then Kirk puts up an incredibly interesting photo and story about actually doing the art and very few people make any comments at all. But as soon as he posts something about the Sony camera everyone is all eyes.

I guess we don't really believe all that shit about "it's not the camera....."

Anyway, thank you Kirk. This is beautiful and there's an interesting idea behind it.

Broch said...

Those images are just gorgeous!