THIS NEW YORK PHOTOGRAPHER GETS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL FOR HIS COLORFUL BEAUTY IMAGES. AS TOLD TO JACK NEUBART
Every once in a while we have the opportunity to put our best foot forward with clients looking for work that is edgy, not stylized. And Zink, a new publication in New York focusing on fashion and beauty, is one such client. Publisher Sheriff Ishak, having seen my work in one of the sourcebooks, contacted me. He wanted a photo spread for a story titled “Asian Botanical” for the March 2003 issue, the emphasis being on exotic make–up. This was also one of those times when I could sell images already in my portfolio, but which paved the way for a continuing working relationship with future assignments that would further allow me to push the proverbial envelope.
In my lighting, I follow the dictum once passed on to me by a fellow photographer and mentor, Francis Giacobetti, who said “Ecrire avec la lumiere “(write with the light). In much of my beauty work, I start with natural light, in this instance, a north–facing skylight in a 20 foot high vaulted ceiling in my apartment. On a sunny day, this gives me a very soft light while still creating strong shadows that sculpt the model’s facial features. Every model’s face is different and thus, the shadow on each face is unique.
Make–up artist Paul Innis is credited with the concept behind the images for ‘’ Asian Botanical “specifically in this case painting a floral pattern on the young woman’s face. Something I saw some time back provided a means to embellish on that-namely, that by adding a twig, which the model would hold in her mouth, we could give the shot more depth. The final element would be the lighting and here I would employ a combination of the already mentioned skylight with various light sources to add dimension and texture to the shot.
The model stood 10 to 12 feet away, facing the skylight, which produced that neutral band of illumination and those crisp shadows under nose and lower lip, in order not to dilute the shadows, it was necessary to practically surround the model in black velvet, with a curtain draped in front of her and to her right. To block another window, I suspended a large black gobo above the set, to the model’s right. And I spread black velvet on the floor to further prevent unwanted reflections. The background, 4 feet behind the subject, is a dark gray seamless paper fading to near black.
The benefit of doing personal work is that it lets you experiment with lighting, leading me to use Kino Flos, because of the way they work to shape the face and give it a nice glow. When introducing lights (and after shooting Polaroids with the skylight alone), I begin with two 4 X 4 foot Kino banks on C-stands. There is one on either side of the model, gelled green in keeping with the foliage theme 3 to 4 feet away. These lights are positioned behind the subject at about a 30-degree angle, and are one stop under the skylight illumination levels. The effect of one bank appears more intense, because she is turned in that direction. To prevent flare in the camera, I added two 2 X 4 foot flags, one on either side, supported on C-stands.
Another one of my tests involved the use of Maglites. At first I was using these flashlights to closely examine details on the subject’s face but one day realized that when gelled, they provided an additional light source that I could further use to sculpt the face. Here I employed Maglites supported on C-stands, placing each 15 to 20 inches behind the model. The one further back is gelled red and was turned on her ponytail, while an orange-gelled light was aimed just below her chin, for that sliver of defining light. This aspect of the shot was actually the most difficult. Whenever the model moved her head, these lights had to be repositioned.
I prefer warm skin tones from my film, so in this instance I loaded my Hasselblad with Kodak Portra 400NC, which meant I wouldn’t have to add any warming filters onto the 120mm lens. The exposure was based on a reading of the skylight which gave me 1/125 of a second at f/5.6. The second shot, titled “Candy Girl,” came about as a result of an assignment from zoozoom.com, an online magazine, for the March 2003 issue. Creative director David “Mak” Macintyre had asked if I had pictures to illustrate a story on the role sugar could play as an exfoliant. I said no, but that I would welcome the opportunity to shoot it. I had carte blanche to design the shot, the only directive being that the model’s face would be covered in sugar grains. I felt that it would be especially interesting to see how the lighting would play with the crystals. There were four shots in this shoot.
As in the previous shot, I began with a similar arrangement of skylight and a black velvet surround, along with flags to prevent flare. And I again employed my Kino banks. However, here the banks were almost touching her face—and they were parallel to each other, at eye level, with each one gelled blue. The brighter skylight opened up an area on the face with neutral light.
To get this tight ( 1 ½ feet from the face), I had to use an extension ring on a 120mm lens on my Hasselblad, for an f/8 exposure at 1/60 of a second on Porta NC. As I said earlier, “Asian Botanical” would pave the way for further work with Zink, except that this time we would be shooting on assignment for a feature in the April 2003 issue.
For this third image, a few things changed. First shot at Sun Studios (New York City). Second, and most important, is the lighting. I used a Profoto 1200 w/s pack with a zoom reflector and grid, coming down on the model’s forehead from a distance of 2 feet, to the left of camera, and moved around to get just the right shading underneath the eyelashes. In this instance, the 120mm lens was fitted with two extension rings, which allowed me to get to within a foot of the model’s face, shooting from an angle slightly below eye level. And because I was concerned with crisp detail in a shot this tight, I opted for reversal film, Fuji RDP, which again gave me the warm skin tones I favor for this f/22.5 exposure.
The face was painted black for maximum impact, with black velvet all around the model to keep extraneous light off her face. Manhattan-based Remi Rebillard www.remirebillard.com specializes in beauty.
CAPTION: Left: A combination of skylight, Kino Flos and Maglites blended to complement this unusual floral makeup motif.
CAPTION: Far Left: Skylight and Kinos played off sugar crystals adorning this model’s face. Middle: It required one finely focused light to bring out the stark contrasts in this eye-catching image.