Out of one lackluster shoot came an idea and eventual pictures that I was very happy with. The 1979 Theme Shoot idea came about after looking over the images from my previous shoot with Molly. Her look, some serendipity in the studio, and influential images planted in my mind long ago, by the culture-driven media of my childhood, lead to the development of the idea of recreating the looks of that era.I started with some research and reference gathering on the Internet. Archival images of Studio 54, advertising tear sheets from fashion and music magazines, promotional shots and album covers, as well as video clips from disco-era TV shows and movies, all helped me discover some common traits of the photography and looks of the ‘70s.
These details and reference images were shared with my makeup artist and stylist, James, who promptly turned around with a “mood board” (a term used to describe a more focused set of reference visuals for a shoot) that featured ideas of where we might go with specific looks for hair and makeup for Molly.
Lighting styles were a little different at the time. So, this would not only be a fun experiment, but a challenge, as I’d have to create lighting patterns that were not only different from my standard ones, but counter-intuitive to me as well.
Gear & Settings
I begin with the starting settings and update with any changes as I progress through my descriptions of the sequences.
Two studio strobes are used (Alien Bees B800s) and modified with shoot-through umbrellas. Most of the time the main light is positioned much lower than what is generally considered the correct/traditional position, higher above the head. In fact, the intent is to cast facial shadows upward instead of across or downward. I stay as close as I can to this idea without completely veering off into “monster movie lighting.”
- DSLR: Canon 7D
- Mode: Manual
- Focal Length: 50mm
- ISO: 100
- Aperture: f/11
- Shutter Speed: 1/250
Image 1: This is a lighting test shot. As you can see the shadows are definitely being cast upward and the position of the light is easy to see by looking at the specular highlights (catch lights) in the eyes. Usually, we like to see the catch lights either at the 11 or 1 o’clock positions. Here, they are closer to the 9 o’clock position. Maybe not so unusual for someone starting out in portraiture, not knowing how high to place a light, but very different for me, a shooter big on the 45/45 position (refer to other texts for an explanation of standard portrait lighting setups).
I have the main setup on camera left and a second light hitting the background (two short width rolls of seamless paper, different colors). The light is mostly flagged from hitting the subject at this point. Many of the images of the ‘70s either featured heavy halo lighting (strong all-around hair lighting causing it to glow from behind and through much of the outer areas of the hair), or were relatively devoid of hair lighting or rim lighting.
Images 2-6: I’ve given Molly the low-down on what I am trying to convey with these images. In fact, she brought along some things that will definitely work for our images, including a black sequined top. I provided a red metallic set of tight pants and a mesh lace bodysuit purchased in midtown Manhattan, appropriately enough (I see the look as late ‘70s New York). A pair of big, roundish sunglasses serves as a useful prop. “Use the sunglasses. You’re an up-and-coming star out on the town and you’ve got some attitude. You’re a little aloof; nose-up.”
Images 7-13: “Okay, you’re a rockstar on the red carpet of some event, posing for the
Images 12-17: “Lean in to the camera.”
Images 18-20: Here, I’m deciding to try to add some hair light to the mix. These are test shots, starting with the light at too high a power. We turn the power down and 23 adjust the angle of the light and camera- to-subject as needed.
Images 21-30: A few more shots for variety, but I think we have most of what we need at this point. Moving on.
Aperture Change: f/14
Images 31-41: “Okay, we’re going to do the same thing, but I want to make it look like we’re backstage somewhere or on the edges of a dance floor, or something, you know?” Yes, my descriptions of imaginary places and atmospheres can be vague, but this also gives people room to visualize things in their own ways.
We setup the lights similarly to the first sequence, except this time the kicker or hair light is going to be in the frame, or at least visible enough to be an element of the shot. The background is a simple black piece of canvas.
Direction is still about being a rising star, but maybe this time, only as a socialite; a nightlife celebrity. “Now, you’re having fun, but still with the attitude.”
Images 42-54: In the late ‘70s, it wasn’t uncommon for even the most fashionable and sophisticated to wear otherwise scandalous, revealing outfits at Studio 54. “Let’s get rid of the sequined top, and now you’re dancing and having maybe TOO good of a time!” Note that I’m including more of the back light fixture in the shots.
Image 55-58: “Let’s use these colors against the solid yellow seamless and do some straight poses. Give me a blasé attitude.”
Images 59-65: This is one of the planned sequences. Guy Bourdin used color blocking (large areas of color, one up against another) and combined them brilliantly. The seamless background, composed of seamless paper by Savage in the colors Blue Jay and Deep Yellow were taped together to create this two-color backdrop. Molly is positioned so that the red metallic pants fall across the yellow portion and the black mesh top falls across the blue. I’m thinking that this is going to make for an interesting visual split.
The main light (B800 with shoot-through umbrella modifier) is positioned as low as possible on the C-stand, camera left near Molly’s face but just out of frame. The other light is coming in from behind and up high to add highlighting to the pants and somewhat to the hair.
This is a shot about colors and lines, so direction is limited to leg and arm placement. I really like this setup. So far, I’m feeling that the shoot is going very well.
Lens Switch: 17-40mm
Images 66-75: I get up on a ladder and have Molly play the spent party girl. “If someone were to look at the photo, they’d have to wonder if you were dead.” Gruesome, I know. But sometimes I’ll say strange things to see what happens; models come up with all sorts of interpretations and often they’re quite interesting.
Images 76-91: Remember the images from the first shoot with Molly, preceding this section? We shot some on this couch with a similar lighting setup. Well, here it is again, but this time much more interesting and successful. In keeping with the “backstage” setup (images 31-54), we continue with featuring the light coming from behind as an element of the shots. What’s the party girl doing now? The viewer can make up their own storyline – there’s plenty of room for that.
Lens Switch: 85mm
Image 92-95: Who doesn’t get a shot or two of the makeup artist at work? James is applying very think and perfect red lipstick on Molly’s lips for a few close-up shots.
Images 96-101: We kind of got this idea while shooting the floor shots a couple of setups ago. Remember the cover from the Cars self-titled album (1978)? The rest of these images are a play on that. Images
102-140: To finish up this shoot, I have Molly slip this metallic/Spandex dress over the bodysuit, position her just in-between two silver reflective panels setup like a V-flat, and have her dance to the music playing in the studio. We’re starting to look a lot more ‘80s now, which is fun.
Lights are positioned across from each other on either side of the set, and one light is directly in front of her. The point is to get hard light, reflections, and shininess. My intention is to get cool, colorful and crispy tones out of these shots in post.
I imported the images to Lightroom and discarded any misfires and some test shots.
Next, in Lightroom, I performed color-correction, cropping, and applied some standard and user preset effects. I selected the following shots as the best of the bunch.
Lightroom adjustments of note: Aside from some crops and the typical adjustments for color and contrast, the only images featuring major Lightroom adjustments are shots 32-50 below. These were hit with the Video Cross Process 2 preset and some basic adjustments.
Final Thoughts & Selections
I was very pleased with many of the shots from this shoot including Figure 7 for the authentic look of late ‘70s commercial shots, Figures 8 and 9 for the cinematic effect of the lighting, Figure 10 for the lines and colors, and Figures 11 and 12, also for the lines and colors. This last set of photos also has a vibrancy thanks to Molly’s excellent dance poses and expressions.