Last year, in one of the first articles that I wrote for SWP, I stressed the importance of having a concept that cut across several shoots to tie a body of work together.

This article is about a particular artistic nude project that I am starting to work on. The project is titled “Clothed With Darkness” which speaks to a particular lighting approach that I am using for this series. I’m going to discuss how the images are going to be lit, as well as the post processing approach that goes hand in hand with the lighting to produce the final result.

A Little Bit of Background

RHUS - Photo Project Clothed With Darkness – concept lighting and implementation

About nine years ago, during one of my first art nude shoots, I produced the above images. While one might rightly criticize them (among other things) for their failure to separate the model from the background, I found something strangely compelling in them, as if the model was emerging from the inky depths of the night to appear before my lens. I had always wanted to revisit this concept, but, quite frankly, I was so inexperienced at the time that I shot those images I had no idea what I had done from both a lighting perspective and a post-processing perspective to achieve that look.

Fast forward to now. Over the years since I took those first halting shots, I’ve gained quite a bit of experience shooting and lighting the human form. I now know how to create this look virtually entirely in camera and to use post processing techniques to enhance the effect for a finished image.

Clothed With Darkness- by Joe Rooney, Jlrimages

The Lighting Theory

The lighting approach draws on two lighting concepts. First, is the idea that when a subject is lit, shadows will fall on the side of the subject opposite from the direction of the light. Second, the closer that you place your subject to your light source, the more rapid the light falls off on the side opposite of the light source, thus producing deeper shadows. Based on these ideas, I set out to design a lighting scheme that would replicate those early images.

Lighting Design

Two concerns went into this design. I wanted to be able to light the model for at least a ¾ length shot, so a big modifier was needed. But I also wanted to keep light off the background. A strip box would have been ideal. However, I didn’t have a large strip box in the studio I was shooting in. So I decided to create a strip box by firing my strobe head into a narrowly shaped v-flat. That gave me a large light source that would be able to light my model from head to toe. But its narrow beam would help to keep light from falling in places that I didn’t want it to.

To assist in keeping light off the background, I did two other things: I placed the light in a side light position and positioned my model several feet away from the background (which was simply a gray wall in the studio). At this point, I should note that this approach is related quite closely to Dan’s approach to Bodyscapes in his new Ebook, Shooting Nudes on a Budget. Get an overview about Dan’s low-cost but creative approaches here.

Lighting-Design-1 - Photo Project Clothed With Darkness – concept lighting and implementation

The Set

My set for this shoot is pretty simple:

  1. My light, firing into a v-flat, is positioned to camera right, directly to the side of the model.
  2. By having the model stand at the back edge of the v-flat, I allow for a little bit of light to wrap around in front of the model and define her shape.
  3. But by keeping the model close to the light, I can ensure that I’ll have significant fall off in the intensity of the light, thus leaving the side of her to camera left in a pretty deep shadow.

In the photos above, you can see the v-flat with a strobe head positioned to fire into the v-flat to the right of the frame.

Setting Up the Shot

I positioned the model at the back edge of the v-flat, about three to four feet from the light. I chose the distance primarily to give me room for negative space in the composition. I metered the light to produce an exposure at f8, with an ISO of 200. Note that there is no magic in these numbers. I chose ISO 200, because that is the native ISO of my camera and f8, as that would give me decent depth of field. But the same result could be achieved at any f stop and ISO setting that you choose. In the studio, exposure is achieved by adjusting the power of the lights. What was critical to me, however, was getting significant shadow to fall across the side of the model opposite of the light. Control over this is achieved by moving the model closer to, or further from, the light. The closer the model is to the light, the more rapid the fall off of the light, and the more her body will fall into shadow.

Model-Posing - Photo Project Clothed With Darkness – concept lighting and implementation

After a couple of test shots, I had the look I was going for. I shared the test shots with the model and let her know that the idea was to let the far side of her body fall into shadow. Having that discussion is important, because it lets the model know how best to pose to complement the lighting design. After about twenty minutes of shooting we had a number of images that I was happy with.


Post Processing - Photo Project Clothed With Darkness – concept lighting and implementation

Image 1 is a finished image from this shoot. It’s obviously had some post processing work done to it. It’s been converted to black and white and some retouching to her skin. However, I can’t begin to emphasize the importance of getting this close to the finished result straight out of camera (SOOC).

Image 2 is the SOOC jpeg. As you can see, I’ve cropped the final image in a little bit, but the lighting design is quite evident in the jpeg.

Post Processing - Photo Project Clothed With Darkness – concept lighting and implementation

Image 3 is the raw file with no adjustments aside for resizing for the web. As you can see, the shadows on the left side of the image aren’t quite as deep in the raw file. You can clearly see the outline of the far side of the model’s body in the raw file. I have my camera adjusted to give me a punchier jpeg, so I need to adjust the raw file a bit to bring back that punch.

Image 4 is the adjusted raw file. I boosted the Contrast to +19, dropped the Shadows to -14 and Blacks to -19. Clarity and Vibrance were increased to +10. After adjusting the raw file to get to Image 4, all I have to do is clean up the skin a bit and convert the image to black and white.

Post Processing - Photo Project Clothed With Darkness – concept lighting and implementation

Image 5 is the final image again. I used the healing brush to remove some skin blemishes, a high pass filter to add a bit of bite, and put finishing touches on her skin with Imagnomic’s Portraiture Plug In. I then converted the image to black & white using the free Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 software. After the image was converted to black & white, I dodged the highlights in the model’s hair to give them a little more pop, and I was done.

Some Takeaways

So, what should you, the reader, take away from this?

  1. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Having said that, you need to know why you are breaking them. Traditionally, you should try to design your lighting to separate your subject from the background, but I didn’t want to do that. It wasn’t my vision. This was something between traditional bodyscapes and dramatic Rembrandt style lighting .
  2. On a related note, don’t be afraid to experiment and/or take risks. Try different approaches to lighting your subject on occasion. While every risk you take as a photographer may not work, you can’t grow as a photographer unless you try to do new things.
  3. To the best of your ability, ‘Get Your Shot Right In Camera’. There is nothing wrong with tweaking an image in Photoshop, but you should not depend on Photoshop to “make” your image. The closer that you get the image in camera to your final vision, the easier it is to put the finishing touches on in Photoshop.
  4. This lighting approach has more than one application. While I approached this as a fine art image, this lighting design can easily be applied to boudoir. Christa Meola , a well-known Boudoir photographer, uses a variation of this technique for clients who, for modesty or other reasons don’t want to be so exposed on camera. She also uses it for clients who may be somewhat conscious of their weight, as the shadows can be used to slim as well as conceal.
Clothed With Darkness- by Joe Rooney, JlrimagesClothed With Darkness- by Joe Rooney, Jlrimages
Clothed With Darkness- by Joe Rooney, Jlrimages

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading.