Sunday, 23 November 2008

Bringing back the '80s

Sometimes you get a concept and, to be frank and honest about it, you wonder if it's all that great an idea. This shoot was one of those for me. The model wanted to be Debbie Harry (Blondie) for an 80s style shoot. Now I'm seldom one to walk away from a challenge, especially if saturated colours are involved, but lets be honest...most 80s photography has dated quicker than just about any other decade of photography before it!

So I figured a set of photos which looked dated were out of the question, so the only option was to drag 80s style into the 21st century, kicking and screaming. I went on the offensive through google images, youtube etc. looking for all the blondie material I could find, taking specific note of lighting styles. Lots of overly bright hair lights either from above or directly behind were the order of the day. That and excessive use of the clamshell lighting style. Clamshell is simply having two soft light sources, one above the model's face and one below, giving a very even flattering light, and a characteristic double catchlight in the eyes.

So for the first set of shots, I jumped straight in there on the clamshell look. Often in fashion shots, you'll see a high light directly above the camera which gives a very defined fashiony look. So I tried to take a bit of a half measure between full blown clamshell and fashion lighting by using a diffused shoot thru umbrella above modifying the light from a 550EX (equivalent to a 580EX II), while keeping the bottom half of the clamshell lighting a little more subtle by using a silver reflector, which I could control by bringing it up and closer, or down and further away. A single 550EX flashgun (equivalent to a 580EX II) on a boom arm up behind for a hairlight, and we were all set for an 80s feel.

So here's one of the shots from this first setup

Combined with the smoother more modern digital cleanness of the image, the lighting gives the 80s feel, but without looking dated (hopefully!)

I then opted for another look while the model was having an outfit change. Decided this time to go for a backlit look, with a really saturated colour. When I saw her red top, I tried the red gel on a 550EX (equivalent to a 580EX II) used for the background in the previous shot, but it was way too much, so I stuck another primary colour on in the form of a blue gel which had a lot better impact. The blue light gives a good edge all the way round her, bringing her out from the background well. I didn't really change from the clamshell lighting all that much, but moved it around her. In this case, the umbrella was up above her, but to camera left, while the silver reflector was down level with her arm, and bouncing light back under her chin etc.

Again, hopefully some of that 80s style the model was after, but again without looking dated.

We had a few minutes at the end of the shoot, and I always love a little bit of light relief just before we wrap up. Our makeup artist had seen a photo of Debbie Harry pretending to lick her record, so we decided to make our own version of the shot, and I'd got a Blondie record especially for the idea. Debbie Harry didn't have a tongue piercing as far as I know, but for me, it totally makes this shot. A real attention grabber. That and the kiss on the record...totally love it!

Lighting for that shot was pretty quick and dirty, given we were all wanting to get away. The background was the side of a large white 20ft container, hit hard with a single 550EX flashgun (equivalent to a 580EX II) on the area behind the model and record. Lighting the model was the umbrella from the previous shots, off to camera left, at a steep enough angle to not create nasty highlights on the record but show some texture never the less. Can't remember right off, but I might've reflected a little light back into the models face with a white reflector, but either way, it was only subtle fill if I did. Oh, and the secret of getting the model's tongue so close to the record when she didn't want to risk licking a dirty old record? Bring the record forward...the compression on a long lens means you can't tell it's not in line with her tongue!


Knwetlk said...

Am attempting to go back an additional 30 yrs and am looking for a way to light the eyes like many of the 30's, 40's and 50's
glamour pix. Would really appreciate any ideas.

n506 said...


I think you're pretty much describing the film noir look. A search on google will give you a lot of help with this look.

You're talking about a lot of very controlled lighting. Snoot your lights and direct them precisely on the particular areas of your models faces. You'll be underexposing ambient significantly, although I personally feel it looks better with a subtle background, rather than just going to black. It's a very contrasty style though. Goes well with black & white, although perhaps you could go for a modern colour style of film noir...could be interesting? Film Coloir?

If it's not really film noir you're thinking of, perhaps you can try to describe more what you're after, and I can help a bit more. Also, if you have any technical issues with lighting it, give me a shout.

n506 said...

One other thing...

Do like I did...go on an offensive for whichever decade you decide, looking at the films of those times. You'll have less material than I did for the 80s, but still enough that you'll get a good strong feel for the look you're after. All about finding the material, and reverse engineering the light!