Lighting for Mood with the Female Nude

I think I made it pretty clear in Naked Part I and Naked Part II that I am a fan of the KISS IT (Keep It Simple Stupid) method of lighting and shooting. So with that in mind let’s jump right in and look at a few lighting set-ups that I routinely use for shooting fine art nudes. (If you haven’t read the previous two articles and watched the videos – trust me – read them first!)

Backlit – Silhouette With Some Spill

Backlighting is a favorite of mine when shooting fine art nudes in my studio. Since I frequently choose to not show the identity of my subjects (I like my images to be about the beauty of the female form and NOT who is naked) I find that the purity of the white background combined with the mood created by the backlighting helps to isolate my subject and forces me to really concentrate on creating a mood using my subjects movement or body language combined with interesting composition.

Backlit – Silhouette With Some Spill

In this first example you see two 800watt second strobe heads placed on either side of a white seamless background.  Attached to the strobes are shoot through umbrellas.  These shoot through umbrellas create a very broad yet diffused light that makes it very easy to light the white background evenly and by keeping them angled slightly inward, they also create enough spill to shed some highlights on the subject so that the image is not a complete silhouette.

You can see in the examples below how different body angles and exposures create almost limitless variations.

Backlit – Silhouette With Some Spill

Backlit – “Window Light”

Backlit – “Window Light”

This backlit “window like” effect is incredibly simple and pure, and it breaks ALL the rules.  If you have read any of my articles, you know how I feel about rules.

In this arrangement ALL of the light is behind the subject.  I generally use two 800watt second strobe heads with shoot through umbrellas placed on either side of a white seamless background.  The umbrellas are aimed directly at the background to eliminate any spill on the subject.  (Depending on your space – you may want to place a gobo between the light source and your camera lens to eliminate any flare)

In front of the subject I place two large white reflectors to create a soft fill light which is what illuminates the subject.  The exposure is based upon the light that is reflecting back to my subject from the white reflectors.  (This is NOT a scenario where you can do anything on AUTO.  Remember – AUTO is a 4 LETTER WORD!)

Backlit – “Window Light”

It’s worth noting that the little details – parts of the body – can be just as visually interesting as a head to toe image.

Backlit – “Window Light”

One Side Light on a Gray Wall

One Side Light on a Gray Wall

This is another very simple arrangement that allows you to create a lot of drama.  The best part of this set-up is that it only requires 1 light.  In my case, most of the sample images you are seeing are shot with an 800watt second strobe and a medium sized softbox.

When using this set-up I will often instruct the model to face the wall and play with her shadow.  As I have mentioned in past articles this is just one way to empower the model as a collaborator.

One Side Light on a Gray Wall

In the examples below you will notice that I simply moved my subjects about 2 feet from the wall and used the same type of cross lighting from a single light source.

One Side Light on a Gray Wall

One-Light Side Lighting

One-Light Side Lighting

It doesn’t get much simpler that this one.  One 800watt second strobe head and a medium sized softbox.  I will generally place the light and then move my model through the light as I have shown you in previous articles and videos.

One-Light Side Lighting

Don’t forget that you can raise or lower the light source to add even more possibilities.

One-Light Side Lighting

Two-Light Split Lighting

Two-Light Split Lighting

Two 800watt second strobe heads with medium sized softboxes placed at equal distances on either side of the subject.  Moving the subject forward or backwards between the lights will have a dramatic impact on the lighting effect, as will simply turning the model in one direction or the other.

Two-Light Split Lighting

Top Light

Top Light

As the title would indicate this is simply placing one 800watt second strobe head above my subject.  Sometimes with a beauty dish or softbox – other times simply direct light.

Once again when I use this technique I will generally set my lighting in place and then move my subject around under the light to explore the possibilities.

Top Light

The example below is done with one 800watt second strobe head and a 22” Beauty Dish.  The rounded shape of the beauty dish creates the curvature as the light falls off into the background.

Top Light

This Black and White example was lit with an 800watt second strobe head and a medium sized softbox placed above my subject and angled slightly towards the backdrop to lighten the backdrop just a little.  The model is lying on 4’ x 8’ sheet of black laminate, which can be purchased at a Home Depot or Lowes.  The high gloss of the laminate creates the mirror image.

Top Light

Hopefully that get’s you started.  The lighting arrangements that you see above account for 75% of my fine art images.

Remember that most of these lighting arrangements could be done similarly with direct flash, beauty dishes or softboxes.  It’s NOT how much cool and expensive equipment you have – it is your ability to “SEE”.  Experiment with your light and learn to see how different light sources and light mods interact with your subject.  This is the only way you will ever truly master lighting.