I have a super simple two light fun and sexy glamour lighting setup that puts all the light behind the model. Yes – I said behind the model.
I was a child of the 1960’s and one of my absolute favorite sets of photos is a group of black and white images of Marilyn Monroe taken by the great Bert Stern. These images went on to be known as The Last Sitting because they were taken shortly before her death. They were shot with a Nikon F, a standard 50mm lens and my favorite Tri-X ASA 400 film.
If you Google The Last Sitting and click on the Images tab – you will not only see the original images but hundreds of thousands of attempts to recreate the pureness and personality that existed in this amazing set of photographs.
From a photography standpoint- meaning if you like to follow rules – these images are terrible. They break all the rules. Most noticeably, all of the light is behind Marilyn Monroe and coming from a large window. The only light on her is reflected from the walls of the room.
What makes these images work, and the reason they are iconic is because of what’s in front of the camera. Now I don’t mean it’s because it’s Marilyn Monroe, which certainly helps. I am referring to the simplicity and the softness of the setting and the lighting combined with the personality and rawness of the subject. For many years this has been something I have valued and strived for in my work.
Now, before I show you the glamour lighting setup, let me tell you how I shoot black and white. I know some of you are thinking… “wait a second, doesn’t he shoot digital, which means it’s all in color?” Kind of. I do shoot all of my images in RAW, which means they are technically in color.
However, what I rarely do is shoot a color image and then when I am looking at it in Photoshop or think hmm, maybe this will look good in black and white because it’s just not that impressive in color. If I want a black and white image, I actually set the image style in my camera to black and white so that the jpeg preview on my LCD screen will be black and white. Nikon calls this setting Picture Control and Canon calls them Picture Styles – basically, what I am doing is selecting Monochrome and boosting the contrast all the way up. Your LCD will show you a high contrast black and white image that looks just like Tri-X film. By the way, that contrast boost only affects your monochrome settings, so it won’t mess up your color shots if you forget to set it back.
I know some of you are thinking why go to all of this trouble? Why not just use a plug-in like Nik Silver Efex Pro when you are in Photoshop or Lightroom? The answer is simple: back in the film days – you know when phones still had wires attached to them and mail only arrived once a day – you would light and expose one way for color images – especially color transparencies – and you would light and expose a very different way for black and white. It was two different thought processes. Now, I love digital technology, but often it encourages and enables us to be lazy.
So if I have black and white in mind for a shot, I want to be sure while I am shooting that it’s going to look great!
If I am shooting tethered, I will use Capture One Pro and convert the images to black and white on download so that as I view my computer screen while I am shooting I am looking at black and white images.
Glamour Lighting Setup
This glamour lighting set up is really simple; it’s just two lights and two large reflectors. Your reflectors can be diffusion panels, v-flats or, if money is tight, you could make it work for three-quarter length shots and headshots with two Walmart reflectors. I showed you these panels in my home studio video.
You can see below how I have the strobes set up slightly behind the model and on either side of the white background:
This is a standard 9ft wide vinyl seamless. I like the vinyl because it is more durable and wipes clean.
These shots were made with an 85mm f/1.8 lens set at f/5.0 The shutter speed was 1/200th of a second and the ISO was 100.
The color version of the image looks like this:
Which some of you may like. I don’t dislike it, I just wanted these to be black and white.
The final images required very little post production beyond the usual color, contrast, sharpening, and, of course, removing of blemishes, as always. I say this just as reminder of the importance of great hair and makeup.
The most important element to this set of images is obviously not the lighting and the setting; it is the model and her ability to give you lots of personality. When I do a session like this, I shoot very heavy and my focus is on keeping things playful. If you have watched any of my videos, you should recognize this young lady as a model that I work with frequently.
You could do this glamour lighting setup with speedlights. The placement would be exactly the same and you will want to set them at full power. Also, be sure to set the zoom setting on your flash head to its widest setting so that you get good coverage on the white background.
If you don’t have the reflectors or a way to make them, you can achieve an almost identical glamour lighting look to this by using a third strobe and bouncing it into the ceiling in front of the model.
Here is the same set-up with a bounce flash instead of the reflectors:
And here is the result:
It’s not quite as dreamy, but very close.
I hope that gives you some ideas. Take this idea and run with it! Go pick up that camera and shoot something because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!