For those who do not know, Jill Greenberg is a famous photographer to the stars. Some of her work has received, uh, criticism, for her use of light or tactics to achieve certain reactions with, or effects on her subjects (see the crying babies in her ‘End Times‘ series, or the now famous John McCain shoot). I call it art, but I do fall on the crass, perhaps cynical side of the human spectrum. Regardless of your personal feelings toward her, the lighting she uses is dramatic. Her style has been duplicated by many a strobist and comes about by a pretty easy to replicate setup. Now, to do it well, is a bit trickier but we gotta start somewhere right? Read on for a quick light set-up and easy to follow post processing technique. There are many (maybe I just spend too much time on photo lighting forums) that like to compare the similarities between Greenberg with that of Dave Hill, another great photographer and photographic artist. I find the two to use similar lighting in certain situations, but where the main differences are, in my opinion anyway, is in composition, subject matter and post processing. They both use light, all photographers do. It’s like saying Jackson Pollock and Michelangelo are similar. Yes, they use paint, but er… We will get around to looking more in depth at Mr Hill hopefully in a later post. For a quick and easy Greenberg lighting setup, one will want to gather together as many lights as one can… Here, I’ve used 4 and certainly could have used a few more, but I think to achieve the look, 4 would be about the bare minimum. Assuming you don’t have access to tons of light modifiers, high end ringlights and 2400 watt second studio strobes, use whatever you can find. Speedlights, lamps, flashlights, whatever. It helps if the output on these sources of light are adjustable as you will need to adjust your lighting ratio.
Here is my basic setup for the shot above…
I used my recently acquired Rayflash ringflash fitted to a Canon 580exII on camera which, set as a master fired all three of the other flashes off camera. Two lights were positioned behind me firing back toward me at about a 30 degree angle to provide the side/rim light which measures 1.5-2 stops over the key light on camera. The light behind me firing onto the wall provides the gradual spot/halo. To try and mimic the style, you’re wanting to wrap your subject in light with the lights from the sides and behind coming in a little hotter than light coming in from the front of the subject. I would have liked to set up at least one more light as a hair light directly above me, and perhaps another behind me firing as a backlight/back-rim but that might have pushed my total time into the 7-8 minute realm. To do the Greenberg well, you should certainly take more than 5 minutes, and do so with an actual backdrop, measuring the lights and getting everything set up correctly. For me, I’m impatient and lazy. The shot above, from beginning to end, including post processing took me 5 minutes. So now you know the basic light set up, here is a quick, easy way to get the beginnings of a psudo Greenberg look using Photoshop.
- Open your image in PS and duplicate the background layer.
- Do any touchups, skin smoothing, etc if you would like.
- If you make any changes (touchups, et al) duplicate that layer.
- On your duplicate layer, go to >Filter>Other>Highpass
- Set the radius to 50 pixels and hit okay.
- Set the blend mode of your Highpass filter layer to >Overlay
Ta-da! Now, I know my image above (and more than likely your image) does not look like Jill Greenberg’s work. There’s a reason that she makes quite a bit of money taking pictures while being courted by high end magazines and celebrities, while you and I don’t (here is a video showing a little behind the scenes with Jill). Her technique and processing, much like many working professional photographers, is fine tuned to get from the initial capture to her finished product, but there in lies the personal twist. Well, it’s a start at least, and with some more attention paid to lighting, ratios, composition, detail and post processing technique who knows? For me today, I didn’t want to spend any more time in front of the computer.
Let us know how you end up by dropping the image in our flickr group here.