Help! Need to light a 70s portrait style shot, with authenticity!

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by Holly, Apr 14, 2011.

  1. Holly

    Holly Member

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    Hey guys
    Can any of you slightly more mature folk than I (who have lived through and shot photographs through the 70s) tell me what lighting was used in studios back in the day?
    I'm trying to recreate something that has a feel like the picture I've hopefully attached successfully to this post. I want to use elinchrom flash heads and I may only have 3 of them, max, due to limitations of my studio at uni.
    I'm going on the assumption that technology was different in say 1978 than it is now, and that that will totally affect my look, so I was hoping that you guys would have some real life experience with lighting in studios from that era so I can then try to apply that to my modern studio setup.
    Please share!
    Cheers
     

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  2. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    I sure can't help on this, but look at all those different shadows. There's front lighting on the phone and pen, the phone looks like it's got light from front and left side, top lighting on the hands maybe from two different angles.
    Taking a SWAG it may be hot lights.
     
  3. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Hi,

    Costuming, color palette, and props will be the things to focus on. A variety of lighting has been used for most of the history of artificial light photography.
     
  4. michaelbsc

    michaelbsc Member

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    Agreed. For the lighting just look at any of the portrait lighting books or websites. Well lit scenes haven't changed much.

    If you really want a good tutorial I like Gowland's books. While they're mostly aimed at cheesecake and nude shots the man was a genius at knowing how to pose and light the scene, and those lessons are universal.

    Gowland's "How to Use Multiple Flash (For Portraits and Figures)" is on Amazon right now for $13.

    MB
     
  5. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    I doubt we're more mature, but we are older!:wink:
     
  6. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Looks like a big light front-left-high, fairly harsh (see lack of penumbra around Loans & phone shadows) and a fill light from front-right with maybe 1 stop difference between them. There might also have been some top/rear/hair light - see the shadow of her right arm falling forward.

    I think (as per 2F) that costume and colour choice is more important. Also note that the image has very poor dynamic range: you can see that the film's red layer at least has blown out on her vest, the shadows are terribly blocked up and there's no detail in her shirt. I'm not sure how you'd achieve that with modern analogue materials (digital fakery with curves would be easy) but an overexposed, highly saturated chrome would get you most of the way there but it would have insufficient muddiness. Maybe some badly-printed Ektar, I dunno.
     
  7. Holly

    Holly Member

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    guuhh..what's hot lights?
    I agree about the costuming, but what I'm aiming for is the light. Can there be two lights, one over each shoulder,
    producing her hand shadows? and then a bigger light with softbox at front left? I don't see how there could be light
    coming from behind and above, getting her hands to make shadows like that, without it highlighting her head, though.
    I'm also wondering how much of this aesthetic comes from just AGE, as in: the image was shot and printed pre-digital,
    so it would've been scanned from possibly a faded aged print in the first place, which makes the lighting harder to
    figure out.
     
  8. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    The photographer might have used a black "flag" to block light from reaching the upper zone of her head. The side light does fall on the lower hair - near the shoulder - giving it an "accent".

    I suppose the photographer wanted to simulate an office environment with light coming from the sides and avoid the portrait cliché of the accent light on to upper head.

    In any case I agree that light disposition alone is not going to convey much "vintage" atmosphere.
     
  9. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    hot lights = tungsten continuous lights, not flash.
     
  10. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    There is no one light that was specific to the 1970's. Light back then is exactly like light is today, and always has been. Now, if you are trying to exactly duplicate the light in one particular photo or series, that is another question. But the idea that there is a "'70's lighting" in general is off the mark. The photo doesn't look "'70's" because of the light. It looks that way because of the clothing, hair, colors used, props, etc.

    The lighting in the picture is pretty simple. Looks like two lights to me, or one and a fill card. The main is on our left, and the fill on our right. The quality of light from each individual source is not harsh, but the overall ratio is not 1:1. Shadows are clearly visible and defined, but not extremely dark in tone. It's poorly lit, and/or poorly reproduced IMHO. I would go for something better.
     
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  11. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    Judging by the density of the shadows under her hand and at the base of the telephone, the lights are fairly high and probably six or eight reflector diameters away on either side of the camera. I think that there is the reflection of one light in her glasses; this looks like a round source, which is consistent with either hot lights or strobes in aluminum reflectors, with little or no diffusion.

    I think that there really is a "'70's look", simply because I can usually guess the vintage of a picture to within five years or so from the subtleties of the film, lighting, and posing. I would put this in the early 1970s because of her hair and clothing and the fact that it seems not to have been done with monolights and umbrellas. The film and props all play into this as well (up through the mid-1960s, that telephone would probably have been black). On the other hand, this looks to be a fairly simple "stock" photo, and at the other end of the range lie the elaborate studio setups for magazine photography, which are entirely different.

    As far as emulating this today, you would probably need suitable reflectors for your lights---monolights and umbrellas will definitely give you a different look unless you have an enormous studio (a 12" reflector five feet away is going to be like a 36" umbrella fifteen feet away, but even then the incidental fill from wall reflections is going to be different). I think you might be able to mask small softboxes down to 12" openings and achieve something like this lighting; once you have matched the shadow characteristics (angles, depth, and sharpness) the rest is going to depend on the posing, film, and props.
     
  12. yurisrey

    yurisrey Member

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    well said. I agree a good set of flags, scrims and loads of black wrap can be your best friend. in the early days of cinema (especially in Fort Lee, NJ and in Manhattan) sailers often were hired for rigging the "gaffs and flags" used for open-roof studios.
     
  13. CGW

    CGW Member

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    Our views "period" lighting are largely shaped by the qualities of "period" printing technologies, whatever the gear used. I've done 50s style b&w pin-up shots whose "look" depended on fresnel spots and large panel reflectors. Then there was hair, clothing, props, film choice and digital post-production massaging...

    Frankly, lighting is probably the easiest part of the equaton. Research time, shopping for props and "correct" decor and colours, clothing, hair and make-up are crucial to nailing a reasonable degree of authenticity.

    The sheen on the model's face suggests she was being slowly baked under some serious wattage.
     
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  15. C A Sugg

    C A Sugg Member

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    Is it agreed that this is a recent recreation? If so I would concur about the color of the telephone. Plus a secretary likely would have been using a shoulder rest attachment on the handset, plus most offices as I recall were a little slow to adopt touch tone and that's an earlier, non-modular set. (The paper I worked for didn't switch until shortly before they installed the Atex editing mainframe.) And the pen set seems a little out of place for a secretary. So you would be essentially imitating an imitation. Maybe a better produced film from that era instead?
    Also, at the time, wasn't almost all color intended for reproduction shot on chrome?
     
  16. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    I think it's not recent. I also think she's not a secretary, regardless of the picture's title; she's a loan officer, judging by the sign on her desk.
     
  17. Moose

    Moose Member

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    I agree with the others - set, hair costume, make-up, pose etc are more important than lighting - just use a textbook set up. I think a major part will be getting the colour right - not only will the original have been affected by age but the film you use will be different to whatever was used for the original.
     
  18. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    set, hair costume, make-up, pose etc are more important than lighting

    I agree, with the one caveat that the multiple shadows just about have to be there for it to look "right". Umbrellas and, later, softboxes, came into use to eliminate such shadows, and I still have a set of the Smith-Victor aluminum reflectors that were almost standard equipment for work like this. The movie industry and higher-end studios had better equipment even in the '70s, of course, but this is a fairly simplistic stock photo characteristic of the low end of the range for its time.

    The black "Loans" nameplate looks slightly out of place to me. By the time touch-tone 'phones in beige were common, white-on-black engraving had largely given way to white-on-faux walnut, and the original wooden holders had been replaced by extruded aluminum holders like the one in the picture.

    My last quibble is that the desk blotter was originally an adjunct to the use of fountain pens; the subject in the picture was provided with a ballpoint (the eight-inch long one with no pocket clip, to ensure that it didn't get carried off...) which would have been difficult to use on a soft blotter. Presumably the photographer didn't the sheet of glass that became standard before wooden desktops gave way to plastic laminate.

    So, all in all, what you have is an authentic 1970s stock photograph of a slightly non-authentic scene. That should make it at least a little easier to emulate...:smile:
     
  19. Holly

    Holly Member

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    Hey guys, sorry it's been so long between posts, majorly stupidly busy working on getting Honours things right!
    Anyway tell me what you think they did to achieve this lighting - again another 70s image, different to the first, but still to my eye has a dated look which I'm trying to replicate.
    Greybeard - were you saying that in the 70s basically noone used softboxes yet? And that the only way to soften shadows was with lots of reflectors? I totally agree, it is a subtle thing which you've picked up on and that is that the shadows need to be there for us to read that it is a 70s image. What I'd like to know is what equipment was typical of the time which would have been making those shadows.
    You mentioned aluminium reflectors? Are they the predecessors of the silvery fabric ones we have today? I just want a time machine to go back and see what they used for this shoot! haha
     

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  20. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    One thing that might actually require some DPUG.org work from you is the color palette for two reasons.

    First, when I look at family snaps from the '80s and I compare with what my pictures look like today, I can see there's a huge step in terms of colour fidelity. If you look at the photo you have posted, the colours are rather brownish, muted, badly separated, and lack brilliance (goodbye yellow! hello brown!). Simulating this lack of quality with today's film can be very hard: they're just too good. Perhaps drugstore films like Kodak Color Plus (worst stuff you can find on the market today) can help.

    Second, I suspect the photo you posted was taken from a magazine. That's how most people experience commercial photos. The offset printing process matters a lot too. Not before the 80s were CMYK separations routinely made via laser scanning. Finding someone today who can/wants to do analog CMYK is next to impossible, so your best bet would be to simulate the result.

    Lighting is just one tiny part of the equation. Composition, angle of view, negative space (look at that shadow framing the shot), clothes (motifs!!), colour palette, makeup, all work together to make "The Look".
     
  21. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The light I associate with that look uses Photoflood bulbs in spun aluminum reflectors--12-inch or 16-inch most likely. The positioning of the lighting isn't likely to be too complex, maybe Rembrandt style with a fill and a background light, possibly a hair light. This was before softboxes, but there were umbrellas and scrims, but I think you're after more of a low-end look (as opposed to the Hollywood style which could draw on all the lighting resources of a Los Angeles movie studio). See if you can find an old copy of the Kodak Guide to Portraiture or whatever it was called--the one that recommends a blue filter for B&W portraits of rugged sailors to bring out the "character" in their faces.
     
  22. CGW

    CGW Member

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    Second, I suspect the photo you posted was taken from a magazine. That's how most people experience commercial photos. The offset printing process matters a lot too. Not before the 80s were CMYK separations routinely made via laser scanning. Finding someone today who can/wants to do analog CMYK is next to impossible, so your best bet would be to simulate the result.

    Agreed. Too often faded, shifted 60s-70s print media are seen as a "look" to shoot for now. The style of these shots is one thing, but deteriorated ink/paper just isn't that attractive.

    I've been looking at old Sam Haskins stuff recently from the 60s and 70s, especially his b&w work, for project lighting clues. Jonathan Leder's Jacques magazine is a retro "gents" magazine shot only on film with interesting results:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/fashion/03porn.html?scp=1&sq=Jacques magazine&st=cse
     
  23. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    Soft boxes only came on the scene in the 80's. Umbrellas were considered amateur gear. You want spun aluminum reflectors (and not that big - look how sharp the shadows are) for the main and fill lights and a focusing spot for the hair light, if you are going to use one. The classic setup was 3 lights: main, fill and background. Lights were positioned rather high. Studio lighting was flash - big Norman power packs and heads.
     
  24. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Also, back in those days you could use light banks (e.g. 4 x 8 bulbs) to have multi-directional light without a softbox.
     
  25. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    Holly,

    I'm pretty sure that the lighting in the first picture was done with aluminum reflectors, but I'll allow that they may have contained photofloods (plain for tungsten-balanced film, or blue (another extinct species) for daylight film).

    The second picture was probably a single light high and to camera right (look at the small, round catchlight in the eye) with reflector fill from the left and a background light located behind the model's legs and skirt (see how much light from the background is hitting the underside of her arm?). The clothing and pose look late-60s to me, when the swinging London fashions had made it into the mainstream, but before the '70s flower-girl styles. If I interpret the filename correctly, this was from the UK Vogue, which is consistent with the painstaking effort that went into it: notice the geometry created on her left leg by the precisely draped skirt, which just short of falling away, and the way she is stabilizing the hair so that the highlight is just perfect and it is separated from the background without the use of a hair light. Not only was the studio crew quite competent, the model really knew her stuff as well. If you manage to emulate this picture, I'd love to see the result!

    Even in their original, non-faded color, I suspect that these pictures may have been a bit on the warm side. They date from an era when fluorescent lights were rapidly displacing incandescents, but the fluorescents of the time were mostly rather cold in tone, and some were a ghastly greenish blue. Probably in reaction to this, "natural" light was expected to be warm, and cold light was sort of "artificial".

    The natural aging of C41 process prints takes them into the caramel end of the palette, which you will have to take into consideration if you are trying to emulate a vintage print, as opposed to its original appearance.
     
  26. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    Holy,

    It just occurred to me that describing the lights as "spun aluminum Smith-Victor photoflood reflectors" would not necessarily bring an image to mind for you, so here is one, shamelessly lifted from the Smith-Victor website. It is a 14 inch, but the 12 inch versions were much more common.
     

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