Analysis of a Simple Glamour Photo: Rosaleen Young

(click on any images for a full-up version in a new window)
Rosaleen Young final image

This is a simple shot that shows off a lot of introductory glamour techniques. It's made especially easy because the model, Rosaleen Young, poses like a dream. To create this image, I set up the lighting and told her I wanted an innocent-looking but sexy pose. The rest, as they say, is easy...

Equipment used: Alien Bees 400w/s mono-light, small wescott soft box, light stand, Fuji FinePIX S2 Pro, red #25 filter, incident flash meter, photoshop.

To get the "retro" look of old film I used a red #25 filter on the camera, which tends to heighten the apparent contrast of skin tones and makes them a bit whiter. You can get the same effect in Photoshop with "Levels" and the "channel mixer" but I like to get as close to the final version as possible before I go off the camera and into Photoshop.

Rosaleen Young lighting setup

The analysis chart shows the very simplistic lighting that was used. This image probably could have benefitted from a spot-light on the backs of her llegs, to lift them out of the shadow a bit, but I wanted it to look like natural light and the best way to emulate natural light is with a single light source. I knew that the white sheets would diffuse the light slightly so I angled the softbox down - there was ample reflection from the sheets to the ceiling and back down, to give this image an adequate sense of dimensionality.

Now, let me explain what's behind the choice of simple lighting! I was on location in Las Vegas, shooting in a hotel room. Location shooting means you can't haul 4 light stands, and 3 softboxes and a flash-pack! So you keep it simple and simple often means dramatic. I really like my Alien Bees monohead because a) it's light b) it's incredibly tough c) it's small enough that it fits in my camera bag d) the modelling light it uses is a normal light bulb - you never have to worry about losing a modelling light and having to feel your way to a shot e) it's cheap.

I metered with an incident meter held near her face. Since I was shooting with a white sheet, I knew I would be irrevocably screwed if I got the highlights too bright and blew the cloth out. So I favored a slight underexposure. "Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights!" I set the camera in black-and-white mode and exposure 1/60 second at f/11. I like to meter and expose for 1/60 second if I can because that's the flash-sync speed of my old Pentax K1000. I often have the K1000 nearby loaded with Kodak HIE Infrared, in case I feel like grabbing some film as well. It's become a habit to exposure-sync all my cameras at a shoot, and it's really nice that I can set the FinePix's "ISO" to 100 to match the HIE infrared and Tmax I like to shoot in my film cameras. This approach has saved me any number of screw-ups but I have to admit I only figured it out after first committing any number of screw-ups. :)

If your camera doesn't have a black-and-white mode, don't worry about it. I've found there's virtually zero difference between the results from "desaturate" and what a camera's black-and-white mode will generate. I only shoot black-and-white originals out of stubbornness and because I personally have trouble composing in color; color is too distracting to me.

Once I got the shot I needed to perk it up some in Photoshop

Rosaleen Young image raw

As you can see, the image is a bit dark but is gray. So we pull up the levels histogram and check:

Rosaleen Young image histogram

Sure enough, there's some room "at the top" to brighten the image - happily there's plenty of shadow detail to work with. As an ex-"Zone System Guy" this makes me happy! "Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights!" Well, in Photoshop it's ridiculously easy to do this with Levels.

Rosaleen Young image with highlight

You can see that pulling the highlights up has really brought the picture to life!

Now, there is a compositional flaw that I couldn't really do much about in the camera (other than shoot in a studio instead of a hotel room) - namely, there's some ugliness in the upper left hand of the frame:

Rosaleen Young image cleanup

The edge of the bed doesn't balance well with the lower right, so it gets fixed in Photoshop. In a darkroom I'd be having to hold light off that corner and then print-through with a piece of the negative that had sheet-texture, then burn the whole thing to match. But in Photoshop, we can do the same thing instantly with clone brush, healing brush, and smearing.

Rosaleen Young image clone, heal, blur

I use the clone brush to get a matching area of lightness that looks about right - in this case from the pillow just off of where the bed ended. Then I smear the edges a little to even the tonality, and set a good texture into the altered area using the healing brush. If you fiddle with the gamma of the image and you know it's there, it becomes pretty apparent but the fakery would be just as detectible in a silver print if you used darkroom methods! One of the things I love to do is to try to map each Photoshop "tool" and technique to a comparable darkroom technique. It keeps me on my toes mentally and doesn't let me fall completely into the abyss of "it's Photoshop magic" where I don't even know how I managed to get the image I produced.

Rosaleen Young final image

The resulting image is a pretty nice glamour photo with a lot of the feel of an old black-and-white "dirty picture" - all executed using state-of-the-art pixels!

mjr. (2003)