Andrea Belluso is an experienced photographer with more than three decades in the business. Every now and then, Andrea takes us behind the scenes of a recent shoot to share some of the knowledge he has gained over the years. This time we get to join him on a sunny beach in Dubai, using a selection of Hard Reflectors to create a super hard light.
Shooting cars has never been my thing. I shoot a lot of fashion, beauty and lifestyle, sometimes portraits and editorials too. But cars? No.
So when Gulf Photo Plus contacted me and told me that Cadillac Arabia wanted me to do a commercial job for them, I hesitated. Sure, they wanted fashion and lifestyle like pictures. But there obviously needed to be a large, shiny car in the image too. This was definitely a job way outside my comfort zone.
But then I started thinking. I’ve been a photographer for more than three decades now. I understand light. I know how to light. All I had to do was to apply that knowledge to a slightly different situation. I would be like a little lighting adventure! Plus, leaving your comfort zone is good, right? If I wanted to take the safe route, I would’ve listened to my mother’s advice and chosen a different career path all those years ago…
So I agreed to do the job. A couple of weeks later, I found myself at Kempinsky Resort on The Palm in Dubai with a Cadillac car, two models, a talented team and a plethora of lighting equipment, including a couple of Pro-B4 battery generators, RFi Softboxes and a whole bunch of Hard Reflectors.
I ended up using mainly the Sofbox RFi 1×6’ to bring out the curves of the car. The shape of the strip softboxes is perfect for creating nice and linear highlights in shiny objects such as a car. In some cases, I even removed the outer diffuser to create an even sharper highlight in the car body.
The models were lit with Hard Reflectors. Needless to say, the sun in Dubai is really, really strong. So if you want to create your own light that perfectly matches or imitates the sunlight, you’ll need a Light Shaping Tool that creates a very hard light. To do so, I used two different Hard Reflectors. One was the popular Magnum Reflector, which I’ve talked about before in a video we did a few months ago. The other was a much less known but equally interesting Light Shaping Tool: the Hardbox.
Profoto has more than 150 Light Shaping Tools (!), but the Hardbox creates the hardest light of them all. By equipping the Pro-B Head Plus I had brought along with a Hardbox, I got a light source that was smaller even than the flash tube itself! The result is a super hard light that is rich in contrast and very similar to direct sunlight with deep, razor sharp shadows. It’s just beautiful!
The video we recorded during the shoot explains in detail how most of the shots we got in Dubai were created. You should definitely check it out if you haven’t already.
But I would also like to explain how a couple of the shots we didn’t manage to capture on film for the behind-the-scenes video were created. You’ll find them below if you keep scrolling down. Hope you like them! If you have any questions or so, please leave a comment, and I will do my best to reply as soon as I can
Gorgeous Light at Kempinsky Resort
Since we had chosen the Kempinsky Resort on The Palm in Dubai, we didn’t bother getting any special shooting permits for the rest of The Palm. So when I decided to shoot just across the road from the Kempinsky, I thought we would get away with it.
Wrong. Just five seconds after having put my Pro-B4 on the ground with a Magnum Reflector on it, the police showed up and politely asked us to pack up if we didn’t have the necessary permit for public soil on The Palm. My wonderful producer from GPP had a bit of a chat with the uniformed gentlemen, trying to win me some time, while I rushed to get the shot in as short a time as possible. I was so fast that even my videographer didn’t notice I hadn’t only started to shoot had but even finished by the time she was ready to film!
The setup was very simple, just a very hard light with a Magnum Reflector on the model and a Softbox RFi 1×6’ on the car. Nothing else. I would’ve liked to add some more lights on the profile of the car to light up the side, but it was a matter of either shooting it as it was or missing the shot entirely. But I’m quite happy with the result.
The Hardest Light You Can Get with a Flash
For this image I used the Hardbox to create a super hard light on the model. As mentioned before, the Hardbox creates the hardest light you can get with a flash. That is because of the positioning of the flash tube in the Hardbox, exposing a very small surface of the flash tube, and, as we know, a hard light is produced by a small light source. In other words, the smaller the source, the harder the light.
The car was lit with two Softbox RFi 1×6’, one for the front and one for the back, and then a combination of Magnum Reflectors and bare-headed B1 Off-Camera Flashes with just the frosted glass disk on the built-in reflector to light the background as well as the details of the car.
Although the background and the car were lit in the same exposure, the wheels were exposed separately since I wanted more precise control of the light. This would’ve been impossible without having someone or some stands and lights in the shot. Then one more exposure was made of the car itself, without any flash, but with the car lights on. The power of the flash makes it impossible to get such details as the car lights, which are of much lower power, so compositing was used in this shot to put the different exposures into one single image.
Lighting Shiny Car Surfaces & Reflections
The last shot was taken when the sun had set after a very long, 14-hour shooting day. Sigh…
Here I shot using a similar technique to the one used in the previous image. I used a Hardbox for the guy and a Magnum Reflector for the girl, plus I had two B1 Off-Camera Flashes to pick up the details of the car wheels. I had yet another bareheaded B1 inside the car to light up the interior tools. I also used the same double-exposure technique for compositing the car lights and the skyline in the background.
All in all, it was one of the most exciting shoots in a long time, and I’m super happy that I decided to take that leap of faith. There were lots of challenges, such as shiny car surfaces, reflections and different elements that needed to be brought into a single picture. But although the compositing of the pictures was rather complex, the actual lighting was quite simple. It really felt like painting with light was the motto of the day!