Homage to Hollywood: Chris Knight shoots cinematic portraits
There is certainly something airy and graceful about the Hollywood Golden Age and Chris Knight is one of the few photographers that can transfer the sensation of celluloid and silver to a modern-day photo shoot. Here Chris explains how to create grand and cinematic portraits using the Profoto D1 and a set of Profoto umbrellas.
When Chris works in studio he likes to start with the concept first and adapt his setup accordingly.
“This project was a very comfortable fit stylistically. I wanted to pay homage to old Hollywood – something glamorous and classically elegant.”
He explains that there is of course a certain element of a common approach to a setup - for him it is broad, soft light - but he also stresses that only using standard setups can could hinder you from developing your look and feel.
“Formulaic lighting at best rarely looks amazing and more often than not ends up looking a little stale.
“Creating light for a particular idea or subject will almost always result in a stronger image. That way, the concept drives the lighting, not the other way around.”
The biggest challenge you will encounter as a photographer is not necessarily finding the right settings or gear, but executing the grand vision of a shoot. Many small details need to fit the frame, anything from the lighting to styling, hair and makeup of the subjects to make your images tell a story and really talk to your audience. Everything has to feel dynamic to achieve the idea.
“It’s a commendable thing to create something technically well executed, but photographs still have to have a narrative or tell a story. It’s an exhilarating balancing act.”
That is why reliable equipment really can make the difference between good and great: “I need my tools to work, and I need them to work every time. Profoto is dependable.”
How to recreate the Golden Age of Hollywood
To create drama and shape the overall feel of the image, Chris set up a Profoto D1 monolight, fitted with an Umbrella Deep White XL with a diffuser as main light quite high to the left of his camera position.
“I love using diffusers on my umbrellas. A white umbrella is already soft, but the addition of a diffuser makes it some of the softest, most beautiful light you can find,” Chris explains.
“A common misconception about lighting is that when dealing with a large scene, you just add more lights. This can result in an image that feels a little flat. Although this is certainly one approach, simply using a larger light shaping tool allows you to keep even, soft, dramatic and flattering light across the whole scene.”
Behind him and his camera he set up another D1 with a diffused Umbrella Deep White L, which allowed him to control the brightness of the shadows and the overall contrast.
“One of my favorite time periods is the Golden Age of Hollywood and I was excited at the opportunity to incorporate elements from old films,” Chris says.
And when you look at the final images, it is like seeing those classical, classy images of old movie stars. The hazy, filmic feeling is partly created by a haze machine. Chris set up yet another D1 monolight to light up the fog.
“Anything particle-based, like smoke, haze, fog etc. must be lit from behind to show up. The third D1 was used to light up the haze to make it more visible in the images.”
Chris equipped the third D1 with an Umbrella Deep White S above the background, high up and pointed at camera, to illuminate the haze from behind. This combination of lights worked together to shape the tone and mood of the cinematic portraits.
Adding the little extra
For this shoot Chris created a surrounding décor using props such as shabby-chick furniture. To further add to the Hollywood backstage vibe he wanted to put a couple of tarnished but charming old Fresnels in the scene. Much to his chagrin, the old scene lights did not work; a short-lived problem when Chris realized that the cavities where the bulbs used to be where just the right size to fit a Profoto B2 To-Go Kit.
“One of the best things about the B2s is their size and power. Having something that small and powerful really opens up a lot of creative possibilities. Not to mention it plays nice in the Profoto ecosystem.
“The Profoto system for me is all about reliability, consistency, creative flexibility and ultimately something that just makes my job easier.”
To get a warm cinema gleam he fitted the B2 head with a CTO ¼ from the OCF Color Gel Starter Kit and using the Air Remote with his Pentax 645Zt he could set the power remotely and balance them perfectly to the D1 monolights.
Getting the final result
Depending on what he wanted out of a specific pose he alternated between a 90mm and a 55mm lens. The same variation applies when it comes to camera settings.
“I used a wider aperture when photographing a single subject, with a narrower aperture when photographing both at the same time. I usually shoot with a shutter around 1/125th of a second and an ISO of 100, but this varies depending on the shoot.”
For the main light he set his Profoto D1 around 8-9. The fill was around 6-7. The complimentary light from the background he could easily fine-tune using the Air Remote.
The haze and the orange shine builds a scene that fulfills the styling and lighting setup of the shoot, but the real magic happens when Chris starts to shoot. Constantly communicating with the models and firing positive energy along with his camera bursts, Chris makes sure he gets the shot.