To many of you, what I'm about to say may sound maddeningly obvious, but I'm going to say it anyway. People are different. And by that I mean, in this particular instance, that light or a lighting setup you loved on Mary may never work on Sarah, and vice-versa. Sometimes it takes a lot of finagling to get light to 'work' on a person. Sure there is the one nice, big, soft slightly off camera light, but that gets boring after a while. I've been staring at the photos in that Karsh book trying to decipher some of the setups like they're hieroglyphics. It's not been an easy exercise and I'm not sure if it's because:
a) I suck
b) his lighting setups are hard and complex
c) for some reason his looks are easier with hard lights than strobes
d) I need more lights (he often used 6 or more) and modifiers
or e) all of the above.
The jury's still out, but I'm leaning toward A or E.
But I've come to a few conclusions in the few years I've been doing portraits. First off, men and women are very different. Men can look rugged and a bit haggard and it's a good thing. Women, not so much. So if you look at the photo of me from yesterday for example, the key light up front to my right was down blow me with a grid on it, shooting up. You can pull off up-lighting a man. In fact, go look at the cover of Details magazine or GQ and often the men on the cover have lights coming from below. Notice the odd shadows. See, they're there, but somehow they don't bother you because they're on a man's face. Stick Anne Hathaway in place of Robert Downey Jr and you'll be in for a shock. Plus I've pulled out most of the red channel in that b/w conversion. This makes my skin look terrible, but it gives the photo some much needed grit. Sometimes I feel like digital makes skin really blown out and monotone easily, not sure why.
As I've said before, sometimes I'm surprised that some people I think are attractive are very hard to shoot and others that I don't think are end up being loved by the camera. It's strange that. There are some people, like my friend Mary that you've seen many pictures of, who are very hard to make look bad. She's just gorgeous. You could light her with a fluorescent flashlight aiming up from her jeans pocket and have it look good. I'm not sure exactly what it is, maybe cheekbones, maybe her eyes? Whatever the reason, people like her are fun for photographers because they let us experiment and play with lighting setups we'd never try on the job when the clock is ticking. And you never know what can come of some good old fashion play. The more tools in your toolbox the better.
I know I'm going to get yelled at for this one, but as a general rule of thumb, the more photogenic the person, the harder the light you can use and pull it off. Bare bulbs and reflectors and grids versus softboxes and diffusers. There are exceptions to this rule of course; blowing out imperfections with a beauty dish or ring light for example. But it's not a terrible rule to keep in mind.
Personally, I'm getting to the point in my photography where I can make decent light almost anywhere. So now my goal is to figure out ways to construct the light I want just about anywhere. Like going from being a really good hunter/gatherer to being a farmer. My very own light agricultural revolution of light. More reflectors maybe or bringing my AcuteB more places (need to spend more time with this on location and outside). Look for more of this in the coming weeks.