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When a Subject Has A Photographic Idea, Capture It!

Study Your Subject, They Can Get Creative

Photograph of Model, Black Cards, Lighting, Camera

Using black cards is essential in photography when working with "whites" and exposing for the model's skin tone.

The Technical: It’s great to have a model who’s full of energy and has natural, photogenic qualities like Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough. She just grabbed this coat from the clothes rack at Michael Dean’s studio in Philadelphia and flipped the hood over—that’s all it took! I immediately placed her 10-feet in front of a black seamless background and said, “It’s time to shoot!”

For this photograph, I used a Chimera Octa57 octagonal light bank as the main light, a two-part light modifier that comes in a 5-foot-wide version with an optional 2-foot extension, thus you have an octabox measuring 7-feet across it’s face.  The light was placed about five feet from Holley, rule of thumb to ensure a black, black, place your subject twice the distance from the background (Inverse Square Law applies here–more on a future blog post.). This Chimera light modifier was powered by a Hensel, Integra 500 Pro Plus monolight.  I also used another Hensel monolight to power a Chimera medium, Soft Strip box fitted with a Lighttools 40-degree grid to help keep spill light off the background.  The strip box was camera right, raised high where the bottom of the strip box was a few inches lower than Holley’s shoulders.  It was placed behind her, but off to the camera right.   The rule of thumb in lighting, the larger the light modifier the sweeter the light—not that Holley needs sweet light with her flawless complexion.

Because this Chimera octabox is extremely large, you can literally stand in front of it without worrying about effecting the light path or quality. If you look closely in the catch lights (the white shape of the octabox in her eyes), you can see my silhouette, a key giveaway that I was standing in front of the octabox. I had Mike’s assistant, Bruce Latshaw, rig black cards (black panels) with stands and clamps to place on each side of Holley to add black tone back into the white fur coat.

Photographer’s Toolbox
Camera: Olympus E-500
Lens: Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm
Shutter Speed: 1/160th shutter speed
Aperture: F/5.6
ISO: 100
White Balance: 6000K

This concept is based on the 90-percent rule of reflectance, which merely states, “What is pure black will absorb 90-percent of the light that strikes it and what is pure white, will reflect 90-percent of the light that strikes it.  The key word is pure as black and white can vary even with paper.  In this image, the fur coat and Holley’s hair is reflecting more light than her skin, but we’re making the camera exposure for her skin, not the fur coat and her hair.  By using black cards, we’re also reflecting “black tone” back into her hair and the coat, thus bringing out the detail when the image is captured.

Now, the real importance of this principal comes into play when you meter your light source in comparison to the subject you will photograph, especially, if you’re a typical photographer using an “incidental” or incidence flash meter and not a reflective flash meter.  Incidence meters measure light falling, not reflecting.  Cameras capture reflected light, so a photographer has to take this into account.  Not to mention every meter, flash or in-camera, is based on the old standard of 18-percent reflectance, or gray middle tone. While many skin tones are reasonably in line with this standard, I have yet in the thousands of people I’ve photographed and in the 39 countries I’ve traveled in, to meet and photograph someone with skin the color of typical, worn out asphalt.

Photographing Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough, Photography

Sometimes your subject, as Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough did, comes up with some great ideas--capture them!

So if I’m metering with an incidental meter, I compensate if the model has darker than middle-toned skin by opening up my lens aperture (increasing my exposure) approximately 1/3 of an F/stop.  If she has brighter than middle-toned skin, I stop down, or close my aperture (reducing my exposure), by 1/3 of an F/stop.  Remember, an incidental (incidence) light meter is only a starting point for evaluating our light source and where the light falls.

The Story Behind The Image: Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough and I were in Philadelphia for another one of my photography workshops.  After two long days in a workshop environment, somehow I was still in the mood to shoot and Holley was loaded with energy—the benefit of still being young.  So after everyone left, I asked Holley to come up with something and let’s grab some shots.  She agreed to try, walked back into the dressing room where photographer Michael Dean had an awesome rack of clothes and shoes he’d accumulated for models to wear in his shoots.

Holley snagged a white fur coat and came out of the dressing room and then flipped the hood in a playful mood. I liked the look and her playful attitude and asked her to step up on to one of the shooting sets we had, basically a black, seamless paper background with the lights already in place that the workshop attendees had used.  I further asked Michael’s assistant, Bruce Latshaw, to rig some black 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of thermal insulation that Michael had painted black on one side. Bruce simply rigged some light stands to support them, out of camera frame, on each side of Holley.

We basically shot for about 15-minutes with the fur coat and then we were done. She’s that easy to photograph.  It also helps that I had worked with her the year before, as I shot her Playboy Playmate submission (yes I discovered her for Playboy).  The coolest part of the whole shoot, she was a freshly crowned Playmate as her magazine issue was April 2006. We’ve been great friends ever since and still shoot today, in fact, we are celebrating our birthday’s together (as friends, birthdays five days apart) during the Las Vegas photography workshop next weekend.

Photography Studio Lighting Diagram

Lighting diagram of both photographs featured in this photoblog post.

Bottom line, if you run out of ideas, ask your subject to come up with something, anything, at least for one photo.  Sometimes they can come up with some great ideas, or at least the start of an idea, then you can take it from there and refine it to your photographic shooting style as I did with Holley in these series of images.

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  1. I have often had the posing model come up with good ideas or poses. So this is not really a new concept. However, I recently had the experience of one model watching me shoot another model and the watching model made some wonderful suggestions. I am referring to Candice Marie who seems to have a natural talent for photo direction. I frequently ask other photographers for ideas, but now I will look for contributions from models other than the one who is posing. I am sure Candice will be hard to beat.

    • Fred,

      Candice is a natural and has always helped me when it comes to posing other models. It’s good to see you here my friend. All the best, rg.

    • Thanks Fred. You are wonderful, I enjoy working with you each and every time 🙂 <3


  1. Portland Car Photography Experience #2 | Lens Diaries™ - [...] the photo I needed and told Holley we were done.  I was excited about the photo and told her,…
  2. Portland Car Photography Experience #2 | Lens Diaries™ - [...] the photo I needed and told Holley we were done.  I was excited about the photo and told her,…

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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

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