A painterly horizon

We had a unique challenge in lighting a medieval artist portrait of painter Mike Davis and fine art series for us. We always enjoy incorporating as much of the artist’s style in their portrait and like to honor the genre. The perspective of the landscape in these shots felt a bit tricky for us to tackle and we started our exploration with looking at photographing a real landscape and comp’ing it in. But to get a clear day here to sync up with our schedule and turning the photo around felt a bit unrealistic. And even then it would need a good nudge in the right direction to match the style.

With that said, we decided to construct the background in the studio. But that presented a materials and lighting challenge on how to create the landscape in a small a place as possible so as not to push us off the set. We had an idea of the sky we were after, some clouds and color to suggest time of day. The landscape should also contain a body of water and mountains in the far background, which the light should play across in a convincing fashion. Stacey and I explored what we had used before to play light across and settled on a completely cheap and easy solution to give us a shove in the right direction. She created the background with sheets of semi-translucent plastic for the water, artfully-ripped and painted layout board for the mountains, and a 12’ sheet of batting wadded and pulled to suggest the flow of clouds.

The materials were stretched about 12 feet between poles on either side of the set. These were then angled to suggest a horizon which allowed us to focus the light upon them. The plastic sheets we knew would pick up some of the surrounding lighting, while the batting would let the light rake across it and die into it a bit. While our setup helps us gain control, I didn’t want to use a ton of packs and heads as I knew we could just spend a day building a sunset and we wanted to crank out a few photos. I made the decision to call in gaffer Charles Griswold to help fashion the lighting as that level of expertise can really move the day along. And he would focus on tweaking the lighting so I could pour some of that attention into other elements.

We started with a magnum reflector with full CTB to splash the cyc behind the set to give us our general sky tone. Charles brought with him a roll of lighting gels he had culled to pull out the colors (purple, reds, oranges) of the sky. We pulled out three heads, with barn doors and black wrap to focus the spread and place and rake the colors. One served to splash up a hot zone from just underneath the plastic to suggest a moon or sun reflection across the water. The power on these needed to be turned fairly far down and focused on the elements. But Charles was also conscious of allowing the light to play on the set and talent to cement them into the scene. The end result could then be dialed and colored to our desire, and worked very well to achieve the landscape look we were after. A little love in Photoshop and the result will blend together quite nicely.