Lighting Old Time Portraits, 1800’s

Back in late October 2011 I was contacted by the Dallas Theater Center inquiring about a commercial project. I was asked to recreate the portrait of the character Marley, from Charles Dicken’s ‘The Christmas Carol’. Of course I immediately jumped onto the project since I’m an avid fan of the musical.

I started doing a little research on the time period of the 1800s, the time the musical was based around.

I noticed a common theme around portraits that existed during that era which mostly consisted of sad and depressing looking people dressed up and lit with usually a single source of light in a “spotlight” effect. I also noticed that most of these people were lit from the left side of their face (or as I like to say, camera right).

Following this theme, I setup the lighting for the photo as followed:

I setup a Canon 580exII with a simple silver umbrella on a light stand raised 6 foot and aimed at the subject. The flash was set to 1/4 power, zoomed at 105 so that the light is a little more focused and not scattered everywhere. Of course I can obviously have done this with a snoot as well, but I didn’t want that much concentration and harshness of light and my time with the actor was limited.

To the left of the camera was a white reflector to throw back whatever little light I could to the right side of the subject’s face, hair, and clothing.

Behind the subject, camera right, I setup another 580exII to use as a backlight. This was set at an extremely low setting as I wanted to just have a little pop of separation from the background curtain. The setting was 1/64 and had a Rosco CTO gel to give a little warmth.

The photo was shot using a Canon 24-70 2.8L at ISO200, F5.6, 1/50sec at 46mm. Why 46mm? I have no clue. I just liked it that way. Anywho, the final photo after the painting conversion is below and was done by Bob Lavallee.

The Christmas Carol‘ is currently playing in Dallas and runs till Dec 24th. If you happen to see my photo on the set please let me know!

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