Creative clients and photographers love shooting on white. Whether it be seamless paper, foam core board or a cyclorama wall. I’m not sure if it’s the simplicity and absence of color or it just creates such clear contrast for eye popping subject matter. Yes, it's versatile and can go dark with less fall off but frankly, I've always found white somewhat boring. It goes without saying that you'll always have those clients that are adamant about shooting on pure white for catalogs, advertising and compositing. I've found several lighting scenarios that work for me but the one setup that I find the most intriguing requires only one single light.
Flipping through a Vogue or V Magazine, I tend to see fashion images using only a bright 10:00 sun and under exposing for a hard dramatic portrait with deep shadows. Hard light is powerful and can radiate a mood that a big soft light source can't. Using that hard sunlight ideology in studio, I simply mimic the scenario.
Set a powerful strobe with no modifier, on half power, in my case a Profoto D1. Move the light 45 degrees camera left or right and 8-10 feet away from the subject. Then, raise the light stand approximately 10-12 feet high. The strobe should be tilted down toward the subject's face and the shadow created on the background should appear about 2-4 feet to the left or right. Use the strobe's modeling light to find a good starting point on both the subject's face and the hard shadow on the background.
A hard light can look awful if you’re not within the measurements I lined out above. There are a few "sweet spots" where the light will fall perfectly on the subject's face and with this type of lighting, it's important that you provide your subject the proper direction. Keeping the subject's chin up and around towards the light source will help eliminate the extreme shadows. But, don't limit yourself and box the subject to just one expression or pose. It's always good to break the rules and explore foreign territory, especially when posing models and offering direction. Let's review...
- One strobe, half power
- 45 degrees camera left or right
- 8-10 feet from subject
- 10-12 feet high
- Tilt strobe downward
Once the light is set and the subject is framed, close your aperture to allow proper exposure on the subjects face and set a fast shutter to eliminate all natural ambient light. You're imitating the sun; keep that in mind while you snap the shutter and give direction. This setup is quick, easy and just one efficient light scenario to give the high fashion dramatic look on a white seamless or wall. It may not be in your style or taste, but give it shot. You might just surprise yourself.