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Simplicity
by Gary Bernstein


Let’s talk about simplicity in photography; simplicity in design—meaning the composition; and simplicity in the tools and techniques of making the image. Less is more. It’s trite but true. These five images have a number of things in common. They are all simple compositions and are all made with one light; and there are other elements they share as well. Let’s go through them.


Photo 1

Photo 1 is of actor comedian David Allen Grier. The shot was made with one light—a 100 watt light bulb—and it is the same light that appears in the image. It was shot on film against a white background for a magazine layout. The image would be even easier to make on digital because of the flexibility of the medium. The shot was taken with a standard lens. The eyes of the subject are placed in the top third of the photograph for maximum impact. This is a good rule to use whenever you question how to compose or crop your images—regardless of the composition or the number of people in the photograph…as you will see…

Photo 2 was taken on the Mojave desert at sunset. No Photoshop tricks here. We drove out to the desert for this advertising image with the sole purpose of coming away with this sunset shot. This shoot was anything but simple. A big crew; a big trailer; and some big generators to power studio flash units. As it turned out—the reality of this shot is that it was made with a single portable Sunpak flash unit—mounted on a bracket over my camera. Flash on camera—what is more basic in photography! This shot was taken some years ago—and I am still using Sunpaks today (now with the TR 2000 battery pack—very cool). Again—a standard lens; and the eyes are placed in the top third of the frame.


Photo 2


Photo 3

The shot of the body-builder is another example of one light photography—this time a studio strobe in an umbrella—placed high to the subject’s left. The background is a painted grey muslin. The image was toned sepia (not very easy to do on your computer). I use Lowel umbrellas (they are small—and I like those smaller light sources for increased contrast); and I use Chimera softboxes (again, I like the smaller sizes…most of the time).


Photo 4

Image 4 is a shot taken a few years ago of Robert Wagner and Jill St. John. It was made with a single light bounced into a large piece of foamcore. As I’ve always said “rules are made to be broken (and they really have no place in art).” A large piece of foamcore IS a large lightsource. In this case, I wanted a nice soft lighting effect to illuminate the profile of these two special faces (and these two special people I am so fond of). Again…a standard lens was used; and notice that the eyes again appear in the upper third of the composition—even with this very tight cropping. Later in Photoshop, I “played” with the image giving it a soft pastel effect with high grain. A composition like this is so wonderful for couples, and kids. I often finish my client images like this on large canvas surfaces for wall display (I used CPQ Professional Imaging in Cleveland, TN just for the record—to do my prints).


Photo 5

The last image is an advertising shot made for Max Factor. You guessed it—another one light photograph—with the light placed to camera right—low enough to create a nice triangle of light on the model’s far check—and place a catchlight (a highlight) in that eye as well. The same rules of composition were used. The photo was made with a short telephoto with a Schneider B+W soft diffusion filter. This shot uses a reflector to balance the image. And reflectors are incredibly important tools to every photographer (people and product photographers alike). More on reflectors in my next column.

Thanks for reading.

Please stop by and see me at my two homes away from home: ZugaPhoto.tv and GaryBernSteinStudio.com