Lighting setup for The Big Burn #001

This new self portrait series was inspired by the upcoming film “Gangster Squad” and other classic mobster films. It was shot using two lights and I’ll show you how I did it below. But first, the photo:

click to see it larger. you know you want to.

click to see it larger. you know you want to.

If you can feel the action and motion, it’s because I was actually moving during the photo. Well, my tie was at least. That’s right, I had to throw my tie at least 20 times before I got the exact lift I wanted. Here’s a hilarious animated GIF of my attempts.

Okay back to the lighting.


The look for this series was inspired by Frank Miller’s Sin City and when I think of panels from that, I always think of hard contrast and pockets of light that would rake across faces, guns or other elements. To get those pockets of light (by the way, I think I just coined a new Strobist term there) I shot a relatively tight beam of light through a giant cookie I made. The cookie was cut out of foam core and was originally created for a Chinese restaurant set I designed. My strobe was set at 1/4 power and zoomed to 70mm to give a nice hard light as it shoots through the cookie.

You’ll notice I have my umbrella open but the light is facing away from it…yeah. That’s because I originally started with a diffused light using the umbrella, but then decided a nice hard light was better for this style. I was too busy throwing my tie to collapse the umbrella.

Obviously I’m shooting in my living room so to give my mundane background more interest, I shot another light on the back wall. This one had a homemade snoot on it and was set to 1/4 power and zoomed to 70mm as well. This created the tight beam of light you see whipping behind my head on the wall.

That’s it. No other magic was involved besides a couple lucky tosses of my necktie and some gun smoke added in.

To do a successful noir portrait, you need to get over your fear of not having enough light. You’re not going for beauty here, you’re going for drama — and like they say:
the drama is not in the light, but in the shadows.


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