Tattoo – Low Key Photography


While it was cold and rainy outside I decided not to go out on a photo safari but stay in my warm studio. Whilst sitting around and browsing the web I got some inspiration for a low key photo.

In the description below I explain the details and why I took the image as I took it.

The studio setup was as followed:

I used a black backdrop what is very obvious at first glance of course.

I placed a strobe with softbox to the right in front at a 45 degree angle. De distance of every strobe was by the way a little less than one meter. To the left I had a same strobe with softbox lined up with my body. In a way that only the front of my body would be lit by it.

The two strobes where set to 3/4 power approximately. The red one to 1/2.

To match the light color on my arm I thought it would be clever to put a strobe with a red gel to the right (without softbox) and line it up with my body but point it slightly diagonal on my arm. This way I could keep the whole thing quite redish (including the black background) and at the same time achieve a a slightly colder lighting at the part of the arm where the tattoo is located.

The camera settings:

  • I’ve set my 7D to manual mode.
  • The ISO was set to 100 as I like to keep it as low as possible and I don’t care if the strobe has to fire a little harder.
  • This time I used my Sigma 70-200 2.8 at 70mm.
  • The aperture was set to F13. Even though a larger opening would have made it easier to blow the background out I decided for the smaller opening because it’s tricky to work remote and get the details that you want sharp if you are doing self portraits. So in this case I had the assurance that everything in front of the backdrop would be sharp. Of course I had to trial and error a couple of times to match my position with the chosen focus points.
  • As my camera has a sync speed of 1/250 I decide to choose this shutter speed this time even though the chance on motion blur wasn’t really there as I stood still like a statue.

Post processing in Lightroom:

  • I kept the white balance as shot.
  • In the basic adjustments I pumped up the blacks a little. From 5 to 10 to be precisely. I did this to make sure that even the last wrinkle in the backdrop would be eliminated. You see, if you use a small aperture like F13 your DOF isn’t as shallow as it should be. This is part of the deal sometimes if you work in front and behind the camera at once.
  • If this was a photo of a woman I probably would have moved the clarity slider a little bit to the left to soften up the skin a bit. In my case I wanted to have this local contrast more harsh and so I moved the clarity up to 82. This makes pop out the veins a little more.
  • I usual don’t use the contrast slider in the basic tab. So I went to the tone curve tab and chose for strong contrast.
  • As there is a profile for my lens in Lightroom I chose to use the lens correction even though it wasn’t really necessary.

This was pretty much it.

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