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Have you ever looked at a painting or illustration and wondered, “how could I turn it into a photograph?” Well, in this article we’re going to do just that. We’ll study an illustration by J.C. Leyendecker and turn it into a photograph. For this shoot we’ll use pre-production, production, and post-production techniques you’d find in a major shoot.
An illustration Leyendecker did for Arrow Collars during the early 20th century.
So here is the illustration we’re going to convert into a photograph. Aside from the obvious things – props, models, and wardrobe – the important thing to study is the lighting. The lighting will usually be the most challenging part because unlike painters who can just invent their own light with paint, photographers have to actually create it with a source.
Simple sketches like this help make complex scenarios easier to manage.
Since we can’t just paint a shadow or highlight into a photograph, we need to figure out where the light is and brainstorm how we’d recreate it.
We’ll need to ask the following:
- Where is the light coming from?
- How many lights are there?
- What is the quality of each light (harsh, diffused, etc.)?
- What is the overall color of the light?
Firstly, we can determine where the light is coming from by the shadows in the illustration because shadows are always on the opposite side of the source of light. This is further helped by the highlights, especially contrasty ones because they give us better hints on directionality.
Secondly, once we’ve deciphered where the light is coming from, we need to decide just how many lighting sources would generate them. The first light is plainly obvious. The lamp on the table gives a fairly hard light upon the model to the left and an edge to the model on the right. The second light is coming from high and to the right, giving the right-facing surfaces their dues. However, based upon my experience, and the highlights on the lefthand model’s hair, hand, and shoe, there is a third light. This final light brings the remaining surfaces into view.
Thirdly, we’ll need to look at the quality of light each of these sources is producing. This will give us a clue as to what lighting modifiers we’ll be using to recreate the look as well as begin to figure out our lighting ratios. The lamp light is semi-harsh as evidenced by the hard shadows on the left side model’s face and the edging on the right model’s profile. The upper right light is softer, but with directionality. And finally our left light is of a similar quality to that right-side light.
Lastly, we can be pretty sure that the scene is going to be a warm color because of the tungsten white balance of the lamp on the table. We also have to take into account that this is an old illustration and paper tends to yellow with age over time. So, it will be warm, but not as yellow as seen in the illustration. A few colored gels should help us achieve the look we’re going for.
With regards to the quality of light and how many lights exist in the illustration or how many would be needed to mimic it, that is partially a matter of taste. I’m taking into account Leyendecker’s crisp lines in his shading and compensating for it because fabric is softer than that. And since I believe the scene to be a study or lounge area of some sort, I think the lighting should be softer than the hard sources his drawings suggest.
The goal here is not to robotically replicate a scene, but make into a photograph. It’s fine to take some artistic license as well as consider gear, location, and other production limitations.
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