Gina Manning on Shaping Your Photos With Lighting

This is a syndicated blog post from photographer Gina Manning. It and the images here are being used with permission.

In this post I’m going to talk about how I used lighting in my last shoot! MOST OF ALL, I want to show just how much fun experimenting with light and its seemingly endless possibilities can be. You should start looking at lighting differently, if you in anyway find the thought of lighting your own photos scary or overwhelming – do read on.

Check out the BTS video of the shoot I’ll be talking about and breaking down in this article!

La Madame Du Moment – BTS from Gina Manning on Vimeo.

An inside look at “La Madame Du Moment” the latest high concept editorial by NYC fashion photographer Gina Manning. Video shot by: Amanda Macchia Edited by: Gina Manning Music: Superhumanoids – “Anxious in Venice”

The first thing you should know about me is how much of a fan girl I am of beautiful lighting. There’s something about emotional lighting, colorful lighting; lighting that really defines how you create and how you relate to the viewer. I love lighting that can take control and shape the shoot. Lighting that defines the moment and is casted as the last character in the play the photographer is directing. In a technical sense, I don’t care if the lighting makes sense in the real world because this is my world I am creating and I rarely find myself following what’s “real” anyway. As long as you are creating lighting that is unique to the way you view things, then I’d probably approve.

“With a story and mood that transitioned as the spread progressed, I wanted to make sure the lighting would stay consistent in some way to tie it all together.”

When I’m creating a story in my head — I’m always focused on how to light it. I’m constantly inspired by colors and often times, a lack of light. On my last shoot “La Madame Du Moment”, I went into it with a specific scheme in mind. La Madame Du Moment (LMDM) follows the life of Lee Francis; the reigning Madame of the Sunset Strip in the 30’s. She ran one of the most exclusive brothels, which was at any given time housing some of the biggest celebrities. She was celebrated for her sexual worldliness until the day she was arrested and left behind by all of her once admirers. I became infatuated with her story and had to take a stab at it. I knew with this in mind that I wanted the lighting to be sultry, dark, complex, and at times disorientating. With a story and mood that transitioned as the spread progressed, I wanted to make sure the lighting would stay consistent in some way to tie it all together. This was also key because our lovely stylist Jennifer Dunlea brought together an eclectic collection of gorgeous outfits that really moved us through the stages of Lee’s life.

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Jennifer Dunlea really blew this shoot away with her styling work for both wardrobe and props!

“It was the kind of shoot where you went in with 110% optimism and confidence and then went home, straight to your pillow and let out a well-deserved scream of both joy and terror that you got through the day without a hitch.”

So, we were given two days to shoot in a glorious restaurant in the heart of Downtown Boston. We had 6 hours each day from the moment we stepped foot in the restaurant to the moment we had to be packed up and out the door again. All this and I had convinced our crew we could get through 3 full hair/make-up, wardrobe, lighting and location changes each day with at least two final shot set-up’s per location. If you’re in the business you know how ambitious that is – even for a full crew of people. But we did it and I couldn’t be happier with what we created. It was the kind of shoot where you went in with 110% optimism and confidence and then went home, straight to your pillow and let out a well-deserved scream of both joy and terror that you got through the day without a hitch.

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Gorgeous muse Kayley France & I have a special kind of love.

I knew we were going to be working hard and fast, with little time to experiment once we finished prepping each shot on set. With that in mind we had to be prepared — my right hand man, assistant, fellow photographer, puller-together of all things, Ian Spencer and I spent weeks testing, making modifiers, and talking out logistics. I decided to go full strobes over constant lighting right off the bat, I wanted to make sure we were loaded with all the proper gear and lighting modifiers needed to tackle the day. Using battery-powered external flashes would give me more room and ease to move the lighting rigs around for each shot. It would also give me more power from the lights, and more control for the wide shots where I’d have less space to sculpt in each location.

“I can appreciate any gear that is affordable, reliable and easy to assemble on the go. Those things will really shine through when you are shooting on location or in a time crunch! I am often in the midst of both of those situations, so I would know. I’m a big fan of LumoPro’s soft box and beauty dish modifiers and used them heavily on this shoot!”

I brought a bunch of gear in my kit to achieve the highly sculpted lighting on this shoot. I was stocked with Nikon SB 910 and LumoPro LP180 external flashes, and Alien Bee strobes. I filtered them all through LumoPro modifiers, if you haven’t heard of them yet – look them up. I can appreciate any gear that is affordable, reliable, and easy to assemble on the go. Those things will really shine through when you are shooting on location or in a time crunch! I am often in the midst of both of those situations, so I would know. I’m a big fan of LumoPro’s soft box and beauty dish modifiers and used them heavily on this shoot!

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Gaffer (and all around good guy Jarvis) and Ian (who prefers to go by Gene Parmesan) adjusting lighting.

I worked closely with my favorite gaffer Jarvis (who you all know by now) to get the lighting setups all planned out before getting on set. Ian and I made sure to visit the location beforehand so I could create an outline of the spaces we were going to shoot. Fellow photographer Mike Pecci and I sat down for a night and developed a detailed shot list with the projected location of the lights. This gives your crew an idea of the room and how the day is ideally going to go. As a general rule, sending your crew as much prep information as you can in the weeks leading up to the shoot allots you the most amount of time to focus on your shots come set day. Having everyone walk in confident with how their day is going to look allows the set to be a lot more fun and artistic with less stress, and those are the shoots I like to be on.

“As a general rule, sending your crew as much prep information as you can in the weeks leading up to the shoot allots you the most amount of time to focus on your shots come set day.”

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Dianna Quagenti bringing the 20’s and 30’s to life!

For LMDM in particular, it was definitely better to go in with a game plan. I wanted to know exactly how to light each set up in the shortest amount of time. I used a handful of cookies to shape light into it’s own monster to create that look I could count on throughout the shoot. Cookies are basically molds to send your light through — like a pasta maker (light being the dough). Instead of having a direct light onto your subject, shining it through a board with cut out shapes allowed me to create a mood that looked more interrupted. Cookies helped make the lighting more dynamic. Likewise, using modifiers allowed me to diffuse the light for a soft and more flattering look. Often times Beauty dishes, Softboxes, and Octabanks are ideal for fashion photography. I preferred using those partially because I was working with an amazing hair artist, Donna Hamilton and make-up artist, Dianna Quagenti and wanted to make sure the model Kayley France (one of my favorites) was lit well!

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

See the cookies we made in action!

“Teach yourself what looks “right” and what looks “wrong” to you, that way you’ll figure out whatever it is you like about light first.”

For those of you who say you “don’t know how to use lighting”… the best way to get into it is to dive in headfirst. Have fun and experiment as soon as you can get your hands on anything that exudes light – desk lamps work too! Teach yourself what looks “right” and what looks “wrong” to you, that way you’ll figure out whatever it is you like about light first. Try not to be overwhelmed by it in the beginning because you have nothing to lose! The gear isn’t exactly easy to pick up without any previous knowledge – but we live in the age of the Internet where you can learn pretty much anything you want to if you are driven! You have to mess up a whole bunch. Lighting is one of those things where once you begin to get it – you can never go back to seeing it the way you used to. It’s like joining a secret club you never knew existed.

Keep an eye out for the full set release in Volt Magazine soon!

Also you can check out all the BTS action brought to you by the lovely Amanda Macchia in the photo gallery below!

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

Photo by Amanda Macchia | @megalomandee

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