UK's Leading Ladies of Soap: Subtractive Fill at Work

I was recently commissioned by 'Fabulous Magazine' to create a composite portrait of the Leading Ladies of the UK's top Soap Operas 'Coronation Street,' 'Eastenders' and 'Emmerdale.'

You can see a short video of the models in action and the shoot HERE.

Needless to say, I jumped at the prospect.

Just one problem...

It was to be shot in 3 different locations, and each leading lady was to be photographed separately.

Oh, and one other thing, they will be wearing white or very light colours, and the client wants them on a white background....

Now, creating composited large group portraits is something I have (a little!) experience with, but I have never had to execute one with little or no reference points. Unlike the 'Chameleon' shoot in the previous post, which has tons of reference points like chairs, this shot is set up from scratch in each location by (re)positioning the white columns and models against the white seamless background.


In a situation like this, the first thing to do is plan, so we started off with a basic structure of the image as a sketch, working out who will be sitting or standing where.

Next, work out the ideal height and angle of the camera (which in this instance was the top 2 legs of my Gitzo 1548 fully extended) then stick to it!

As I said before, keep the lighting consistent. On this occasion, I opted for a very simple set up of a single light source coming from the left, slightly higher than eye level, and aimed down by 35 degrees.

I used an Elinchrom Style RX1200 mounted in a 190cm Elinchrom Octa lightbank. This gives SUCH a beautiful soft light.

This is quite a forgiving lightbank too, and meant that even if we could not always place the light EXACTLY where we wanted to, it would always give a similar look.

Now, what about that white-on-white issue?

It's much simpler to deal with than one might think, using 'subtractive fill.'

'Subtractive fill' sounds like something to make one's brain melt, but think of it like this:

Additive fill (from a reflector or light source) will lighten shadows.

Subtractive fill (from black 'Polyboards' or 'Gobos' or anything black) will create shadow, or a more defined darker area, by preventing light being reflected onto the subject.

When photographing actress Katherine Kelly of 'Emmerdale,' I used 2 black polyboards or 'Gobos,' one on either side of her:

To photograph actress Kara Tointon of 'Eastenders,' I used a black polyboard or 'Gobo' on one side only, because the effect was too profound; indeed, it needed a white board, not a black one, on the other side:

When photographing actress Tiana Benjaman of 'Eastenders' I used 2 white boards to add fill on her darker skin tones:

As we can see in both the individual shots of each leading lady, as well as the final composite, the golden rule is that with lighting, sometimes less is in fact more. The key is to use your eyes to observe the effects created by your lighting elements, which can be as simple as black or white cards. Remember this simple rule, and create gorgeous, glowing portraits.