Glamour Photography TipsSubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2011-02-10 11:41

Skin vs. latex, or the forgotten concept of 5 lighting zones

I feel like people who have a fetish should celebrate that and enjoy it and yes, my heart is wide open for all forms of playfulness [dramatic pause]... But when those rubber fetish guys told me that latex is like a 2nd skin, I thought, boy, they obviously have no clue what they are talking about. I mean looking at it from a photographic point of view, they compare a pretty matte, dim and complex textured thing like “skin”, with a really shiny and completely untextured surface like “latex”.

Photographically, if I am shooting light at them, those two have pretty much nothing in common!

Maybe I missed the point of their comparison. But for my fellow photographers I want to make clear, that those two surfaces react completely different to light. Once you know the differences and once you can control your light source so that you can amplify or remove the differences, you enter a whole new ballgame of lighting. You are really mastering light. For instance: You can now use your knowledge to make rubber looking even more like rubber than it does in reality. Just care that the specular highlights are bright and have sharp edges - for instance.

Does not make sense to you? Then watch the video:

Some photos from this photo shoot

Model: Notorious Estrella
Styling: Emily

I wish you good light!
-- Michael


I'm loving it when you fry my brain! Don't worry!

Hahaha, OK, I will take your word, cousin Danielle

its odd that when you put both surfaces and compare the quality of light one starts to actually notice the highlights and shadows everywhere. Sometimes we forget the basic things.
Thanks for posting this!

Cousin Juan, thank you for putting it into practise and training your photographic eyes

Hey cousin Michael,

Another silly question maybe: In the end of this movie I saw ur settings from your camera. It occured to me you are using the Large Jpeg setting to shoot your pictures in. Is there a reason why you are not using RAW format CR2?

The Netherlands

Anton, the question is excellent - not silly at all. Yes, I am shooting JPG only. With my sort of photography RAW does not offer the slightest advantage, but a whole lot of disadvantages. I tested a few usecases with RAW vs. JPG. No use for RAW. When recording a photo, the extra resolution offered by RAW makes no difference. But there is a trap: As soon as I apply filters and curves to a photo, I will absolutely go to into 16 bit mode, because when shifting tonalities, then the extra bits make a huge difference. It's the difference between chopped gradients and smooth gradients. So a PSD file on my machine is usually 16 bit, while the JPG which is the basis of the PSD file can happily live with 8 bit.

Hi Michael, first of all my compliments and thanks for helping me with your tutorials..
I know that this is not the right place but I don't know where to write. I have a Iphone4 and I subscribed to your podcasts so that I can see them everywhere. Unfortunately, I can not sync the last 10 in my Iphone. I'm able to sync podcasts since number 23 but not the others. I've downloaded in itunes but they doesn't appear in the Iphone? Do you know if I'm the only one who have this problem?
Thanks in advance

Thanks a lot for making me aware of this. I have not heared about it yet, but may be I messed up the technology somehow. I am using blip.tv as the provider for the podcast and I think usually blip.tv is pretty reliable.
I'll have a look into the issue as soon as I got a few minuts.

I studied the problem of podcasts. IPhone can download only the episodes of 2010, none of those of 2011. Please check if the provider who manages your podcast has changed some parameters in those of 2011 compared to last year.

Awesome! Currently I am trying out an alternative encoding with the latest video, the one about the fireplace shoot. Later today I will try out downloading that episode via itunes to my iphone. Let's see if that change fixes the issue. If so, I'd reapply it to the other 2011 episodes.

Hi cousin Michael.. great work, podcast 35 (fireplace) e 36 (photo idea) perfect dowloaded..
Thanks a lot..

Hello Michael,

This is really an ejoyable tutorial. Your video explains the five zones of light reflecting off an object very well. I have to admit that the subject is also really, really easy on the eyes.

Occasionally I get the "deer in the flash-light-look" from fellow photographers when asking me: "What do you mean by shadow edger transfer" - and now I have a place where I can point them to get an answer!

Einfach klasse erklärt!

By they way, I it would have been really cool to show the different effects and quality of light between a white shoot through umbrella and a silver bounce umbrealla, but may be that is something you will cover in a future video.

Hi Christoph, to be perfectly honest: I never use bounce umbrellas. I mean, not that they are not good for something - they are. And I did use them in the past. But since 95% of the time the shoot throughs are better for my kind of photography, I somehow forgot that in 5% of the cases the bounce umbrellas would do the trick beautifully.

Here's what I do instead of using reflective umbrellas:
If I need to shield the camera against stray light I put a big reflector (bookend) between shoot through umbrella and camera.

If I want the light to be a touch harder, I simply move the shoot through umbrella a a two feet further away from the subject.

i really love your photos.nice shot cousin michael. what is your white balance settings for studio portraits?

Hi cousin Gene!
In this case I used 5900K or "Flash". This setting "Flash" USUALLY adjusts the WB to the state of the batteries of the flash sitting in the hotshow. The color of the flashlight changes a bit when the batteries get lower on power - however, in this case the hotshoe flash is set to "no flash", so this automatic is not kicking in.

On other occasions I also like to use 5200K or "sunlight" as my WB setting. That is a bit warmer.

How can I send you a photo I would like to emulate? pray tell.

Hi cousin! Just post a link to the photo over here. I read my comments. I will see it.

Hi cousin! Just post a link to the photo over here. I read my comments. I will see it.

Wow, Michael. I came across your videos today and was blown away what you can do with a few speed lights in a very tight space. I am a studio photographer and know my strobes very well BUT as you said in one of your videos if you don't make it [taken a photo] happen at the moment you are asked it may never happen...The other part is I feel that I am a slave to my studio set up because,of course, it is not possible for me to drag my "big guns" everywhere I go so I took a leap and bought one of the Quantum Trios flashes and currently studying how to use it which led me to research which lead me to your videos. I find speed lights a bit challenging. So I am very exited to have found your videos. Now, my question: all of the images are very nicely finished! I am very curious to see the before post production shots. Is it possible? Also, your video about sandwiched light is nothing less than outstanding. I love all the photos from that shoot and was wondering about post production as well. I want to try a light set up like that for a pregnancy shoot next week. I know it is a loaded question but it would be extremely helpful if you could share some of your workflow. Thank you, Olga

Hi cousin Olga, most models do not want their unphotoshopped images to be posted online. I respect that. However, my wife Emily usually is fine with posting her raw photos. So we posted examples for instance when blogging the photo shoot at the fireplace. I also did not photoshop the images of the wedding photo shoot that I did with a speedlight.

I'll try to post some more unreworked photos in the future - just need to convince my models that they are looking great without photoshop :-)

Michael, thank you for all the free lessons in this website, there awsome! I fell so lucky discovering your website, thers's a lot of things to know about lighting and photography. Thanks once again sir for sharing your precious knowledge.

Thanks a lot for your compliment, cousin Leon!

HHIS I souhld have thought of that!

Hi! I've much enjoyed most of your posts, but on this one I think you've got it totally wrong.

That's because you chose to illustrate the 3-dimensional contrast concepts on a black, shiny surface. The diffused value of a black surface is black, which makes it a particular case. On such a surface's image you don't have a distinct shadow, nor a distinct shadow edge transfer area. You only have distinct specular reflections and specular to diffused edge transfer areas. Please revisit Dean Collins' explanation on those concepts - for instance, the knife image he's shown analysing in the Live at Brooks video. The black parts, he says, are not shadows, they're the actual diffused value. What looks like a shadow edge transfer is actually a specular edge transfer, and so on. In your example, on the black Latex you can only see speculars, specular edge transfer areas and the black diffused reflection. You can easily point to shadows, shadow edge transfer areas and diffused reflections on the model's skin instead. Just my 2p. Oh, did I mention I really like your videos?


Cuki, thanks a a lot for your excellent remark! I see that you are really ontop of this topic. Awesome!

I still would not agree with you (and Collins, with all due respect) that the diffused value of black is black. But I perfectly understand that you could define it that way in case you argue, that the light reflected by the studio walls would actually cause specular highlights. But then again, if even the studio walls lead to specular highlights, then where would any light for the diffused area ever come from?

However, I think you are perfectly correct that black latex is not a perfect example. Once I see another subject that might serve as a better example, I'll most probably record the explanation again.

Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript!

Hey fellow photographer, how is it going, this is glamour photography tips and I am Michael Zelbel and here is what I have got for you today. Today it is all about how to really master a lighting, if you really master it, then you can bring across the free dimensionality of the object that you are shooting and you also bring across the surface texture so that the viewer can imagine how the depicted item is feeling when he is looking at your photograph, that is one of the stuff that good old Dean Collins was teaching very well and I am using it today. Al right today I am shooting Cousin Notorious Strella in her latex outfit and I found that is the perfect opportunity to tell you something about you know how to light this latex outfit so that the viewer of your photo can imagine how the latex, how the rubber is feeling when he would be reach into the photograph. I bet that is interesting, however the theory behind that lighting it’s pretty complex and it is something new, you probably do not want to hear but I am going to tell it to you anyway, so keep on watching, don’t switch away. The thing is in order to really really master lighting, you have to accept at least one inconvenient truth and that is while most books might have told you that you have to care about the highlights and the shadows in your photo, this is cool but this instruction is just half of the truth, actually it is even less, it is just 2/5 of the truth to be exact because they are not just 2 important areas that each light source projects onto your subject, they are actually 5 important areas. Here is the case what I mean: I asked Notorious Strella to stand right next to one of the umbrellas that we used in the shoot and now let us have a look at what this umbrella does to her latex dress. It is mirrored nicely over here in her chest area, so let’s zoom in a bit to her chest and what do we see over here? Well the first thing is this reflects the mirror and that is the specula highlights, how we call it, that is really where the light source is sending direct beams to the subject and they are directly reflected back to the lens, that is where we can see the light source and then across there is a shadow area where no light is hitting in the subject any more or very very little light so the black dress over there is really really black and that is the shadows. But now the next thing comes, is the defused area, this is something in the middle where the black is sort of grayish and the red tones are still pretty light. This is where some light is hitting her dress and the light is not directly from the light source, it is bouncing off somewhere but there is still light, it is not really shade and then we can have a look at how all these three areas meet, I mean there is pretty clear separation between the areas but it is not exactly sharp yet, it is not the light source is really really sharp depicted over here, there is an area which is a little bit diffused and that is called the specula edge transfer. It is just showing that the light source is not really in focus or that the material is not a perfect mirror, that is a little bit of unsharpness and the same with the shadows, there is a shadow edge transfere where the shadow is blending into the diffused area. That is not all of a sudden a jumping tones, it is a blend. And this is example on the latex but exactly the same areas, are there if we have a look at the much surface, like for instance a skin over here. Now you have got specula highlights and there they are this is where the light goes directly hits the subject and it is reflected back, you just don’t see a clearer picture of the light source because the surface is matt and there is also the diffused area with mid tones over there and there is also the shadow area over here but the transfer areas they are much wider as a specula highlights reach far into the mid tones and the shadows reach to the mid tones and it is one soft sweep so to speak, so this large specula edge transfer, shadowedge transfer areas they tell the viewers of this photo that this surface is actually matt and it is not shining over there. So this is what this fire flash lighting area, they tell you about surface texture, also free dimensionality and it is all of in your control, it is up to you what you project onto there and if you want to bring across let say shiny latex or if you wan to carry it by making the light really soft over there so that you can’t see the light source, it is apart that people are that you know what is going on in these areas, that if possible use it to your advantage. Okay, okay I think that is enough really complicated stuff for today so let wrap this quickly with something really simple and I mean the actually lighting set up for the shoot. As you have already seen, we have got 2 umbrellas over there, one is left to the model one is right to the model, the umbrellas are hidden behind a large reflectors of mine and I covered some reflectors with some black curtain just in order to introduce a little mystery to the scene so that the viewer of the photograph, he doesn’t really 100% know what is going on there and the model is placed somewhere, probably in a clap or anything you don’t know. I have got the 2 speedlights behind the umbrellas and in order to set up the speedlights for the adjustments, I did nothing, absolutely nothing! And they are both running on TTL without any adjustments and which is fine. I did set up the camera, I did set it up to f/11 and I crank up their ISO400 in order to here how the flesh is not working too hard. I hope I didn’t fry your brain too much with too much complicated stuff, just try it out, use it in your photo shoots, see what you can do with the fire lighting areas and when you change the lighting a little bit, just try it out, do something with it and let me know what you think about it, please comment below the video, tell me whether that was useful for you or not, in any case I hope I didn’t scare you away and I really hope you comeback next Thursday for the next video and until then, I wish you a whole lot of fun with your photo shoots and like always I wish you good light.

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