I recently shot a few images for a back to school ad campaign called “My Real Superpowers.” It’s a campaign for a martial arts school about what it means to be a real life superhero and undergo that type of transformation through training in martial arts. The idea is that we’d shoot two students and some sort of transformation from every-day person to real-life super-hero. One of the promo shots is a male student as Clark Kent. A simple, but dramatic headshot. His transformation image would be ripping open the jacket, hat flying, glasses in hand, etc. I can’t release that image yet though.
I’ll explain the lighting and post-processing as I got many emails and comments inquiring about the details surrounding those two things.
Lighting Clark Kent
To start, I knew I’d be extracting Clark Kent from the background. We were shooting on white seamless but I wanted the white to turn grey because that’s what I prefer when I’m doing extractions. So step one is to know what your end goal is. In short, I didn’t light the background for this shot.
The lighting is a simple three point setup. There are two rim lights that provide the main light on the cheeks and body. These rim lights are large gridded rectangular soft boxes. You could also use strip lights. The fill light is provided by a 3′ octa boomed overhead. The bottom of the octa sits right above the camera lens.
The only tweaking you really need to do is aiming the rim lights evenly (the lighting on the sides of face should be symmetrical) and dialing in the fill light. When you’re setting the shot up, turn off the fill light completely and just shoot with the rims on. This will go a long way to helping you aim the rims perfectly. Then turn on the fill light. Start with it 2 stops under the rim lights and work from there to get the look you want. It’s totally up to you how much fill you use.
Processing Clark to get that sharp gritty look
The first thing I always do is pull the image into Lightroom. I’ll usually boost contrast a little bit and leave everything else alone. Most of the finishing is going to happen in Photoshop.
In photoshop, extraction from the background is always the first step in my composite workflow. There’s no sense in making adjustments to the image until I know I have a clean extraction and an idea of what my background will be. The background choice is important because you have to be able to blend the colors and tones to make the image look “whole” and not too contrived. After you have a clean extraction you can get to work.
Once I had Clark extracted, I dropped in a simple dark grunge background plate. The remaining post-processing was quite simple for this photo. The contrast was boosted again with a curves layer. Some spot healing was done to clear up some skin issues on the face. The eyes were brightened. The image was then processed in Color Effex Pro 4 to again enhance contrast and details with a little desaturation. Finally, I used a high pass layer to sharpen the skin and then again to sharpen the entire image.
Here is the final shot submitted to the client.
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