Drawing Lighting Inspiration from Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’

Published on PetaPixel

Left: Lincoln - Janusz Kaminski, ASC                              Right: test shot with light/fog 

Nick approached me as he was finishing his degree, wanting his portrait taken to commemorate the event. With his references, wardrobe, and location, I saw an opportunity to replicate some of the lighting I had seen in Spielberg's Lincoln. As a period film set in the mid 1800's, light sources were limited to daylight, moonlight, or some variation of flame, ie. oil lamps and candles. My hope was to capture the magic of Kaminski's lighting, while also adapting it to not have my subject completely silhouetted. 

On location I usually start by creating a baseline - adjusting my settings to capturing an image that looks similar what is seen with the eye. Our starting point is a mid summer evening in Orlando, which means the sunset is a vibrant orange, with plenty of reflected green light from the exterior foliage. This quality of light isn't necessarily bad, it's just not what I wanted.

So I placed a strobe outside pointed through the window with curtains as the only diffusion and voilla, a light we can finally work with. So we have our main light but we're not finished, we need to give that backlight all the glory it deserves. More often than not, hazers are used in films to provide some atmosphere or texture for the light to 'grab.' At times it's justified in the scene with a character smoking, a hot shower, a fireplace, etc. Yet even when it's not justified, we(the audience) do not question it. Actual hazers are pretty expensive, so I find myself using a cheap amazon fogger and fan to break it up. The key word here is subtlety, give the fog time to settle and then break it up with a fan. For the final image we let the fog settle, brought Nick a chair, put on a 28mm lens and used a silver bounce for his key light, with strobe pointed through the window as a backlight. 

Taking inspiration from period films gives you a great opportunity to create a cinematic look with minimal equipment. Sometimes you want to create something stylized like this daylight/moonlight, or maybe you want it to be a different time of year? With a bit of study and the right equipment, it's easy to change up your portraits and light like the movies. So get out there and create the light you want.   

Final image with added key light

Final image with added key light