Every so often I do a self portrait ( I’d rather experiment on myself than on a paying customer )  to try and play with lighting and learn some new things. Today I decided to try and learn an old thing. I wanted to see how closely I could mimic the lighting of one of my favourite ever portraits.

It’s the iconic, and simple portrait of Max Von Sydow used to publicise Ingmar Bergman’s, 1957 film  The Seventh Seal.

I enjoy the process of taking lighting apart in other people’s work, and seeing where it takes me. Even with just one light, the process can be quite lengthy, I ran out of time to get this perfect but I think I came fairly close.

There are some caveats though:

a/ I don’t look like Max Von Sydow, no matter how hard I try! This kind of lighting really accentuates angular, symmetrical faces. My face is not one of those. That being said this kind of lighting can imbue undramatic faces such as mine with a modicum of dramatic impact. His extremely fair hair really helps with the texture and shape of the image as well.

My beard does not help.

b/  I think that my lighting, now that I can directly compare the two should have been even more directly above my head. There is something odd about the positioning of the lighting in the original which makes it seem as though much more of his face should be lit on the “dark side”. I suspect it was a bit more central,  higher up, angled down and I suspect the key element that’s missing from my lighting is a gobo to dramatically cut off the light on the other side of the face.

I concentrated on getting the shadows right by positioning the lighting to the side. I think I’d have been better served by using the lighting to create the highlight and a gobo ( essentially a black card ) to create the shadows.

It’s noted now as a potential trick up my sleeve should I find a Scandinavian with an angular, perfectly symmetrical face. 🙂

Lighting diagram below.


My page:


My family has persevered this month, and not just with the obligatory November Norovirii and other school-based plagues, they’ve also persevered with me. My 7 year old daughter didn’t cry when I shaved my mostly permanent beard off; my partner, Rachel, didn’t flinch when she saw my naked face for the first time in two years, although whenever I have shaved on a whim previously, she has reacted like I was an impostor, unable to look me in the eye.

The reason they persevered so well is because the reason I did it is a good one. Many of us will have some connection to someone who has had to deal with prostate and testicular cancer. I certainly have. So for the second time I decided to upset the family and grow a mo’ for Movember ( ). They’ve been brilliant about it, to the point where our daughter gets upset when she sees a man without a Mo’ in the month of November.

For my part, I’ve been doing a self-portrait each week ( or close enough ) and posting on the ‘tinternet for all to point and laugh at. You can see them here, along with the rest of my website: – there’s one more to come, on November 30, when I get to regrow my face fungus and vow never to do it again. Well, that’s what my family think.

It’s been an interesting exercise, from a professional point of view too. Self-portraits are an invaluable tool: for trying out new techniques, and also for showing yourself the concerns that a sitter may have in front of your lens. It’s an exercise that I’ll be continuing and one I heartily recommend to other photographers. Heck if I can make my face look acceptable, then pretty much anyone else is on to a winner.

If you want to donate to my Movember page then you can do so here, even the smallest amount would be gratefully received: – it truly is for a great, and under-sung, cause.

You can see my other work here: Portraits 

I thought I should really start doing lighting diagrams as both a record for myself and for others who might find it helpful.

So for my self portrait, the lighting was pretty simple, although without an assistant, the constant posing then returning to camera was a right pain. I was pretty knackered after the shoot.

The key to making it less difficult than it could have been? A measuring tape and a good old depth of field calculator. If you have a smartphone, you can almost certainly get your hands on one.  Set up the background, set up the camera so that it’s filled by the background then work out where you fit in that image, throwing the background out of focus.

My DoF calculator told me that at f8, I could focus to about 5 ft and have 6 inches to the front and 6 inches to the back leeway and still be in focus. That also meant that the background 10 feet or more away would be totally out of focus. This is exactly what I needed, so I placed a marker on the floor at exactly 5 feet from the camera so that I didn’t have to faff with worrying about focus all the time. There’s a lot of getting up and down in self-portraiture and simply knowing that you will be in focus if you stand at the mark helps immensely.

I changed position 2 or 3 times relative to the camera, so when I did that, I just re-focussed and re-measured where the marker should be.

So, with focus spot on, it’s time for lighting. I wanted to blow out the background completely, so that was easy. Reflective brolly on my porty studio head at maximum, relatively close to the background. I got the main light spot on first time in terms of power ( just about half power about 3 feet away from me ) which was very handy. Initially it was through a white brolly, but I  wanted something harder so eventually just went for the unadorned strobe.

After a little bit of time over precise angle on the head, I settled down on that, and started to look around for light which was bouncing around. This was done in my ( small ) living room ) which has white walls. As you might imagine, light was bouncing everywhere,  so I had to place black backgrounds to the left and used a black relfector bag to the right to absorb the light. Anything I could find really.

Once that was done it was time to find the one image where I don’t look completely like a gorgon. 🙂