My mom wrote to my wife a few days ago, advising her that a package containing a small shoulder bag was heading our way. My mom said that my wife could put it to any use she wished, except she was not to wear it on her head and call it the latest fashion in hats.
Later that day my wife asked me if I could take her portrait on the following evening….
I knew from the start that I didn’t want soft light for this picture; I wanted multiple hard lights, each restricted in some way. The hat/bag needed good definition, as did my wife’s face; the rest of the frame could be lit by whatever was left over. As I pondered composition and lighting I kept returning to Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” not as a model to be slavishly imitated but rather as an archetype and a guide.
The photographic equivalent of Vermeer’s light would be a single big softbox, although the brightness of the scarf hanging against the girl’s back suggests a second accent light. For my image I expanded to three lights: two rim lights behind and on either side of my wife, both of which had to be flagged on one side to avoid spill on the wall behind, and a third restricted with a snoot on her face. Each one provides definition, separation, or both to something in the frame; all three combine to provide a nice wraparound on my wife’s head.
This was a fun picture to make, and my wife is even now using it as her Facebook avatar.