COO L AN D CALM
Photography can draw directly from the many schools of painting which deliberated over, and spent time evoking, mood through lighting
It’s no coincidence that two of the moods we’re looking at creating take inspiration from painting (the other is the haunted atmosphere of Surrealism – see page 93).
In this case, it’s cool, calm lighting that’s so useful for interior shooting, and in particular portraits and still lifes.
17th-century Dutch painters developed this atmospheric style, in which soft directional light – often cool in tone – comes from one side, and slightly behind the subject, so that about a third or a half of the subject is in deep shadow. The master of this was Vermeer, who used it in paintings such as The Kitchen Maid and Girl with a Pearl Earring. The set-up, easy to follow photographically, is a large window just in or out of view, but with no direct sunlight streaming through. The key is to keep the exposure down and allow shadow areas to stay dark. You also need a bit of distance between subject and background, and ideally a plain wall behind – or at least one without much detail. Set Daylight colour balance, and consider allowing a cooler (that is, higher) colour temperature. Shallow depth of field will also help to keep the background soft and out of the way.
Vermeer’s sophisticated and skilful lighting in The Kitchen Maid epitomises the cool, calm mood, which I’ve mimicked in a naturally-lit shot of a potter at work at his wheel