Pho­tog­ra­phy can draw di­rectly from the many schools of paint­ing which de­lib­er­ated over, and spent time evok­ing, mood through light­ing

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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

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