A Studio Portrait Inspired by a Classical Painting – The Final Blog

Portrait and Studio Photography does not come easy to me. I am much more comfortable shooting animals, landscapes, flowers, pets (I adore shooting pets!), sports and taking candid shots. That is perhaps the reason why it took me so long to tackle it.


My initial attempts to write about Classical Portraits and Semiotics was published a while back and can be read here. These initial posts were exploratory. I was dipping my little toes in a whole new side of photography that was pretty new to me.

For sometime I wanted to do a studio retake of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Monalisa. Da Vinci has long fascinated me, I’m convinced (and have no evidence whatsoever) that he must have been bipolar! He was just so clever, a painter, an engineer, an inventor, a mathematician, a scientist, the list goes on.

I tried my own version of Mona Lisa at home (read my post here) and had much fun BUT I felt I could  and should do more. I could do better. I wanted to do better.

I carried on researching and loved the link between Rembrandt Lighting and Hollywood Portraits that was particularly fashionable during the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Again, I had to remind myself that the brief we were given was for a classical inspired studio photo and not a Hollywood shot. I decided to save that for another day.

The Rembrandt Light: the one thing Mona Lisa does not have

To achieve the ‘Rembrandt Look’ one half of the models face needs to be in full illumination whilst the other half (usually the side furthest away from the camera) is in partial shadow, with a very distinct illuminated triangle under the eye on the shadowed side.  Rembrandt lighting was “coined” after the master himself, Rembrandt, the famous 17th century Dutch Painter, who used this lighting technique to such great effect in his works of art.

There are plenty of amazing examples of Rembrandt’s work, in fact all one has to do is type ‘Chiaroscuro’ and stunning images by Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio are sure to fill the screen.

Etienne AdolphThat said, I wanted something a little different for my portrait and as I researched for the ‘perfect painting’ for me I came across ‘The Femme Dans Un Manteau’ by Etienne Adolph Piot a French painter who became famous in Paris during the mid/late 1800s for painting wealthy, young and beautiful debutantes.

Contrary to the original painting, my model was a little older and I wanted a portrait that would enhance that. I also liked the idea of her wearing a spot of colour and sheen in her hood.

Having had a chance to help with the set up of other people’s project I was quite confident in setting up my own lighting this time, but I must confess when offered help I was also glad to receive it!

At first, I tried to follow the classical Rembrandt Lighting set up as shown below then adjusted it to give me the ‘look’ I was after.

Image result for rembrandt lighting setup diagram

The beauty dish was set up in the right direction and one of my helpers was holding the snoot just at the right position for me to capture the ‘chiaroscuro’ effect on Anna, my model. The light catching on her hood also made the colour pop (I was worried because chiaroscuro can be unforgiving with colours!) but I was pleased with set up.

Having taken ‘the shot’ we tried to experiment a little with colour gels but quickly dropped that idea.

With Health & Safety adhered to, the shoot went very well. I really enjoyed the session and was pleased with the result.




I would like to point out at this stage that my choice of model and pose were inspired  by the classical painting and in any way made to be an exact copy. I made amendments on my set up on purpose so it would be my own take on the painting and not a copy of someone else’s work.

Personally, I rather like how it turned out.

Thanks for reading this far!

Paula, x



P1, P2, P3, P4, M1, M2, M3

References for Classical Portrait Assignment in Studio:


Still Life – The Final Blog Post

A Set Up Inspired by a Classical Painting

Further to my last post on Still Life (see here) I wanted to write one last post on this subject before I moving on just to remind me how far I have come on this project, what I have learned and how I can use this experience in future shoots of a similar nature.

The Research:

It took me pretty much the entire term to explore this theme and find a Classical Painting of Still Life that inspired me. At first I considered Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, then thought of Cezanne’s Apples but nothing was grabbing me.

Having seen Georgia O’Keefee’s work at the Tate Modern I kept thinking about doing my own shoot based on her incredible work and decided to attempt a photographic interpretation of it at home to see whether or not it would work.

With that in mind, and having done a fair amount of research online, I visited New Covent Garden Flower Marked looking for fresh flowers that resembled the female reproductive organ. Although there was plenty of choice I decided to buy Giant Italian Poppies, Orchids, Parrot Tulips and Single Tulips to carry out my test shoot at home.

Armed with a Small Portable Home Studio and 2 lights I set up the scene of my first attempt. It certainly took a fair few shots for me to figure out the best way to illuminate my subject and dramatise certain elements of the shoot i.e. the fine hairs on the petals, the way the light cast on the petals creating curves and shadows in between the petals.

At first the light was too harsh so I adjusted the strength of my flash and eventually got rid of it altogether, choosing instead a longer exposure. To avoid any possible camera shake I used a tripod and timer.

I was very pleased indeed with the result BUT realised that whilst the shoot had been a success it didn’t adhere to the assignment and it was not a true Still Life Shoot. It was time to reconsider my thinking and refocus on the assignment brief.

Time was certainly flying by and Easter was fast approaching. That’s when I decided to look into still life that included images of eggs and found there was plenty to use as inspiration.

The Technical and Practical Aspects of the Assignment:

I set the scene at college with a range of eggs in different colours and sizes. I also got fresh pasta, a pasta-making machine and a few props. My set up was meant to be soft, simple, classical and without too many distractions. I wanted to work with materials that would not cause reflection. I also wanted to include texture and muted tones in my photos.

For studio light I used a large soft box, turned the light down and asked help in partially blocking it to make it look like my set up was by a window.

Health and Safety was also paramount in this exercise as there was hazard everywhere i.e. wires, hot bulbs, trip hazards, etc. All was tucked away and kept safe during all shoots. In class Health & Safety is always a concerned with so many of us working in what can be almost pitch black. Before turning the main lights of the studio off we always make sure any potential hazard is dealt with swiftly and accordingly.

Louise the Photographer in Chief1

As far as self-evaluation is concerned, I had to print my photos a couple of times but eventually I was very pleased with the result and my college mates decided which photo I should submit as my final image.

I certainly came to understand studio lighting a little more and actually took to helping my fellow students with their own lighting and set up. Standing back from shooting to help others with their work was actually great experience for me as I could focus on the set up and not in taking photos.

It is pretty clear that no matter how much research I do or how many photography books I read, nothing beats getting ‘my hands dirty’ regardless of whether or not I am taking my own photos or helping others take theirs. All experience is great experience not matter now mundane it seems.

There is something new to learn every day, with every shoot and I still have plenty to learn.

Thank for reading,

Paula, x

P1, P2, P3, P4, M1, M2, M3



When life hands you… cabbages

Since our lesson last week I have been thinking about classical still paintings (yes Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Cezanne’s fruits, etc) but have also tried to look for more contemporary inspiration and that’s when I came across Marwane Pallas‘ Doctrine of Signature.

Marwane Pallas is a self-taught French photographer who does mainly self portraits… and they are extraordinary! Perhaps as with many artists, he is not for every one but he is surely different.

Being himself the model and the ‘shooter’, Pallas’ aims to depict the folk medicine of the middles ages associated with herbalist and wise women. I admit it requires a moment of reflection to understand the symbolism of his photos.

With his photos in mind (and a glass or two of wine in hand) I decided to play with the idea of naked bodies and vegetables. Whilst I was ‘prompted’ by Pallas’ work I was determined to add a hint of fun and laughter with my photos. to be fair, I had a great time 🙂


Exploring ideas for Assignment Two

During the coming term we will be studying Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology and as part of it, we were already given our next assignment.
Assignment Two is divided into 3:
  • Still Life
  • Portrait
  • Cruel and Tender
By Mrs T Photography

At first glance, the titles sound a little scary but as I started researching I began to formulate some interesting ideas. In fact, the new assignment sounds so exciting that I can hardly wait to get back to class.

For Still Life, I might explore and attempt to set up a Georgia O’Keefee-esque photo shoot.  I saw her exhibition a little while back at the Tate Modern and was mesmerised by her work with still flowers.
The way in which O’Keefee used nature’s amazing shapes, highlighted its colours and added a hint of subtle eroticism is nothing short of genious. Some have referred her to the ‘Lady Gaga’ of her time in the way she was so ahead of her own audience.  More about her later!
As for Portrait Using Classical Paintings as inspiration, I must confess Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring fascinates me. I love the mystery surrounding this girl. To this day  her identity is unknown.

According to the BBC Johannes Vermeer is recognised as a master of light who specialised in painting women in sparse domestic interiors, and his pictures are prized in part because they are often suffused with mystery”.

Over the years The Girl with Pear Earrings Painting has been used as inspiration to many portrait photos, books and movies. Could it be my inspiration too? We shall see.

As for the portrait part of the assignment, I might explore “The Girl with a Pearl Earring”
Now for the most difficult part… Cruel and Tender. I am still undecided about the right way to interpret this and to photograph it.
Some ideas that come to mind are:
  • Alzheimers & Dementia – cruel brain disease that robs us from our loved ones while they are still ‘with us’. No amount of tenderness can jiggle their memory enough.
  • Rehabilitation of Military Personnel injured in action –  Once the physical injuries heal, the endless battle for spiritual healing begins. Could tenderness of those around our heros save them? Michael Stokes is an American contemporary photographer, best known for his controversial photographs of veterans who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Animal Cruelty or Tenderloins – I’m all for defending animal rights BUT I love my food and my meat! Some feel so strongly about how animals are ‘slaughtered’ so we can all enjoy our T-Bone steaks, bacon, sausages that they decide to be vegetarians. I’m not sure I will ever be able to go that far. That said, if I know animals are killed for ‘superfluous’ reasons like shark soup, ivory, shoes (I’m thinking alligator’s!), etc then yes I draw the line!

If you have managed to read my blog post up until now, wow I’m impressed!  Well done you 🙂

Thanks for sticking with me!

MrsT, x