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:


The Semiotics of Photography

As part of my research for Project 2 I’m trying to find out more about the Semiotics of Photography. In lame terms (and as i understand it) it relates to the study of meaning. It looks at how we attach meaning to the real world, to words, images and sounds.

Semiotics was invented by Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, who argued that the written and visual language are a system of signs divided into two parts;

A Signifier and Signified.

The Signifier is the form of the message, so in photography it will be an image that we see that is easily recognisable and the Signified is the concept of the signifier and what it represents.


Take this photo of Che Guevara (by Alberto Korda), for example. Arguably one of the most iconic portraits in modern history, it shows Che as a young Cuban revolutionary (Signifier) at a funeral service for the 136 people who were killed when a French ship carrying arms to Havana was sabotaged and blown-up by America. Cuba and US ended diplomatic relations soon after.

However, to many Cubans, Che Guevara’s implacable stare captured in this photo symbolised the struggle of the Cuban people against the US and the anti-capitalism sentiment that followed.

This photo perpetuates Che Guevara as the face of revolution, the opposition to capitalism and imperialism. His beret links him to the common man and his faraway look (some say) is not unlike that in depictions of the Buddha or Christ. In short, it represents the rise of the people against the establishment.

On a less somber note and more up to date ‘photo analysis’ JLo and Drake recently posted in their Instagram account.


According to ‘The Sun’ (pls don’t shoot me!) here’s what the photo means:

“Drake, 30, and Jennifer, 47, went public with their romance this week with a loved-up picture posted on social media.

But Funkmaster Flex claims the date is loaded with significance for the pair – and may suggest Drake was taking a dig at his old rival. There has been bad blood between the pair for years, and they previously clashed at a club in Las Vegas in 2014. Funkmaster Flex is adamant Drake knowingly took a dig at his nemesis over his new romance with Combs‘ ex-girlfriend.

In a series of posts on Twitter, he wrote: “JLo? That’s the get back for a punch in the face? “Took me all day to figure this out!…“Doggy saved the pic for the anniversary and everything!!! Haaaa! Wow! Sensitive new n**** fail!”

It seems that the hidden meanings in photography is more common than we think, which is why my research must continue. I promise there will be no more mentioning of The Sun tho!






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