The Zeltsman Approach to Traditional Classic Portraiture

Chapter 12 Zeltsman Bounce Light System, Fill Lighting

Around 1957, Eastman Kodak introduced their Type C color process. After attending several of the Kodak seminars to learn the details, I decided to get into it. I took a private course from a New Jersey photographer who was a very fine color technician. He taught me how to process the film and make color prints. I was on my way!

At that early time, most photographers approached the subject of direct color in portraiture by slipping in a few exposures on color film during a B&W sitting. But, my wife Martha, and I, who incidentally were the entire staff of the Zeltsman Studio throughout all the years, decided to go into color full time. We began by switching B&W sittings into color, and by booking and selling sittings in color. Within 8 or 9 months we were close to 100% in color. I equipped the darkroom with everything necessary for complete in-house production of our color work. I did my own color printing right from the start. Our color portrait studio was in operation for over 30 years, until we retired in 1989.

What has all that to do with my bounce lighting? You’ll see. More history! The Kodak Co, was becoming aware of a lack of uniformity in the quality of the color prints coming from the labs. They decided the problem was caused by photographers who were making color negatives the same way as B&W negatives. Indeed, the wide range of tolerance we are accustomed to in a B&W negative, does not work the same in color. Kodak people knew that in order to produce color prints of uniform quality on their Type C color paper, the shadow density and highlight density of the negative must be controlled to fit the scale of the Type C paper.

Kodak introduces a new concept for controlling

the densities of the negatives to fit the scale of the new Kodak Type C color paper

Two top Kodak photographers began appearing on National, State and Regional Convention programs. They demonstrated the concept of exposing for the shadows, and printing for the highlights. That involved setting up a stationary fill-light that remained in the same position throughout the sitting. A meter indicated a necessary exposure for detail in the shadow areas of the negative., and that exposure remained the same for the rest of the sitting. That took care of exposing for the shadows. Then, the key light was switched on, and a desired lighting pattern added to the subject. The shadow areas had already been lighted., and while the camera exposure remained set for the shadow area, the key light was set to a sufficient power to establish the highlight densities on the negative - a stop or stop and a half above the shadow density of the negative. Prints were then made by exposing for flesh tones, and that took care of printing for the highlights.

There is more: While the fill lighting and the camera exposure always remain the same, you can move the key light closer or farther from the subject for a variety of effects. That in turn, changes the highlight densities on the negative. Printing for these densities results in a variety of contrast ratios.

It all made sense!

When the two Kodak photographers demonstrated all that, they used two lights to establish the fill lighting. They did that by placing a light on each side of the camera facing the subject. The concept made perfect sense to me. It assured excellent uniform quality in color prints. But there were problems. It got a bit crowded having those two lights there. Also reflections in people’s eye glasses. Or too many catch- lights in the eyes.

Yet, as a color printer myself, I knew that was the way to go. All I could think of was EXPOSE FOR THE SHADOWS AND PRINT FOR THE HIGHLIGHTS. The Kodak use of two lights at the camera as fill lighting never caught on. But that is when my concept of Bounce Lighting as a permanent fill light in the camera room began to emerge.

How BOUNCE LIGHTING was installed and used in the Zeltsman Studio

as a permanent non-movable fill lighting

Note: The following information dealing with the installation, the amount of light and the equipment used, applies only to the size and dimensions of my camera room. Some adjustments may need to be made within a facility that differs from mine.

The dimensions of my camera room were: 18 ft wide by 26 ft long. The ceiling was 10 ft high. Walls and ceiling were painted white. Not a cool white, but a warm white, like egg shell.

The Installation

Six lights (strobes) in 16 inch reflectors, attached to a 2 inch pipe (obtained from a plumbing supply) are permanently installed below the ceiling, 14 ft away from the back wall (background). The lights are directed at the ceiling, but tilted slightly toward the background (in front of which the subjects will be posed). The bar is fastened to the side walls at a height to bring the rims of the light reflectors within 8 inches from the ceiling.

Three 800ws strobe power packs are installed on the wall (off the floor), providing 400ws of power in each of the 6 lights, a total of 2400ws of reflected light. The cables of the 6 lights are taped neatly along the pipe running toward the power packs on the wall. There is nothing to clutter the camera room floor.

I used this system of stationary fill lighting in a full range of portrait sittings for over THIRTY years! Here is why....

Ideally, fill lighting should appear to be non-existent. Shadowless, non-specular, and certainly non-directional. Like outdoors on a completely overcast day, or on a bright day in deep shade. That is exactly the kind of light my Bounce Light System delivered. Nothing could be better. And the following test exposures must be made to determine a permanent correct exposure for shadow detail in the negative.

The tests are made using the film you normally use for all color portrait sittings. A model, man or woman, good complexion and skin tones, dark hair, no beard on man. Definitely wearing very dark clothing.

Man or woman, arranged in a head and shoulders pose showing the two-thirds view of the face. Important: The size of the face on the negative must be at least 1 inch or larger, and the dark clothing must also be included on the negative. That may not be possible on a square format. I know it can be done on a vertical portrait format.

First test: When the pose is arranged, the model’s eyes are directed to an appropriate spot in the direction he/she is facing. He/she is asked to maintain that throughout the test. The bounce lighting is turned on. No other lights are used during this test. The camera is on a tripod. The subject is properly framed. The lens aperture is wide open. The first exposure is made at that setting. Additional exposures are made at half-stop increments up to F/22. The film is processed. No prints are needed. It is important to mark the f/stop used exposing each negative in the corner of every negative.

Using a proper viewing box (one designed for viewing and judging negatives), the test negatives (with the f/stop markings in the corners) are laid out on the box in the order of exposure - from wide open to f/22. Look at the negatives spread on the viewing box in the order the exposures were made, the heavy densities on the left, and going all the way to the light densities on the right. Begin on the right with the lightest density. Examine each successive frame to the left, looking for shadow detail in the deepest blacks (clothing, hair). When you get to that frame, look at the next one on the left. The f/stop marked in he corner of that negative becomes the permanent exposure for all the sittings from then on.

My permanent exposure, by choice.....

My permanent exposure for all sittings throughout the years has always been f/18. By choice. I wanted to be able to handle every conceivable kind of sitting without changing the fill lighting. That is why I needed 2400ws of power for the bounce lighting installation.

In addition to the fill lighting equipment up and out of the way, I used 5 light units on the floor of the camera room. Two lights with 16 inch reflectors, two spotlights on boom stands, and a background light. Each light an independent unit, on casters, and a choice of power settings of 25ws, 50ws, 100ws and 200ws. All interconnected by Photocells, so there were no distracting interconnecting cables cluttering the camera room floor.

I’m relating all of this in the past sense, since it is well known that I am retired now. The following is not intended to become a demonstration of my portrait lighting techniques. It is meant to demonstrate how to perform Test #2. The purpose of this next test is to bring the highlight density on the negative to a necessary proper balance with the shadow density, to fit the scale of the paper.

Test #2

One light with a 16 inch reflector (to be used as a key light) is prepared by attaching a 7 ft long string to the light. Pieces of tape used as markers are attached to the string a 12 inch intervals, from the end of the string up to 3 ft from the lamp. The test will be made by making exposures at these distances between the light and the subject.)

The same model used in the first test (wearing the same clothing) is placed in the same pose. The camera is positioned, the pose is framed as before, and the camera is set at the exposure indicated by Test #1. The exposure is kept the same all through Test #2.

Switch on the bounce lighting. Switch on the key light with the string on it. Set power of the key light to 100ws. With the model ready and the eyes properly placed, the key light is positioned at the end of the string and brought to the necessary height to achieve the desired pattern of portrait lighting on the subject’s face, (as described in Test #1) Note: Catch lights in the eyes and nose shadow indicate how high the light has to be positioned at that distance from the subject (pretty high).

At this time also switch on and use the hair light and the background light. Both these lights are also used at 100ws of power. An exposure is made now with the key light positioned at each of the distances marked on the string, starting at the 7 ft distance.

Important: For the test to be meaningful, the lighting pattern established on the model’s face must be kept precisely the same as the distance between the light and the subject is changed. That, of course, provides an exact guide line to where and how high the key light must be positioned. One other item to assure a successful test is that, each time the key light is positioned and a desired lighting pattern is established (at each desired distance), the full output of the light must be directed at the pose, and not be feathered in any direction.

Evaluating the test

After everything is done properly, the highlight densities of the five processed negatives will vary. A specially made 8x10 print of each negative is now needed to evaluate the test. You can not use a normally made lab print averaging exposure. The need here is for an 8x10 print of each negative, exposed only for the highlight density of the face of the subject, disregarding completely what happens in the shadow areas.

Exposed in this manner, the flesh tones of the subject’s face should show good quality, regardless of the contrast of the print. That is what is needed. In other words, we need a straight print made of each of the five test negatives, exposed properly only for the flesh tones, regardless what the rest of the print looks like. The only way to get a lab to do that, is to talk to them and explain that it is an important test. If you explain to the lab that it will later, greatly facilitate you and them to make quality prints simply and quickly from all of your portrait negatives, the lab may agree to do it, albeit at a special price. Since I always made my own color prints, I had no problem.

Evaluating the results of the 2 tests

Assuming that you now have the needed five 8x10 prints (with good quality flesh tones, in five different contrast ratios), you proceed as follows: Lay out the five prints in a row, with the darkest on the left, graduating down to the lightest contrast ratio on the right. If you consider this print too flat, discard it. If you consider the next low contrast ratio on the right acceptable for high key work, cut the string on the light to the length that achieved that result.

Next, starting at the print on the left, if that print is too contrasty and unacceptable, remove the marker from the string at three feet from the light. Leave the markers that indicate the distances for the high, medium, and low key portraits.

When I originally set up my lighting system and ran these tests for myself, I did indeed come up with three beautiful prints in three different contrast ratios. I used these distances to produce a variety of effects in my portraiture for many years.

FACT: Using this method of lighting provides absolute assurance of negatives constructed properly to yield excellent color prints consistently. It is a foolproof method for creating desired contrast ratios merely by changing the distance of the key light from the subject.

Important additional points of Information: The set up used in this test for combining the movable key light with the stationary fill lighting, is valid only for head and shoulders and 3/4 length poses. What about full length poses and groups? Obviously, the key light has to be moved to a farther distance to cover these poses. The answer is simple: The fill lighting is always there. When the key light is positioned at the farther distance to light the pose, the power of the key light is changed from 100ws setting to 200ws.

Index    Chapter 13

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