Recreating ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’: Study From the Masters

Post + Photos by Rick Sammon

You all know Rick Sammon. Gregarious, lighting-sharp photog who scours the world in search of singularly unique subjects. To date, he has traveled to more than 100 countries, braved a much-publicized rescue from the wild Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and published 36 photography-industry books over the past 20 years. His life is the stuff of legend. Last year, Rick and I spent a good deal of time together, bonding as professionals, tech geeks, and lighting freaks; recently, he was gracious enough to travel to our studio in Petaluma to appear on yet another fun-filled TWiT Photo episode with Leo and me. Below, Rick dishes on his creative process for his “Girl with a Pearl Earring – The Photograph.” Teeming with tips and tricks for lighting up your pictures like the old, painterly masters, this guest post is solid gold. Follow Rick Sammon on Twitter. We can learn a lot from the master painters. One of my favorite paintings is "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. The painting has been referred to as "The Mona Lisa of the North." Hey, I like it even better than the Mona Lisa. One of my favorite movies is "Girl with a Pearl Earring" starring Scarlett Johansson. Both the painting and the movie inspired my shoot: "Girl with a Pearl Earring - The Photograph.” My goal was to try to recreate the beautiful lighting Vermeer used – which included the nice catch light in his model’s eyes and the soft side lighting. Perhaps most important I wanted to recreate the mood and feeling of the painting – or should I say the model. I studied pictures of Vermeer’s famous portrait, following the advice I give my photography workshop students: Study the works of master painters. These works will teach you about light and shadows, color and detail, posing and composition . . . and many more elements that go into making a good image. I made the portrait in my office. I don't have a studio, but I turned my office into one in about 15 minutes. We shoot here during my Croton Creative Workshop. Please add Croton Creative link above: http://www.ricksammon.info/p/croton-workshops.html Here is the simple process I went through to get the image: The first step was to find a model, which turned out to be my friend’s daughter, Maggie. Next I bought the propos: two scarves from Macy's. Maggie already had the jacket. Before my Maggie showed up, I set up a very basic lighting system. One Canon 580EX II Speedlite in a Westcott Apollo soft box. I fired the flash with my Canon ST-E2 Wireless transmitter. I shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 100mm lens. Some lighting tips: • The larger the light, the softer the light. • The closer the light, the softer the light. • Don’t point the light (Softbox in this case) directly at the subject. Rather “feather” it, that is, point it slightly in front of the subject. • Don’t underestimate using only one light source. If it worked for Vermeer, who used one window light, it can work for you. During the shoot I shot tethered, using Canon Digital Photo Processional to see my pictures on my MacBook Pro. The Beatles looked on, from a poster I got in 1967. I had a print of Vermeer’s painting attached to the soft box, and one next to my computer, for guidance. Maggie had studied the painting and the girl’s expression for a week before the shoot. It was finally time to shoot! My wife, Susan, helped set up the shot, while Zoe, another friend’s daughter, held a Westcott black panel on the opposite side of the soft box to eliminate any reflected light. I did a bit of work in Photoshop: cropping, increasing the contrast, dodging the earring, and using the Color Replacement brush to change some of the colors in the image. I spent maybe one hour in Photoshop. What really makes this image so cool is Maggie. Never underestimate the importance of a good model – and the right model. I knew Maggie was perfect for the part. So again, study the work of the masters if you want to master your lighting. For more lighting tips, see my apps: Light It! and Rick Sammon’s 24/7 Photo Buffet Explore the light, Rick

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  1. One of my favorite paintings and artist too! The movie inspired me to move out of my home based studio of 15 years into a north light facing space in a 100+ year old building.

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