I’m just gonna come clean here and say that I just made up the name ‘corona’ for this lighting setup. In fact, the word corona is a commonly used term with solar eclipses. During an eclipse, we can often see the moon silhouetted against a ring of light and the word corona is often used to describe that halo of light we see around the moon.
As we explain this lighting, my reasoning for calling this setup ‘corona’, should start to make a bit more sense because we are actually trying to achieve a similar lighting eclipse look by adding a ring of light around our subject.
Confused? I promise you won’t be. In fact, this setup is actually a scaled-up version of a simple still life setup I was playing with over 20 years ago. The basic premise involves a large light source behind the subject, but instead of a pure white light behind them, we actually introduce a large flag (black card) behind them. This flag is specifically made slightly smaller than the light source it is covering so that when it’s placed between the subject and light source, a small amount of light is allowed to creep around it thus just lighting the edges of the object.
But wait, the setup gets even easier than that! I often have to shoot some product shots to go with an article or interview etc. Instead of me going into the studio and setting all of the lights up, I’ve often just turned the TV on and put a black piece of card behind my object as you can see below. I choose a white image on the TV and then the television itself becomes my light source as the white light creeps around the black card to perfectly light the edges of my product.
But is it scalable?
No, I’m not referencing your bank manager questioning your new business loan, I am in fact talking about scaling up this lighting setup.
One issue we have with this setup is the fact that the light behind the object needs to be considerably larger than it is. This is fine when we’re lighting a lens or wine bottle, but when the object is now a person, we struggle to find a light source large enough to cover it.
Of course, one option here is to find a giant window to stand in front of…. if you have that, then you’re done. For those of us not living in Georgian townhouses with floor to ceiling windows, we need to find another option. And let’s not forget that we also need a giant black flag to put behind our subject too. Thankfully that’s pretty easy so let’s start there.
Giant Black Flag
If you’ve been following my tips and techniques for any period of time then I know you know what I’m about to say next. That’s right, it’s time to get out your big sheets of black velvet!
I’m always preaching about how vital these large sheets of black velvet are and once again they will be vital to the success of this shot. If you’re not familiar, I use these large sheets of black velvet all the time as flags and they are especially useful on location when you don’t have access to large studio poly boards to block and manage the light.
I like to carry at least two sheets of 1m x 2m black velvet with me and if I need to set them up, I simply attach a crossbar to the top of a light stand via a ‘crab clamp’, then clip the back velvet to that to create a large wall of darkness to block any unwanted light bounce.
Perfect. We have our giant black flag, now we just need a giant light source. This is probably where you think you can’t continue, right? Sure you can pick up a sheet of black velvet for a few quid, but a giant light?! Probably a little out of your budget, right? Well, thankfully that’s where you’re wrong because if we’re clever with our light, we don’t actually need a huge light at all. …but you will need a couple of white walls.
This next step is actually a bit tricky to explain with text alone, so now let’s look at the lighting setup in situ and hopefully that will do a better job explaining how this is going to work.
In the image above, we have our large sheet of black velvet behind our subject (shown here as a blackboard). Behind that, we have a strobe with an open reflector dish firing away from the velvet and into a white wall. The resulting light from this is bouncing around and going everywhere. In fact, it’s actually starting to creep around the edges of our black velvet and falling onto the model. Now you should start to see how this setup is starting to work.
Adding Some Colour
But now let’s add our coloured front light. Take a look at the diagram below to see where everything is placed.
In the above shot, you’ll see that I’ve just added a large softbox to the set and that’s positioned behind me and shining straight onto the model. This large softbox is also equipped with a blue gel, but don’t panic you don’t need a giant gel to do that, you simply need to open the softbox up and place the gel over the flash tube.
What Should it Look Like?
As you might have guessed, this is not your regular ‘10:01 YouTube lighting setup’! This setup is a little unorthodox in its approach as we’ll be throwing a lot of light around a room to get this to work. On top of that, we’re also shining colour directly onto our subject and the only white light in the shot is really only hitting the edges of our subject.
So how do we set this up? What ‘should’ it look like? Below I’m going to share a couple of raw images from the setting up process as I turned one of the two lights on at a time and took a shot to get an idea of what’s actually going on.
In the above images, you should start to see how the shot is coming together. In the image of the white light on only, you should see how the edges are brighter, yet the front of the subject is far darker. It is in these darker shadow areas that we can add a coloured gel.
In the image of the blue light only, you should now see that the light falls off so as to make the edges of the subject fairly dark. With both of these lights combined, you start to get both the colour on the front, yet the edges have a subtle light glow to them. When you’re setting this up, I recommend turning on each of these lights individually and try to get a similar look to mine from each of them.
With our setup in place and the lights correctly adjusted, here’s what some of the resulting images looked like.
So no questions then?
I’m pretty sure that if I listen carefully, I can hear you screaming, ‘BUT HOW DID YOU GET FROM THAT TO THAT?!’
This is the point at which I remind you that you’re following the work of a photographer (AKA an artist). A photographer that has very little regards for the ‘rules’ of image-making. I mention this as I know many will want to know exactly what I did to get to these results I’ve shown above, but be warned, I took certain liberties when taking these shots as well as when I processed them.
First off, I deliberately underexposed these images at the point of capture. The main reason for that was due to the edge light. It’s deceptively bright at the edges and even though I underexposed them, I’m still losing detail in the fur on the edges. Next, I wanted to lean into one special property that I’ve not yet discussed; the styling.
Consider your Styling
In these images, styling is minimal, but what we do have is still very important. I mentioned my thought process with the fur and my concerns with not clipping the highlights on the fur, but we also have this lingerie to consider. The outfit is made from fluorescent fabric and fluorescent fabric has some very unique properties we need to be mindful of, especially with regards to colour lighting.
Fluorescent fabric bounces light in a very unique way, in fact, many of us immediately know when something is ‘fluorescent’, but what are its properties that we are immediately recognising? Think back to any fluorescent product and consider for example, what’s different about a piece of fluorescent green paper compared to normal green paper? Well, the fluorescent green one appears just brighter right? Same with orange, pink or yellow and so on. There are very scientific reasons for this, including how much heat energy they’re bouncing and why that’s happening etc. etc. But for now, I’ll just say that fluorescents bounce back a huge amount of light and that light is incredibly consistent resulting in it not having many shadow areas and more importantly, it does an extremely good job of maintaining its own colour, regardless of what colour is actually being shone onto it. This is why fluorescent objects appear so bright to us, they simply bounce huge amounts of light and they do so whilst maintaining their colour. Think of a hi-vis jacket, no matter what colour light we shine onto, it always returns that brilliant white light.
So back to the image. Here I am shining blue light onto the orange fluorescent fabric, but it doesn’t care. The model’s skin is now blue, but the fluorescent fabric carries on just being orange. As a result, this fabric appears to almost leap off of the page in contrast, especially when we chose to shine darker coloured lights like blue onto them. It’s with this knowledge that we can now start to manipulate a shot with a little more intent.
This article has gone on long enough, so I won’t bore you further with the post-pro process, but I will touch on a few key decisions I made. Firstly, I mentioned that I wanted to lean into the fluorescent colour look, so in post I decided to push the whole image to that pinky, orange colour. I actually did this by adding a lot of magenta to the ‘tint’ via the white balance. Remember, that the only white light in this shot is the edge lights. By pushing the tint in this way, the image now looks like it was shot with pink edge lights, yet our highlights are still white.
In the images above you can see the process, I went through from raw to Lightroom and finally Photoshop. From this, you should first see just how strong that fluorescent colour is in the raw, especially when you consider how there is really only blue light lighting it. Secondly, you can see just much I’ve pushed the white balance so as to really accentuate that orange outfit.
Yes, there is a lot that has gone here, but the basic principle is simple skin retouching and colour toning. That’s it. It looks like a big change, but in reality, that’s all that’s happened here. Yes, I could have taken the time to go into my camera and create a custom white balance that pushed the magenta tint, but I knew I was shooting in raw and I was content to make that change later on.
This is a VERY simple setup.
It’s only two lights for a start. Plus it doesn’t require any expensive or fancy modifiers. The beauty of this setup comes from the fact that we are shooting with intent from the beginning. We are purposefully underexposing to watch those highlights and we’re doing that with the knowledge that our camera can cope with that. Secondly, we’re also heavily leaning into our knowledge of fluorescent fabrics and how they react with coloured light. Lastly, we are then combining all of that with some creative decisions in post-production that tie them all together. We are lightening the shadows without blowing the highlights (too much) and then we’re pushing the colour tint to bring the whole image together. Simple, but incredibly effective when done well.
Guess the Lighting…
Occasionally I ask my Facebook community to guess the lighting in one of my shots and last week was one of those times with these images. Nearly every comment mentioned upwards of 3, 4, 5 and even 6 lights to achieve this. Many people also assumed I’d used UV lights to pop the colours and most assumed that those lights were pink or orange. These were all very sensible suggestions and in all honesty, if I’d been asked the same question, maybe I would have made the same suggestions too based on what I was seeing.
Feel free to join in with discussion next time by joining us over here at my Jake Hicks Photography Facebook Page.
But I hope this setup is a good example of how to exploit your knowledge and thinking through a potential setup with the end goal in mind. Yes, I love to get as much done in-camera as I can. But I never shy away from using LR and PS to achieve something that is otherwise almost impossible any other way. These are creative decisions and they are unique to me and I hope that if you give this setup a try that you explore a variety of ways to push this look in multiple directions. After all, it’s super simple to try so give it a go and let me know how you get on.
About the Author
Jake Hicks is an editorial and fashion photographer who specializes in keeping the skill in the camera, not just on the screen. Jake currently has a workshop available on post-production. For more of his work and tutorials, check out his website. Don’t forget to like his Facebook page, follow him on Instagram and sign up to the Jake Hicks Photography newsletter to receive Jake’s free Top Ten Studio Lighting Tips and Techniques PDF. This article was also published here and shared with permission.