An Alternative to Focusing Fresnel Spot Light with the Benefit of Easy Custom Shapes

I have been experimenting with digital projectors as a light source in my Glamour Photography Workshops. If you don’t have access to large movie hot lights with focusing fresnel lens systems, a digital projector provides a wonderful simulation! You can create any imaginable shape to project in Photoshop and use the projector like a light source. The example below was created by strapping the projector to a platform attached to a light stand – this accessory happened to be available at Calumet Photo in Los Angeles where I held my last workshop. The platform is made to attach, much like a light, to a light stand—I used a grip arm on a C-stand to allow me to tilt the projector to aim it at the subject. I made a circle shape in Photoshop and put it in full screen mode:

This circle shape was very easy to create in Photoshop

This then became the custom “shape” for the light source for the following shot:

The projector is perfect as a simulation of a focusing spot light

There are a couple of considerations to make this work properly. First, the light is fairly intense but you will still have to use fairly high ISOs for capture to get an appropriate shutter speed and f-stop. The Epson projector I was using worked well with an ISO of 1600. Second, you have to be aware that the projector, if focussed, will project a “pixel grid” that can show up on your subject (see below)

The “pixel grid” of the projector will show if the projector is focussed

The solution is to defocus the projector—you will still get a nice sharp shadow but the “pixel grid” will disappear! You also have to arrange to have a laptop computer hooked up to the projector and it may be necessary to have a longer monitor cable so the computer can be conveniently placed if the projector is way up in the air! Below are some more examples of some of the shots by my students using the digital projector:

Caught in the Act
Femme Fatale

The digital projector allows for an infinite range of shapes besides the simple circle shown here—think crosses, slashes, venetian blinds—anything you can create as a B&W graphic in Photoshop would work! Let your imagination run wild and be sure to post your work and share it in the comments! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next blog!

Bobbi Lane and I will be doing a workshop in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Center for Photography on “Hollywood Lighting in the Hurrell Style,” March 9th – 11th, 2018,  where I will be covering techniques like this one, as well as many others. If you are in the LA area and would like a more personal lesson in Glamour lighting and retouching – register for our workshop here.