Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Albert Watson

This photographer's name came up at the weekend.  I had to admit to not having heard of him and hung my head in shame.  There are simply too many photographers out there.  The reason his name was mentioned was because he was a master of using a single light as a source in the studio.  This gives great drama and high contrast.

The Wikipedia entry tells me that Albert Watson was born in 1942 in Scotland.  He is well known (except by me) for his fashion, celebrity and art photography.  In his fashion work he has shot over 200 covers of Vogue around the world and 40 covers of Rolling Stone magazine since the mid-70s.  Photo District News named Watson as one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time, along with Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

The best way to introduce his work is through a video I found on YouTube, produced by Phaidon Press.  It is titled Albert Watson reflections, London 2010 on the occasion of his being awarded the RPS' Centenary Medal in September of that year.

Albert Watson reflections, London 2010

There is also an excellent website which is a showcase for his photographs and it can be found at:

Albert Watson website

Looking at his images I have selected a few to illustrate some aspects of his use of light.  Interestingly, he mentions this in his reflections in the video.

In the photograph of Steve Jobs below, looking just at the lighting on the subject, it appears to be a single light , say at 45 deg to the left and above the camera position.  This type of lighting gives both form and texture and is accepted by the viewer because it mimics the outdoor world, where there is a single light source called the sun!

Steve Jobs
This is a very clean, and 'standard' portrait, using quite a classical approach to lighting.

Moving on to another classical "look" portrait, is that of Uma Thurman.
Uma Thurman
This looks as though just a single light is used, with a snoot. perhaps, to concentrate the light, giving that spot on the face.  I think that the light on the hair and arms is likely, as well, to be from that source.

One of his favourite models, it seems, was Kate Moss and there are several images of her to be easily found in the sources I have used.

Kate Moss
This contrasty image probably used two lights either side of  and above the camera at 45 deg to the subject. I would not normally expect this effect using that setup, which would generally create a flat, shadowless look.  This contrast was possibly achieved  achieved with using oil on Kate Moss' face, creating high reflectance and therefore contrast.  It is certainly not a typical "fashion" shot.

Another Kate Moss image is

Kate Moss

Back to the single light, in this one, I think, to the right of and above the camera at about 45 deg to the subject.  Possibly a light on the backdrop to lighten it.

A photograph which has an interesting story behind it, as told by Watson in his reflections video linked in References, is that of Albert Hitchcock.  Its quite likely that this portrait boosted Watson's career.

Alfred Hitchcock
Again a single light on the subject, above and in line with the camera.  The background appears uniformly lit which suggests a light either side

To me, Albert Watson's work is like looking at a primer on lighting as well as creativity in setting up a portrait.  For my future studio work I shall certainly be taking inspiration from Watson's work.  In "Reflections" he says that he is always learning, trying to do something different each day, to be more creative.  This is something I will aspire to be doing myself.


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Albert Watson website

Albert Watson reflections, London 2010

The World of Photographers

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