LEE Filters Masters of Photography – Jake Hicks
LEE Filters Masters of Photography – Jake Hicks

Reading-based photographer Jake Hicks developed
a passion for studio photography and flash while studying at university. He went on to work for a general studio, producing
up to 300 shoots a year. This learning curve cemented his expertise
in flash lighting, and it was during this time that he began
experimenting with colour gels. His signature look is now defined by the use
of several colours within one image, and his work is used widely for beauty shoots,
hairstyling campaigns and magazine editorials. He also produces training videos in which
he reveals the secrets behind his techniques. I met up with him to discuss three of his
images. Hi Jake, it’s good to meet you. I’m really looking forward to hearing about
some of your pictures today. This is a good one to start with because it’s a good example of how you can
take a completely white location and transform it totally with a few lights. Perhaps you could tell us a bit about it. This was shot a couple of years ago. It was in the US, and I was asked to go over
there to shoot a video tutorial on using gels. It was a big, white room, as you say, but I wasn’t aware of the location until I turned up. It’s a good example of not knowing what you’re
going to get. For me, when I look at a scene like that, I’m thinking about how to light
different planes. For example, I’m lighting this back wall, I’m lighting this side wall here, then the
floor is another plane. That’s how I break down a shot. Where would the lights have been placed to
create this set-up? Like I said, I’m lighting the planes – the
floor and the wall, and so on. In this instance, I’m trying to keep things
separate. For example, there’s a blue light just out
of shot here. In fact, we can see it hitting the sofa on
this side. Then it’s scraping down this wall so it’s
lighting this area. It’s tucked far enough back so it’s not lighting
this area here, where again I have this peach-coloured gel
striking this wall. You can see that coming across. I’m also using that to light this white rug. I want that to be picking up the colour, so this light’s probably quite high
and coming down. Then I’ve got a white light
just out of shot here, which would be on a beauty dish
on the model to neutralise some of that saturated colour
on her face. That’s quite important, isn’t it? You don’t have to, but I tend to try and neutralise
the face a little just to take away some of the colour. It helps to draw you in in terms of the focus,
from a viewer point of view. There’s nothing wrong with everything being
washed with colour, but by having a focal point on the face, by putting a spot of white light there, it
helps to draw the focus. When it comes to posing, I think that’s probably
the thing that someone with less experience in shooting models finds the most difficult
thing, so what advice can you offer? You’re right, some people do find posing tricky, and that’s fair enough because you’re usually
starting out with friends or family. It does seem to be the case that as soon as
you bring out a camera, everyone stands really awkwardly. It’s like, you weren’t standing like that
a minute ago, why have you all gone tense! I’m looking at that flow,
but think triangles, too. A lot of this image is made up of triangles
with the limbs. That creates visual engagement and also gives
depth to the body. You should never point your elbow towards
the lens because it looks awkward, so keep limbs at an angle to the camera. It comes over time and you
start to see things you like. People are afraid to play with it. We know what we like when we see it,
so you can work on it. Once you’ve fixed one hand, you move on to
a different one and then the legs. You don’t imagine the whole pose all in one. That’s the beauty of shooting digital – you can shoot something,
refer to the back of the camera, see whether it looks awkward
and tweak it accordingly. Absolutely.
Digital has made it so much easier. Back when I used to shoot film, you almost had to have the pose pre-thought
before you took the shot. This makes it a lot easier. I think it’s fair to say we’re learning you’re
quite obsessed with colour. Can you talk to us about colour theory and
how you come to choose the colours you use? Whenever you’re using colour or adding it
to an image, you need to have an understanding
of colour theory. If I’m using two colours, I try to make sure
they’re complementary – that is, two colours opposite one another
on the colour wheel. There are three core colours in this image
– orange, pink and blue. We’d refer to this as triadic colour theory. Triadic colour theory is, if you have a colour wheel
and place an equilateral triangle on it, wherever those three points meet
is your colour theory. The most obvious one is the primary colours. It’s interesting that it doesn’t just apply
to bright colours. These are all quite soft, muted colours, but
the theory is still the same. Yes, these are all pastel colours from my
Pastel LEE Pack, and on this side we have our pink coming in
a little, just scraping down the arm. On this side is the orange,
which is a little bit lower, you can see it’s hitting underneath the jawline. Then the blue is being fired
pretty much everywhere in the room. We can see it’s hitting the white sofa, the
hair, as well as a little bit in the background. Similarly to the first image,
was this a white room, too? This was one of the first times we’d used
gels on location. What was interesting about this place was
again, everything is white. There’s a white sofa and white curtains, but
outside was broad daylight. This shot doesn’t give you
that feeling at all. What I’ve done is shift the white balance, so we’re shooting a bit colder than we normally
would with flash, then I’ve added the gels afterwards and balanced
them to match it. Some of this blue coming through
is actually daylight, and I’ve reduced its intensity because of
the shutter speed I’m using. Presumably there are certain colours you wouldn’t
use when photographing a person. What might those be? It differs, but coming back to colour theory,
red and green are complementary colours, but I would never use those as it would very
quickly start to look like a Christmas card. And purple is another one I tend to avoid,
because it filters out something on the skin, so if there’s any bruising or marks
or mottling on the skin, a purple gel will show that,
so it’s not very attractive. I understand it’s also important for the gels
not to cross over. What happens when you do that? It’s something I always watch out for. We saw in the last shot that I try to keep
the colours separate, and here, I’m using the model to separate
the colours. If two coloured gels lie on top of one another,
they don’t mix in the way paint would. White light is made of a rainbow, which is
the spectrum, so if you were to lie several coloured gels
on top of one another, you’d get closer and closer to white. I’m trying to keep the pink on this side,
the orange on this side, and then washing some of the shadows
with the blue. With this last one, I understand there were quite a few
technical challenges to contend with. This is probably one of the hardest combinations
I’ve had to photograph, in terms of the surfaces I’m trying to put
the coloured gels on to. When you start getting other textures,
surfaces and colours, onto which you apply the gel,
it becomes a lot harder. This is actually a copper corset, which the
designer hand makes from old water tanks. It’s a beautiful brushed coppery colour. But it’s the complete opposite colour and
texture to this black PVC latex. The reason I say that is because you can shine a gel
on to a white wall and it will take that – because of its texture and its colour. And you can see here, the copper corset is
taking the colour beautifully, but the black areas aren’t picking up the
colour at all, mainly because there’s no texture to it and
because it’s jet black to begin with. One of the hardest jobs in photography is
to light a car, because a car is very shiny. Car photographers don’t light the car, they
light the surfaces around it. For example, if they wanted to light
the top of a car, they’d have a big white board above it and
shine lights up at that. I’m trying to use a similar principle here
with this jet black outfit. You can see, we have all this rich colour, and as soon as it comes into this black,
it’s all gone. What’s actually being picked up is the reflections
rather than the thing itself. Exactly right.
These are actually reflections of light. This might be a large softbox
off to the side here, and you’re lighting these reflections,
which is very different to a flat surface. Over here, we have one orange light, which
gives that beautiful shape. Then we have our blue light
in the middle from above, then the orange light on this side to pick
out a little more detail in the shiny objects. Then there’s the pink light down below. The sides of the model are two different planes, then the top is one plane and below is another. Would you say that’s a crucial thing
to get to grips with if you’re going to start using coloured gels, is to see the images in terms of planes? It makes it easier to keep the colours separate. Try to think of it like this: you can only
add a coloured gel to a shadow. You can’t add a coloured gel to a highlight,
because it doesn’t work. With one gel, you have quite a range
of intensities and tones, depending on the power you’re putting through it
– would that be right? Again, that’s something a lot of people
will overlook. For example, if someone is used to photographing
more classic portraits, they’ll have a lightmeter. You can’t really use a lightmeter with a gel,
because all that meter is seeing grey. Whereas with, for example, an orange gel,
if you have a lot of power going through it, you’ll get a very bright sunburst yellow colour. If you turn the power down, it’ll give you
more of an ochre, browny-orange. It’s exactly the same gel, but it can have
a very different colour range. There’s no right or wrong. I think we have an inherent ability to see
things we like. I was classically trained in the film days,
when everything was lightmetered, but sometimes you just have to go with what
looks good and that’s absolutely fine. It’s been good to talk to you today, and interesting
to learn about the techniques you use and how all these colours work together to
make very striking images.

3 thoughts on “LEE Filters Masters of Photography – Jake Hicks”

  1. Joseph Asghar says:

    Fascinating, and very informative. Thank you 🙂

  2. Gerry Fagan says:

    love your stuff mate thanks

  3. opqrst7 says:

    Jake Hicks, the most humble photography master of our era.

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