Doing the Tony Kelly Photography Technique

Photo by Tony Kelly (check out the link in this post to see more of his work)

I ran into some of photographer Tony Kelly’s little while ago. This photojournalist-turned-fashion photography impresario employs a very bold lighting technique that impressed me. It’s as if you took the old flash bulbs of 1950s news photographers and gave it to a man who had an eye for fashion and naked women. Simple and brilliant.

I wanted to figure out how I could get this look without a brighter than the sun lighting rig. While studying his work, I figured that it couldn’t be that complicated to do. Just a single flash at full power from a distance of 5 feet should do the trick. I don’t think lighting an entire scene would be sufficient with an off camera flash due to light falloff but you can definitely light your subject a la Tony Kelly at close range.

There were two methods I tested: 1) Bare flash, pointing directly at the subject, which in this case was me (I would never test this out on an unsuspecting victim) and 2) Using an Orbis Ring Attachment.

Bare Flash On Shoe Mount

For this photo, I used a bare SB-900 Speedlight zoomed at 24mm (ISO 100), pointed straight at me attached to the shoe mount of my camera. It wasn’t terrible but it didn’t resemble the plastic look of a Tony Kelly photograph. I also felt that there was too much contrast and saturation. Close but not close enough. The lighting wasn’t flat enough although the shadow behind me (subject) was about right.

Orbis Ring Attachment

Okay, this was the one. The Orbis Ring attachment is more like a light modifier than a ring flash but it does the trick of getting that ring flash (halo) look. I’m a big fan of it and have written about this modifier several times in the past. I simply attached the modifier to the SB-900 Speedlight (zoomed at 200mm and at full 1/1 power), slipped it beneath the barrel of my lens and fired off a shot. Flat lighting, correct light falloff, plastic, desaturated look. The shadow that forms behind me could have been sharper but I was pretty happy with this test. And yes, I nearly went blind.

What do you think? If you have anything else to add, please let me know in the comments.


2 responses

  1. Papote Detres

    good advice, ima try it

    October 1, 2012 at 3:03 pm

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