"How I Got the Shot" with Michael Gilbert

January 14, 2021 0 Comments

Welcome to our How I Got The Shot series! Here we go behind the lens of photographers and videographers around the world to find out how they used their Litra gear to capture an amazing shot, sometimes in the most unexpected situations. Below we hear from Michael Gilbert on how he captured these awesome photos that show his versatility as a photographer!

About the Shot

This is a portrait of Artist Tom Sewell, an International power house with large metal sculptures and photography. He had just moved into a new 19,000 sq ft abandoned Sugar Mill in Maui, HI; this location is a magic visionary with immense presence. Tom is a unique soul that greets everyone with the same vigor and interest. He called me to do his portrait and wanted it black and white by telling me, “Michael the picture needs to be me” plain and simple. The first day of shooting we decided to take an old steel work bench and put it in front of the large doors on the side of the building looking out to the old smoke stacks. Why there, you ask? After much thought and visioning how the image was going to turn out, we had our lunch talk and when I got up from the table and looked back, there was the picture. So, in an instant that was the composition I would use.


The problem that occurred while setting up for the shoot was not having any natural lighting because of the huge closed gates that flooded the background lighting, nor electric to plug in lights; Tom of course was covered in shadows. The ratio had to be over a 100 to 1. The task was how to light it and not over light it. For me I wanted to see it the way my eyes saw it, that proved a huge challenge in optics. My choice was to use a 8mm wide angle lens. The fun thing about most wide angle lenses is if the subject is in the dead center and you don’t tilt it will probably not be distorted, so why not? I love wide angle portraiture as taught by Arnold Newman. Another issue was the lens was slow at 5.6 so how to light it, if you look at the picture and see all the red arrows each is a light and each has an exact purpose. There were a total of 6 lights and this is the way I started the session. I then just moved back three feet to take the final shot. I opened the book in his lap to a blank white page and put a LitraTorch 2.0 light there so it acted as a reflector to put a light right on his face and shirt. Since the table was all metal, I added the Litra magnets to the LitraTorch 2.0 lights and stuck them where I believe best lit the photo. The LitraStudio had powerful light and had the barn doors on it as I focused it just as an overall fill to get rid of the harsh shadows caused by the one LitraTorch 2.0 light. Next I took the 2 adjustable LitraPros both with barn doors to focus the first light on his hair and the other light on his socks. I added two more LitraTorch 2.0s on the back of each sculpture on his desk, which both had barn doors again to make sure the lights went to where I wanted it to.

This was such a fun photo shoot and Tom loved it and said it was his best portrait photoshoot we have ever had. Before the shoot ended I asked Tom to take his shoes off and relax and put his feet on top of the desk. Being 6’6” he needed lots of legroom and I also loved the stripes on his sox and the shoes under the table; it was a shot!

One thing I tell my students about lighting is to learn to light like a movie maker not a photographer. Well that’s a bit unfair I guess but I'm a fan of old movies and love the time where each light had a purpose. No big umbrella and soft boxes with light all over the place. For me it's about control, so my biggest advice is to buy a light with barn doors because it allows you to control where the light is directed. One thing I should mention is I use a software called Luminar, which really helps with my editing process for all my photoshoots.