A few months ago I realized that I had a desire to make a few images of icons in a modern vein. Reading The Historian brought to mind images of Byzantium. The flat lit Notan-like detailed icons were what I had in mind.
In similar time, I reread William Mortensen's book Pictorial Lighting from 1937. He described the use of Notan light as being particularly strong for creating icon-like images. Mortensen gave instructions in the book for a lighting setup that gave Notan effects.
The Basic Light configuration is a two light approach to rendering detail and subtle texture. One light is placed as close to the lens as possible to illuminate the subject. A second light is pointed at head level at a white backdrop. The exposure of the two lights is balanced. The backdrop light is set to match the skin tones of the subject. In this way, the white backdrop is not purely white, rather, it has just enough tone to ensure the limb effects of the subject is revealed.
Limb effects relates to the way the edges of a curved surface is effected by light placed next to the point of view. When lit in the Basic Light manner, limb effects lead to darker edges of the subject. This is what gives the desired separation between the subject and very nearly equally toned backdrop.
In the case of the images I wanted to make, I thought about Mortensen's comments on ring light use. In 1937, ring lights were uncommon. By 1943 when he wrote a book on electronic lighting, he had come to the idea of a ring light as perhaps a great way to achieve Notan light. Ring lights would give the ultimate in limb effects.
Working with Sofia, a bellydancer, I wanted as much limb effect as I could get. The images I wanted to create were not to be "familiar", as in a good photo of a relative or friend. Rather, I wanted something timeless, a little more remote feeling, and very tranquil. The Alien Bees ABR800 ring light was a great solution.
After spending a fair amount of time on making images of Sofia in motion we were coming down to the end of the photo-session. I put up a black backdrop and lit it from behind. We found a large pillow for the model to sit on and my wife and I worked to drape Sofia in various ways using her bellydance veils.
Processing the images later helped me complete my original vision. A subtle halo was added. The background was manipulated into something a little softer and darker. The model color was desaturated slightly by mixing an overlay of platinum tints.
As with other images of my series "How I did this...", this image is popular on Flickr. Sofia represents for me the iconic Maiden in a timeless, calm, and pleasing manner.