Today, we present you with something slightly different: an article that was originally published in a printed magazine.
But first some background information. Photographer Gianluca Colla was recently assigned to shoot the cover for the Italian edition of National Geographic. The magazine cover (above) shows the portrait known as La Bella Principessa (The Beautiful Princess). This portrait had just been attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, which, as you can imagine, caused a rather heated debate amongst scientists, historians and enthusiastic art lovers.
Arianna De Micheli, who works as a web editor for Photographers.it and the photography sections of Italian newspapers LaStampa.it and IlGiornale.it, met up with Gianluca and interviewed him about his unusual assignment. Arianna was also kind enough to ask us if we wanted to post the interview here on our blog – an offer we were more than happy to accept.
So with no further ado we present Gianluca Colla’s story, written by Arianna De Micheli. Enjoy!
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Leonardo Da Vinci,” says Gianluca. “So when I received a call from National Geographic about a possible Da Vinci painting they wanted me to photograph, I was excited like never before. Some years ago, an art collector bought a colored chalk-and-ink drawing on vellum, which seems now to have many common characteristics with the unique Leonardo painting technique, and the story is about showing what the common points are. The only downside to this assignment was that National Geographic already had a layout in mind, so I had to make images following some directions. It didn’t make the assignment any less appealing; it just made it more difficult. In fact, I had to make a picture with two hands with white gloves holding the painting, showing the signs of time on the paint, with a black background.
“Exposed like that, it doesn’t sound tricky, but when you get on the site and you find out there are almost 8 stops of difference between the painting and the hands with white gloves, you definitely need to find a good solution. Plus, the painting was glued on a wooden tablet so instead of being dark, it was glossy. Not exactly the easiest subject to illuminate…
“Thankfully, I was in a very big, empty room, and I could spread my equipment and experiment without any space limitations. I put up a very large velvet black background, and on the left side, a Profoto Pro-8a generator with a ProHead, a Softbox 2.2’ RF (just enough to cover the painting) and a Softgrid 40° to narrow the angle of light.
“Now, three main problems immediately showed up. 1) How do I show the cracks in the tablet? 2) The light coming from the left side was almost all absorbed from the painting, making the right side very dark. 3) As I said, the white gloves where totally blown out.
“Here’s how I solved these problems. First of all, I decided to use only one light, very lateral, kind of back lit. The generator had to run at almost full power to sharpen the cracks and show the signs of age.
Secondly, I had the man holding the painting wear a white cloth that I tailored as a dress. It meant that he reflected enough light on the painting to brighten the darker right side. Finally, to solve the glove issue, I had my friend and colleague Enrico hold two rounded black cardboards between the light and the subject, just outside the frame, to reduce the amount of light reaching the gloves.
“It meant we solved all of the problems: the light was balanced across La Bella Principessa thanks to the white dress, and the gloves weren’t burnt out due to the cardboard!”
Thanks to both Gianluca and Arianna for sharing their work with us!
Those who want to see more of Gianluca’s work should check out his website.
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