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The Sandwich Method


Want to hear about one of my favorite recipes of light? It looks like a million bucks, yet doesn’t cost much. And it’s yummy.

It’s called “The Sandwich Method.”

When I stumble on this kind of glamour lighting setup, especially in an abandoned railroad car, you might hear white- fronted capuchin monkey sounds like, “Ooo ooo ooo!” I admit, my clients don’t quite understand my ecstatic enthusiasm…until I show them their photograph in said lighting conditions! See? A picture really is worth a thousand words!

I discovered this natural-lighting scenario when shooting my clients’ (Scott & Alyssa) portrait session. What an awesome discovery! I couldn’t have set my Alien Bees up to make this look any better; that’s the beauty of natural light.

What amazed me most was the sheer quality of light, which was on par with a studio lighting setup, in an unsuspecting location. This is a great reminder to keep your eyes peeled for similiar scenarios on your next shoot.

What’s Sandwich Method?

Simply defined, it’s sandwiching your subjects together with light coming from 180 degree opposite directions. It allows you to sculpt shadows where you’d least expect to create shadows – dead center, in the middle of your subject.

Think of the light as a vertical slice of bread. Take two slices (light facing each other), and ask your subjects to stand equidistant between the two light sources. If you move closer to one, that light will appear slightly brighter, while the other will lose effect.

Can You Create the Same Sandwich Effect with Flashes?

Yep! This lighting recipe works well with any light, either artificial or natural. Natural is just cheaper. However, to pull this off in an artificial lighting world, you need duplicate equipment to achieve the identical results (costs x 2). Plus, you’ll need VERY large lighting-modifiers, like this 74” Octa, powered by an Elinchrom Ranger. That would do the trick!

Where Can You Find a Cheaper Version of This Type of Light?

If you like lighting on the cheap, you’ll need to hunt to find the goodness. Here’s a visual of what to look for: think of your shooting space like a square box with the sides cut out, allowing light to pass through like your hand through a box you’re assembling. The dark foreground, background, top and bottom create the necessary darkness to create shadows.

In the real world, to find your own “sammich” lighting, look in places which have covered sidewalks blocked by walls, inside buildings with glass walls, or under a small patio with two openings. Use your imagination. Or head to your nearest abandoned rail yard…with permission, of course.

Why’s This Light So Sexy?

Look closely; you’ll see that the clients are lit from only two directions, which creates shadows that define shape (kinda like a good sauce makes a dish). The light is exactly the same from each direction, which marries well with my couple. The quality of light makes this photograph; location is second, and composition is third. And emotion is key, too, along with some groovy suspenders. The dark background creates contrast needed to see Alyssa & Scott, otherwise they’d be swallowed in vapid darkness to the liking of Edward Cullen.

What’s the Culinary Equivalent?

Maggiano’s family style Italian dining, most likely in the realm of my favorite Rigatoni D. Quality, quantity, value, comfort, and love – all wrapped into one yummy package.

I chose to zoom out so you can see the source of the light, which adds context to our surroundings. I just wish there were Black Angus grazing along a grassy horizon!

If you see a photo you like this, just ask yourself, “How would I shake it up and make it different?”

Small things make a big difference. Shake it up. Even IF it’s a polaroid.

“If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.” – Garry Winogrand
About RJ Kern

Photographer RJ KernRJ Kern is a Minneapolis Wedding Photographer who loves to create as much as share. He loves to share his enthusiasm in his free photographer resources blog posts. He’s been enjoying the process of bringing back medium format into the wedding market, but this time using pixels. Tech humor, duct tape, creativity… garnished with light… remains an important part of his photography style. RJ has been a Pictage user since 2006. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!