The “Dave Hill Look” Revisted, Part One


The image above is from a promo shoot I did last week for rapper “10 Minute” and I wanted to apply a “Dave Hill” like look to the images, but I cheated—I used a plug-in. (click on it for a much larger view).

Now, let me say this up front: From the research I’ve done, I don’t believe photographer Dave Hill actually uses a Photoshop plug-in; I believe he creates his look without a plug, using a series of layer blend modes, High Pass Sharpening, Skin Smoothing, and Dodging and Burning (and I am working on that whole Photoshop-only workflow as we speak, and will do a post on it when I’m finished), but since I needed to get this job done fast; I used the Lucis Art Pro 6.0 plug-in, and I feel like it got me pretty close to the look (a mini-review of the plug-in is coming up tomorrow in the 2nd and final part of this post).

First things first: I was able to use something that I learned previously when researching this look; when Dave Hill says a lot of the look is in the lighting—he’s not exaggerating. This look requires a specific type of lighting, and if you don’t light it that particular way (which we’ll discuss in a moment), the plug-in, or the Photoshop-only technique, just won’t look right. It’s a formula that requires a combination of both the right lighting, and the right Photoshop moves.

We’ll start with the shoot, and I gotta tell you—-it was a train wreck (and that’s being kind). First, we got to the location a little late, so we were already losing daylight. Then once we got our strobes set-up in place, we realized that we forgot to pack flags (large black 24″x36″ panels that you use to keep the light from flashes placed behind the subject from creating lens flare), so we had to run back to the studio and grab them.

Once we got our flags on the set, then we learned that we had a lighting problem—there’s something wrong with our main battery pack—-we accidentally dropped it a while back, and it needs to go in for service, but since it usually works…….well…it didn’t, and we didn’t have time to track down the problem.

Anyway, it just wasn’t working, and now we had maybe 15 minutes left to shoot (the sun was nearly down, and we were already under a roof, so light—or lack therof–was really becoming an issue). Luckily, my assistant (and general boy wonder) Brad Moore had thought to bring some Nikon SB-800s and 900s as a back-up, with some lightweight stands and an umbrella. So, we quickly tore down the strobes and we went with off-camera flashes. It’s not the ideal set-up for this shoot, but we had to get it done.

There are a number of ways you can set-up the lighting, and it will change depending on location, your subject, blah, blah, blah but basically you want two flashes behind your subject —one on each side—bare bulb (we would have used two strobes with just reflectors—no softboxes—if all had worked as planned). You want hard, bright light coming from behind skimming the edges of both sides of your subject (see the set-up image below–click on it for a larger view).

Ideally, you’d put them fairly far back—like 10 or 12 feet back, up high aiming downward (the farther back you go, the sharper the light), but since he was down in front of the car, we had to quickly improvise and we wound up having to place them right up on “10” (that’s short for “10 Minute.” By the way; we were lucky—he was a really great guy; incredibly patient, and when we got ready to shoot, he just turned it on. He really couldn’t have been better to work with).


So, here was the lighting set-up: Our main light was one SB-800, mounted on a lightstand, and shooting through a 43″ Optical White translucent Westcott shoot-thru umbrella. This was aiming down at “10” and was off to my right side (as seen in the photos above and below).


In the image above, you’ve got a better view of the SB-800 shooting through the umbrella, and you can see how the flags work to blog the light from the bare SB-800/900 in back.

We had two more Nikon flashes on stands just behind and on either side of him. We had them down pretty low, and we had spent so much time trying to fix the strobe situation, we didn’t really have time to try and position them just right, so we just played the hand we were dealt. (Note: Some photographers shooting with this lighting set-up use a Ring Flash as their main light instead of a regular strobe with softbox). I triggered the flashes using an SB-900 sitting in my camera’s hot shoe—it didn’t fire—I just used it to trigger the other SB-800s and 900.

Now, I do want to make this clear; what I just detailed is NOT the recommended lighting set-up to get this look, and certainly not a “here’s how to do it.” It’s just a “here’s how we did it.” Ideally, we would have used more powerful strobes, and had the time to aim and position the lights correctly, but….sometimes you gotta do what ya gotta do.

There’s nothing too interesting here. It was shot with a Nikon D3, with a Nikon 24-70mm zoom lens in Manual Mode at f/6.3 at 1/60 of a second at 400 ISO. My actual focal length was 31mm, so I was shooting pretty wide. I told you it wasn’t too interesting.

tiOh, another thing we messed up; we forgot to bring music to the shoot, so Brad quickly pulled his car up right next to where we were shooting, and put in the new CD from T.I. (from his new album Paper Trail, shown at left) and cranked up his car stereo. The funny thing was; it was the filthiest thing you ever heard! The lyrics we so explicit, when it started we were all just cracking up  (and Brad was hugely embarrassed—it was the first time he popped it in his stereo, which made it all the better). I’d be setting up to take shot, and then this T.I. song “Every chance I get” came on (Here’s the linkwarning; even the preview is explicit), and and it was so nasty Snopp Dogg would probably blush. You just had to shake your head and laugh or you’d die from embarrassment (especially with all the people we had on the set).


Here’s the before shot (shown above) of the shot you see at the top of this post.


ABOVE: Here’s another where you can see the side lighting a little better. While the side light looks kind of subtle here, look what happens after you run the plug-in (see below). NOTE: The plug-in isn’t the whole technique (but the whole thing only takes about 5 minutes at best), but it certainly does a lot of the work, as you can see below.


Anyway, the shoot part was kind of a bust, and I’m even embarrassed to show you the unretouched shot (shown above), but I felt I needed to, especially for Part Two tomorrow, which is a step-by-step on the post processing, and includes my mini-review of the Photoshop plug-in Lucis Art Pro 6.0. In the meantime  here’s a link to 10 Minute’s site (Warning: Explicit lyrics).

  1. I don’t do this sort of thing so I don’t even know who Dave Hill is.
    The image is certainly interesting and dramatic – if folks become jaded,
    well, that’s life. But I must say my reaction is to ask if this is
    still photography or now computer art?

  2. This look is just like all the other photographic / photoshop tricks
    one can create. Some people will love it and some people will not. I
    happen to be one of the people who LOVE this look and I’m really looking
    forward to the “Photoshop only” tutorial because $500+ is way too much
    money for a plug in.

    Thank you for sharing with us Scott. I look forward to Photoshop World Boston! ?????????????????

  3. It seems that people either love the “Dave Hill ” effect or hate it.
    It defiantly has a distinctive style that is very popular right now. I
    reminds me of the bullet time effect in the Matrix movie. Once people
    figured out how to do it, it was everywhere, even when it wasn’t needed.

    while I would love a plugin that does all those neat tricks, I would
    not use it enough to justify the price tag. It doesn’t fit with my style
    or customers. If it did, I would get it today.

    As for Brad having
    a box of speed lights, I think that he probably sleeps with a SB900
    close by. Years of being Joe’s assistant could do that to a person.

    I think this blog entry and shoot description illustrates one point that photographers should always keep in mind.

    Things go wrong.

    It is how you deal with it that is important. I would be interested in reading how the client/model reacted to the changes. ???????????

  4. I don’t do this sort of thing so I don’t even know who Dave Hill is.
    The image is certainly interesting and dramatic – if folks become jaded,
    well, that’s life. But I must say my reaction is to ask if this is
    still photography or now computer art?


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