Steal from the Masters – Mario Testino Edition

Doutzen Kroes by Mario Testino

Doutzen Kroes by Mario Testino

I really like this picture of Doutzen Kroes by Mario Testino. Exploring and thinking about why we like or don’t like an image can be very revealing about what we like in photos and in our own work. So in that spirit, let’s look into what I like about it.

First, the color contrast is excellent. It looks to me like Testino has set up a Medium light source, gelled slightly warm and placed camera right. The model is wearing an off white bodice thing (that’s fashion speak right there) and her skin looks slightly oiled to reflect highlights and a sort of healthy glow from the warm key light. In addition to that light, Testino has a very large green light source providing some fill. This is what is giving the model’s shadow that green tint, and is the reason why there is color contrast in the first place. If there was no green gel on the fill light, this image would be interesting still, but much less interesting than it is now. Kinda like this one (I dropped it into Photoshop and pulled out the green cast of the shadow):


See how much more boring that is? The color contrast was giving it a push/pull that is missing from this image. It’s even possible that the green was added in post, since I’m not seeing a lot of green light contamination on the model’s skin.

The other thing that is really drawing my admiration in this image is the basic composition of the form. Testino in this picture has completely cropped off the model’s head, which takes away what is usually the strongest focus point of the image. Then he seems to have carefully posed the model into a very strong figure-8 shape. Like this:


Figure 8s are really strong compositional elements in portraiture, because they don’t let the viewer’s eye leave the picture. Looking at this picture, my eye starts out at her upper hand (the point of most contrast) and then travels left across her torso to follow her right arm down to her waist, where it then circles around the bottom of the figure 8, coming back up to her upper hand where the entire loop starts over again. It’s a masterful composition, and it keeps us engaged with the image long after we might have otherwise moved onto the next picture.

Like this? Want more? Next time I’ll be digging into an image of Hilary Rhoda by one of my favorite photographers, Patrick Demarchelier. Stay Tuned!

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  1. This is a great article! Love the fashion lingo!

    Gustav, Barcelona

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