Nela König: An Unusual Type of Beauty Light
Aug 2012 30

The majority of my work involves portraiting actors, musicians and celebrities – time and again in unusual locations, sometimes on the set, but also often in the studio. I love creating ever new portraits, but of course I don’t want to repeat myself – sometimes that’s not so easy, when you stand in a white-painted studio … maybe there’s also a requirement to produce a portrait with a neutral background (so that it can be used for a variety of purposes), sometimes the time-window is very short so there’s little room for flexibility.

Whilst I was studying, to save money I often just used construction site lamps or neon lighting – and you can create a wonderful beauty light from them! Neon light is itself very soft, but it has a poor reputation as it is regarded as unpleasant in daily life – the light appears cold to our eyes. The greatest light output of neon tubes is concentrated on peaks in the blue and yellow areas, and this combination creates a faint green cast. Whilst our eyes compensate for this, the camera sees a conspicuous green cast. The easiest way to achieve normal skin tones is to perform a white balance within the camera, which usually works very well. However if this doesn’t work, you can use a CC30 magenta filter, or at half the density the CC15. There are daylight neon tubes – the color cast is much more pleasant, but anyhow you still have to make a white balance.

Neon tubes are available at hardware stores in many different forms – I prefer circular neon lights – which you can use similarly to a ring flash, meaning that you photograph through it. For the portrait of Heike Makatsch I constructed a square out of 59 cm of neon tube, with a further circular neon light in the center. This way the skin is lit very beautifully and evenly, but still with a pleasant degree of detail.

However the light output is not very high, which means you always have to open up the aperture, but this is desirable anyway in such portraits.

I particularly like the highlights in the eyes, at first sight they may perhaps seem slightly irritating, but I love it!

What do Sting, Marilyn Manson and Sir Peter Ustinov all have in common? Easy: they’ve all posed for Nela König, just like the Pussicat Dolls, Gwen Stefanie, 50 Cent, Nelly Furtado, Rihanna and countless other musicians and actors did.