Glenn Karlsen - Portrait Influence

Three things appeal to me about Glenn Karlsen - i) his images (naturally), ii) his open admission of using photoshop's full utility to create draw dropping images and iii) his humility/ Lets start with that humility here's his quote directly lifted from his own website "I sometimes do test shoots for free if it's also something in it for me. If you need photo's for your portfolio please contact me and we might figure something out "

Karlsen's openness about post processing shows a shift from 'purist' school of thought to acceptance of a new era that could usher in a major shift in photography. I like it, it's inspiring. As you'll read later, Karlsten's posing of images is quite classical - it's the 'polishing' that makes them stand out.

Here's the one thing that disappoints me - he's a Man Utd fan (in Norway - a Liverpool stronghold). Well now that's out of the way we can get back to being professional (kind of). Hey, he's just accepted my link on Facebook - good man.

Karlsen is very open with his images - see a full portfolio on facebook Glenn Karlsen on Facebook.

This amazing band image was used in November 2009's Digital SLR magazine.

The image achieves a 3D quality to it. You know immediately that this is a rock band - expressions, clothing, hairstyle and dark colours. Amazing depth without colour saturation. Whilst the image creates a unique placement (in water - and you can just imagine that they are actually kneeling down) there is nothing to distract from them they are the focus - the lead singer as always at the front. There's a clever twist here. The natural light is behind them yet they are all well lit up (certainly after Karlsen's clever post processing) but we know light has been put on them from about '4 o clock' as we look at the image. Not too bright as it would have washed out the reflections on the water.

In a 'Creative Digital Techniques' feature entitled 'Hyper-Real Portraits', Karlsen set out a 12 step to achieving this, his trademark 'polished' style.
It's a complex approach - using many layers and tools (including the High Pass Filter) -  that starts off by reducing contrast and saturation before moving on to blow out the shadows and bring out the highlights. In truth I've tried the process and can say it's not intuitive and it's not clear why you are using the tools in the order/combination given. It's advanced stuff. But then that's why Karlsen is a sought after photographer, particularly in the areas of advertising and music (band promotion).

Keeping it simple I can say that bringing out highlights on the skin, the reflections on the water and the detail in the shadows whilst, essentially, applying the reverse to the sky, clothes and hair - are the trademarks of the technique.

Glenn does a lot of work in his native Norway - particularly with bands and musicians. Here's one of his well know shots along with a shot of the lighting set up.

The shot uses very strong lines that encourage our eye to travel though the photograph, noticing each person.

The lighting used an ABR800(Ringflash) in a 56 Moon unit. Notice the 4x3 configuration of chairs that gives greater depth to the image. The viewpoint helps to create the 3d effect, and look at the distance Karlsen is from the subject.

The image makes use of classic composition - thirds - look where the main body of the subject is. The almost greyscale colour scheme gives strong contrast allowing the people to stand out, if somewhat subtly.

The lines of the chair arms sync with the lines of the promenade on which they are seated. The horizon stays 'horizontal' and along with the lines of the sea and the armchairs armrests draw us through the image front to back so that we take note of all the characters. Notice how light hits two places - the floor right in front of the subjects - casting hard low shadows that root the chairs to the ground and a fairly hard light at head & chest height, giving good reason to wear those masks.

I also like the reflections on the visors - I bet the Karlsen Technique came in to play here too.

In the following shot Karlsen also shows how he set up another outdoor shot using an umbrella diffuser to put some soft light on the lower part of the body.

Now we know it's not the same shot as above - position has changed, but look at that light reflecting from head to foot. The muscles are well defined in the legs, the sky gives the feel of a challenge. The landscape reminiscent of the Tour de France. This picture says this guy is very serious about his racing. Again a 3D effect focuses us on the subject, no distracting lines. Background soft and dark. The sun used to back light. The view point is low allowing the subject to be in the commanding position. Altogether perfect stuff.

Here's a photoshow (is that slide show Joe?) of Karlsen's work that I have organised in themes of my own choosing. starting with the solo male poses we move in to bands - notice how the template is hands in pocket, attitude expressions, front lighting to create sharp highlights, as we move from the bands back to the solo artists the use of 'dual image' occurs. Is this pure creativity at work or do the subjects involved require something more? The slide show then moves to show an increased use of texture. However, these are not chronological. The use of texture seems to add some gravitas (roughness) to what might otherwise be 'soft images'. The young man, by the use of texture, is transported from 'boy band' territory to 'rock singer' status. This is similar for the female, what might otherwise be a quite feminine shot is given 'edge' by the texture.

Karlsen also puts his subjects in commanding positions usually shooting from a low position. There is very little movement in Karlsen's images allowing the subjects themselves to be predominant (or does this show his control of the shoot?) Knowing that Karlsen is big on 'post processing' it is likely that he knows exactly where he wants highlights and shadows to fall and looks to control them entirely. The punk trio are shown moving and this does add to the vibrancy of what we might expect a punk band to be about.

Shadows and colour saturation play supporting roles in Karlsen's images. Brick and sky (with sky a very recurring theme) are used to give subtle texture and strong ambiance to his images.


  1. Hi Jo,

    It;s spooky I've been trying to do work using this very same issue, I keep stalling a one spot every time... let me know how you get on!

  2. Just remember the whole point of research is to identify what you can draw from that work and add of value to your own, this is essential to improve your work you must then try these out for yourself.