Revisiting My "Girl with a Pearl Earring" Photograph


I just finished watching the trailer for "Tim's Vermeer," a new Penn & Teller film. I guess I am not the only one who loves Vermeer's work. In looking at the movie trailer, for what looks like a totally awesome movie, I was reminded of this post, which I originally posted a few years ago. It's still timely. Check it out.

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One of my  favorite paintings is, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by the Dutch master  Johannes Vermeer. The painting has been referred to as, "The Mona Lisa of  the North." Hey, I like it even better than the Mona Lisa.

One of my favorite movies is "Girl with a Pearl Earring," starring Scarlett Johansson.


Both the  painting and the movie inspired my "Girl with a Pearl Earring - The Photograph" shoot.

I wanted to recreate the  lighting and look and feel of the portrait with my digital camera and  bit of Photoshop work. I made the portrait in my office. I don't have a  studio, but I turned my office into one in about 15 minutes.

Here are some behind-the-scenes shots and a bit about what went into making the photograph – which was a ton of fun, by the way!


The first step was to get the props - two scarfs from Macy's. My niece, Brooke (a very, very new mom!) taught my wife, Susan, how to wrap the scarfs. We had a print-out of the painting on hand for guidance.

Before my model, Maggie (my neighbor's daughter) showed up, I set up a very basic lighting system. One Canon 580EX II Speedlite in a Westcott Apollo soft box. I fired the flash with my Canon ST-E2 Wireless transmitter. I shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 100mm lens.


I shot tethered, using Canon Digital Photo Processional to see my pictures on my MacBook Pro. The Beatles looked on, from a poster I got in 1967 - I think. I had a print attached to the soft box, and one next to my computer, for guidance.

When Maggie arrived, another neighbor's daughter, Zoe, helped with the wardrobe. Again, a print of the painting was on hand for guidance.


It was finally time to shoot! My wife, Susan, helped set up the shot, while Zoe held a Westcott black panel on the opposite side of the soft box to deaden the light.

I only took 25 pictures of Maggie. Having my light set up – and tested – in advance reduced the number of variables. The entire shoot took less than 1.5 hours.


I did a bit of work in Photoshop: cropping, increasing the contrast, dodging the earring, and using the Color Replacement brush to change some of the colors in the image. I spent maybe one hour in Photoshop.

We had a blast making the photograph. And, my friends, here is perhaps the most important tips when it comes to portraiture: Make it fun for your subject.


What really makes this image so cool is Maggie. Never underestimate the importance of a good model - and the right model. I knew Maggie was perfect for the part.

Here the gear I used:
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 580EX II Speedlite (I now use Canon 600EX RT speedlites and ST-E3 Speedlite tranmitter)
Canon 100mm lens
Canon ST-2E 
Westcott Apollo

Black Panel in Westcott 6-1 Kit

All my gear is listed on My Gear page.

For cool digital effects, including skin softening, check out Topaz Adjust. Info on my Plug-ins page.

Explore the light,