Lighting in a Studio (PS EP-73)

Erica and Connor discuss the basics of lighting in a studio.  This is part 1 of a 2-part series on studio lighting.

Why shoot in a studio instead of on location?

  • Not dependent on weather
  • You can shoot any time of day or night
  • Changing rooms/bathrooms
  • Provides legitimacy to your business in the eyes of a client and allows you to create your desired client experience
  • Gives the ability to have tight control over your lighting and environment

Main types of studios:

  • Natural Light Studios: Lots of windows that can be opened and closed for shooting
  • Constructed Light Studios: Darker room in which the photographer builds all of the lighting setups on his/her own.
  • Hybrid: Studios that shoot a little bit of natural window light and also construct their own light.

Popular studio lights:

  • AlienBees – $
  • Einsteins – $$
  • Elinchrome – $$
  • ProPhoto – $$$
  • Broncolor – $$$

How to start setting up lights in a studio:

1 Light

  • Start Small. 1 light setups often look gorgeous and don’t require more than that.
    • You won’t be shooting high key images with one light (when the background goes all white) but if you don’t want just a black backdrop you can either open up your aperture and lower the power of your lights to allow more ambience in the room, or if shooting on seamless back the subject up so they are relatively close to the backdrop and some light falls onto the background.
  • 1 Light Setups are usually best shot at your subject’s 12:00 (on a boom arm) up to about the subject’s 10:00 or 2:00 (about 45 degrees) sitting just a bit over the height of their head.
  • 1 Light setups can also be good for more dramatic looking couples portraits. You want to make sure you have the light backed up a bit so the fall off isn’t too dramatic. If you want soft light in this kind of setup with multiple people you want to make sure you have a very large modifier.

2 Lights

  • Once you have gotten a first light set, you can consider adding a second.
  • Typically a second light would be used either to throw some light onto a backdrop or to provide a rim or hair light.
    • A lot of people starting out with lighting attempt to put their second light at an equal but opposite placement on the front of the subject (One light at 10:00 and one light at 2:00) which will just ultimately result in a flat light that looks a bit off.
  • My rule of thumb when placing a hair light is to place it directly across from my main light if shooting at an angle, or on either the subject’s 4:30 or 7:30. You can also place a light directly behind a subject for a lovely whole head hair light but you have to be aware of the placement as it becomes much easier to get the light in the frame.
    • If you want to place the light directly behind the subject for a hair light a good way to do so is to place it behind the backdrop over the top of it shooting down.
  • For putting light on a background. Again, probably not going to be shooting high key for this, but it becomes a bit more of a possibility.
  • You can create some really cool gradients of light when using one light on a background. A good way of doing this is to put the light lower than the subject facing the backdrop pointed upwards. As the light falls off it provides a nice gradient look.
  • Ways to add some more creativity to the look of your backdrop is to use gels to change the color of the backdrop when lighting it. (gels can also be used on hair/rim lights)

3 Lights and Beyond

  • Once you start using 3 lights or more high key images become much more easily attained.
    • For high key photos point two lights opposite sides towards a white (or light grey) backdrop.
  • Other options are to use a light as a rim/edge/hair light and the other on the backdrop, add 2 edge lights, or to start to get creative.
  • Jill Greenberg has an awesome distinct style in which she photographed a series of kids crying in which she uses 7 lights.
  • Just be warned, more lights does not always mean better! There are tons of incredible editorial photographers that use one one light and do it to incredible effect.


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