Archive for the ‘How-to’s’ Category

This post will be a relatively brief discussion of a recent studio lighting situation. The set-up was deceptively simple…models were sitting on the floor and covered with a fine black netting which we were trying to use to create a dramatic conceptual image. Trouble was, most standard lighting arrangements gave a very flat and lifeless look to the image.

After a few tests and considering the available lights, I came up with a set that brought out the texture in the fabric and highlighted some edge detail, while allowing the shadows to create a deep and moody feel to the overall image. The lighting diagram here shows the overall layout of this image.

Lighting diagram

Lighting diagram

The main light was a 3 x 4 softbox set to fire across the front of the models, feathered so that the models were in the light coming from the side of the softbox, rather than straight on. This arrangement put the subjects in very soft lighting that faded from left to right, highlighting the texture in the fabric and creating a dramatic split-light effect on the models faces, while providing just enough light on the right to give some detail to the shadowed features. Finally, a rim light was set in the back to provide edge detail to some of their features. This light had a black panel used to block any light from spilling on the backdrop, keeping the background of the image dark.

The final image is one of my favorites from what was a fantastic studio collaboration.

Final edited image from the shoot

Final edited image from the shoot

Thoughts or questions? – leave a comment!! What would you have done to light this type of image?

One or Two Light Fashion Set

Posted: April 24, 2013 in How-to's

Hey everyone – this blog post is in response to an emergency request from a fellow photographer in the Firstlighters group. Shameless plug for them – hosted by Lightstalking, Firstlighters is a wonderful gathering of photographic intellect. If you’re not in…check ’em out!

Anyway, there was a request for some info on fashion lighting set-ups. Specifically how to get a nearly blown-out white background with the edgy, contrasty light you often see in fashion layouts. Honestly – that lighting is deceptively simple to get close, but refining it can take a long time to perfect…I don’t really think I’m there and I’ve been studying it for a few years now. The basics of this look can be had with just two lights and a few black panels.

Fashion Lighting Diagram

The lighting diagram here shows the overhead view of the set. Note that the main light source is a strobe with a beauty dish & diffuser. I used a basic 22-inch dish, but the pros swear by the 28″ Mola dish. The main thing to note with whatever you use – the center point of the light beam is NOT aimed directly at the subject. If you look carefully at the diagram you’ll notice that the model is in the “feathered edge” of the light. This prevents you from having an extremely harsh highlight right on their forehead and nose. The light was raised above head height – probably about 8-10ft. This is the part that takes a long time to really perfect…you’d be amazed at how much difference you get by shifting the placement and angle of a light just a few inches.

The background light is really pretty straightforward. Light up the background if you want it white (technically, you should try for about 1-2 stops exposure above your subject…). I’ve found it faster personally to just use the screen on the back of my camera to judge whether the light is too bright. Make sure to zoom in a check the edge detail of your subject – if you’re too strong on the background light you’ll start to lose edge detail. Of course, if that’s the look you’re going for, by all means break this rule. You’ll also notice in the sample images below that I have a grey background and one that is black. These were all set up in nearly the same fashion, but I just used the key light for the darker backgrounds. To make it go black you just have to make sure none of the light is falling on the background…distance and angle are the keys.

I use simple black foam core panels set at different heights on either side of the subject to deepen the shadows on the sides. This is one of those little ‘secrets’ that makes small but noticeable differences in the image…and again, you have to play with the placement until you find what you like. I usually have them about 3-4 feet away from the model.

So…that’s a brief introduction to the lighting set up. If you’re really limited in what you have available to shoot with as far as lights and modifiers – you can try a few tricks to get close to this arrangement assuming you have at least a nice clean white wall. Try to get your hands on a slave-triggered flash in addition to one that will mount on your camera. Cheap is sometimes just fine…I’ve used these as slave flashes with great results. The main requirement is that it has a slave mode that will fire when it senses the light from another flash. Use a white panel above you and off to one side or another to bounce your on-camera flash toward the model and act as the key light. Your slave flash should trigger and light up the background wall. You will really have to tinker with your settings to pull this off and get the lighting balanced out, but it should get close to the right look.

Another little tidbit – I always shoot fashion shoot in the monochrome (black & white) setting on my camera using RAW files. This let me balance out the highlights and shadows a lot easier and if I’m getting the contrast that I want in black and white, I know it will convert well into a color photo once I load it into Lightroom.

Lighting-4959 Lighting-4959-2 Lighting-5039 Lighting-5176

 

 

Hey everyone!

I’ve been asked a lot about cheap lighting for practicing off camera lighting set-ups (studio strobes, speedlights, etc..). Well this is a little trick I learned back in college, when uber-cheapness was the only concern. $125 for a flash??? No. Way. Ever. 

If you’re just starting out trying to understand the effects and positioning of off-camera lighting it really is helpful to be able to see what you’re doing to the light as you move things around. A constant light source is actually a much more effective training tool than a flash just because of the fact that you can actually see the results you’re getting before you even take the picture. Now – I must insert a disclaimer here – if you ever actually use this kind of set for a paid photo shoot be prepared to be fired, or at the least seriously laughed at. This does not portray confidence or professionalism in any way. But it does get you comfortable setting up lights without a huge investment.

You might wonder, if you’ve never used a softbox, what the point of this funky contraption really is? Simply put, its primary purpose is to “soften the light”, hence the name. It also provides some directional control of the light as well, but in order to make lighting softer, with smooth blended shadows, you need a large light source in close proximity to your subject. This is why the sun, even though it is enormous, creates harsh sharp-edged shadows – it’s so far away that it acts relatively like a small point light source. When it goes behind a cloud, the cloud is diffusing the light, scattering it and softening out those shadows. A softbox does the same thing to a flash. So if you’ve been thinking about trying out setting up a light but don’t want to spend the money on commercial gear just yet, this will get you going.

Here’s what you will need:

1. Get an old cheap styrofoam cooler – the plain white kind that always seems to break and spill all your drinks at your feet while you’re walking to the car. I’ve found these for less than a buck at garage sales.

2. Most home centers or big-box stores carry simple clamp-on light fixtures that have a 7 or 10-inch reflector and usually are around $7-12. Pick up at least one, or more if you want to play with multiple light sets.

3. Get a few of the highest wattage flourescent lights you can find. Stick with the spiral fluorescents to avoid the heat generated by standard incandescent. Take note – most come in a wide array of white balance hues (Usually called soft white, cool white, daylight, etc.) Just be aware of this and know that you will have to adjust your white balance accordingly. I’ll tell you a simple trick for that later…

4. Finally you will need a funky old white t-shirt or other piece of cloth to use as a diffuser. Make sure you can see light through it fairly well if you hold it up to a light. You’ll also need some duct tape or gaffer’s tape.

Ok, now to build a light! It’s really pretty simple. Just take the reflector off the lighting fixture (they usually unscrew) and cut a hole in the center of the back-side of the cooler that is a snug fit for the base of the light fixture. Then all you do is put the fixture into the cooler, screw in a lightbulb and tape your funky t-shirt over the open face of the cooler. Presto – instant cheap softbox light!!

Light fixture mounted into the cooler base    

Light arrangement is a subject that you can spend your whole life time developing and understanding but there are a few basic things that will get you great results. Since you’re reading this you probably already know that on-camera flash washes people out and just looks like every point-and-shoot facebook photo out there. Getting a nice dimensional look to the lighting means you have to get the light coming in from one side or the other from the camera. Here’s one really basic 2-light set-up that produces some pretty decent results.

 Key light is angled 45-60 degrees to left of the camera. Back light is out of the frame above and behind the subject.

The image of my cat below used that exact set up – the key light had the cooler box softbox and the other back light just kept the as-purchased reflector dish. Notice the wash of light on his back that separates him out from the black backdrop.

I mentioned a trick for setting your white balance – simply point the camera at the light (you’ve got a white shirt on there, right?) take a frame and use that to set the camera’s custom white balance and you’re all set.

You may be surprised just how good the lighting quality out of something this simple can be. I will be putting together more examples of lighting set-ups using more advanced beauty dishes and comparing them to this cheap-o light in the near future. In the meantime, coerce a family member into posing for you, get creative and have fun!