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Shine Bright - Your Guide to Studio Lighting

Shine Bright – Your Guide to Studio Lighting

June, 2nd 2023

Let’s go on an illuminating journey into the magical realm of studio lighting! From basic to professional setups, I will be highlighting equipment that will take your studio to the next level. 

We will start with one piece of game-changing gear to add to your arsenal immediately. That’s right, you can transform your photos from dull to dazzling without emptying your wallet on an entire studio setup!

That Secret Weapon is… Softboxes!

Ever stare at a professional photo and wonder how they managed to achieve that smooth, dreamy lighting without any harsh shadows? Drum roll, please… Meet the incredible softbox! This is a magical box that you attach to your light source. And it is the best bang for your buck for making your shots better immediately.

It’s no surprise a softbox is the number one piece of lighting gear to have in your arsenal as it dramatically impacts the quality of your light. These large, fabric-covered light modifiers turn your small, harsh light source (like a flash or a bulb) into a larger, softer one. By diffusing the light source, spreading it out and toning it down, it’s no longer too intense or harsh. With the result of soft and even light wrapping around your subject beautifully… you’ll reduce those pesky shadows and decrease the appearance of imperfections on your subject’s skin, giving a more flattering and natural look.

However, it’s important to remember that good lighting isn’t simply about having the right equipment… Understanding light—how to manipulate it, direct it, and control it—is the key to good photography. Equipment can help you achieve your vision, but it’s your knowledge and skill that makes the real difference.

Setting Up Your Studio – It’s Showtime!

Let’s go ahead and set up your first studio! Here’s a straightforward setup to begin with…

Light Source (Speedlight and Strobe Lights): Your main light, often referred to as the key light… This is the Sun in your studio solar system. Like a portable flashlight with a lot more illumination behind it. 

So, as you start setting up your studio, you can also begin expanding your lighting gear as budget allows. While speedlights are a more affordable alternative to studio strobe lights, they have less power and control in a studio setting. Keep in mind that many professional photographers use both and will choose the best tool for each particular situation.

Let’s take a quick glance at the key differences:

Speedlights: Your small and convenient portable flash units. They can either attach to a camera’s hot shoe or be used off-camera with a wireless trigger. Only powered by AA batteries, they are great for on-the-go photography. Whether you are shooting outdoors or at events, they are perfect when mobility is key. 

Although they are powerful enough for a basic studio setup, their power output is relatively limited compared to studio strobes. And the recycle time (the time it takes to recharge the flash to fire again) can be slow, especially at high power outputs. This is where strobes lights shine.

Strobe lights: These are speedlights on steroids… Your larger flash units with an extra dose of power! Usually powered by an external power source, like a power pack or wall socket. These strobes offer adjustable power output, color temperature, and modeling lights to help photographers achieve the desired lighting effects. This is why they are often used as the primary light source in a studio setup. But unlike the speedlights, due to their size and power requirements, they’re less portable and convenient.

Either way, speedlights and strobe lights are perfect for taking dramatic portraits. Typically you position your light source to one side of your camera and aim it at your subject. With the angle greatly affecting the mood of the shot, a 45-degree angle is a good place to start. And provides a nice dimension to your subject’s face during portrait shooting. 

Magical Softbox: As mentioned earlier – this is the secret must-have weapon. Like a lampshade, clip your softbox to your light source (speedlight or strobe). And bam! You’ve turned the glaring light into a soothing glow. Resulting in a softer, more even light that mimics that effect of natural light on an overcast day.

Handy Reflector: Next up, the reflector… the moon in this photography universe. By placing it on the opposite side of your light source, your mini-moon bounces light onto the shadowy parts of your subject and brightens them up. It acts like a second light source, but without spending a pretty penny!

That’s right, one of the main advantages of using reflectors is their simplicity and versatility. These large, collapsible panels don’t require a power source and are a cost-effective solution for controlling and manipulating light in a studio. They come with different reflective surfaces, such as silver, gold, white, and black.

Keep in mind that the type of reflector you use will also affect the outcome:

Silver Reflectors: Silver reflectors provide the brightest reflection and are excellent for adding fill light to your scene. They create a light that is cooler and more specular (meaning it has a “shinier” quality) than other types of reflectors.

Gold Reflectors: Gold reflectors give a warmer tone and golden glow to your subject… making them perfect for adding a “sunset” feel to your portraits. 

White Reflectors: White reflectors produce a softer, more neutral reflection. This works wonders when you want to fill in shadows without changing the color or quality of the light. Such as lightening up shadows under your model’s eyes during portrait shooting to controlling shadows and bringing out more detail on clothing in fashion photography. 

Black Surfaces (Absorbers): Black isn’t reflective, so black surfaces are used to absorb light and deepen shadows. This can be useful if you want to create more contrast and drama in your shot.

So, experimenting with different types of reflectors in different situations is the best way to understand their effect and to find out which one works best for capturing the lighting look you desire.

Trusty Light Stand: Well, your light source needs something to stand on, right? Unless it’s learned to levitate! Although it might not seem exciting, try holding a speedlight and softbox while taking a photo, and you’ll realize just how important it is! 

Yep, without them, positioning and controlling your lighting is extremely difficult, if not impossible. But have them, and shooting becomes simple and effortless. All you need to do is position the light stand to direct light exactly where you want it. Such as above your subject for a fashion shoot, giving the impression of a midday sun. Just make sure to secure it well – the last thing you want is your light to come crashing down on your model… 

Nifty Triggers: These are like the conductors of your light orchestra, ensuring your speedlight or strobe fires at precisely the right moment. Which is essential when you’re working with off-camera lights. Without it, your lights and camera could be out of sync, leading to underexposed photos. Imagine shooting a dancer in motion – you’ll need the flash to fire at the exact moment you press the shutter to freeze the action!

So, by attaching a trigger to your camera’s hot shoe, you will allow your camera to sync and communicate with your off-camera lights. Just make sure your light source and trigger are set to the same channel so they can communicate. And you’ll be ready for action!

Here’s a simple setup using these basics:

  • Position your strobe with a softbox attached to the right of your camera, aimed down at your subject at about a 45-degree angle.
  • On the opposite side of your strobe, place a reflector to bounce some of the light back onto your subject, filling in the shadows created by your key light.
  • Set your trigger on your camera and connect it to the strobe.

This setup gives you a good balance of light for a basic portrait. As you become more comfortable with lighting, you can start experimenting with additional light sources along with different modifiers and positions to achieve a variety of effects. Remember, the best way to learn lighting is by experimenting and practicing… with a little patience along the way!

Leveling Up Your Studio – The Next Stage

Alright, feeling comfortable with your basic setup? Let’s explore some fantastic tools to take your lighting to professional levels!

Umbrellas: These are like bigger and more generous softboxes. Giving a broader and more general light… like creating a bright, cloudy day. Perfect for lighting up a large area or a group of people. And come in two types:

Reflective: Bouncing light back onto your subject while creating a soft and indirect illumination.

Shoot-through: Allowing light to pass through the translucent fabric, diffusing it for a broader and softer light spread.

Light Modifiers: Various light modifiers are available to further shape and control the quality of light. Including:

Grids: These can focus light into a beam, creating a dramatic spotlight effect. By narrowing down the light beam, grids provide more focused and directional illumination. Want to highlight the main dish in a food shot, leaving the rest of the table slightly in the shadow? Or create dramatic effects like a spotlight on stage? Grids will be your best friends!

Snoots: These tube-like pieces fit over a light source to create a concentrated circle of light. The light from a snoot is very directed and does not spread. This makes a snoot ideal for pinpointing light on a specific area of a subject or for creating dramatic lighting effects. For example, you may use a snoot to highlight a particular feature in a portrait, such as a person’s face, while keeping the rest of the scene in shadow.

Barn Doors: As the name implies, they resemble a set of barn doors with two or four adjustable metal flaps (or “doors”) that attach and fit over the front of a light source. They can be opened or closed to control the direction and shape of the light. The light from barn doors is typically harder and more direct than from other light modifiers like softboxes or umbrellas. So, the shadows they create will have a sharper edge. This makes them a great tool for creating dramatic and high-contrast lighting effects.

Gels: These thin colored and translucent filters can be added over the light source to alter the color and add creative effects to the light. For instance, using a blue gel can create a cool atmosphere, while a red or orange gel may create a warm, romantic mood. Keep in mind, the closer the light is to your subject, the more intense the color will be. Similarly, the brighter your light, the more saturated the color will appear.

Beauty Dishes: These are the divas of the lighting world and are perfect for shooting stunning portraits. Since they produce a flattering and soft, yet somewhat edgy light, you will accentuate facial features and create a beautiful and glowing quality on the skin. This gives a natural look and adds a touch of glamor to your model.

Background Lights: Also known as accent or rim lights, are used to separate the subject from the background and add depth to the image. These lights are typically positioned behind the subject and provide a halo or rim of light around the edge and highlight the outline of the subject. Background lights can be achieved using strobes, continuous lights, or dedicated background light fixtures.

Of course, the real magic isn’t just in owning the equipment, but how you use it. You’re a wizard of light, shaping and controlling it to make stunning photos. So get out there and start experimenting and creating your own light-filled masterpieces! Light it up!

I hope you enjoyed the shots, this blog is to inspire you to go see this place for yourself!

Below is a link to more pictures and information about this gear and the models!

Now let’s get out there, and shoot!

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