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... A Beginners Guide To Studio Lighting
By Chris Burfoot A.M.P.A. A.R.P.S. A.S.W.P.P.
In Association With: ©2005
What Type Of Light? - Tungsten Vs. Flash
Traditionally, continuous lighting was always used in studio situations. However, in more recent years and in the vast majority of studios, electronic ﬂash is now the norm. Tungsten (continuous) light has the advantage of being a little less expensive than ﬂash, but unfortunately the many drawbacks out-weigh this. The main problem with tungsten light is that it generates more heat than light, the colour of the light it produces is very yellow and it gets worse as the bulb ages. This means that you have to use either a tungsten balanced ﬁlm or a ﬁlter on your camera to compensate. There is also a very limited range of accessories. Anyone who has spent any time either side of the camera with tungsten light will know all about the heat it produces. This can make your subject very uncomfortable and due to the brightness, causes the iris of the eye to close right down. It is often the case that eyes look more attractive with a larger pupil. With bright tungsten light
the iris closes right down. With ﬂash the iris does not react fast enough to be a problem.
The disadvantage of using a standard on-camera type ﬂashgun is that you can’t see the lighting until you get your photos back! Studio ﬂash overcomes this problem by using a modelling lamp which should mimic the light produced by the ﬂash tube. This enables you to set up your lighting with the conﬁdence of being able to see what you are going to get! - WYSIWYG - What you see is what you get! However, various makes of studio ﬂash have modelling lamps which are not always equal. I have always used the Prolinca/Elinchrom system because of the advantages they give me. Firstly the modelling lamp bulb is exactly in the centre of the ﬂash tube and almost the same size. This means that the modelling light is virtually identical to the ﬂash - WYSIWYG! Another big plus of this system is the huge range of accessories, the secure accessory ﬁtting and the performance of the ﬂash. The ﬂash duration is very fast, typically over 1/2000th sec. This means that not only will it freeze action, but there are no problems mixing the ﬂash with daylight, and using a fast shutter speed. Recycling times are also very fast, generally less than a second! So I never miss a shot! Big problems can occur if your shutter is faster than the ﬂash!
What Do I Need To Buy?
You can start off with a very basic outﬁt. Pictured here is a One Head Starter Set. It consists of a ﬂash head, a stand, a reﬂector and a small softbox. We will discuss the use of softboxes later, but this will give you the basics to enable you to produce very acceptable portraits of your family or friends. This one head starter sets start from a little over £200 + Vat. Once you progress onto using more heads, a Flashmeter becomes necessary - see page 16 for an overview of using one. OK, lets have a brief look at how a studio ﬂash head works and what you can do with a single head.
How Does A Flash Work?
If you look at the front of a studio ﬂash head you will see a ﬂash tube - on this Elinchrom example, the tube is the circular one with a modelling lamp in the centre. (The higher output 250w Halolux is ﬁtted to this head.) The modelling lamp provides a continuous light so that you can see the effect you are creating. The ﬂash tube on the standard head is horseshoe shaped with a terminal on each end. The glass envelope is ﬁlled with a non-conductive gas and wrapped around this is a trigger wire. The ﬂash energy is stored in capacitors within the main body. Voltages are extremely high so never take one apart! When the ﬂash is ﬁred a 25,000 volt charge is run through the trigger wire ionising the gas. This allows the power to pass between the terminals and in doing so, energy is released in the form of heat and light. All this happens in around 1/2000th second!
Let’s Take Some Pictures!
I am sure that there are occasions when it is very convenient to pop a ﬂash on top of your camera and yes, this is the way camera manufacturers design them to work. The trouble is that it’s probably the worst place to put it! Light from the camera position causes many problems. Firstly you can see the very unattractive “Red-Eye” This is caused by the ﬂash Taken with on-camera ﬂash - Red-eye . and shadows - yuk! reﬂecting off the rear surface of the eye. Secondly it gives a heavy shadow on the wall behind the subject and thirdly it has produced a very ﬂat light that shows no shape or substance to the subject. Because the ﬂash is a very small light source it is also a very hard light source. We will talk later of hard and soft lighting effects.
By moving the light around to the side we can achieve two things very easily. Firstly we remove the shadow from the background and secondly we now have a “lit” and an “un-lit” side to Laura’s face. In this example we have also placed a blue background behind our model. The contrast is now far too high between the two sides of her face but it does tell your brain that she is a 3 dimensional subject rather than a cardboard cut-out! We could now add a second light from the left to ﬁll those shadows. But we must be careful, if our second light was set at the same power we would be back to ﬂat lighting and two sets of shadows! So let’s leave our second light in its box for the moment and use a reﬂector.
Using A Reﬂector Panel
In this example we have turned the models’ shoulders away from the camera and added a silver reﬂector panel to the left side. It is quite amazing how much light can be bounced back. We have still retained the difference in light levels on the left and right of her face keeping the 3D effect.
How High Should My Light Be?
Generally speaking for ﬂattering lighting, light should come from above. Light from below is very un-natural as you can see! There was a very old camera club rule that nose shadows should go down but should not cut into the lip. I don’t believe in rules for lighting - it depends on what you are trying to achieve. This lighting style would make a great “evil” theatrical portrait!
Hard Light - Soft Light
One of the basic principals of lighting is that “The bigger the light the softer it is” . You can see from the example that the on camera ﬂash is a very hard light, it is also very small - about 2x1cm! The other photographs so far, have been taken with a studio ﬂash ﬁtted with a 16cm reﬂector. This has the immediate effect of making the light softer simply because it is bigger. But if we shoot the head into an umbrella we can make our light source bigger still and we can spread the light over a larger area softening it further. Think about nature. In the desert in Africa the Sun is a tiny point source of light and it therefore gives a very hard high contrast light. We all know that the Sun is immense but because it is 93 million miles away, in relation to us it looks very small. On the other hand if we think about a typical summer in the UK where we have cloud cover from horizon to horizon, the whole dome of sky becomes our light source. This gives very soft light with hardly any shadows.
Making Light Softer
So, let’s ﬁt an umbrella onto our light and see what happens. Tip: When using a brolly don’t forget to adjust it so that the modelling light is ﬁlling, but is not spilling over the edge of it - don’t waste your light!! By adding a silver brolly to our head we have increased the diameter of the light from 16cm to 85cm. We are also now using reﬂected light rather than direct. The light is softer and more ﬂattering. Note that we have still retained the shading on the left and the background has become darker as there is not so much light falling onto it. Silver brollies retain a reasonable amount of contrast
and “sparkle” They are also very efﬁcient so very little light is lost. For a more natural look a . white brolly could be used, or, softer still a white translucent one. The translucent brolly can be used in two ways. Either in “shoot through” or reﬂective modes. Take a look at the following examples.
Adding A Second Light
We have seen that by lighting from the side we can make a subject look more three dimensional. But to add that extra depth to the photograph, we should unpack the second head. To give good separation between your subject and the background a second light can be used in two ways. To light the background or to back-light the subject. We have, however, to be careful that the light from the second head goes where we want it to! By ﬁtting a snoot or a honeycomb to the head we can control where the light falls. In the example on the right you can see how a splash of light on the background livens the whole picture up and gives more depth. Now let’s turn the second light around and back-light Laura. You can see how a little light from behind gives separation from the background and brings the hair to life showing its true texture and colour. Hair absorbs light and can look very dull if not lit. The splash of light over Laura’s left shoulder emphases the fact that she is three dimensional. It is important not to have the hair light too powerful, especially on blonde hair as it will easily burn out. A quarter to half a stop more than the main exposure will give a good result with blonde hair, going up to a full stop for black hair. Of course if you have a third light you can light the background as well or you can back-light from both sides!
Using A Main And Fill Light
In this next set-up we have replaced our reﬂector with a “ﬁll” light. Our main or “key” light is ﬁtted with the same silver umbrella and placed at the side position as before. In addition to this we have used our second head, ﬁtted with a translucent, or “shoot through” umbrella. This ﬁll light is placed close to the camera position slightly higher than the subject. It is set to give one f-stop less light than the main light onto the model. This can be easily set up using a ﬂashmeter and by taking readings from each head individually. E.g. if the main light is giving a reading of f11, the ﬁll should give a reading of f8. Don’t forget to take another reading with both lights and set that as your aperture. By adding a third head as a background light we put that little extra depth into our picture.
Using A Softbox
Softboxes are available in the Prolinca and Elinchrom ranges in various sizes from 40cms square up to the amazing Octa which is almost 2 metres across! The most useful sizes for portrait work are the 70cm or 100cm square, although the Prolinca 60x60cm is great value for money and works very well. Remember, the bigger the light the softer it is. To get the softest light from your softbox - get close! If used just out of view of the camera, it will give you a lovely, soft, diffused light. The bigger it is the more “wrap-around” it will be - a 100x100cm was used in these examples.
With a white reﬂector as a ﬁll
As you can see from the diagram, this is the same set-up but with the addition of a background light which “lifts” the picture from the page.
But for a totally different look, let’s try “Butterﬂy” lighting with the softbox. This is achieved by placing the main light directly in front of the model, but quite high. As you can see this gives light from above, so our shaded side is now underneath her chin. Incidentally, this technique is called “Butterﬂy” lighting because the nose shadow is supposed to resemble one! (difﬁcult to see with a soft light)
The light from above gives a similar result to the ﬁrst example in this section. Instead of the left side of Laura’s face being in shadow, it’s now under the eyes, nose and chin where we need some “ﬁll” By placing a silver reﬂector on her lap and another either side, or . by using a Lastolite “Triﬂector” plus a honeycomb back light, we can achieve a superb portrait which emphasises the model’s eyes. (Example overleaf)
Shot with the Lastolite “Triﬂector” original version exclusive to The Flash Centre and highly recommended!
You can also totally change the look of a portrait just by changing the background colour! Here the lighting hasn’t altered but we have a completely different look.
Hard And Soft Together!
There is no reason why a hard light source cannot be mixed with a soft one. It has the advantage of giving a very ﬂattering effect, but still retaining some “punch” Have a look at the shots below . and before you look at the diagram, see if you can work out where the lights are and what accessories I have used.
The same set-up was used for both photographs. I used just three heads, one softbox, one 21cm reﬂector and one honeycomb. The set is made very simply with some net curtaining, fur rugs, a beanbag and a few old tea-chests! The net curtains are threaded onto a child’s hoop which is hung ﬂat to the ceiling. The same set-up was used for both photographs. I used just three heads, one softbox, one 21cm reﬂector and one honeycomb. The set is made very simply with some net curtaining, fur rugs, a beanbag and a few old tea-chests! The net curtains are threaded onto a child’s hoop which is hung ﬂat to the ceiling.
Honeycomb + Red Gel Draped nets
Shooting With Two Softboxes
For the softest, most ﬂattering lighting, two softboxes will give lovely results.
In this case one 100x100cm and one 70x70cm softbox have been combined. As you can see, the main light was placed on the right of the camera and the ﬁll, set at 1 f-stop less was to the left. A third head ﬁtted with a honeycomb was directed at the back of Laura’s head to spill over her shoulder and bring out the detail in her hair.
The lighting hasn’t changed! But just look at the difference a change of background has made!
Lighting A White Background
When using a white background it is very important that it is not overlit. The white background will act as a reﬂector and bounce a huge amount of light back towards your camera and onto the back of your subject. Many magazine articles and a few enthusiastic camera club members have also told me that, to get a pure white background it should be over-exposed by two f-stops! I can tell you here and now that this is nonsense. A white background, if correctly exposed will reproduce as white - because it IS white. If you overexpose it by 2 f-stops it will throw back so much light it would overexpose the back of your subject so much, that you would lose all the edge deﬁnition (especially around the hair). You can see the effect here - notice also that because of the ﬂare in the lens the whole image has become desaturated!
Subject f8 - Background f16 (2 stops more!)
The easiest white background is obtained by using smooth uncreased paper or a white smooth wall. White paper only requires between 0.25 and 0.5 of an f-stop more than the subject to ensure a clean, pure white background. White cloth backgrounds require a little more light to burn out the creases but this has to be very controlled . I would recommend that you have no more that 0.5 of a stop more on the background than the subject. Tip: If shooting digitally, turn off the front light(s) and take a picture. Check your preview screen and your subject should then be a silhouette. Any loss of edge deﬁnition will be easy to spot!
Mixing Flash And Daylight
This is a great technique to master, particularly if you shoot weddings or environmental portraiture. Imagine the scene - 100+ wedding guests to photograph - typical UK summer weather - pouring with rain! Should you stick on your “on-camera” ﬂash and shoot on programme so that your shots look just like those taken by all the guests? Or, do you take the opportunity to set up a light or two and produce some rather special pictures? Of course the latter is a much better alternative, but then there is the problem of balancing the ﬂash with the daylight. You won’t want the view through the windows or doors in the photographs to look like night time, so lets do the balancing act! Step 1. Choose a ﬂash synchronisation shutter speed and set that on your camera - let’s say 1/125th. Step 2. Point your camera through the window and see what aperture you would need to use at 1/125th to get a correct exposure (or you can also use a hand held meter). Let’s say for example its f8, this means if you were to set your camera to 1/125th at f8 and take a picture through the window it would be correctly exposed. Step 3. Set-up your light(s) inside and using a ﬂash meter, take a reading from your lights and adjust them to give you f8 inside as well. (Note - make sure the lights are not reﬂected in the windows!) Step 4. With your camera set to 1/125th and f8 the photo will be correctly exposed both inside and out. But to make the outside appear a little brighter than inside and therefore look more natural simply reduce your shutter speed. If you were to drop your shutter speed to 1/60th the outside would be 1 f-stop over exposed - 1/30th and it would be 2f-stops over etc.. But, the inside will remain correctly exposed as this is being illuminated by the ﬂash and the longer exposure does not vary this. In fact, it is the ﬂash duration that freezes the image, - you can even hand hold at ridiculously slow speeds so long as you are using a ﬂash with a fast ﬂash duration and the ambient light levels are not too high.
Inside and outside balanced 1/125 @ f8
Shutter reduced to 1/30th @ f8
Note: For this reason it is always beneﬁcial to select ﬂash units that combine good fast ﬂash durations with excellent low power stability - many do not. These are just a couple of advantages of the latest professional digital units.
The techniques used for still-life are just the same as those shown for portraits. Lighting to show shape and form is from one side. In this set-up a 70x70 softbox has been placed at one side to give the effect of light through a window. A reﬂector on the right bounces the light back to ﬁll the shadow side.
The easiest way to photograph products with a shadowless background is to use the Colorama Mini-Cove which can be painted any colour you like. Placing a 70x70cm softbox ﬁtted to a boom stand (the Elinchrom Polystand) and placing it above is a very simple and easy way to photograph small items.
Digital Or Film?
All the examples shown here were taken on a Canon 10D Digital SLR camera. Lighting techniques are the same for ﬁlm. The real difference with digital is that you don’t need quite as much power, but for both you do need power stability. Throughout this publication, I have used the Elinchrom Style 400FX units which offer an amazing power range from 25 up to 400 watt seconds! This also provides stability of +/- 0.5%, so every exposure is the same and the colour balance will be consistant thoughout. We looked earlier at what you will need to create and control the light. You can ﬁnd detailed information about the more advanced accessories at the back of this guide. As stated already, you can start with a simple one head kit which you can then be expanded to match your developing skill and requirements. Elinchrom offer some very effective low cost solutions. But the main advantage of over 30 years experience in the business... is that they can provide every accessory you could ever need to get the job done.
Using A Flashmeter - Don’t Panic!
The ﬁrst thing to do is to set your camera to manual! It doesn’t matter how clever your camera is, you can’t use it on “auto” with studio ﬂash! You need to set your shutter speed to the syncronisation setting for electronic ﬂash (see your instruction book). If in doubt set it to 1/60th second. This leaves only the aperture to set which will depend on what the ISO rating of your ﬁlm is. For general studio work to optimise quality I would recommend you stick to 100 ISO. Next, set the ﬁlm ISO onto the meter and connect the sync lead between your main light and the PC socket on the meter. For this example let’s say that we are taking a portrait with one light and we are using 100 ISO ﬁlm. Hold the ﬂashmeter in front of your subject’s face and point it at the light. Press the button on the meter to ﬁre the ﬂash and it will read the light falling on your subject, giving you a recommended aperture. Set this on your camera and ﬁre away! - I told you not to panic! It’s as easy as that.
Use the diffuser cover when reading ﬂash. On/Off control.
Mode button and mode display. Used to set Flash/Daylight mode Shutter Speed When the ﬂash is ﬁred correct aperture is shown here. Set your ﬁlm speed with this button.
Sync lead from the ﬂash head plugs into here.
In this picture I have shown a typical ﬂashmeter and its functions. They will vary from make to make but most are similar in the way their controls function. The meter above also works with ambient light which is very useful if you are combining ﬂash and daylight.
Metering Several Heads.
As we have seen, taking a meter reading from a single head is very simple. But what about when you start using multiple heads? It is actually very straight forward. Let’s say we are using a main light and a second light on the background. The ﬁrst step is to take a reading from the main light as explained previously and set that as your aperture on your camera. Follow the diagram below to balance subsequent lights.
Take second reading here to measure light falling on background.
Take ﬁrst reading here and set aperture onto the camera
= Flashmeter (a rather large one!)
If the reading from the ﬁrst position is, say, f11 that is what you set on your camera. If the reading from the background light also gives f11 the background will be the same density as the subject. For a lighter background increase the power so that the reading is more than f11 e.g. f16 (= one stop brighter) For a darker background the reading should be f8 (=one stop darker). Tip: If you run out of adjustment on your head it can be moved closer for more light or away for less. - Double the distance = 2 stops less. The same principal applies to hair and back lights. - Easy isn’t it!
Learn the rules - so you know how to break them properly!
We have already discussed the more popular accessories like honeycombs and snoots let’s take a look at what they do.
The Snoot produces a hard edged circle of light and is one of the most popular accessories. It is conical in shape and ﬁts onto the front of a head. Mainly used as a backlight or hair light with good tight control.
The honeycomb produces a soft edged circle of light. Mainly used as a back or hair light or for putting a graduated circle of light onto the background. Many people (including myself) prefer the effect of the honeycomb to the more harsh effect of the snoot. A variety of honeycombs are available which give different angles of illumination. Honeycombs are often used with coloured ﬁlter gels to change the colour of the background.
We have already discussed the various types of umbrellas. To recap: Silver brollies are very efﬁcient, this means very little light loss. They give a punchy sparkle to your pictures. White reﬂective brollies give a natural soft light, which is ideal for children and older people. Translucent (shoot-through) brollies give the softest, most diffused light. However, they are not so efﬁcient. In a small room the reﬂected light can add to the ﬁll -in!
The softest of all - and the bigger they are the softer they are. Their effect is similar to the shootthrough brolly but the light is much more controlled. For head and shoulder portraits a 60 or 70cm square softbox will work well. For half to three-quarter length the 100cm square is better (can even be used for full length if your subject is not too tall!) If you ever get the chance to use an Elinchrom Octa you will be spoilt forever!
We have all seen the spotlight effect on stage which gives a perfect circle of light. The same system is available for studio ﬂash. Within the Elinchrom and Prolinca ranges there are a number of “spotlight” accessories.
This has a focusing lens and a separate holder for “gobos” and ﬁlters. “Gobos” are metal discs with various patterns cut out of them, which can be projected through the spotlight to give different patterns of light on the subject or background.
The 18/36 Zoom Spot:
This provides a similar effect to the Minispot but also has a zoom control to vary the angle of illumination. It is supplied with a complete system of accessories including masks, gobos, ﬁlter holder and ﬁlters. This is just a small selection of the most popular accessories. Take a look through the system leaﬂet for more ideas!
With huge thanks to Elinchrom and The Flash Centre and very special thanks to Laura my model and friend - without her patience and stunning looks this guide would not have been possible.
Want to know more?
Portrait Lighting Courses For Beginners
By Chris Burfoot
A.M.P.A. A.R.P.S. A.S.W.P.P.
Learn how to produce stunning professional portraits with the minimum of equipment. Even for people who have never even seen a studio light before we guarantee you will leave with some great portraits in your camera! The courses are run by Pembroke Photography in association with Elinchrom Studio Flash Systems and The Flash Centre although all the techniques are the same for any make or type of lighting. The course tutor is Chris Burfoot A.M.P.A. A.R.P.S. A.S.W.P.P. who has been teaching lighting techniques for over 20 years, Chris is a regular lecturer for The Royal Photographic Society and the author of the highly successful Lighting Guides produced for The Flash Centre. The courses are limited to around 12/15 delegates so there is plenty of time for shooting your own pictures.
For dates and a booking form contact: TFC Courses, Pembroke Photography, 01249 444750 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.theﬂashcentre.com and follow the link.
Why not treat yourself to a lighting course and see it all in action?
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