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Lighting is Easy Blog

Free resource for learning how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting.

A 3-Flash Setup for a Girl and Her Motorcycle

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, November 25, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Tiphani Taylor. Stylist: Patricia McGlinchey.

A fun environmental portrait of a motorcyclist

For this project we wanted to show the motorcyclist and her motorcycle in an urban setting that is consistent with her image. We were lucky to not only find a nice alley to photograph in, but we also found some perfect graffiti! The lighting is very straight-forward; A main light to light the model, a light behind the model with a blue gel to light the wall on the right and a third light to light the motorcycle. The lights weren't anything fancy, regular flashes work just fine.

Step One:

The first step was to find a base exposure for the background; dark, but not too dark. A little experimentation showed that 1/6 second at f-5.6 looked perfect.

Step Two:

Light the model. We placed the light for a simple butterfly lighting pattern and set the flash to half power and using a flash meter determined that the correct f-stop at half power was f-4. If you don't have a flash meter, you can do a test shot and adjust your exposure up or down until it's correct. The f-stop was already set at f-5.6, but the aperture doesn't affect the ambient light when you are using flash, so the easy thing to do was to simply open up the aperture to f-4 instead of increasing the power of the flash to full power. Using the flash on full power would make for longer recycle times and shorter battery life, so changing the aperture one stop was the best choice.

Step Three:

Next we lit the wall on the right with a flash and a blue gel to go with her blue hair. We started at half power of the flash and adjusted it to light up the wall just right by doing test shots and adjusting the power accordingly. In this case it was 1/4 power to get the right look.

Step Four:

Finally, we lit the motorcycle. The process was the same as lighting the wall; we set up the light at half power and adjusted the flash power by doing test shots until the motorcycle was lit the way we wanted. In this case, the power was set to 1/16 power. We also attached a card to the side of the flash with a rubber band to block the light from spilling over onto our model.

Here's the setup:

By lighting each part of the scene with its own flash, it was easy to adjust each of the parts separately to make refinements to the overall look of the photograph.

Q&A

You may be wondering...

Q: If the shutter speed was 1/6 second, why isn't the model, motorcycle and wall blurry?

A: Since it was pretty dark, there wasn't enough light to show the model and motorcycle, even at 1/6 power. The flashes were the only significant light source for the model, motorcycle and wall. Since the duration of the flash is a tiny fraction of a second, everything lit by the flash is frozen no matter what the shutter speed is (within reason).

Q: Why wasn't a modifier used on the main light, like a soft-box or umbrella? 

A: Direct light worked well for the edgy, urban look we wanted. Also, most modifiers tend to spill light on the rest of the scene which may have interfered with the dark look we wanted.

Q: Why did you choose a butterfly light pattern?

A: The butterfly light pattern has a flat light pattern that obscures texture. It works well with skin, especially if no modifier is being used to soften the light. You can read more about the basic lighting patterns (including the butterfly pattern) on this blog.

Equipment used:

  • Two Canon 580EX flashes
  • One Norman 200B flash
  • Pocket Wizard radio triggers
  • Various light stands
  • Bricks found in the alley to weight the stands
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 16-35L lens (image was shot at 35mm)
Links to all the equipment listed can be found here.

Doing this kind of environmental portrait is easy, fun and doesn't require a lot of equipment. If you don't have three flashes, team up with your friends and share!

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