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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Everything I need to know about business I learned from my Mom when I was still a kid

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, November 10, 2011

I was talking with a new client and he said something that got me thinking; “didn’t other people’s Mothers teach them what my Mom did?”  He was talking about vendors and freelancers in particular. 

According to him, and my observation, Mom’s advice is easy to forget. It’s simple common sense, but in today’s busy world they’re often forgotten and some things just need repeating. I know it was good for me to give it some thought. Here are a few of my favorites:

You are judged by the company you keep. A-List people do business with A-List people. Honest people don’t hang around dishonest people. Good people don’t participate in evil. There’s an old saying that goes like this: If you’re not a duck, don’t hang around the pond or people will think you’re a duck.

A person in front of you is more important than someone who isn’t there. A person calling, texting or e-mailing can wait. Don’t insult someone by taking a call or texting while speaking with them. Of course there are exceptions, in that case ask if it’s okay to take the call. Those exceptions should be rare. This applies to call-waiting also.

Don’t wear out your welcome. Keep your promotional communication to an appropriate level. One really good e-mail a month is better than one mediocre e-mail every day or every week.

There’s a time and place for everything. People who are always “on” and people who are always hawking their services are annoying.

Your word is your bond. In these days of explicit contracts, for every little thing, be a man or woman of your word. If you do, you’ll stand out and people will trust and want to do business with you.

Your reputation is the most valuable thing you have. We’re known by our deeds and your business deeds should be consistent with your personal beliefs and standards.

Knowledge can never be lost or taken away. If you’re reading this, chances are you believe in continuous self-improvement by learning. 

Send a thank-you note. Want to stand out? You’d be surprised how few people do this.

Beware of snakes. You have a gut for a reason, follow it. Chances are it’s right. I can’t think of a single time I’ve gone against my gut and not regretted it.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Try to be known as someone who always has a level head and reacts calmly.

The fact that most people don’t do these things is a great opportunity to stand out among your competitors.  It’s impossible to do these things all the time. I know I don’t, but I’m trying. I’m glad my Mom hammered these things into my little brain. 

Highlights of the Chiaroscuro Workshop in St. Petersburg

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 09, 2011

No Studio? No Problem!

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Ninell

If you don't have a studio and a lot of equipment, you can still get great images! Here's an example of a model photographer in a parking garage with just one light. The setup is simple; one flash with a small Photoflex Octo-Box. That's it. To make the background black, just make sure anything in the background is far enough away to not be lit by the flash. In this case, it only took about 12 feet to make the back wall go black, and this was shot in the middle of the day.

Here's the setup:

You can do a lot with a little! Try it out and see for yourself.

How to get perfect color every time

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, October 07, 2011

A lot of people have been asking me why I use a color reference card whenever I shoot. The answer is so I can get perfect color with no guesswork. It's easy, here's how:


Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Most asked about magazine shoot

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Art Director: Shane Luitjens. Client: GO Magazine

1/60 second at f-6.3. 16mm. Two Canon 550EX Flashes on full power

I shot this image recently for a magazine cover, and LOTS of people have asked me how it was done, so here it is in detail.

It's a management issue

We had two hours, so we had to be quick, decisive and everyone involved had to be on the same page. The art director and I decided on the angle of the shot,  set up the tables,  started doing test shots and setting lighting while the stylists set the table and dressed the models. Trying to position each person perfectly would have been impossible, so I gave basic instructions. Simple things like don't eat or drink, try to keep your arms below your face, only listen to me or my assistant, etc. and let them start conversing with each other. I shot a lot of images as the sun went down, knowing that all I needed was to get all the pieces I'd need to assemble a finished image later. 

Technical considerations

This shot was very challenging for two reasons: The depth of field was long, and the shot was going to be HDR (high dynamic range). So, here's what I needed: A long depth of field, a low ISO, balanced light, a ratio to get all the highlight and shadow details in in one shot, and do it quickly.

Breaking down the challenges

Long depth of field. Depth of field can be accomplished two ways; short focal length (wide angle) and/or small aperture (f-stop). A small f-stop was impossible in this case, so I chose a wide angle lens. I tested before shooting to make sure the depth of field was sufficient. Increasing the ISO could have also given me a smaller aperture, but the additional noise it causes would be amplified in the HDR image, so that wasn't an option.

Fast enough shutter speed to avoid motion-blur. I decided to shoot one stop underexposed so I could have a little more shutter speed.

Balanced light. This part is easy. The same technique I always use to balance ambient and artificial light. Establish a base exposure for the ambient light, then add enough flash power to illuminate the subjects. 

HDR. This part was tricky. Usually you need at least three exposures to make an HDR, but with moving subjects, a true HDR is impossible. I was sure to bracket all my exposures so I could make an HDR, then strip in the subjects from one image and tone map them to match the background.

Stress. This is the part that only experience can solve, and why it's so important to shoot as much as you can and expand your practice outside your comfort zone. The only thing that can reduce stress on a shoot is knowing what to do. I have a few techniques that also help: I always arrive early so I can walk around, think and discuss it with my assistant before the other people get there and start talking to me. I always try to get a good night's sleep the night before. I try to drink lots of water the day before and eat well. I can't stress those enough. If you're running out of body resources, you won't be able to think as well and if you're really running out of gas, you'll start to make compromises inn your work that you shouldn't make. If you have an assistant, an important part of their job is to make sure you drink enough water and slow down. 

Here's the setup:

The sun lit the people on the right and two flashes were added to light the people on the left.

Here's a video on the post-production:

Rooftop Dining Post-Production from Chuck Vosburgh on Vimeo.

One Light, Great Results

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Gina Marie

1/80 second at f-4.5, 100 ISO, 160mm, Canon 550EX at 1/4 power with a Photoflex XS Octo-Box camera left.

You can get great results with just one light, especially if the amount of light being added from your flash is close to the ambient light. Here's how it works: In this case, the ambient light metered out to 1/40 second at f-4.5. I wanted the background just a little darker, so I decided to under-expose at 1/80 second. Remember, the shutter speed controls the ambient light. The flash was added to illuminate the subject sufficiently, which for this example amounted to 1/4 power at about 6' away. You can set this up easily with a light meter or you can use your histogram to evaluate your exposure.

Here's the setup:

Just to review

Set your ambient light at equal to or less than your camera's sync speed. I typically use 1/125 second because it's always safe for any camera I have. Adjust to make it lighter or darker to suit you. Next, add just enough flash to light your subject. Easy!

What I take on air-travel

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, July 28, 2011

Packing for a trip can be very challenging and people frequently ask me what I take with me on a typical photo shoot when we travel by air, so here's a complete list of what I carry on, what I put in my checked luggage and what Pat, my assistant carries on. The strategy is to carry on everything we need to do a typical shoot and check the stuff that we could make do without if it were to be delayed. 

Chuck's Carry-Ons:

MacBook Pro 17" and Power Cord

Wacom Tablet and Stylus

Card Reader

Canon 5D Body with Battery Grips and 6 Batteries

2 Chargers

A bunch of Compact Flash Cards

50mm Lens

16-35mm Lens

70-200 Lens

2 Canon 550EX Flashes

4 Pocket Wizards and Cords


2 Light Stands

32" Umbrella

64" Umbrella

External Hard Drive and Cords

Microfiber Cloth

Trash Bags

Remote Camera Release

Extra Prints of Airline, Hotel, Shoot List, Phone Numbers and Other Papers


iPhone and Charger

Tripod Wrench

WhiBal Grey Card

Small Flash Flag

2 Bungee Cords

Duct Tape

Light Meter and Extra Battery

Polarizing Filter

2 Brass Studs

Business Cards


Wireless Card

Dust Blower

24 AA Batteries

Panasonic Lumix, Extra Battery, Charger, Cards

Checked Luggage:

Norman 200B Portable Strobe, Extra Bulb, Charger and Extra Battery

52" Soft Gold/White Reflector

Small Octo-Dome Soft-Box

A Bunch of Memory Cards

Pat's Carry-On:

Canon 5D body with battery grips and 6 batteries

35-70 lens

2 Chargers

Panasonic Lumix, Extra Battery, Charger, Cards


Extra Prints of Airline, Hotel, Shoot List, Phone Numbers and Other Papers

Business Cards

Power Adapters (if international)

iPhone and Charger

iPad and Charger


What's in your bag?

Portrait of a Belly Dancer

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Karen Sun-Ray

This image was photographed in my studio lighting class at the MoreanArts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. The idea was to have nice soft light, but also show the contours of the model's muscle structure and features. The solution was a large soft box placed at more of a side-angle than usual. Keep in mind that the more the object is side-lit, the more it shows texture and contour. A little experimentation was required to find the perfect angle, then a reflector was added to open up the shadows. A hair light from up high behind also adds to the three dimensional look of the image.

Here's the setup:

Single large soft-box, large soft-gold reflector and a snoot. Simple.
On your next shoot, try making your model look as three dimensional as you can. It's a fun way to light and you may find a new favorite style of lighting.

How to make your light hard or soft

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What makes light hard or soft?

The softness of the light on your subject is controlled by just one thing - the size of the light source. You can evaluate the hardness or softness of the light by taking a look at the shadows. Hard lighting has a well defined edge to the shadows and soft light either has a feathered or no discernible line at the edges of the shadows.

The kind of light you choose is a creative decision and being able to control the softness of the light will will make it easy for you to make the image look the way you want. Hard light shows texture, has a lot of contrast and is dramatic. Soft light flattens texture, has less contrast and is well, softer.

Hard Light

Here's an example of hard light. You can see there's a lot of contrast, and the edges of the shadows are well defined. With a direct light source, the background goes black and the shadows of the subject blend into the background.

Here's the setup:

Single light source.

Softening a hard light

You can easily soften the effects of hard light by using a reflector to bounce some light back into the shadows. Using a reflector softens the overall look and separates the subject from the dark background. You can see the difference on the left side of the subject. The shadows are opened up, the subject looks more three-dimensional and the subject is separated from the background by the visible edges of the subject.

Here's the setup:

Single light source, one small reflector.

Softer Light

To soften the key light, a larger light source is needed. Here we used a small soft box. A small umbrella would produce similar results. One side effect of a larger light source is that it has a tendency to spill light onto the background unless the background is far away from the subject.

Here's the setup:

One small soft box


Even softer with a reflector

In this example, we kept the small soft box as the key light and added a reflector on the left to open up the shadows. Again, the subject looks more three-dimensional and is better separated from the background.

 Here's the setup:

Small soft box and a reflector.

Even softer

Here we used a large soft box. As you can see, the shadow transitions are very soft and there is a lot of light spilling onto the background.

Here's the setup:

Single large soft box.

 Softest of all

In this example, we kept the large soft box and added the reflector on the left. You can see it has very soft light and the softness of the light tends to flatten the appearance of the subject.

 Here's the setup:

Single large soft box and a reflector.


Overall view of our test subject. The reflector was a simple piece of 8-1/2 x 11 paper. 

The softness of the light you choose is a creative decision. For example, if your subject were a man with dramatic, weathered skin, you may choose a hard light setup to highlight the textures in his face. Likewise, if you were photographing a subject who wanted their skin to look soft and smooth, hard light would not be a good choice.

Hard light shows texture and soft light flattens texture. A reflector usually makes the subject look more three-dimensional and can help separate it from the background.

Experiment with different lighting configurations and you'll be able to use them to show your subject better and have more creative control. Have fun!