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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Working with One Light

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, March 03, 2011


Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh Model: JoAnn Davis Hair and Makeup: Crystal Lockinour

I have to admit, I’m a little spoiled from working in the studio with nearly infinite resources. On this shoot I had just the opposite; one flash, a stand and a small umbrella, nothing more. You can get good results with just a one light. Here’s how:

The first step is to decide on the exposure for ambient light. I wanted my background a little darker than it really was, so I set the shutter speed to underexpose a little bit using the screen on the camera as a guide. Next, I chose a flash power of 1/4 and an aperture of f-4 and shot a test. The resulting image was a little dark, so I increased the power of the flash to 1/2 and shot another test. Perfect. Usually, opening the aperture is preferable and I could have changed the aperture to f-2.8 instead, but I knew that f-2.8 would cause a very shallow depth of field making focusing critical so I chose more power instead. 

As the sun went down, I decreased the shutter speed to keep the background from going too dark. I also experimented with different shutter speeds as I shot. Remember that shutter speed controls the ambient (background) light and aperture and power setting controls the flash.

Here’s the setup:







It’s easy to get obsessed with what you don’t have available. Don’t fall victim to that way of thinking. Get the best you can with what you have. You need a lot less than you think. Nothing is ideal – even if you have a truck load of equipment. Do your best and have fun with it!

Equipment Used:

Canon 550EX flash

Small shoot-through umbrella

Norman aluminum stand

Canon 5D

Microsync radio triggers


Fast Portrait Setup

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Photo: Chuck Vosburgh Model: Brian
For this assignment, we needed a fast way to set up for simple portraits. It's an easy two light setup for the subject  and in this case a light was used to illuminate the background as well. Here's the setup:

The key light was a large soft-box, the kicker (the light in the back to the left) was another large soft-box with a grid to prevent lens flare. A reflector was used to open up the shadows on the shadow side of the subject and a light was used to lighten the background. This shot could have been done without the kicker, but having the light coming from behind the subject helps to add a nice rim-light to separate him from the background and give a nice highlight to his hair. Simple, fast and effective.
What's your go-to setup for fast portrait lighting? Share in the comments!

Make your photo 3-dimensional with Photoshop

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Welcome to the first installment of Photoshop Friday! In this tutorial, I'll show you how to make part of your photograph extend beyond the edge of the image making it look more 3-D.

Inverse Square Law Made Easy

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Whenever I mention the Inverse Square Law people start avoiding eye contact and looking for the door. I don’t blame them. The Inverse Square Law is math and most photographers dislike math. But it’s something important for us to understand. It can even save you money and I’ll prove it.

Pretend you’ve never heard of the Inverse Square Law

Let’s just call it “Light is brighter when it’s closer” or maybe “Light is less bright from far away” 

The interesting thing is that we can know how much the light changes with distance and the good news is that it’s really simple! Take a look at this example and you’ll see why:



The light spreads out to cover a larger distance as it gets farther away from the light source.

Here's the concept:

If you double the distance between the light and the subject,  you need four times as much light to get the same exposure.

If you reduce the distance between the light and the subject by half, you only need one quarter as much light to have the same exposure. Here’s another example:



The line at f-5.6 is twice the distance from the light as the line marked f-11. The line at f-2.8 is twice the distance from the light as the line at 5.6.

Remember, full f-stops are either twice or half the next f-stop. Full stops are f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16, and f22. Most cameras also show in-between stops as well which can make it a bit confusing. 

Putting it into practice

In this example, the key light is just a little too bright on the subject. The amount of light can be changed easily by simply moving it back a few inches. See the difference in the second image? The only change was the light was moved a little bit. Easy!

How to save money with the inverse square law

Now you know how to control the intensity of light by changing the distance of the light from the subject. You know those super-expensive high-tech lights you want that can adjust in 1/10 f-stops? You don’t need that kind of adjustability when you can just move the light a couple of inches and get the same result. In fact, it's easier to just move the light. You also won't need to buy expensive TTL equipment because you can control the light yourself.

Spend a little time experimenting with moving your light source closer and farther away from the subject and you'll have it down in no time!



Photoshop Friday starts this week!

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
By popular demand, we'll be adding Photoshop Fridays here at Lighting Is Easy starting this Friday. The first one will a be a video of how to make your images look more 3-D using Adobe Photoshop CS5. In the short video, you'll see how to use layers, change the canvas size and how to use layer masks to create this effect.

F-Stops Explained

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 10, 2011



If f-stops are a little confusing to you, you’re normal. Most photographers have difficulty with this and modern cameras make it more difficult. Read this and you’ll understand how. This may not be an exciting subject, but read all the way through and you’ll see why this is important to your success. 

The concept

The idea is that if you open the aperture one f-stop, it allows twice as much light through. Likewise, if you close the aperture one f-stop it allows half as much light through. F-stops are designed to work with shutter speeds, which also use the same half or double concept.


Optional scientific explanation

In case you’re interested, the f-number system is not arbitrary. The f-number is the focal length divided by the diameter of the pupil (aperture). For example, a 100mm lens with a f-stop of f-4 will have a pupil (aperture) diameter of 25mm. A 135mm lens with a setting of f-4 will have a pupil diameter of about 33.8. Both of these examples will produce the same illuminance on the focal plane.

f-number = focal length / pupil diameter

How it works

There are full stops and fractional stops. Here’s the range of Full Stops you’re likely to see:



These full-stops are standard and common to all lenses. Some lenses have a smaller range, but the numbers are always the same. The reason this is important is that they each allow either half or double the amount of light as the next full f-stop. For example, f-8 allows twice as much light as f-11, but only half as much as f-5.6. The reason this is good to know is that they correspond to shutter speeds which are also half or double the next shutter speed. For example 1/125 second is half as long as 1/500 second, and 1/60 second is twice as long as 1/125 second. When you use studio lights or flashes, everything is divisible by 2 so you can do the math in your head quickly while you’re working. I know, you’re probably thinking “yeah right”. Read on.

Why it’s confusing

One thing that makes f-stops confusing is that almost all camera manufacturers show fractional stops. In other words, f-4 and one third is shown as f-4.5 instead of f-4 1/3. There’s no indication which are full stops and which are fractional stops. Confusing. Here’s a chart  to help illustrate this:




Fractional stops are of little use in learning lighting. You need to know which ones are full stops. Why? Just about everything you need to know about lighting is based on full stops. Print the charts above and put them in your camera bag or better yet memorize the full stops.

Learning your f-stops is by far the least fun part of photography, but it will open the door to a whole new world once you do. I think it’s time well spent.



Review: Photoflex 60” Convertible Umbrella

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 03, 2011

One of my colleagues swears by the Photoflex 60” Convertible Umbrella, so I decided to buy one and give it a try. I’ve always been more of a soft-box person myself, but the convenience of an umbrella is very appealing for strobist-style off-camera flash photography.


Model: Mavis Gibson, Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

For my test, I set up a simple environmental portrait. I used both the reflective and shoot-through modes and found that the shoot-through mode provided a bit softer light and was a bit more efficient transmitting light.

Here’s the setup:


I used a Canon 550EX behind the model to provide rim-light which helps separate the model from the background and a create nice highlight on her hair. For the key light, I used another Canon 550EX with the Photoflex 60” umbrella. The exposure for the background was 1/10 second at f5.6. The back flash was set to 1/32 power and the main flash was set to 1/8 power. The flashes were triggered by MicroSync radio triggers. 

The bottom line

I’ve always found Photoflex products to be of high quality and very durable and this is no exception. The only issue I found was the center part of the removable cover looked like a few stitches were coming loose after a few uses. It’s very minor and the only issue I could find. If it looks like it’s getting any worse I know Photoflex will correct it. In use, the umbrella is easy to open and close and the removable cover is easy to remove and re-attach. One thing I especially like about this umbrella is that the ribs are made of fiberglass instead of steel which will keep the umbrella from getting those ugly rust marks along the ribs. I’ll be using this umbrella on a few projects in the upcoming days and expect it will become one of my favorites for on-location work.

This umbrella performs well and appears to be one that will outlast many of my other umbrellas. At $37.50 at B&H it’s a great way to get nice soft light without spending much. Add a reflector to your kit and you have a versatile set of modifiers. Also, if you plan on using this outdoors, get a sandbag to weight down your stand. It doesn’t take much of a breeze to turn this size umbrella into a kite.


You can do this shot

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, January 27, 2011



This image is a plastic grocery bag. Don’t believe me? Here’s how to do it:

I started out with a plastic bag, crumpled it up and hung it from the chandelier in the dining room. I determined an exposure that would make the room go black. Next I added a flash behind the bag and tried an exposure at 1/4 power. From there I adjusted the power of the flash to get a nice exposure. You can also use the aperture settings to adjust the exposure. I tried a bunch of different positions for the flash, different crumpling of the bag, and different angles to get some interesting images. If you’re not comfortable with a flash yet, tape it to a window.

Here’s the setup:


This setup produced a few interesting images.


I chose one and went to work on it in photoshop. Here’s a short video on the Photoshop part of the project:

There are hundreds of household items that can make interesting images. Now it’s your turn. Let us know about yours in the comments.

Flash vs. Portable Strobe for Off-Camera Flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, January 20, 2011



Recently I saw a crazy flash rig that holds twelve speedlights!  It got me thinking...

Obviously, the rig is designed to increase the output, but just the flashes alone cost well over $5000. It was impressive, but do we all need twelve flashes? If light output is the issue,  consider a portable strobe. Portable strobes have been ubiquitous among wedding photographers for years and they can be used alone or along with flashes for multiple-light setups.

Putting it to the test

For my test, I used a Canon 550EX and a Norman 200. Both are not the newest models, but they’re perfect for comparison. I set up both lights on stands at one end of my testing facility (my garage) and a light meter about 15 feet away. At full power, the Canon flash registered f4 and the Norman portable strobe registered f8. As expected, the Norman produced more light. 4x as much light as the Canon to be exact.

In Dollars

Canon 550EX flash full power (1/1) = f4

Norman 200B portable strobe at full power (200 watt-seconds) = f8

Portable strobe=4x the light

Canon 550EX flash has a Guide Number of 180, and costs $329 used at Adorama. Four of them would cost $1316   (Canon 580 flash has Guide Number of 190 and costs $435 at Adorama. Four of them would cost $1740)

The Norman 200 portable strobe costs $1194 at B&H.

The newest models compared

Here’s a quick comparison of the latest from Canon and Norman:

Canon 580, $435 would produce just a tad over f4

Norman 400, $1398 would produce f16

Update: Guide numbers are accurate between manufacturers. In fact one of the reasons guide numbers were invented was to be able to compare flash bulbs from different manufacturers. ONCE YOU ADJUST FOR THE ISO DIFFERENCE, THE GUIDE NUMBERS WILL BE ACCURATE AND USEFUL. Manufacturers often raise the ISO in a guide number test to make it seem as though their flash is stronger than it really is. "guide number of 190 at ISO XXX" is the fair description. Thanks to Jeffrey Luhn for the additional information. 

Buying Used

Canon 550EX used=$200 x4=$800

Norman 200C used=$350

So, should you buy a portable strobe instead of more flashes? It depends on your budget and needs. For me, one portable strobe and two flashes pretty much covers everything I do on location. For bigger jobs, I use studio strobes powered by a long extension cord or a generator.

There are several good brands of flashes and portable strobes. I chose the ones for testing just because that’s what I have.

What are you using and how does it work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

photos: bhphotovideo.com, whereisben.com

Should You Work for Free?

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, January 14, 2011


art: http://jessicahische.com

I found this great chart about working for free at http://www.shouldiworkforfree.com/, and it reminded me of what a problem this is for photographers. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about working for free, but even after 20+ years and being pretty well established, I still get asked to work for free regularly. The reasoning usually fits into one of three categories:

  • It will give you great exposure
  • It will build your portfolio
  • There will be much more work later

These are all bogus of course, but they do sound convincing when delivered by a slick negotiator. Be strong. Get your own exposure by networking and marketing yourself. Build your portfolio, regardless of the assignments you’re doing. If you network, market, do great work and build a good reputation, you’ll have plenty of work. Remember, your client’s job is to get you to do the most for the least. Your job is to provide a great product for as much as you can get.

I do have a policy for free work, and it’s simple:

  • I’ll do free work for family and close friends. In fact I never charge family and close friends 
  • I’ll do free work IF I have a VERY good reason to

A few thoughts to consider:

  • Your time is limited and has great value
  • What you do has value
  • The fact that your job is enjoyable doesn’t reduce the value of it
  • You can sit at home and not make any money, why work for no money

So, what do you think? How do you handle this issue in your business?


The artist’s web site: http://jessicahische.com