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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Loop Lighting Style

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 31, 2010

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Gina

Loop lighting is a variation of short lighting where a small loop-shaped shadow appears under the subject’s nose. It’s a popular classic lighting pattern and one that is easy to set up with just one light. For this example, the light was set to the left about 10” above the model’s head. A reflector was added on the right to illuminate the shadow side of the face. When you do this style of lighting, just move the light until you get the right shape shadow under the nose.

Here's the setup:


Equipment used:
  • Norman power pack and light head
  • 32" Umbrella
  • 32" Silver/Gold reflector
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L lens
Lens was set at at 150mm and the aperture was f11

Freezing the action with a flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 10, 2010

I had an opportunity to photograph some fire-dancers on the beach. They do it at night and it’s very dramatic and beautiful. I wanted to show the beauty and motion in my images, and that gave me two main objectives for the images:

  1. Show the flowing motion of the flames.
  2. Make sure the dancer’s face and body are sharp.

To accomplish that we need a slow shutter speed to show the motion of the flames. That presents a problem; slow shutter speed always induces blur, and if I use a fast shutter speed to stop the action the flames won’t look dramatic. As the saying goes, you can’t have it both ways. Yes you can.

Here’s how it was done

First, a shutter speed needed to be established to get a nice motion blur for the flames. I started at 1/2 second and finally settled on 1 second at ISO200 for the exposure. That takes care of the flames, but the moving subject doesn’t show because she’s not illuminated enough by the flames to be visible.

Next, to illuminate the subject and freeze her in the exposure a flash is needed. The flash doesn’t affect the flames’ exposure because they aren’t reflective. The flash doesn’t affect the background because it’s too far away to be lit. The flash only exposes the subject. Keep in mind that the shutter speed controls the exposure of the background (ambient light), and the aperture (f-stop) and flash power control the exposure of the subject. So with that in mind, I chose a medium setting on the flash and adjusted the aperture accordingly. In this case, the right aperture to expose the subject correctly was 5.6.

To summarize:

Shutter speed of 1 second set the exposure of the ambient light, which in this case is the background and flames.

The aperture set the exposure of the subject and also, since the duration of the flash is so fast, stopped the motion of the subject.

This is easier than it sounds. Just get the ambient light exposed correctly first, then add flash using flash power and aperture to light up the subject.

  • Equipment used:
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 70-200mm 2.8 L IS
  • Norman 200B Flash

Comment below and send your examples!

Overpowering Ambient Light

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Models: Jill and Michael Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Sometimes it’s desirable to completely overpower the ambient light in the scene so you can control all aspects of the lighting yourself. Here’s an example of a project where there is a good bit of ambient light, but maximum control is needed.

For this maternity shoot, the couple has a lovely home and I wanted to photograph them in their own environment. It was mid-morning and there was sufficient ambient light to do the shoot with ambient light plus a fill-flash, but I decided to use studio strobes instead. The reason was control. By using the more powerful studio strobes, I could easily control the ratio of light coming in the window and the light inside the room. More importantly, I could control the direction the light came through the window.

Here’s the setup:

The key light is a large soft box and the kicker is a bare bulb outside the window.

Why it works:

Here’s an image of the set without flash. As you can see, the exposure is so underexposed, the ambient light does nothing. 


But when the flash is added the set is exposed perfectly. The result is a scene where the lighting is completely done by the strobes and none of it supplied by the ambient light. The placement of the lights creates a natural light effect.


It doesn’t take as much power as you may think to do this. Each of the two light heads was set at only 200 watt-seconds each. You could do this with regular flashes as well. All the variables in this setup are ones completely controllable.

How do you take control of light in a situation like this?


Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, November 14, 2010

I am taking up an initiative called Help-Portrait. http://help-portrait.com. Here’s the basic concept: Help-Portrait is a wold-wide movement of photographers who are using their time, equipment and expertise to give back to those who are less fortunate this holiday season. What this means is, we will set up photography stations and give less fortunate families  the ability to get high quality professional photos done of their families and walk out with a print for free.

So what will December 4th look like?

  • We will have hair and make-up artists there to provide free makeovers prior to getting their photos taken
  • We will have several photographers with lights and backgrounds taking pictures
  • We will have photo editors printing on-site
  • Each family walks out with a professionally printed photo for the holiday
  • If I can find additional partners, we will be providing other goods and services for the families

I firmly believe in what we are trying to do. Please consider getting involved at http://help-portrait.com

Lighting Styles part 2: Broad Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, November 12, 2010

Model: Francesca Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Broad lighting is a popular style of lighting for two good reasons; it’s simple to set up and it de-emphasizes flaws in the subject’s skin.

Here are the main characteristics of Broad Lighting:

- The main (key) light is close to camera axis
- Light falls mainly on the side of the face that is closest to the camera
- Good for subjects with a narrow face

The setup:

A large soft box is the best modifier to use for this style of lighting, although an umbrella works almost as well as long as it’s fairly large. 32” or larger for a head shot will work well. You can also use a window as a light source. You’ll also need a fairly large reflector, again around 32” is ideal. I prefer a gold/silver reflector, but use whatever looks best to you.

Broad lighting is also the basis for butterfly and loop lighting styles which will be covered in upcoming articles.

Give this simple lighting style a try and you can get beautiful results with just one light! Tell us about it and send some pics in the comments below.

Lighting styles part one: Rembrandt Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Model: Jake Castella Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Rembrandt lighting is named for the Dutch painter Rembrandt, who often used this type of lighting and is frequently used in studio portrait photography. It’s popular because it produces natural and dramatic lighting with minimal equipment. It can be done very easily using one light and a reflector, or two lights. Rembrandt lighting is characterized by an illuminated triangle under the eye of the subject, on the less illuminated side of the face. 

How to set it up

Put the key light high and to one side at the front, and the reflector half-height and on the other side at the front, or you can use a second light set to about half the power of the key light.

The key in Rembrandt lighting is creating the triangular shape of light underneath the eye on the shadow side of the face. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face is darker except for the triangular shape of light cast by the key light.

The triangle should be no longer than the nose and no wider than the eye. This technique can be subtle or dramatic by altering the distance between subject and lights and relative strengths of key light and light from the reflector or fill light.

Here's a very subtle effect:

Model: Liz Calver Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh


The first use of the term “Rembrandt Lighting” is credited to the movie director Cecil B. DeMille.

DeMille said that in 1915, while shooting THE WARRENS OF VIRGINIA, he used portable spotlights “to make shadows where shadows would appear in nature.” When his business partner Sam Goldwyn saw the film with only half an actor’s face illuminated, he feared the exhibitors would pay only half the price for the picture. After DeMille told him it was Rembrandt lighting, “Sam’s reply was jubilant with relief: for Rembrandt lighting the exhibitors would pay double!”

Give Rembrandt Lighting a try on your next subject!

Have anything to add? Tell us in the comments:

Lighting a glass object

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Artwork: Duncan McClellan Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Here's a real challenge: For this image, we needed a good representation of this piece of art. The challenge was to show it's semi-opaque nature and also show the raised details in the glass. Here's the setup:
A bare bulb directly behind the object
A large soft box directly to the right of the object at about 90° at the same height as the object
Another large soft box behind and to the left at about 45° at the same height as the object
White paper seamless as the background which gave an easy way to cut a slit to put the cord through for the bulb behind the object.

I decided to leave a few reflections of the soft box on the black parts of the object to show the difference between the gloss and matte parts. Even though they could be eliminated, a little bit of reflection and discrete hot spots visually indicates high gloss.

An easy, quick 2-light setup that works

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Getting good predictable results is key to doing professional portraits. Usually, professional people don't have a lot of time to wait for us to get everything perfect, so here's a good, simple plan to get great results every time:

The setup is simple; two soft boxes, one large and one small. You'll also need a reflector to open up the shadows. That's it. If your subject has dark hair, you can either add a hair light with a snoot or grid, or just move the small soft box in the back up to get some light on the hair. Here's the setup:

All the lights are set to the same power and the light to the rear with a small soft box is twice the distance from the subject as the large soft box in the front to produce a nice ratio of light.

Here is the camera and lens info:

How to know if you need a tripod

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A tripod is one of the oldest camera accessories and one of the least popular. The problem is that below a certain point, you can’t hold the camera steady enough to prevent the image from being blurred by minute movements of the camera during the exposure.

Here’s how to know when you need a tripod:

Assuming you’re using a “normal” 50mm lens, if the shutter speed will be below 1/60 second, you need a tripod. That’s for a SLR with a full frame sensor. If your camera has a smaller sensor, you’ll have to do the math. For example, a Canon 30D has a smaller sensor which gives it a multiplication factor of 1.6. Multiply 50mm x 1.6 and you get 80mm. On that camera a 50mm lens is equal to a 80mm lens on a full frame camera.

It’s also important to consider the focal length of the lens because a telephoto lens will not only magnify the image, it will also magnify any small movements causing motion blur. Here’s the formula:

The focal length of the lens is the minimum shutter speed at 100 ISO. For example, if we were using a full frame camera with a 100mm lens, any shutter speed below 1/100 second would require a tripod at 100 ISO. If you have a camera with a smaller sensor, use your multiplication factor. If we were using a Canon 30D which has a multiplication factor of 1.6, it would go like this. A 100mm lens x 1.6 is the equivalent of 160mm, so the minimum shutter speed would be 1/160 second at 100 ISO.

Confused? If you are, you’re not alone. Just consider this; a tripod will always make your image sharper than it would be hand held.

So, get out your tripod and use it. Your images will be better for it!

Dealing with rejection

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Model: Gamze Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

One of the toughest things about being a professional creative person is the rejection that is part of the business. After all, your work is very personal, and in our culture we're conditioned to connect who we are with what we do. So here are a few things to consider next time you are faced with criticism:

1: Leadership attracts criticism, therefore the price of leadership is criticism.
2: In the case of fine art (as opposed to commercial art), you didn't make it for them. You made it for you.
3: In the case of commercial art, you're just providing a service, so do your job the best you can and collect your money. It's not personal, it's work. Use that money to do something great.
4: Some people believe that they could easily do the same thing, but they have better things to do with their time.
5: Other people could do it, but you did, and you should be congratulated for it.
6: 90% of success is showing up.
7: People's pride often gets in the way. Your success reminds them of their personal failures, and they may be jealous of you.
8: Most people really aren't qualified to judge your work.
9: Comparing yourself to others is not wise.

So there you go. Don't let anyone discourage you. Stay the course and keep growing :)

How do you deal with rejection? Share in the comments please...