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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

You don't always need a fill flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Saturday, August 30, 2014

Frequently, a reflector will get the job done with a lot less work

Here's a late-afternoon beach photo. The sun was behind the subject which put her face in the shadow. A fill-flash could be used as a fill light, but for this situation, there's an easier way. A 32" Photoflex white/soft gold reflector (using the soft gold side) was used. Here's the same photo without a reflector:


As you can see, having the subject in the shadow obscures detail and makes the subject look flat. Adding the reflector adds dimension and a better tonal range. The best part of using a reflector is that you can see what you will get right away and easily make adjustments by moving the reflector.

Reflector tips:

  • Keep the reflector a little off to the side to create dimension and avoid blinding the subject
  • Adjust the brightness of the fill light from the reflector by moving the reflector closer or farther away from the subject.
  • Move around and find the right angle
  • I recommend a white/soft gold reflector. Soft gold warms the skin tones without overdoing it

The setup:

Reflector options:

  • Buy a reflector
  • Use a piece of white foam board
  • Use a reflective car windshield shade
  • Anything flat and light colored will work

Grab a reflector, get out and have fun!


Lighting comedian Meredith Myers

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, August 24, 2014


Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Client/model: Meredith Myers. Assistant: Scott Edwards.

The assignment

Photograph The Standup Librarian Meredith Myers in a cramped, dark library setting. Meredith wanted it to have a classical dark library feel and also feature the trademark costume of her character along with some other items that are important to her craft. The biggest challenge was the cramped quarters. To solve it, the lights had to be closer than usual to the subject. When the lights are very close, the inverse square law makes it important that the diastance between the main light and the subject be kept consistent, so no moving around while shooting without re-metering. Since this was a well thought out set-up there was no worry about the subject moving too much.

The setup

As usual, there are three main sources of light; the main light, the fill light and the separation light. The main light was provided by a beauty dish on the left. The reason I chose a beauty dish is that it has fairly soft light without spilling too much light on the rest of the scene. To further direct the light, I put a bit of Cinefoil (black foil) on the back side of the beauty dish to keep the light off the background. The fill light was provided by a reflector on the right, and I hid a flash between some books on the shelf behind there to provide some separation light. The separation light was turned down until it was about two stops less than the main light. Or to put it another way, it was one quarter as much light.


Equipment used:

Canon 5D

Canon 50mm lens

Canon 550EX flash

Pocket Wizard triggers

Bowens 500 monolight

Bowens beauty dish

You can easily replicate this look with any kind of directional main light or by using something to block the light from the background. Controlling light spill is the key to getting this kind of look.

Anything can be a reflector

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I received this e-mail from a photographer today and it shows how there are things you can use to improve your photographs everywhere. This is an ingenious use of a makeshift reflector.

Photographer: Mark Davis

Hi Chuck:

I noticed some interesting light coming into my kitchen on Sunday and decided to shoot a garlic bulb on the kitchen counter.  Since one side was too dark, and remembering that you said anything could serve as a reflector, I quickly found a cash register receipt and . . . voila!

You are a good teacher!
Mark

Great work Mark!

Real Old-School Lighting Set-Up

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, January 02, 2014

Much of the portraiture done a hundred years ago stands up today because of its lighting, composition and technical excellence. The example above was obviously done professionally and there is a lot we can learn by examining it.

The lighting

One thing that is amazing is how little equipment was typically used back then. Most likely the main light was a large window with a reflector on the left to lighten up the shadows slightly. If artificial light was used, it was probably a single large beauty dish and the same reflector on the left. That's it. The tone of the background was controlled by either using a gobo (something to block the light) or with the distance between the subject and the background, or a combination of both. This basic one-light setup was set up to create a Rembrandt lighting pattern which is characterized by the triangular shadow on the shadow side of the subject's cheek. There is more information on Rembrandt lighting elsewhere on this blog. Since the subject has a triangular face, the photographer decided on broad lighting, which is the lit side of the nose closest to, or facing the camera. Narrow lighting is the opposite, the shadow side of the nose faces the camera. Learn more about broad and narrow lighting here.

To create this image with artificial light today, you could use a beauty dish, soft bow or umbrella as a main light, a reflector for fill light and some kind of gobo to control how much light hits the background.

The setup

If you're looking for inspiration, look back to the masters.

Plan B - dealing with unexpected on-location issues

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 14, 2013


Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Maria DjMarki Boutzoukas

We planned to photograph this one outside in an alley with a cool motorcycle, but there was a problem. It was raining. Things like this happen al the time and when they do you have to be flexible. When faced with a situation that just won't work as planned, it's hard to let go of the original idea and struggle to somehow make it work anyway. I've found that the best thing to do once you realize your idea won't work is to start looking for an alternate. The alternate in this case was a dirty, cramped, dark shop. Perfect. We moved some of the equipment around to make an interesting background. We photographed our subject standing, but it just wasn't intimate, so we found a bucket for her to sit on. That worked.

The lighting

The lighting on this was simple; a beauty-dish for a main light, a snoot for an accent light and a reflector to fill in the shadows. The biggest challenge on this was to find a good place behind the subject to place the accent light without being in the frame. The accent light (also known as hair light and rim light) is important because it helps separate the subject from the background and it helps make the subject more three dimensional. Putting the light behind an to the left created a little bit of hair light, some rim lighting around the edge of her jacket and a nice accent on the left side of her face. Use an accent light if you can and your images will be much better for it. The accent light should be between 1-2 stops less than your main light and make sure you position it so it won't cause a lens flare.

The setup


The moral of the story

Arrive early and be ready for a total change of plans. Ideally, go ahead of time and scout the location so you'll have options in mind just in case. Frequently, plan B ends up being better than the original idea.

Pinup Model and a Hotrod Car

Chuck Vosburgh - Saturday, January 26, 2013

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Erin Faultin, Stylist: Pat McGlinchey, Car: Paul and Julie Swink.

Who doesn't love pinups and hot rods? This was a lot of fun, and it was done quickly without a lot of equipment. 

The street where this was shot was pretty dark, so there was no practical way of including any ambient light, so we used two lights and a reflector to supply all of the light for the shot. The main light uses a 60" umbrella on the left. I chose a large umbrella because it provides nice soft light for our model, and spills a lot of light onto the car as well. A large white reflector on the right help to lighten up the shadows and also casts some light on the door of the car. There was a danger of having our subject's hair blend in with the dark interior of the car, so a hair light was added, which also serves as a kicker to cast some light on the right side of the subject. This does two things; it provides a nice hair and rim light to separate the subject from the background, and the light it casts on the right side of her face helps make her look more dimensional. Being able to shine the hair/kicker light through the back window of the car worked out very well.

The only thing that was challenging was to control the shadow side of the subject from getting too dark. A large reflector worked just fine for this even though the door was in the way. The reflector kept us from having to add a third light. 

Here's the setup

Main light: Bowens 500ws with a 60" Umbrella. Fill: 42" White Reflector. Hair/Kicker Light: Bowens 200ws with a 6" Reflector.


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!

Look Around – More Options may be Right Behind You

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Ninell Taveras. Location: The St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art

It’s easy to get many different looks without moving very far.

Being able to get several different looks in the same area reduces your workload and helps keep the shoot moving so your model stays fresh and in the case of an outdoor shoot, keeps his or her hair and makeup looking good. In this example, all the images were photographed within about a 15 foot radius with a simple fill-flash. The whole thing took very little time.

It’s easy to focus on the area you intend to shoot and miss other nearby opportunities. Arrive early so you can take a look around by yourself without distractions. Chances are you’ll find a lot of options. That way, when people arrive you’ll have a plan. Having a plan reduces stress and makes you look professional.


Classic Female Pose and Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, October 08, 2012

Here's a classic way to photograph females

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Natalie Budde

In this example, we used the standard female pose, which is the subject looking over her shoulder at the camera. It's a flattering pose and one that will always get a positive reaction. Combine it with the classic Rembrandt lighting pattern and you'll have a beautiful portrait that will stand the test of time. When you use this pose, have your subject keep their arms at their sides and try not to have them hold this pose for too long. It can be an uncomfortable pose and if you make your subject uncomfortable it will show in your photographs.

For the lighting, we set the lights in the Rembrandt pattern which is characterized by the triangular shape of light on the subject's cheek. There's an article about Rembrandt lighting on this site. 

Here's the setup:

Give this classic look a try. It's simple, elegant and timeless.

App for finding locations to shoot

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, August 23, 2012

ShootLocal is an app that allows you to take a photograph of a good location to shoot, add notes and it records the location of the photograph. Other photographers can search uploaded photos.

Here's what the maker has to say about the app:

ShootLocal is a social utility for photographers and videographers to scout, shoot, share and discover locations. The app is meant to simplify and enhance the process of finding and sharing new locations: connecting creatives to the world around them. In ShootLocal’s world, everyone is a location scout adding wonderful scenes and picturesque backdrops for you to capture in your next project. 

This app will be a utility to some and a game or a hobby to others.
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For pros:
-> Create location databases for projects
-> Send or review locations across the country
-> Reduce resourcing costs for shoots
-> Set up a hunt for a particular element or location
-> Discover more, faster
-> Meet like-minded individuals

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For play:
-> Share your favorite locations with friends 
-> Follow popular scouts and see through their lens
-> Know where to shoot and explore when you travel
-> Plan a photo shoot like a pro
-> Find nearby photo enthusiasts
-> Be rewarded with in-app badges


Features ->
Save your locations w/ multiple photos, tags and descriptions
Share locations
Find & Follow your friends/scouts
Search by location, tags or description
Twitter integration
Find nearby locations
Request a location (Location Hunts)
Reviews/Comment on locations
Save locations as favorites
Get badges
Notifications
Download it for free today at the App Store or check out the web site.