Facebook Linkedin Twitter Flickr RSS

Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Beach Portrait Lighting Setup

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, December 29, 2016

photo: © Jeff Titterington

Florida photographer Jeff Titterington created this sunset beach photo using a simple setup. Here's Jeff's description of how he did it: 

Two Flashpoint Explore 600 strobes set on HSS: One on my left set to TTL,  the second to the right about 15 feet set to Manual 

Two 28” beauty dishes -  the front with a sock and the second with grid.

I added very slight posterization in post-processing to the model to give her a bit of a painterly look.

Here's the setup:

Equipment and specs:

  • Canon 5DSR
  • Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II
  • 42mm
  • ISO100
  • f2.8
  • 1/8000 second

See more of Jeff's work at jefftitteringtonphoto.com

Reflectors have been used since the beginning

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Here's a great old engraving showing the use of a reflector.

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.

Vintage Glamour Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, February 21, 2014
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Megan Beckler
For this portrait of model and photographer Megan Beckler, we decided to do a vintage look. Vintage lighting is simple and usually consists of just two or three lights. In this case, a beauty dish was used as a main light, a strip-box was used as a separation light and a large reflector supplied the fill light.

Here's the setup:

The most important hints to remember are to make sure the main light is positioned so the catch light is in the upper quadrant of the eye and that the main light is far enough to the side to add contrast and dimension to the subject. If you use a separation light, make sure it doesn't spill light on the front of the subject, especially on their nose.

Equipment used:

Large beauty dish
Large Photoflex strip box
Large soft-gold Photoflex reflector
Links to all these pieces are on the resources page.

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!

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.

Fill Flash Made Easy

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Here's an easy way to use fill flash

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Kristy Neuenschwander. Assistant: Pat McGlinchey

Fill flash does one thing; it lightens up shadows. By using fill flash, you can control the exposure of the background and the subject separately. Below is a photo taken with the sky the way I wanted it to appear. The problem is that it leaves the subject way too dark, and if I expose the subject properly the sky will be too light. Here's where the fill flash comes in.


It's a two-step process

1: Get the background exposed the way you want it.

2: Add enough light on the subject to expose it the way you want.

But there's a catch

Most cameras can't sync with an off-camera flash at more than 1/200 of a second. That means the shutter speed must stay below the sync speed no matter what. To make that happen, you may need to adjust the aperture and/or ISO. Also remember that like everything else in photography, there are always limits to what is possible.

So, getting back to the example, the first shot is 1/60 of a second at f-8 and ISO 100. The second shot is the same, except a flash was added. The way I do it is to set the flash at 1/4 power and either use a flash meter to determine the exposure or take a test shot and then adjust from there. Remember, you already have the background set, so all that we need to do is adjust the light on the subject. There are two ways to control the light on the subject; flash power and aperture. The shutter speed controls the ambient light (background). In this case, I increased the flash power to 1/2 power and it was perfect. Increasing the aperture to f-5.6 would have produced the same result if I left the flash power at 1/4 power. Open up the aperture or increase the flash power. Both are effective ways of making the exposure of the subject lighter.

The setup

The setup is simple. One off-camera flash.

The best way to master fill flash is to get out and use it, so get out and experiment! You'll master it in no time at all.

Photogenic Ion Product Review

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I've always been skeptical of batteries for studio strobes and have instead used a gasoline powered generator when needed or just made do with portable strobes and speed lights. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I ordered a Photogenic Ion ($399 from Adorama). When it arrived I was amazed at how small and light it is and wondered how it could possibly live up to Photogenic's claims. "This will probably be going back" I thought. I was wrong.

Putting it to the test

I'm not too big on scientific tests so I took it out shooting. It either works for me or it doesn't. The photo shoot was with a bunch of photo-friends so if it failed, no big deal. I plugged in two monolights; a 500 w.s. and a 250 w.s. Bowens. I used them on a variety of settings that ranged from 1/4 to full power. After well over 100 shots, the battery still had a plenty of juice left, so I let my friends shoot with it. By the end of the evening and a LOT of shots, the battery was down to 25% power. Amazing.
Next I used it on a real job. The job required nearly 150 shots at power settings from 250 w.s. to 500 w.s. and the battery still had not even gone down to 75%! This is not going back!

Final impressions

The recycle time is noticeably slower using the Ion, but not annoyingly slow. It is extremely portable and easy to use. It even has a USB outlet for charging your phone. Genius. I am very happy with my Ion and it will open up a lot of possibilities on locations where it was not possible to take high powered lights. Anyone want to buy a used gasoline powered generator?

Should you buy one?


Here's what the manufacturer says:


Eliminate your large noisy gas generators and old fashioned humongous inverters. The all new Photogenic lithium-ion battery powered ION pure sine wave inverter takes your studio flash units on location the easy way. The ION is a powerful, lightweight, get outta town AC power supply that features two AC outlets for two monolights. Weighing in at only 3.5 lbs with a compact 7.5" x 4.4" x 3.3" profile, ION is the perfect lighting travel companion. Pack the ION and a couple of extra batteries with your lights and head out to your next shoot. It doesn't matter if your destination is the top of Mount Everest, the middle of the Kalahari or your sister in-law's wedding, this powerful combination will give you over 3,500 flashes (about 1200 per battery) at an amazing 320 watt seconds. While on your way to the next job, use ION's built-in USB port to power-up your phone or other electronic devices. Charge time to 100% for the lithium-ion battery is 3-4 hours. A glance at the LED battery meter on ION's control panel verifies the battery power level. 

You can get more information here.

Lighting a car inside and out

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, September 29, 2013

100 ISO, 1/3 second at f-8. Focal Length: 29mm. 

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Art Director: Michael Wilkinson. Models: Mirela Aldea and Rafael Hamis.

The best solution is usually the simplest and it took just three battery powered flashes to get exactly what the client wanted. The key to success was prior planning and getting there early enough to get everything all set up and do some tests before the models arrived. Once they arrived, all that was needed was simple tweaking and we were ready to go. Since the exposure was long, one third of a second, it was important to instruct the models to hold their position until the exposure was finished or there would most likely be a small halo around them. Each shot was done the way I thought looked best and also one stop lighter. That way, I would have more to work with back on the computer if needed. As it turned out it wasn't, but I'm not one to leave anything to luck.

The Process:

I started with the people in the car since it was the most difficult and vital part of the image. With that done, everything else will fall into place.To illuminate the models inside the car, a flash was used behind the back seat of the car firing toward the back of the car and bouncing the light back toward the models using a small white reflector. I adjusted the power of the flash until I could get f-8. I knew I needed a long depth of field and the combination of the wide angle lens and f-8 gave me enough depth of field to be safe. There are several apps you can get on your phone that can help you determine the depth of field. I use PhotoCalc to quickly make sure I'm ok. The little screen on the back of the camera can not show focus well enough to trust. I also recommend using a light meter to make your setup easier. Once that was set, the next step was to illuminate the outside of the car. A combination of ambient light augmented by a portable strobe with a small parabolic reflector to illuminate the side of the car and the guitar. The back of the car was illuminated by a flash with a small flag to block some of the light and keep the flash from casting a glare on the rear window of the car.

The Setup:

Equipment Used

  • Two Canon 550EX Flashes
  • Norman 200B Portable Strobe
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 16-35 f-2.8L Lens

Keeping it simple does two things; it minimizes the variables and the chances for failures and by doing so it reduces your stress and workload which allows you to focus your attention on the details of the shot. Attention to details is frequently the difference between success and mediocrity. How do you keep it simple? Please share your ideas in the comments :)