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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Executive Portraits Behind the Scenes

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, May 13, 2013
Here's a little behind the scenes video of a recent job where we photographed 90 executive portraits in two days on location at a conference.

Creating Executive Portraits from Chuck Vosburgh on Vimeo.

Quick Environmental Portrait with One Light

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, March 31, 2013

I had the pleasure of teaching at Photo Day Tampa Bay and my topic was environmental portraiture. Photographing someone in an environment consistent with what they are known for makes the image more interesting and personal for the subject. In this example, it was in the middle of the day with bright sun and the trees made hot spots all over the place. Here's how it was solved step by step:

Step one: Control the sun

The sun was brought under control by blocking it with a large reflector. 

Step two: Get some light on the subject

I used an 28" umbrella, slightly to the right.

Step three: Darken the background

To help the subject stand out better, I increased the shutter speed to darken the background. 
That's it. Easy.

Points to remember

F-stop controls the artificial light and shutter speed controls the ambient light.
Longer focal length gives a shallow depth of field making the background nice and blurry.

Here are the specs:

1/60 second
ISO 100
Norman portable strobe set at 100ws

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.

What you need to get started with off-camera flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Putting together a light kit involves a lot of pieces and it's difficult to know if you got all the right parts, so here's a list of what you'll need to get your flash off your camera. You'll need a light stand, a flash holder to attach your flash to the stand and allow you to add an umbrella and to tilt the flash, a way to trigger your flash and a sand bag to keep the whole thing from falling over from wind or bumps.

Inexpensive setup that will work well

(This list assumes you already have a flash)

33" White Umbrella $10.95 

Flash Holder / Umbrella Bracket $15.25 

 Light Stand $35.00 

 Flash Trigger Kit $99.95 

 Sand Bag $12.95 

 Total Cost $174.10

Setup with higher quality components 

(This list assumes you already have a flash)

 45" Convertible Umbrella $37.95 

 Flash Holder / Umbrella Bracket $15.25

Light Stand $59.90

Flash Triggers (need 2) $149.00 ea.

Sand Bag $25.95 

Total Cost $437.05

What do you recommend? Tell us in the comments below.

Using a fill flash for a classic look

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, December 31, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Models: Natalie Budde and Lucky McGlichey. Stylist: Patricia McGlinchey.

Augmenting ambient light with a fill flash is the easiest way to get a beautiful image without a lot of equipment. In this example, a pair of glass doors provided the main light, but the shadows on the subject were too dark and hard. To soften the shadows, we used a fill flash. The fill flash was just a simple Canon 550EX flash set to manual mode, shooting through a small Photoflex Octobox. You may be wondering why we didn't just use a reflector? The reflector just didn't give enough light in the shadows for the look we were after, and the flash has more range and is a bit easier to control.

We positioned the subject for a nice loop-light pattern on her face and set the flash to control the shadows. If you have a light meter, set the flash power to about 1-1/2 stops less than the main light. If not, start at 1/4 power and adjust up or down from there. Remember to put your flash on manual mode so you'll have complete control of it. In this case, we just adjusted the flash power until it looked the way we wanted it to. 

A bare flash would have also worked well, but the octobox made the light softer for smoother transitions between shadows and highlights. Possible alternatives would have been a diffuser (scrim) or an umbrella.

Here's the setup:

A large window on the right and a small Photoflex Octobox on the left with a Canon 550EX flash.

Getting the dog in on the act

Our dog, Lucky loves Natalie and kept wanting to get in the shot so we decided to go with it. Photographing animals can be challenging and here are a few tips we used to control (somewhat) what the dog did. First, make sure only one person is interacting with the dog. If multiple people are talking to the dog all at once, the dog will get confused and  just do what it wants. The dog will usually do what it wants anyway, so be very patient and just shoot and wait. What kept Lucky's interest in this shot was the fact that Natalie had a dog treat in her lap and Lucky knows he has to sit to get a treat. A lot of it is just luck though, sometimes a dog will eventually do what you want, sometimes they won't. Know when to say when, if the dog is done, don't try to extend the session, it will just lead to frustration and a frazzled pet. If you have to get the shot and it includes a dog, consider hiring a trained dog for the part. Otherwise, just do your best and maybe you'll get a winner. Try not to get too obsessed with what you want, his would have been a nice image with or without the dog. Incidentally, if you're interested in a pet photography class, there's a great one-day workshop in St. Petersburg, Florida January 19th, 2013 click here for information.

Flash Power Pack Review

Chuck Vosburgh - Saturday, December 22, 2012

Flashes are incredibly convenient, but two issues have kept me from using them as much as I'd like; recycle time and battery life. Fortunately there's an inexpensive solution. It's the Flashgun Power Pack made by Pixel. What makes this power pack unique is that it uses standard AA batteries, the same as the flash itself. The pack holds eight batteries which along with the four already in my flash totals 12 batteries!

I ordered mine from FlashZebra.com and since it was just days before Christmas, I expected to see it well after the holiday. Nope, they shipped it Priority Mail right away which was a very pleasant surprise. It comes with the correct power cord (mine was for Canon), a case with a belt loop and a clever screw to attach it to the bottom of your camera using the tripod socket. 

My tests showed that my Canon 550EX on full power recycled nearly three times as quickly as it does normally. The additional batteries extend the time between battery changes considerably as well. There's just one thing to be careful of; the reduced recycle time can overheat your flash if you misuse it. Flash Zebra recommends no more than 15 consecutive flashes before allowing the flash to cool, which shouldn't be a problem at all. Just be aware of it or you'll melt your flash. The same is true of any external power pack.

I'm looking forward to using my flashes more!

Pixel Flashgun Power Pack

Bought from Flash Zebra


Available for most Nikon, Canon and Sony flashes

Soft Light With No Modifiers

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, December 06, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Pat McGlinchey

Look around, you could be bouncing off the wall

For this image, the first thought would be to set up a couple of soft-boxes. A couple of soft-boxes would do the job just fine, but in this case there were two considerations; there were light colored walls on both sides of the subject close enough to act as giant reflectors, and there really wasn't enough room to set up large soft-boxes anyway. The solution was to bounce the light off the walls. 

Here's the setup:

We set a strobe with a 12" parabolic reflector to bounce off the right wall and used a second strobe with a snoot to bounce off the left wall for fill light. For this shot, we wanted a ratio of about 3:1 between the main light and the fill light. Putting the fill light farther away from the wall makes the light less bright by the time it gets to the subject. To get the ratio, we first metered the main light, then adjusted the fill light to be about 1-1/2 f-stops less. That can be accomplished by either changing the power on the fill light or moving it. The snoot only serves to keep that light off the subject and the ceiling. 

You may ask "why didn't you just use another 12" parabolic reflector on the left at less power"? Good question. We found that it made the light a bit too soft because both sides were bouncing off the ceiling a bit making the light  a little flat. It was easier to just direct the light with a snoot. Another way to do it would be to block the fill light from hitting the ceiling with a piece of cinefoil, a barn door or anything else that can block light. There's no right or wrong, it's just two different ways to get the same result. The truth is the snoot was right there and something to use to flag the light off the ceiling would have required a walk to the storage room, so the snoot was the obvious choice. One thing that is not shown in the illustration below is that the actual shot was taken from a ladder.

This same look can be created using any kind of lights, clamp-on work lights, flashes or strobes. Also, consider using some large pieces of white foam board if walls aren't available. There's always a way.

Equipment used:

  • Norman 800ws Power Pack
  • 2 Norman strobe heads
  • 1 12" Parabolic reflector
  • 1 Snoot
  • Canon 5D
  • 8' ladder
Links to these pieces of equipment can be found on the Resources page

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.

Backup Strategy for Photographers

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, September 24, 2012

I've always said that there are two kinds of photographers; those who back up their files and those who eventually wish they had. Our photographs are priceless and irreplaceable and we should treat them that way. I've seen systems that range from nonexistent to insanely complex. Here's my backup workflow:

Here's how it works

In the field, as soon as possible I copy my files to my notebook computer and also to an external hard drive at the same time. Lightroom can do this simultaneously. I leave the files on the card also, which gives me three copies of the files.

Once back in the office, I copy the files to my desktop computer, which automatically back up to another hard drive hourly. The memory cards can now be erased and put back in my camera bag. I leave the files on my notebook and field external drive for now if possible.

As I work on the files, they are continuously being backed up to a second drive and once a week to a third hard drive.

One problem remains. If some kind of catastrophe happens at the office, my computer and all my backups are in the same building. The same condition that destroys my computer would also most likely destroy my backups as well. This is where off-site backups come in. Even though it's slow, my desktop is being continuously backed up online to an offsite server. I use Carbonite. Also, once a project is finished, I make a 300 year archival DVD and keep it in an off-site location. I use MAM-A gold archival disks for this.

Nothing is foolproof, but in 25 years I have never lost a file. I'm confident that as long as I follow my system I'll be fine. What's your system? Share your ideas in the comments below!

An Adapter to Make any Paint Pole or Broom Handle a Light Stand

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here's another one of those "I wish I had invented this" items. It's simple and solves a big problem for photographers who travel. Most of my assignments involve travel, and it's very inconvenient to travel with light stands by air. Stands small enough to get by as carry-on are too short and flimsy, and suitable stands have to be in a case and checked.That's where the Kacey Pole Adapter comes in. It converts any painting extension pole or threaded broom handle to be able to accent a standard photographic light. That and an assistant, some bungee cords or some tape and you have a light stand that you can find anywhere. Genius.

It's made of aluminum, small, incredibly light and very nicely made. I'll be ordering more for sure.

They're about $20. Here's a link to their web site click here. I got mine at Flash Zebra.