Facebook Linkedin Twitter Flickr RSS

Lighting is Easy Blog

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

The Easy Way to use Fill Flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, August 02, 2012

Most photographers shy away from using fill flash because it seems complicated. Use this two-step process to easily get great results every time.

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Kimberly Ridgeway. Photo Editor: Jessie Adler. Photographer’s Assistant: Patricia McGlinchey. 

The Problem

The subject is in the shadows, so if you make the subject look good, the background will be too light or completely white. If you make the background look good the subject will be too dark. You want both the background and the subject to look good.


The Solution Step One

Start by getting a good overall exposure of the scene. Use Manual Mode on your camera and set the shutter speed to 1/125 second or less. Don’t worry about how your subject looks, just get the background looking the way you want it to by leaving the shutter speed at 1/125 second or less and change the aperture (f-stop) to adjust the exposure. 

The solution Step Two

All that’s needed to make this photograph look great is to add enough light on the subject to make her look good. If you have a light meter, this step is quicker, but for this example I’ll assume you don’t have a light meter with you.

Put your flash on a stand or have someone hold it. Put the flash on Manual Mode and set the Power to 1/2. Take a test shot and see if the subject is too light or too dark. In this example, the subject was too dark. Adjust the aperture up or down. Since this example the subject was too dark, the aperture was opened up a couple of stops. You can also adjust the power of the flash to make the subject lighter or darker, or move the flash closer or farther away.


What if my aperture is open all the way and the subject is still too dark?

If you can’t or don’t want to open the aperture any more, increase the power on the flash.

What if my aperture is open all the way and my flash is on full power and the subject is still too dark?

Move the flash closer to the subject take a test shot, adjust the distance until the subject looks good.

What if the subject is still too dark?

Increase the ISO on your camera or add another flash or a more powerful flash.

Why it Works

The flash will lighten up the subject, but since the background is pretty far away, the flash won’t reach it. A regular flash only reaches about 10-20 feet, usually closer to 10. Remember, the shutter speed must be slower than the sync speed of your camera. 1/125 second or less is safe. Read your camera’s instructions or experiment to see if you can go higher. The shutter speed controls the exposure of the background and the aperture controls the exposure of the subject. The flash power and distance can also be used to control the exposure of the subject.

The Setup:

Equipment Used:

Canon 5D camera body

Canon 70-200 lens

Two Pocket Wizard Plus IIs, one on the camera and one on the flash

A Canon 550EX flash held by an assistant

Controlling contour in portraits

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, June 29, 2012

Photographer, Chuck Vosburgh. Model: JoAnn Jensen

In studio lighting, it's often a temptation to use the largest soft-box you can to get maximum softness in a portrait. The down side to that is that the portrait can look flat, lacking contour and dimension. There are two ways to control contour and dimension in a photograph; angle and size of the light. The more you move the light to the side of the subject the more contour shows, and the smaller the light source is, the more contour shows. Like everything else in photography, it's a trade-off. Too much contour shows every flaw in the subject's skin and too little makes them look too flat. Taking your time and experiencing will help you decide what's best for your subject and your preferences. Take the time to adjust the angle of the light for each subject. The same angle won't be the best on everybody. Even though it looks good, careful evaluation and experimentation will make it the best it can be.

The good news is that it's very simple and easy

For this example, a large parabolic (bowl) reflector was used on the light as a main (key) light and the shadows are being controlled by a large soft-gold reflector. Start with the main light at 45° up and 45° to the side and about six feet away with no reflector to fill the shadows. Adjust the angle of the light to get a nice Rembrandt or Loop style lighting pattern on the face, along with a nice catch-light in the eyes. Shoot and adjust to suit you. Add a reflector to fill the shadows, moving it in closer to lighten the shadows, farther away to darken the shadows. Add a hair light to separate the subject from the background and a light on the background and you have a very nice portrait setup.

Here's the setup:

You can use any lights to make this setup: Strobes like in the example or flashes with an umbrella for the main light and a flash for the hair and background. You can also use clamp-on lights from the hardware store. Give it a try, it's easy. Let me know how you make out.

Portrait of the week

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, June 18, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Michelle Knapp

Here's a simple portrait set-up that differs from my usual set-up slightly. This one uses a strip light for the hair light instead of a snoot or grid. The strip light offers a bit more flexibility for positioning the model without having to reposition the light and also puts more rim-light on the shoulders and arms than a snoot or grid.

Here's the setup:

Main: Large soft-box

Fill: Large soft-gold reflector

Hair Light: Medium Photoflex half dome with grid (strip light)

A very effective portrait lighting setup

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Last week I attended a workshop at the Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association by well-known portrait photographer Michael J. In his workshop he demonstrated his techniques photographing pets and he used a complex but very effective lighting setup that is frequently used by in-studio portrait photographers. It typically uses between five and seven lights, and once you get it set up once, you'll be able to replicate it again.

Here's the setup:

Notice how the main light is feathered away from the background so it doesn't spill over onto the background. This allows total control of the background using the background lights. The rim lights provide plenty of light on the sides of the subject to allow this kind of feathering of the main light. Grids are used extensively to give precise control to the background, rim and hair lights and also prevent the possibility of lens glare. If you have access to several lights and modifiers, give this setup a try. You'll love the results!

Another vital tool for on-location work

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, May 08, 2012

If you've ever done a photo-shoot on-location you know that moving your equipment around is one of the hardest parts of the project. After many different failed solutions, here's what I have been using for the past few years and it works perfectly for me. It's designed for another type of creative professional that has the same needs we do in regard to moving lots of heavy equipment - musicians.

The thing I like best about it is that it folds down very small, can open up very large and can carry a lot of weight. It's like the swiss army knife of carts. Here's what the manufacturer has to say about it:

The Rock N Roller Multi-Cart 8-in-1 R6 Mini Equipment Transporter Cart makes getting your audio equipment in and out of gigs a breeze! We all know that load-ins and load-outs can be the worst part of a gig. Either you're sweating before you play or dreading the number of trips you'll be making after the gig through narrow corridors, cellars, and staircases, or over the length of several football fields. 
The Rock N Roller cart changes all that with its ability to instantly transform into any of 8 helpful configurations. Carry up to 500 lb. on the Rock N Roller R6 equipment cart's 2-rail frameextendable from 28" to 42-1/2"and 24" (front/rear) foldable sides. Weighing only 25 lb., the R6 equipment transporting cart carries huge loads but folds flat to fit even in the trunk of a compact car. 
Rock N Roller R6 Multi-Cart configurations: Storage-Transport, Short Furniture Dolly, Short Platform Cart, Short Hi-Stacker, Long Hi-Stacker, Long Platform Cart, Long Furniture Dolly, And 2-Wheel Handtruck. 
Applications for the R6 Equipment Transporter: Guitar/bass equipment, small drums, small PA's, DJ, photo/video, general use 

Never sweat before a gig againor hurt yourself trying to carry more gear than you should to save trips! Make load-ins a breeze and order an R6 multi-cart today!

This one is the medium-sized one. There's also a larger off-road version with larger wheels and a smaller one. I have the large and medium ones and they suit me just fine. I got mine here at Guitar Center.

Do you have anything that's worked well for you? Please share in the comments below!

An important tool for on-location work

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Knee pads. Yes, knee pads.

Changing your point of view from a standing position to a low angle almost always improves your image. But if you're like me, you're reluctant to get down low for fear of getting your pants dirty or hurting your knees. That's where knee pads can save the day. Knee pads make you more likely to get down low and more likely to get better images because of it. And they look cool!

What to get

There are two main types of knee pads; flat and round. The ones with a flat surface are a bit more restrictive to moving around, so I recommend the ones with rounded knees. Get the "pro" models, they're more comfortable and durable. The cheap ones are no bargain because they'll wear out fast. I got mine at Home Depot for about $30 and love them.

So, go get a pair and get down!

Do you have any tools you use that aren't originally for photography? Tell us in the comments below.

Portrait of a Belly Dancer

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Omaris.

For this portrait, it was important to show the texture of the costume and make the drape and subject look very three-dimensional. Flat lighting with large soft-boxes would flatten the appearance of the image. Keep in mind that the angle of incidence, or the the angle that the light strikes the subject controls how much the texture and form of the subject are defined. If the light is straight toward the subject relative to the camera, the texture and form will be flattened and texture will be diminished. If the light is from the side, texture and form will be emphasized. You can control how much the texture and form are shown by the angle of the light anywhere between straight-on and side-lit.

For this image, a simple 12" parabolic reflector (bowl) was used as a key light. The key light was set at 45° camera right, and about 45° above eye level of the subject. That's the standard starting position for Rembrandt-style lighting and a good way to show texture and form without looking overly dramatic. To open up the shadows on the left side of the subject, a large soft-gold reflector was placed close to the subject, just outside the frame. The distance of the reflector to the subject controls the tone of the shadows. The shaft of light on the background was added by a snoot set to the right of the background at a shallow angle.

Here's the set-up:

It's easy.

Why you don’t need more equipment

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 23, 2011

We all love equipment, especially me. I frequently find myself thinking “if I had this I could do that”. When I speak with people about photography, students and colleagues alike, conversation quickly turns to equipment. We all love it and I see it hurting some talented people.

It’s a paradox. The best investment you can make is in your own business, but like everything else, excess is dangerous.

The new math

Vosburgh math. That’s what my accountant calls it. I can justify any purchase. You name it and I can prove that I can’t afford not to get it. I can convince myself very well. Need or want? I hate that question. For me some things that make “want” look a lot like “need” are pride, trying to be like someone else, and thinking that something besides myself is holding me back. Sometimes it’s hard to admit these things, but I have feeling I’m not alone on this.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Dave Ramsey: “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like”.

When I was new to the business, I noticed that the old-timers didn’t use much equipment. I reasoned it was that they were old and didn’t have the energy to set up a lot of stuff. Wrong. They didn’t need it and I’ve found that as I get older and better at my craft, I use a lot less equipment than I used to. Those old guys were working smart. Study the masters whose work you admire and see what kind of equipment they had at their disposal. That will make you stop and think. And just for the record I still have plenty of energy to set things up.

Recently, I had a retired photographer whom I admire greatly visit my class. I had the oldest, lamest light kit I own that night and he was amazed at the equipment. “You mean you can adjust these lights by three stops?! Wow!” He told me about the light kit he used when he was working, and I remembered being just as amazed at a friend’s light recently that adjusts in tenth of a stop increments and has a rang of umpteen stops. It’s all relative. 

The money sucking, endless treadmill of death

Exaggeration? Yes, but not by much. Picture this; if you get that lens, you’ll be able to do work like that famous person you like and you’ll really advance your career. If you also have that body, you’ll have the kind of resolution the big clients probably want, and you’ll really advance your career. Now your lights are too slow… It goes on and on and on.

Equipment purchasing truths:

1: If I can’t pay cash, I can’t afford it.

2: If I can’t afford it and actually need it, I can rent or borrow it.

3: If the equipment to do a job costs more than the job pays, I can’t do that job and should refer it to a colleague.

4: Debt is almost never an acceptable option.

5: Clients don’t care what equipment I use.

6: My colleagues don’t care what equipment I use.

7: I’ve done some of my best work without that new thing that I want.

Do I always abide by these truths? Of course not! But the more I do the better off I am.

Share your thoughts in the comments :)

One flash, One Small Umbrella

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: JoAnn Jensen

You can get good results with just one flash. In this example, the only light was a single flash and a small shoot-through umbrella. The white walls act as big reflectors to soften the light. The disadvantages to using small flashes are power and recycle time. The advantage is that it's a LOT less money. For this image, the stairway was very dimly lit and the flash was set to half power which allowed an aperture of f-8 at 200 ISO. Not bad. 

Here's the setup:

Equipment: Canon 550EX flash, 24" shoot-hrough umbrella, stand, radio trigger.

Highlights of the Chiaroscuro Workshop in St. Petersburg

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 09, 2011