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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

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?

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 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.

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!

Photographing water drops the easy way

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Photo: ©Elaine Larimer
The setup is too simple; you set up a pan with water in it. Above that you hang a plasic bag filled with water and poke a hole with a needle to get a drip every second or so. With your camera on a tripod, you just start shooting and shoot until your card is full. Some of them will be keepers. Just that easy.

The setup

Here's a photo of the setup. I made the colored reflectors in Photoshop and printed them out on plain paper.

Some examples

Here are the technical info for Elaine Larimer's shots:

Canon 40D; 1/125 sec; F/6.3; Shutter priority; ISO 100, focal length 300mm on a Tamron 28-300 lens; Flash fired

Photos ©2009 Elaine Larimer

Final thoughts:

It seems that the shots looked best when the flash is set to a very low power setting since the duration of the flash is shorter at lower power. A tripod is a must. It's okay to use a low ISO because you'll be limited by the camera's maximum shutter sync speed anyway. As always, experimentation and patience are the keys to success. If you don't have a way to get your flash off your camera, you can still get great results with your flash on-camera.

Give it a try!

To see more of Elaine's work, click here.

Award-winning results from the simplest of lighting setups

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

This is a great example of using simple, natural light to get great results. Here's what Laurie Ross said about her image:
"I set up the photo after taking your (Chuck Vosburgh's) studio lighting class.
I bought red velvet at Joann's fabrics and hung it on a potting bench in my garden.  Lighting was afternoon indirect sun and the lens was a 28-300mm.  Processing was BW conversion through Photoshop, also learned in your class!
Having a gorgeous model helps!"
This image won an Honorable Mention in the Morean Arts Center Members' Show. Congratulations Laurie!

Photo © Laurie Ross

Keeping batteries under control

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I ran across this product and it's such a great idea, I don't know why no one ever thought of it before. Keeps your batteries organized, you can take 'em out with one hand, and you can put the used ones in upside down so you know they're dead. Amazing. Here's where you can get them:
Tools Aviation