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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Beach Portrait Lighting Setup

Charles 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


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.

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.

The Inverse Square Law Made Easy

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, October 10, 2013

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 :)

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
f-5.6
90mm
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.