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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Review: Photoflex 60” Convertible Umbrella

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 03, 2011

One of my colleagues swears by the Photoflex 60” Convertible Umbrella, so I decided to buy one and give it a try. I’ve always been more of a soft-box person myself, but the convenience of an umbrella is very appealing for strobist-style off-camera flash photography.

Model: Mavis Gibson, Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

For my test, I set up a simple environmental portrait. I used both the reflective and shoot-through modes and found that the shoot-through mode provided a bit softer light and was a bit more efficient transmitting light.

Here’s the setup:

I used a Canon 550EX behind the model to provide rim-light which helps separate the model from the background and a create nice highlight on her hair. For the key light, I used another Canon 550EX with the Photoflex 60” umbrella. The exposure for the background was 1/10 second at f5.6. The back flash was set to 1/32 power and the main flash was set to 1/8 power. The flashes were triggered by MicroSync radio triggers. 

The bottom line

I’ve always found Photoflex products to be of high quality and very durable and this is no exception. The only issue I found was the center part of the removable cover looked like a few stitches were coming loose after a few uses. It’s very minor and the only issue I could find. If it looks like it’s getting any worse I know Photoflex will correct it. In use, the umbrella is easy to open and close and the removable cover is easy to remove and re-attach. One thing I especially like about this umbrella is that the ribs are made of fiberglass instead of steel which will keep the umbrella from getting those ugly rust marks along the ribs. I’ll be using this umbrella on a few projects in the upcoming days and expect it will become one of my favorites for on-location work.

This umbrella performs well and appears to be one that will outlast many of my other umbrellas. At $37.50 at B&H it’s a great way to get nice soft light without spending much. Add a reflector to your kit and you have a versatile set of modifiers. Also, if you plan on using this outdoors, get a sandbag to weight down your stand. It doesn’t take much of a breeze to turn this size umbrella into a kite.

You can do this shot

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, January 27, 2011

This image is a plastic grocery bag. Don’t believe me? Here’s how to do it:

I started out with a plastic bag, crumpled it up and hung it from the chandelier in the dining room. I determined an exposure that would make the room go black. Next I added a flash behind the bag and tried an exposure at 1/4 power. From there I adjusted the power of the flash to get a nice exposure. You can also use the aperture settings to adjust the exposure. I tried a bunch of different positions for the flash, different crumpling of the bag, and different angles to get some interesting images. If you’re not comfortable with a flash yet, tape it to a window.

Here’s the setup:

This setup produced a few interesting images.

I chose one and went to work on it in photoshop. Here’s a short video on the Photoshop part of the project:

There are hundreds of household items that can make interesting images. Now it’s your turn. Let us know about yours in the comments.

Flash vs. Portable Strobe for Off-Camera Flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, January 20, 2011

Recently I saw a crazy flash rig that holds twelve speedlights!  It got me thinking...

Obviously, the rig is designed to increase the output, but just the flashes alone cost well over $5000. It was impressive, but do we all need twelve flashes? If light output is the issue,  consider a portable strobe. Portable strobes have been ubiquitous among wedding photographers for years and they can be used alone or along with flashes for multiple-light setups.

Putting it to the test

For my test, I used a Canon 550EX and a Norman 200. Both are not the newest models, but they’re perfect for comparison. I set up both lights on stands at one end of my testing facility (my garage) and a light meter about 15 feet away. At full power, the Canon flash registered f4 and the Norman portable strobe registered f8. As expected, the Norman produced more light. 4x as much light as the Canon to be exact.

In Dollars

Canon 550EX flash full power (1/1) = f4

Norman 200B portable strobe at full power (200 watt-seconds) = f8

Portable strobe=4x the light

Canon 550EX flash has a Guide Number of 180, and costs $329 used at Adorama. Four of them would cost $1316   (Canon 580 flash has Guide Number of 190 and costs $435 at Adorama. Four of them would cost $1740)

The Norman 200 portable strobe costs $1194 at B&H.

The newest models compared

Here’s a quick comparison of the latest from Canon and Norman:

Canon 580, $435 would produce just a tad over f4

Norman 400, $1398 would produce f16

Update: Guide numbers are accurate between manufacturers. In fact one of the reasons guide numbers were invented was to be able to compare flash bulbs from different manufacturers. ONCE YOU ADJUST FOR THE ISO DIFFERENCE, THE GUIDE NUMBERS WILL BE ACCURATE AND USEFUL. Manufacturers often raise the ISO in a guide number test to make it seem as though their flash is stronger than it really is. "guide number of 190 at ISO XXX" is the fair description. Thanks to Jeffrey Luhn for the additional information. 

Buying Used

Canon 550EX used=$200 x4=$800

Norman 200C used=$350

So, should you buy a portable strobe instead of more flashes? It depends on your budget and needs. For me, one portable strobe and two flashes pretty much covers everything I do on location. For bigger jobs, I use studio strobes powered by a long extension cord or a generator.

There are several good brands of flashes and portable strobes. I chose the ones for testing just because that’s what I have.

What are you using and how does it work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

photos: bhphotovideo.com, whereisben.com

Loop Lighting Style

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 31, 2010

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Gina

Loop lighting is a variation of short lighting where a small loop-shaped shadow appears under the subject’s nose. It’s a popular classic lighting pattern and one that is easy to set up with just one light. For this example, the light was set to the left about 10” above the model’s head. A reflector was added on the right to illuminate the shadow side of the face. When you do this style of lighting, just move the light until you get the right shape shadow under the nose.

Here's the setup:


Equipment used:
  • Norman power pack and light head
  • 32" Umbrella
  • 32" Silver/Gold reflector
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L lens
Lens was set at at 150mm and the aperture was f11

Freezing the action with a flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 10, 2010

I had an opportunity to photograph some fire-dancers on the beach. They do it at night and it’s very dramatic and beautiful. I wanted to show the beauty and motion in my images, and that gave me two main objectives for the images:

  1. Show the flowing motion of the flames.
  2. Make sure the dancer’s face and body are sharp.

To accomplish that we need a slow shutter speed to show the motion of the flames. That presents a problem; slow shutter speed always induces blur, and if I use a fast shutter speed to stop the action the flames won’t look dramatic. As the saying goes, you can’t have it both ways. Yes you can.

Here’s how it was done

First, a shutter speed needed to be established to get a nice motion blur for the flames. I started at 1/2 second and finally settled on 1 second at ISO200 for the exposure. That takes care of the flames, but the moving subject doesn’t show because she’s not illuminated enough by the flames to be visible.

Next, to illuminate the subject and freeze her in the exposure a flash is needed. The flash doesn’t affect the flames’ exposure because they aren’t reflective. The flash doesn’t affect the background because it’s too far away to be lit. The flash only exposes the subject. Keep in mind that the shutter speed controls the exposure of the background (ambient light), and the aperture (f-stop) and flash power control the exposure of the subject. So with that in mind, I chose a medium setting on the flash and adjusted the aperture accordingly. In this case, the right aperture to expose the subject correctly was 5.6.

To summarize:

Shutter speed of 1 second set the exposure of the ambient light, which in this case is the background and flames.

The aperture set the exposure of the subject and also, since the duration of the flash is so fast, stopped the motion of the subject.

This is easier than it sounds. Just get the ambient light exposed correctly first, then add flash using flash power and aperture to light up the subject.

  • Equipment used:
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 70-200mm 2.8 L IS
  • Norman 200B Flash

Comment below and send your examples!

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 styles part one: Rembrandt Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Model: Jake Castella Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Rembrandt lighting is named for the Dutch painter Rembrandt, who often used this type of lighting and is frequently used in studio portrait photography. It’s popular because it produces natural and dramatic lighting with minimal equipment. It can be done very easily using one light and a reflector, or two lights. Rembrandt lighting is characterized by an illuminated triangle under the eye of the subject, on the less illuminated side of the face. 

How to set it up

Put the key light high and to one side at the front, and the reflector half-height and on the other side at the front, or you can use a second light set to about half the power of the key light.

The key in Rembrandt lighting is creating the triangular shape of light underneath the eye on the shadow side of the face. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face is darker except for the triangular shape of light cast by the key light.

The triangle should be no longer than the nose and no wider than the eye. This technique can be subtle or dramatic by altering the distance between subject and lights and relative strengths of key light and light from the reflector or fill light.

Here's a very subtle effect:

Model: Liz Calver Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh


The first use of the term “Rembrandt Lighting” is credited to the movie director Cecil B. DeMille.

DeMille said that in 1915, while shooting THE WARRENS OF VIRGINIA, he used portable spotlights “to make shadows where shadows would appear in nature.” When his business partner Sam Goldwyn saw the film with only half an actor’s face illuminated, he feared the exhibitors would pay only half the price for the picture. After DeMille told him it was Rembrandt lighting, “Sam’s reply was jubilant with relief: for Rembrandt lighting the exhibitors would pay double!”

Give Rembrandt Lighting a try on your next subject!

Have anything to add? Tell us in the comments:

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.

An easy, quick 2-light setup that works

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Getting good predictable results is key to doing professional portraits. Usually, professional people don't have a lot of time to wait for us to get everything perfect, so here's a good, simple plan to get great results every time:

The setup is simple; two soft boxes, one large and one small. You'll also need a reflector to open up the shadows. That's it. If your subject has dark hair, you can either add a hair light with a snoot or grid, or just move the small soft box in the back up to get some light on the hair. Here's the setup:

All the lights are set to the same power and the light to the rear with a small soft box is twice the distance from the subject as the large soft box in the front to produce a nice ratio of light.

Here is the camera and lens info: