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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Vintage Glamour Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, February 21, 2014
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Megan Beckler
For this portrait of model and photographer Megan Beckler, we decided to do a vintage look. Vintage lighting is simple and usually consists of just two or three lights. In this case, a beauty dish was used as a main light, a strip-box was used as a separation light and a large reflector supplied the fill light.

Here's the setup:


The most important hints to remember are to make sure the main light is positioned so the catch light is in the upper quadrant of the eye and that the main light is far enough to the side to add contrast and dimension to the subject. If you use a separation light, make sure it doesn't spill light on the front of the subject, especially on their nose.
Easy!

Equipment used:

Large beauty dish
Large Photoflex strip box
Large soft-gold Photoflex reflector
Links to all these pieces are on the resources page.

Real Old-School Lighting Set-Up

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, January 02, 2014

Much of the portraiture done a hundred years ago stands up today because of its lighting, composition and technical excellence. The example above was obviously done professionally and there is a lot we can learn by examining it.

The lighting

One thing that is amazing is how little equipment was typically used back then. Most likely the main light was a large window with a reflector on the left to lighten up the shadows slightly. If artificial light was used, it was probably a single large beauty dish and the same reflector on the left. That's it. The tone of the background was controlled by either using a gobo (something to block the light) or with the distance between the subject and the background, or a combination of both. This basic one-light setup was set up to create a Rembrandt lighting pattern which is characterized by the triangular shadow on the shadow side of the subject's cheek. There is more information on Rembrandt lighting elsewhere on this blog. Since the subject has a triangular face, the photographer decided on broad lighting, which is the lit side of the nose closest to, or facing the camera. Narrow lighting is the opposite, the shadow side of the nose faces the camera. Learn more about broad and narrow lighting here.

To create this image with artificial light today, you could use a beauty dish, soft bow or umbrella as a main light, a reflector for fill light and some kind of gobo to control how much light hits the background.

The setup

If you're looking for inspiration, look back to the masters.

A 3-Flash Setup for a Girl and Her Motorcycle

Chuck Vosburgh - Sunday, November 25, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Tiphani Taylor. Stylist: Patricia McGlinchey.

A fun environmental portrait of a motorcyclist

For this project we wanted to show the motorcyclist and her motorcycle in an urban setting that is consistent with her image. We were lucky to not only find a nice alley to photograph in, but we also found some perfect graffiti! The lighting is very straight-forward; A main light to light the model, a light behind the model with a blue gel to light the wall on the right and a third light to light the motorcycle. The lights weren't anything fancy, regular flashes work just fine.

Step One:

The first step was to find a base exposure for the background; dark, but not too dark. A little experimentation showed that 1/6 second at f-5.6 looked perfect.

Step Two:

Light the model. We placed the light for a simple butterfly lighting pattern and set the flash to half power and using a flash meter determined that the correct f-stop at half power was f-4. If you don't have a flash meter, you can do a test shot and adjust your exposure up or down until it's correct. The f-stop was already set at f-5.6, but the aperture doesn't affect the ambient light when you are using flash, so the easy thing to do was to simply open up the aperture to f-4 instead of increasing the power of the flash to full power. Using the flash on full power would make for longer recycle times and shorter battery life, so changing the aperture one stop was the best choice.

Step Three:

Next we lit the wall on the right with a flash and a blue gel to go with her blue hair. We started at half power of the flash and adjusted it to light up the wall just right by doing test shots and adjusting the power accordingly. In this case it was 1/4 power to get the right look.

Step Four:

Finally, we lit the motorcycle. The process was the same as lighting the wall; we set up the light at half power and adjusted the flash power by doing test shots until the motorcycle was lit the way we wanted. In this case, the power was set to 1/16 power. We also attached a card to the side of the flash with a rubber band to block the light from spilling over onto our model.

Here's the setup:

By lighting each part of the scene with its own flash, it was easy to adjust each of the parts separately to make refinements to the overall look of the photograph.

Q&A

You may be wondering...

Q: If the shutter speed was 1/6 second, why isn't the model, motorcycle and wall blurry?

A: Since it was pretty dark, there wasn't enough light to show the model and motorcycle, even at 1/6 power. The flashes were the only significant light source for the model, motorcycle and wall. Since the duration of the flash is a tiny fraction of a second, everything lit by the flash is frozen no matter what the shutter speed is (within reason).

Q: Why wasn't a modifier used on the main light, like a soft-box or umbrella? 

A: Direct light worked well for the edgy, urban look we wanted. Also, most modifiers tend to spill light on the rest of the scene which may have interfered with the dark look we wanted.

Q: Why did you choose a butterfly light pattern?

A: The butterfly light pattern has a flat light pattern that obscures texture. It works well with skin, especially if no modifier is being used to soften the light. You can read more about the basic lighting patterns (including the butterfly pattern) on this blog.

Equipment used:

  • Two Canon 580EX flashes
  • One Norman 200B flash
  • Pocket Wizard radio triggers
  • Various light stands
  • Bricks found in the alley to weight the stands
  • Canon 5D
  • Canon 16-35L lens (image was shot at 35mm)
Links to all the equipment listed can be found here.

Doing this kind of environmental portrait is easy, fun and doesn't require a lot of equipment. If you don't have three flashes, team up with your friends and share!

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.

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.

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!

Broad Lighting and Narrow Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, April 16, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Emma the Mannequin at Studio 3

You've heard the saying that the camera adds ten pounds. What if you could take off ten pounds by just changing your lighting?

Broad Lighting and Narrow Lighting, also known as Wide Lighting and Short Lighting is a technique you can use to control how wide the subject looks to the viewer. In the example above, both photographs are of the same subject, but one appears considerably narrower than the other even though both are the same size. It's an optical illusion and it's easy to take advantage of.

Here's how it works:

It's all about which side of the subject the light is coming from, specifically which side of the nose is lit. If the side of the nose that is closer to the camera is lit, the subject appears wider. If the side of the nose closest to the camera is in shadow, the subject appears narrower. Another way of describing it would be if the light side of the nose faces that camera, the subject appears wider. If the light side of the nose faces away from the camera, the subject appears narrower.

It's easy.

Split Lighting

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, February 06, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: EJ

Split lighting is the most dramatic of the basic lighting styles and requires just one light. The hallmark of this style is that the subject is lit one one side, leaving the other side in shadow. The setup is simple, position the light to one side and if you like, use a reflector to add just a small amount of fill to the shadow side. It's a good idea to use some kind of modifier to direct the light like a grid or snoot so the background can stay dark. A regular parabolic reflector on the light can work too, but it will usually spill too much light onto the background making the photograph much less dramatic.

Here's the setup:

Metering

Getting a perfect exposure with split lighting can be challenging without a light meter. If you have an incident light meter, just point the dome toward the camera, not the light, and take your reading. If you're using your camera's histogram to evaluate the exposure, just be sure you're not blowing out the highlights, which is easy to do with this style of lighting.

Here's an example of a typical histogram for this style of lighting:

Notice that there is a lot of information on the shadow end of the histogram. That's because there's a lot of dark and very little mid-tones and highlights. 

This simple lighting setup can be easily done with a flash, strobe, bulb or window. Give it a try, it's easy!


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.

Highlights of the Chiaroscuro Workshop in St. Petersburg

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 09, 2011