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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

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.

Soft Light With No Modifiers

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, December 06, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Pat McGlinchey

Look around, you could be bouncing off the wall

For this image, the first thought would be to set up a couple of soft-boxes. A couple of soft-boxes would do the job just fine, but in this case there were two considerations; there were light colored walls on both sides of the subject close enough to act as giant reflectors, and there really wasn't enough room to set up large soft-boxes anyway. The solution was to bounce the light off the walls. 

Here's the setup:

We set a strobe with a 12" parabolic reflector to bounce off the right wall and used a second strobe with a snoot to bounce off the left wall for fill light. For this shot, we wanted a ratio of about 3:1 between the main light and the fill light. Putting the fill light farther away from the wall makes the light less bright by the time it gets to the subject. To get the ratio, we first metered the main light, then adjusted the fill light to be about 1-1/2 f-stops less. That can be accomplished by either changing the power on the fill light or moving it. The snoot only serves to keep that light off the subject and the ceiling. 

You may ask "why didn't you just use another 12" parabolic reflector on the left at less power"? Good question. We found that it made the light a bit too soft because both sides were bouncing off the ceiling a bit making the light  a little flat. It was easier to just direct the light with a snoot. Another way to do it would be to block the fill light from hitting the ceiling with a piece of cinefoil, a barn door or anything else that can block light. There's no right or wrong, it's just two different ways to get the same result. The truth is the snoot was right there and something to use to flag the light off the ceiling would have required a walk to the storage room, so the snoot was the obvious choice. One thing that is not shown in the illustration below is that the actual shot was taken from a ladder.

This same look can be created using any kind of lights, clamp-on work lights, flashes or strobes. Also, consider using some large pieces of white foam board if walls aren't available. There's always a way.

Equipment used:

  • Norman 800ws Power Pack
  • 2 Norman strobe heads
  • 1 12" Parabolic reflector
  • 1 Snoot
  • Canon 5D
  • 8' ladder
Links to these pieces of equipment can be found on the Resources page

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!

Look Around – More Options may be Right Behind You

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Ninell Taveras. Location: The St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art

It’s easy to get many different looks without moving very far.

Being able to get several different looks in the same area reduces your workload and helps keep the shoot moving so your model stays fresh and in the case of an outdoor shoot, keeps his or her hair and makeup looking good. In this example, all the images were photographed within about a 15 foot radius with a simple fill-flash. The whole thing took very little time.

It’s easy to focus on the area you intend to shoot and miss other nearby opportunities. Arrive early so you can take a look around by yourself without distractions. Chances are you’ll find a lot of options. That way, when people arrive you’ll have a plan. Having a plan reduces stress and makes you look professional.


An Adapter to Make any Paint Pole or Broom Handle a Light Stand

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here's another one of those "I wish I had invented this" items. It's simple and solves a big problem for photographers who travel. Most of my assignments involve travel, and it's very inconvenient to travel with light stands by air. Stands small enough to get by as carry-on are too short and flimsy, and suitable stands have to be in a case and checked.That's where the Kacey Pole Adapter comes in. It converts any painting extension pole or threaded broom handle to be able to accent a standard photographic light. That and an assistant, some bungee cords or some tape and you have a light stand that you can find anywhere. Genius.

It's made of aluminum, small, incredibly light and very nicely made. I'll be ordering more for sure.

They're about $20. Here's a link to their web site click here. I got mine at Flash Zebra.

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.

FAQ

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


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.

Stopping motion and showing motion at the same time

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Subject: Abby from Hula Monsters.

Here's an example of using a slow shutter speed to show motion and control the level of ambient light along with using a flash to stop motion. First, here's the setup: This image was photographed at an event with very little ambient light. The hula-hoop has lights in it. I held the flash in my left hand and the camera in my right hand to get the flash off the camera for a better angle of light.

The specs:

1/10 second
f-9
1600 ISO

The process:

First I chose an aperture of f-5.6. I started with f-5.6 because it's a fairly large aperture setting, but still gives me a couple f-stops larger if I need it. Next, I experimented with shutter speeds until I got the background the way I wanted it to look. Not looking at the subject yet, just the background. I also knew from experience that such a slow shutter speed would cause a nice motion blur on the hula-hoop with lights in it. The next steps are to light the subject: I set the flash to one-quarter power and took a shot just to see what it would look like. In this case it was too light. To put less light to the subject I had two choices; decrease the power of the flash or use a smaller f-stop. Since changing the f-stop was easier, I settled on f-9 for the perfect exposure. Remember, the shutter speed controls the ambient light and the f-stop or power setting on the flash control the exposure of the subject.

Why this worked

Here's a breakdown of what caused this image to look like this:
The high ISO setting was necessary because it was really dark in the place
The slow shutter speed allowed the background to show just a little bit
The slow shutter speed also allowed a blur on the hula-hoop
The flash was entirely responsible for lighting the subject
Since the flash duration is so short, and it's the only thing exposing the subject, it stops the motion of the subject. The ambient light wasn't enough to show the subject at all.
So, why the blur on the hula hoop? The hula-hoop was lit a lot more than the background, but a lot less than the subject so it registered as a blur to the sensor in the camera. This was mostly good luck.
Good luck + skill = good results
The key to it all
Practice and experimentation is the only easy way to really understand how your equipment works. Go and have fun. Experiment! No one needs to see your experimental shots, but doing them is the only way to get good results when you want to.