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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


You don't always need a fill flash

Chuck Vosburgh - Saturday, August 30, 2014

Frequently, a reflector will get the job done with a lot less work

Here's a late-afternoon beach photo. The sun was behind the subject which put her face in the shadow. A fill-flash could be used as a fill light, but for this situation, there's an easier way. A 32" Photoflex white/soft gold reflector (using the soft gold side) was used. Here's the same photo without a reflector:


As you can see, having the subject in the shadow obscures detail and makes the subject look flat. Adding the reflector adds dimension and a better tonal range. The best part of using a reflector is that you can see what you will get right away and easily make adjustments by moving the reflector.

Reflector tips:

  • Keep the reflector a little off to the side to create dimension and avoid blinding the subject
  • Adjust the brightness of the fill light from the reflector by moving the reflector closer or farther away from the subject.
  • Move around and find the right angle
  • I recommend a white/soft gold reflector. Soft gold warms the skin tones without overdoing it

The setup:

Reflector options:

  • Buy a reflector
  • Use a piece of white foam board
  • Use a reflective car windshield shade
  • Anything flat and light colored will work

Grab a reflector, get out and have fun!


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.

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.

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

Plan B - dealing with unexpected on-location issues

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 14, 2013


Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh. Model: Maria DjMarki Boutzoukas

We planned to photograph this one outside in an alley with a cool motorcycle, but there was a problem. It was raining. Things like this happen al the time and when they do you have to be flexible. When faced with a situation that just won't work as planned, it's hard to let go of the original idea and struggle to somehow make it work anyway. I've found that the best thing to do once you realize your idea won't work is to start looking for an alternate. The alternate in this case was a dirty, cramped, dark shop. Perfect. We moved some of the equipment around to make an interesting background. We photographed our subject standing, but it just wasn't intimate, so we found a bucket for her to sit on. That worked.

The lighting

The lighting on this was simple; a beauty-dish for a main light, a snoot for an accent light and a reflector to fill in the shadows. The biggest challenge on this was to find a good place behind the subject to place the accent light without being in the frame. The accent light (also known as hair light and rim light) is important because it helps separate the subject from the background and it helps make the subject more three dimensional. Putting the light behind an to the left created a little bit of hair light, some rim lighting around the edge of her jacket and a nice accent on the left side of her face. Use an accent light if you can and your images will be much better for it. The accent light should be between 1-2 stops less than your main light and make sure you position it so it won't cause a lens flare.

The setup


The moral of the story

Arrive early and be ready for a total change of plans. Ideally, go ahead of time and scout the location so you'll have options in mind just in case. Frequently, plan B ends up being better than the original idea.

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.

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.