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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

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.

Portrait of the week

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, June 18, 2012

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Michelle Knapp

Here's a simple portrait set-up that differs from my usual set-up slightly. This one uses a strip light for the hair light instead of a snoot or grid. The strip light offers a bit more flexibility for positioning the model without having to reposition the light and also puts more rim-light on the shoulders and arms than a snoot or grid.

Here's the setup:

Main: Large soft-box

Fill: Large soft-gold reflector

Hair Light: Medium Photoflex half dome with grid (strip light)

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.

The Posing App I wish I had made

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, March 30, 2012

I'm always a little bit skeptical about photo apps for my iPhone, but this is one I can recommend. The app is simple with poses broken down into seven categories; children, couples, portraits, women, men, groups and weddings. The think I like the best about this app is that it has drawings instead of photographs which show the poses more clearly in my opinion. 

So, check it out, at $1.99 you can't go wrong. It's called Posing App and you can get it through the App Store.

Update: On their site, they say they are working on versions for other phones and have a sign-up to be notified when it's ready. http://posingapp.com/

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:


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.

Help-Portrait a big success!

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, December 15, 2011

Highlights of the Chiaroscuro Workshop in St. Petersburg

Chuck Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Portrait of a Belly Dancer

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Karen Sun-Ray

This image was photographed in my studio lighting class at the MoreanArts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. The idea was to have nice soft light, but also show the contours of the model's muscle structure and features. The solution was a large soft box placed at more of a side-angle than usual. Keep in mind that the more the object is side-lit, the more it shows texture and contour. A little experimentation was required to find the perfect angle, then a reflector was added to open up the shadows. A hair light from up high behind also adds to the three dimensional look of the image.

Here's the setup:

Single large soft-box, large soft-gold reflector and a snoot. Simple.
On your next shoot, try making your model look as three dimensional as you can. It's a fun way to light and you may find a new favorite style of lighting.