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Lighting is Easy Blog

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

No Studio? No Problem!

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh, Model: Ninell

If you don't have a studio and a lot of equipment, you can still get great images! Here's an example of a model photographer in a parking garage with just one light. The setup is simple; one flash with a small Photoflex Octo-Box. That's it. To make the background black, just make sure anything in the background is far enough away to not be lit by the flash. In this case, it only took about 12 feet to make the back wall go black, and this was shot in the middle of the day.

Here's the setup:

You can do a lot with a little! Try it out and see for yourself.

What I take on air-travel

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, July 28, 2011

Packing for a trip can be very challenging and people frequently ask me what I take with me on a typical photo shoot when we travel by air, so here's a complete list of what I carry on, what I put in my checked luggage and what Pat, my assistant carries on. The strategy is to carry on everything we need to do a typical shoot and check the stuff that we could make do without if it were to be delayed. 

Chuck's Carry-Ons:

MacBook Pro 17" and Power Cord

Wacom Tablet and Stylus

Card Reader

Canon 5D Body with Battery Grips and 6 Batteries

2 Chargers

A bunch of Compact Flash Cards

50mm Lens

16-35mm Lens

70-200 Lens

2 Canon 550EX Flashes

4 Pocket Wizards and Cords


2 Light Stands

32" Umbrella

64" Umbrella

External Hard Drive and Cords

Microfiber Cloth

Trash Bags

Remote Camera Release

Extra Prints of Airline, Hotel, Shoot List, Phone Numbers and Other Papers


iPhone and Charger

Tripod Wrench

WhiBal Grey Card

Small Flash Flag

2 Bungee Cords

Duct Tape

Light Meter and Extra Battery

Polarizing Filter

2 Brass Studs

Business Cards


Wireless Card

Dust Blower

24 AA Batteries

Panasonic Lumix, Extra Battery, Charger, Cards

Checked Luggage:

Norman 200B Portable Strobe, Extra Bulb, Charger and Extra Battery

52" Soft Gold/White Reflector

Small Octo-Dome Soft-Box

A Bunch of Memory Cards

Pat's Carry-On:

Canon 5D body with battery grips and 6 batteries

35-70 lens

2 Chargers

Panasonic Lumix, Extra Battery, Charger, Cards


Extra Prints of Airline, Hotel, Shoot List, Phone Numbers and Other Papers

Business Cards

Power Adapters (if international)

iPhone and Charger

iPad and Charger


What's in your bag?

How to fold a reflector

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, May 26, 2011

One of the most difficult things we learn in my classes is how to put a reflector back in its bag. Here are two methods that make it easy:

Here's another method that works especially well for larger reflectors:

Now you'll look like a real pro!

How to fold a reflector

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, May 26, 2011

One of the most difficult things we learn in my classes is how to put a reflector back in its bag. Here are two methods that make it easy:

Here's another method that works especially well for larger reflectors:

Now you'll look like a real pro!

Lighting in limited spaces

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh Model: Kristen Joyner

f-16 at 1/125 second, 100 ISO

Most clients prefer to have executive portraits done on location at their place of business. The problem is there usually isn’t as much room as you’d normally have in a studio. In this example, I’ll explain the process from walking through the door to photographing the subject.

If you can, go to the location before the shoot to assess the situation. Knowing what you’re dealing with in advance avoids a lot of stress. In this case it wasn’t possible so I arrived an hour earlier than I needed to so I would have time to figure out what to do. The last thing I want to do on a shoot is rush. Rushing causes mistakes and the subjects will sense your stress and it will be reflected in your images. When I arrived I looked over the area and decided on the best place to set up. It offered an unused cubicle to give me a little more distance to shoot from, which was great since I prefer to shoot portraits at 100mm to de-emphasize perspective. There are three considerations: 

Room between the subject and the background to avoid shadows
Room between the subject and the key light to allow a little movement without changing the exposure too much. 
Enough room to use a  lens somewhere between 70-100mm

I chose a loop-lighting style of light for two reasons; it works well for multiple subjects (in this case there were nine people to shoot) and it uses less room than most other styles of lighting. It’s also a standard style that always works. There’s a nice article on how to set up loop-lighting on this blog.

Here’s the setup:

Equipment used:

Norman light head with a 12” snoot

Norman light head with background light attachment

Norman light head with a Large Photoflex soft-box

Norman 800 power pack

36” Photoflex Gold/Silver reflector

Studio Grey seamless background

Various stands

Canon 5D

Canon 70-200mm f-2.8L IS

Microsync Radio Triggers

Inverse Square Law Made Easy

Chuck Vosburgh - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Whenever I mention the Inverse Square Law people start avoiding eye contact and looking for the door. I don’t blame them. The Inverse Square Law is math and most photographers dislike math. But it’s something important for us to understand. It can even save you money and I’ll prove it.

Pretend you’ve never heard of the Inverse Square Law

Let’s just call it “Light is brighter when it’s closer” or maybe “Light is less bright from far away” 

The interesting thing is that we can know how much the light changes with distance and the good news is that it’s really simple! Take a look at this example and you’ll see why:

The light spreads out to cover a larger distance as it gets farther away from the light source.

Here's the concept:

If you double the distance between the light and the subject,  you need four times as much light to get the same exposure.

If you reduce the distance between the light and the subject by half, you only need one quarter as much light to have the same exposure. Here’s another example:

The line at f-5.6 is twice the distance from the light as the line marked f-11. The line at f-2.8 is twice the distance from the light as the line at 5.6.

Remember, full f-stops are either twice or half the next f-stop. Full stops are f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16, and f22. Most cameras also show in-between stops as well which can make it a bit confusing. 

Putting it into practice

In this example, the key light is just a little too bright on the subject. The amount of light can be changed easily by simply moving it back a few inches. See the difference in the second image? The only change was the light was moved a little bit. Easy!

How to save money with the inverse square law

Now you know how to control the intensity of light by changing the distance of the light from the subject. You know those super-expensive high-tech lights you want that can adjust in 1/10 f-stops? You don’t need that kind of adjustability when you can just move the light a couple of inches and get the same result. In fact, it's easier to just move the light. You also won't need to buy expensive TTL equipment because you can control the light yourself.

Spend a little time experimenting with moving your light source closer and farther away from the subject and you'll have it down in no time!

Should You Work for Free?

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, January 14, 2011

art: http://jessicahische.com

I found this great chart about working for free at http://www.shouldiworkforfree.com/, and it reminded me of what a problem this is for photographers. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about working for free, but even after 20+ years and being pretty well established, I still get asked to work for free regularly. The reasoning usually fits into one of three categories:

  • It will give you great exposure
  • It will build your portfolio
  • There will be much more work later

These are all bogus of course, but they do sound convincing when delivered by a slick negotiator. Be strong. Get your own exposure by networking and marketing yourself. Build your portfolio, regardless of the assignments you’re doing. If you network, market, do great work and build a good reputation, you’ll have plenty of work. Remember, your client’s job is to get you to do the most for the least. Your job is to provide a great product for as much as you can get.

I do have a policy for free work, and it’s simple:

  • I’ll do free work for family and close friends. In fact I never charge family and close friends 
  • I’ll do free work IF I have a VERY good reason to

A few thoughts to consider:

  • Your time is limited and has great value
  • What you do has value
  • The fact that your job is enjoyable doesn’t reduce the value of it
  • You can sit at home and not make any money, why work for no money

So, what do you think? How do you handle this issue in your business?

The artist’s web site: http://jessicahische.com

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.

Dealing with rejection

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Model: Gamze Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

One of the toughest things about being a professional creative person is the rejection that is part of the business. After all, your work is very personal, and in our culture we're conditioned to connect who we are with what we do. So here are a few things to consider next time you are faced with criticism:

1: Leadership attracts criticism, therefore the price of leadership is criticism.
2: In the case of fine art (as opposed to commercial art), you didn't make it for them. You made it for you.
3: In the case of commercial art, you're just providing a service, so do your job the best you can and collect your money. It's not personal, it's work. Use that money to do something great.
4: Some people believe that they could easily do the same thing, but they have better things to do with their time.
5: Other people could do it, but you did, and you should be congratulated for it.
6: 90% of success is showing up.
7: People's pride often gets in the way. Your success reminds them of their personal failures, and they may be jealous of you.
8: Most people really aren't qualified to judge your work.
9: Comparing yourself to others is not wise.

So there you go. Don't let anyone discourage you. Stay the course and keep growing :)

How do you deal with rejection? Share in the comments please...

Using HDR to tackle lighting problems

Chuck Vosburgh - Monday, November 01, 2010
High Dynamic Range photography is very popular for art photography, but it also has a lot of potential for commercial photography as well.

Consider this: The first shot is a normal image shot in a gallery. The lighting in the gallery is ideal for viewing the sculpture, but not at all good for photography. The lighting is very direct, pretty dim for photography and setting up my own lighting was not an option.

Now, here's the same image photographer HDR:

And a detail comparison:

If you're not familiar with HDR, the concept is simple. You shoot at least three images at different exposures and combine them to get a wider tonal range than you could get in one shot. Kinda like combining bracketed exposures.

In this example, there were three images; one normal exposure, one two stops underexposed and one two stops overexposed. The images were combined using Photomatix and retouched in Photoshop CS4.

What are your thoughts on HDR? Tell us in the comments :)