Knowing how to use lighting in whatever form is an essential photographic skill; from natural light to flash and constant lighting, it needs to be manipulated in order for you to capture better images.
In this tutorial we’re going to take a look at five basic studio lighting techniques that will help you to transform your portrait photography.
Getting started with lighting can be expensive and these days there’s a huge variety to choose from.
Of all the photography kit, lighting is definitely a good place to start with equipment hire. It not only enables you to test out kit, but swap and change as you need for each job.
If you’re new to portrait photography and want to know what kit to get started with, then you’ll be pleased to know you should be able to start with just a reflector.
Later you can expand to a hot shoe flash, light modifiers and eventually full studio kits.
Whatever the kit you decide on here are some basic lighting tips to get you started.
Studio lighting techniques: 01 Lift shadows with a reflector
A reflector is essentially the simplest piece of lighting kit you can possibly use in a portrait shoot, but it’s also the most valuable.
Reflectors are essentially used to lift shadows and create more complimentary light. The effect of a reflector will lighten darkness under the eyes and also help to smooth the visibility of wrinkles.
Available in a variety of different surfaces options reflectors can also help to warm or cool subjects. The most common surfaces are gold, silver and white. Gold adds warmth, silver and white bounce back a more neutral illumination to different degrees.
When it comes to getting started with a reflector it’s all relatively easy. Position your subject then use the reflector to bounce back light into the face in order to reduce the shadow.
Using a gold mix surface such as Sunfire from a Lastolite Trigrip Reflector Large 120cm Sunfire/Silver is a quick way to give your model a healthy glow without going over the top.
If you want something a little more natural then switch between the white or silver surfaces. The silvers metallic surface will reflect a greater amount of light whilst the white is a little more subtle.
The basic use of the reflector can be enhanced when used with a mixture of lighting sources to create some incredible lighting effects.
Studio lighting techniques: 02 Hot-shoe flash
A reflector is a powerful tool, but on it’s own can only go so far. Add a hotshoe flash, such as the Canon 580EXII and pair the flashes basics accessories with a reflector, and you have the start of a simple lighting setup that will really help you to boost your portraits.
With the flash attached to your camera’s hot-shoe you can then use the flash’s built-in bounce card accessory to manipulate the light in the way that you won’t.
Using the bounce card is a simple but effective technique for shooting indoors or out. It creates a softer bounced light from the flash than when compared to using the flash aimed directly at the subject.
Using the Canon 580EXII or similar flashgun, simply swing the flash head up by 60 degrees, then pull-out the bounce card and take a shot, adjusting the power of the flash to expose the shot correctly.
Using the flash in this fashion normally means the light is coming from above the eye level of the subject, so to lift any shadows created, you guessed it, use a reflector.
Just pop it at chest height to reflect the light back into the face and this will help to soften shadows cast by light coming from the bounced flash.
Studio lighting techniques: 03 Off-camera flash
The basics of flash and reflector are now covered, but in order to get truly creative lighting we want to get that flash off the camera.
Off camera flash is a powerful tool and using a simple wireless flash trigger setup such as a Pocket Wizard will enable you to effortlessly get creative with your lighting.
Aattach one of the transceivers to the base of your hot-shoe flash and the transmitter to the hot-shoe of your camera. Then, making sure they’re both on the same channel and in the same group, you can then operate the flash off camera in the same way as if it were still attached.
With the flash off-camera you’re free to move around directing the light as you please. This means that you have the freedom to create famous lighting setups such as Rembrandt lighting.
Rembrandt lighting is incredibly simple to master and is named after the painter. It’s a great lighting technique to learn and a classic which requires just one flash and one reflector.
Effectively you use the lighting to create a triangle of light across the face, one side of the face will be well exposed whist the other is all but in shadow.
That shadowed side of the face will have a small triangle of light illuminating the eye, and if done successfully that eye will also have a small catch light to add sparkle.
The lighting setup is simple: one light such as a flashgun (eg Canon 580EXII), a constant light (eg Rotolight NEO) or a studio head at 45 degrees to the front of the subject and then a reflector also at 45 degrees to the subject on the opposite side. Position the camera dead centre.
Studio lighting techniques: 04 Using multiple lights
Once you’ve perfected your skills with one light it’s time to up the stakes and start shooting with two flash units to create some serious backlighting effects.
Again this technique requires off-camera flash and can be done with two Canon 580EXII flashguns and a Pocket Wizard or similar set-up.
This technique is ideally suited for a studio when placing your subject in front of a backdrop, but works equally against walls and textured urban backgrounds.
Start by positioning the first light in front of the subject, the light should also be diffused ideally with something like a Lastolite Ezbox hot shoe kit. Height wise the light should be above head level, as it’s the main light to illuminate the subject.
The second light needs to be bounced of a wall or backdrop from behind the subject. Place the flash on its stand on the ground and point it angled up towards the wall. Once fired it will create an illumination on the wall which will add background interest.
This is great technique not only for the studio but also when photographing outdoors.
Studio lighting techniques: 05 Adding lighting effects
Two light set-ups with hot-shoe flashes and wireless flash triggers are just the start of a larger and exciting area of photography.
Hot-shoe flash is a great place to start, but as your confidence grows you’ll want to expand and experiment with larger and more sophisticated lighting kits.
The final technique is a studio classic, but it’s equally well suited to outdoor portraits. It’s a valuable technique that will help you to keep your subject separated from the background and also helps to add depth and interest.
Rim lighting creates a rim of light around the outline of the subject. It can be used to different degrees to add romance or separation. It’s one of those lighting effects that’s incredibly effective.
To create the effect, use two flash guns one behind the subject and the other in front. This time, unlike the back lighting where we had the light pointing away from the subject, rotate that light around so that when it fires it illuminates that back of the model.
The light will spill around the outline of your subject, highlighting the edge. Make sure that the subject is between you and flash so the flash is 100% covered.