Photography Lighting Basics #4 : Studio Lighting Basics

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INTRODUCTION
ADVANCED LIGHTING NINJA

Welcome to part 4 of the lighting basics series – Studio Lighting Basics, and congratulations on coming this far. Be warned though, this guide is slightly on the advanced side. So if you have not gone through the previous tutorials of this series, it’s time to revisit those first.

 

CONFESSION
AN HONEST DISCLOSURE

Quick, hide your wallets!

There are affiliate links and advertisements on this page! Whenever you buy things from the evil links that I recommend, I will make a commission.

Nah. These are just things to keep the blog going, and allows me to give more good stuff to you guys. So thank you if you decide to pick up my recommendations!

 

 

NAVIGATION
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section A
Studio Gear

Section B
Basic Setup

Section C
Common Styles

Closing
What Next?

 

 

SECTION A
STUDIO GEAR & RECOMMENDATIONS

When it comes to studio lighting, how many lights do you need to be considered “studio”? Interestingly, I cannot find a “fixed textbook” answer to that. I guess you can call a one-light-setup a “mini-studio” if you want. But to be fair, I will assume studio lighting to be 3 lights, and complete with a collection of softboxes, reflectors, LED panels, plus many more props.

 

LIGHTS – THE ESSENTIALS

Welcome to the confusing world of studio equipment, and yes, it is not easy. There are a ton of gadgets you can consider, and new equipment just keep popping out over the years. But when it comes to studio equipment, wallets catch on fire.

Yes, I am not going to chant “cheap equipment works too” anymore. Because even the cheaper options will burn holes in your pocket. Still, I will recommend some stuff that hurts less. Let’s begin with the raw basic requirement for a studio – lights.

Flash: Staple of most photographers.
Strobe: Big gun that whips out a lot of light.
LED: Not as powerful, but good for almost anything.
Wireless Triggers: For off-camera flash photography.

Basic: $10 cheap flashes are not going to do the job. Try the YongNuo YN-685 For Nikon | For Canon.

Decent: I will recommend Godox AD200 or Godox AD360II – For Nikon | For Canon. They are more powerful than the usual flash, but still portable.

Splurge: No more flash, but strobe. The heavy gun – Profoto B1.

I will recommend having a bare minimum number of 2 lights. Does not have to be the expensive ones, but at least a Godox AD200 plus a simple flash unit. Of course, remember that you also need wireless triggers for the flash and strobes – Godox X1 wireless triggers [Nikon | Canon | Sony].

 

LIGHT STANDS, SOFT BOXES AND MORE

What is a studio without light stands? 🙄 Every studio needs light stands, brackets, and umbrella softboxes. But as to which type of softbox should you get? There are all sorts of shapes and sizes, it really depends on your shooting style. For the starters, I will recommend an 80cm octagon with grid plus smaller beehive softbox

There are many optional gear, but color gels will add much needed drama to your shots, and a reflector can be useful in many ways. Backdrops are kind of not-really-required. If you have a nice place to shoot at, you can forget the backdrop… or you can just paint different sides of the walls in different colors.

 

 

SECTION B
BASIC SETUP

If you have gone through the previous guides in this series, you should be familiar enough on setting up a single light. But now that it comes to a studio setting, how do we do it? How do we setup and deal with multiple lights?

 

4 POINT LIGHTING

Let’s start with the classic 4 point lighting setup :

  • Key Light : The main light that is illuminating your subject.
  • Fill Light : Usually positioned opposite of the key light, and used to balance the overall lighting.
  • Back Light : Lights the back of the subject, separating him/her/it from the background.
  • Background Light : Lights the background.

 

HOW TO LIGHT : START WITH ONE

Does the 4 point lighting setup mean that you will always need to have 4 lights in the studio? No, and I do not recommend beginners to start with such a large setup. It is easy to be overwhelmed by where to start – Which light to put where? How to position? What power? What settings?

My usual advice to beginners is to start by creating their own step-by-step process for studio lighting. You do not attempt to tackle everything at once, but to start simple and add more lights along the way. Quick recap, and for those who might have missed out on the previous lessons.

  • Always start a shot by metering the background, without considering the subject.
  • Add one light and estimate the power of the flash.
  • Take a test shot with the subject in the frame.
  • Re-adjust the power and settings as you see fit.

Now, that remains the same here as a starting point in studio / multi-light environment. Sometimes, we even stop right here knowing that 1 light is sufficient.

 

HOW TO LIGHT : ADD LIGHTS PROGRESSIVELY

Following up from above and “what if you want more lights” – You simply add more to your setup.

  • Where do you need more light? Fill light? Back? Background?
  • Add that light, position it, and estimate the flash power.
  • Take a test shot, re-adjust accordingly.

Yes, it’s not that difficult. All you have to do, is to deal with adding more lights one at a time.

 

SECTION C
COMMON LIGHTING STYLES

There are endless ways to setup the lights in a studio, so instead of having you go around guessing too much, here is a list of the commonly used lighting styles. But take note, the below are only examples and there are no rules to “you must setup in this way”. If you want to pull off a certain style with a different light setup – It’s all up to you.

 

HIGH KEY

High key is that “well lit white looking” style. Commonly found in portrait photography, and good for those glamour shots.

 

LOW KEY

This is the opposite of high key, and it is that dark dramatic style.

 

CLAM SHELL LIGHTING

Also commonly known as “butterfly lighting”. This is one of the most classic and commonly used style – If you shoot portrait, you must know this. The term clam shell comes exactly from how the lights are positioned – The main light is mounted high up, pointing downward. A reflector is down at the bottom, pointing upward.

 

SPLIT LIGHTING

Split lighting is a stark contrast where one side of the subject’s face is lit, and the other is dark. Very easy to pull off with one light, and adds a lot to the dramatic factor.

 

REMBRANDT LIGHTING

Rembrandt lighting is named after the Dutch painter Rembrandt who always used this style of lighting in his paintings. It is usually done with a minimal 1 light plus reflector, and signified by a “triangle of light under the eye” on the subject. A personal favorite of mine that adds dramatic factors to the photo, without making it look too “fake”.

 

LOOP LIGHTING

Loop lighting is named after how it creates a “shadow loop” beside the nose of the subject. Probably the easiest to pull off. All you need, is a single light placed at the correct position.

 

CLOSING
WHAT’S NEXT?

Finally, we have come to the end of the tutorial. Dealing with multiple lights may be a little daunting at first, but take my advice – Start with just one light, and add more to it later.

No matter which style of lighting, always remember the root, the 4 point lighting. Deal with the main light first, add a fill light if needed, then tackle the back. You will do just fine in a step-by-step manner, and eventually master the way to deal with multiple lights.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I will try to answer them. Happy shooting!

 

Previous Lesson: One Light Photography


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