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Chapter 11. Lighting the Frame > Lighting in the Studio

Lighting in the Studio

Lighting in the Studio Earlier in the book I touched on the color of light when I talked about good times to shoot (Chapter 6, “Interacting with Your Subjects”) and how to properly set for white balance (Chapter 5, “Technically Speaking”). So you’ll recall that light is measured in kelvin. The cooler lights, the more bluish-white lights, are typically measured at over 5,000 kelvin. The warmest lights, in the color range of candlelight, are measured at around 1850 kelvin. Obviously, when you’re considering how to balance ambient light, it’s quite advantageous to think of the color of all the lights involved, not just the brightness of them. If you are mixing tungsten light (around 3000k) with overcast daylight (around 6500k), for example, you have to pay attention to managing the balance of these two colors in a way that doesn’t leave your clients looking rather wonky, professionally speaking, of course. But if you are mixing light from your on-camera flash (around 5500k) with regular daylight (around 5000k), you have much less concern when it comes to bringing these two lights together in a visually pleasing way, which is why I often pair these two light sources together easily. A straightforward look at a simple lighting set up in the studio. All forms of lighting are included: a main light and a fill light (both with diffuser panels), a hair light, and two forms of ambient light—natural daylight from the window and overhead fluorescent lighting. When I’m photographing in the studio, I can choose to keep or do away with two of the ambient lights you see in my studio image. Eliminating the overhead fluorescent lights is as simple as flicking off the switch. The other ambient light source is the light from the windows. In Chapter 7, “A Session in the Family’s Home,” I showed our double-blind system, which allows us to either diffuse or completely eliminate daylight. Continuous vs. Strobe Lighting Along the lines of keeping my lighting system flexible and easy to adjust, I tend to favor continuous lighting when photographing family portraits, as opposed to strobe lighting. The difference between the two is that continuous lighting is just that—lighting that is very much what you see is what you get. Exactly how you light the scene (and the individuals in the scene) will photograph just like what you see before you click the shutter. Strobe lighting, on the other hand, is just like flash—it lights up when you trigger it and needs a bit of time to recycle so it can be fully powered for the next shot. You cannot see what will be captured until you trigger the flash. When I first started shooting, I only used strobe lighting because the technology behind continuous lighting was simply not there yet, meaning not powerful enough, the lights became too hot to be safe around children, and the color of the lighting options wasn’t optimal. Instead, I shot with strobes and a cord that connected my camera to the lights, so they would trigger when I clicked the shutter. This led to an inordinate amount of tripping over cords—mostly by me. A lot has changed in just the last few years, though. Today’s strobe lights are simply triggered by a third-party wireless device, like the pocket wizards that I keep with me often. I find that strobes are still more powerful than continuous lighting options, but I don’t always need the level of power they provide for every shoot. And, even better, today’s continuous lighting systems are more powerful and cooler to the touch—even after they have been on for a while!—and they now come in white balance–friendly daylight fluorescents. Typical Studio Setup During a typical studio shoot, I might pair two Westcott Spiderlite TD6s with two 36 × 48-inch softboxes, which are now shallower than ever, or one large softbox and one 12 × 36-inch stripbank on a third, often less-powerful light, such as a TD3. With that combination of lights, I can create a wide swath of well-lit area that allows my subjects to move about the 12-foot backdrop rather freely. Or I might change it up a bit if I’m working with a small family and use only one 36 × 48-inch softbox on a continuous light with a large reflector panel for fill and a dialed-down hair light. Either of these arrangements offers a good amount of even light, even if it is a bit of a flat light, that generally covers the entire area they would normally move about during a shoot. I’ve come to find that all I need to do is adjust my lights here and there as we move about, and maybe punch up a bit of the sometimes flatter lighting in post. As a result, I’ve made the entire shoot a much easier experience than it would have been just a few short years ago. A typical lighting setup in the studio. A shoot in the studio doesn’t necessarily need to be on a backdrop, of course. The following image shows a bit of a different shoot; some subjects are lying down while one is sitting up, and we are also photographing them in a rather confined space just under a large window in the backroom of our studio. We created a bed-like area for them to lie on, which consisted of covering several pillows under a small, faux, down comforter (available at most home goods stores for about $30). In this instance we opened all of the shades and let the sunshine pour in through the windows. That, and a separation of the subjects from the wall, created our rim light. We used one main light and two fills. The first main light was our softbox with a diffuser panel set at about 45 degrees toward our subjects. The second fill was a reflector panel that was created from two large art boards that were taped together. I use this type of fill frequently when I’m photographing babies or toddlers. I like that there will be no cause for alarm if it tips over, because it’s relatively light. The last fill contributing to this image is the one provided by the extremely bright-white blanket underneath my subjects.

  

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