Tuesday’s Tales from the Shoot – what is the best way to set up studio lighting for portraits?

Yesterday I wrote about a shoot I did on the weekend with my newly acquired Studio Lighting. Today I thought perhaps I would write about using the lighting and what is the best set up for studio lighting? Hopefully this is something other people can jump on to as well. I am only just figuring things out myself, and even though I was happy with what I have achieved so far, maybe there is a better way?

So I did a bit of reading on the subject (way too many articles on Google!) but I did slough through a few, most seemed to say approximately the same thing, so hopefully I am off to a good start.

Firstly there is harsh and soft light (and of course natural light), so what is better? Honestly I think it mostly comes down to personal choice, and of course the situation. Harsh light can show up everything, good and bad! Maybe OK for kids but not for older people. Personally I prefer a softer light and when I was shooting using a white background I used my translucent diffuse umbrellas.

Light set up

I know it’s really rough, but this is pretty much how I set up for my shoots. My Umbrellas are on 1.8m stands, so I put them all the way up, even though my subject was usually about 1m – 1.2m. I found that it gave me more than enough light, that I could still use ISO 100, even without the tripod. And it was not harsh light, although you could still see some all details in the backdrop (including a bad crease, still need to photoshop that out!). Even though I had some reflective highlights from the white backdrop, I think I needed a little more light on the left hand side, there is a subtle shadow on Miss S shoulder I would be happier if it was not there. Perhaps using an actual reflector could have been useful, just off to the left of set up? Also I do not have Speed lites or strobes (A. expensive, B. flash can still be harsh). My lights a just basic turn on turn off, with incandescent globes.

SiennaOverall I think the soft lighting works well in this shot. I guess the other thing I have found is that most set ups discuss using one head and a reflector, is that a better set up than two light heads? The next image was shot in front of a black back drop and I did not get a reflective service, so I switched my umbrellas for silver reflective ones. This gave a slightly harsher light, but I kept them up high (on a slight angle) and shot over the subject as opposed to down directly onto the subject.

Dark Lit Sienna-0161 The following shot is without additional lighting, I was forced to use the camera flash for fill in light. Now I will admit, that it does tend to make everything a bit harsher, but is it really the root of ALL Evil?

lauren's 21st

There are simply some situations where you cannot hook up all that lighting. This was shot under simple fluorescent lighting and I used the camera flash on a tripod. Could still the set the ISO to about 400. Perhaps a thoroughly trained professional could have done a much better job, but I was relatively happy with the end result.

Now of course you can use natural light, if it’s available, but even then sometimes it is too bright and harsh. In the below shot I used a reflector to add some light to the left hand side as well as the natural coming from the right. Perhaps I could have put it a bit closer to get a stronger highlight………but it was freaking the dog out a little!


Here are some links to a few posts I found useful;

– Julz