Home How-To Shooting Studio-Quality Lighting Made Easy
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Studio-Quality Lighting Made Easy

Discover creative lighting effects for any budget

Studio Lighting Solutions
The first decision you need to make with studio lighting is whether to go with flash or continuous lighting. Both have their advantages and drawbacks, and both have a loyal fan base.

Continuous lights are always on, letting you see immediately how your lights' positioning is affecting the subject. This can be a huge help, allowing you to see hot spots and shadows before taking the photo. On the other hand, many continuous lights are very warm. Your portrait subjects may become overheated when sitting under hot lights, especially if you're working in a small room.

Popular makers of continuous lights include Photoflex, Starlight kits from JTL, Adorama, Lowel and Britek. This is a great way to go if you prefer continuous light and you're on a budget. You can often get started with a couple of lights, stands and umbrellas for less than $300.

For the really budget-conscious, take a trip to your local home-improvement store and pick up a set of halogen or quartz work lights. They usually come with a heavy-duty stand and can be positioned. At less than $30, you won't find a better deal.

Studio flash works very similar to your on-camera flash—it creates its own light only when you take the photo. The big advantage is that studio flash units can produce more light. This provides multiple benefits, including the ability to shoot at moderate to small apertures, even when the strobes are diffused, using an umbrella or softbox. The output of those flashes can also be controlled in fractional increments, such as 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 power, without having to change the position of the strobe as you would with a continuous light source.

This increase in power comes at a price, however; a kit with two lights, stands and umbrellas starts at $500. Some examples include Adorama's Flashpoint 620 Portrait/Wedding Monolight kit or the JTL DL-400 Dual Monolight Starter kit. And because the light is only produced at the moment of exposure, you'll need a handheld flash meter to determine the accurate exposure. However, the great flexibility and power may make such a system worth the price of admission.

For starting out, I recommend a two-light kit, although you can do well with a single light and a reflector if you're on a budget or space is tight. The advantage of buying a kit is that you'll typically get stands and umbrellas to go with the lights, both of which should be considered standard equipment in any photographer's setup.

Lighting Setups
Now that you have your lighting kit, how do you set it up for the best results? Here's where some experimenting comes into play. Depending on the power of your lights and the size of your location, the setup will vary.

For a two-light setup, position the first light at 45 degrees to the camera and slightly higher than your subject. This is your key or main light. The second flash, which serves as your fill, should be positioned alongside and slightly higher than the camera.

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