Whether you’re shooting portraits, still lifes or even eBay product shots, the subtlest changes in lighting can have a profound impact on the final image, and studio lighting kits offer more than subtle changes—they offer complete control.
A typical studio lighting setup often has a key (or main) light and a fill light. While this setup doesn’t necessarily reflect the most up-to-date lighting style, it does give you the option to create a number of different looks. The key light is the principal source of light used for illuminating the subject. The fill light is used to balance out the harsh shadows that a single light source provides. Fill lights are placed at an opposite angle from the key light, with the camera positioned somewhere in between the two. Fill lighting usually is stopped down to about half the output of the main light so that defining shadows and contours aren’t washed out. By alternating light output or the distance of the light sources between the key light, the fill light and the subject, photographers can control the amount of light that’s cast on the subject and, consequently, the strength of contrast in the image between the highlights and the shadows.
Even the most basic lighting kit can provide a wide range of classic setups. For example, two popular styles of portrait lighting—broad lighting and short lighting—can be achieved easily with a basic setup. Broad lighting is obtained by positioning the main light to illuminate the side of the face that’s turned toward the camera. This method deemphasizes shadows that make thin and narrow faces appear wider. Short lighting, on the other hand, emphasizes facial contours through strongly defined shadows by aiming the main light toward the side of the face that’s turned away from the camera. This slimming style is ideal for narrowing broader faces.
The more advanced a lighting kit, the more options available to the photographer. Other lights can be thrown into the mix for highlighting more localized areas of the image. An accent or backlight placed above or behind the subject in a portrait can highlight the hair and shoulders to boost impact and keep the subject from blending in to the background, especially with dark hair and dark backgrounds. A background light can liven up a dull background that’s lost in shadow. Using this method to outline a subject with a halo-like rim of light is the current rage in commercial advertising. A kicker also can add extra light from below. These are all methods used in portraiture, but they produce similar effects in any number of classic studio subjects.
Classes Of Light
There are so many types of lights available in studio lighting that modern photographers have almost infinite control. Quality and character of light are produced by the bulb’s strength and color temperature. There are many factors in a light’s total output, but the higher the wattage/seconds, which is the amount of electricity consumed, the more light output you have with a lamphead. This isn’t a law, however, as different bulbs can influence outputs. Bulbs can be set to output at various stops of power, as well, and some even have different color temperatures when using different power levels. With D-SLR cameras, the shift in color can be compensated for by white-balancing, either on a case-by-case basis or through presets set specifically for tungsten or fluorescent light sources.
Many lights can be classified into two main categories—continuous and strobe/flash lighting. The advantage to a strobe/ flash setup is that it can provide bigger oomph without generating as much heat. This is because strobes and flashes only need to generate light for a very short length of time, usually synced with the shutter speed of the camera. For these reasons, strobes and flashes are the favored studio setup for pros.
Strobes and flashes are certainly more difficult to use, however, and require the use of a flash/exposure meter in most situations. While some modern setups feature a modeling light for previewing, without experience, you really have little idea what the image looks like until you see it. For this reason, continuous-light sources are often used so that photographers can successfully gauge lighting conditions while they’re working.
The portability of studio lighting is an important consideration for wedding and event photographers, and power packs bring the juice to location lighting. The included power pack of the Dynalite Road Kit provides enough capacity for distributing power between up to four lampheads. The power pack beeps when the unit fully recycles, and the kit includes two 1015 1000 w/s mini-flash heads and compact 40-inch umbrellas. The entire kit weighs 15.3 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $1,299.
Monolights are similar in function to on-camera flashes, but they’re more powerful and versatile. The Hensel eFlash Compact Monolight Kit includes two eFlash monolights with a 250 w/s maximum power storage. Ideal for small portrait studios, the eFlash monolights have power settings that can be dialed to a four-stop range of intensity. Built-in optical slaves fire both monolights simultaneously with the included sync cord. There’s also a 32-inch white umbrella with black backing for diffusion and a 30-degree grid for narrowing the spread of light. Estimated Street Price: $1,049.
A softbox, as the name implies, provides a soft, natural lighting effect through a white diffusion panel that’s placed in front of the light. The effect is similar to natural light coming through a window. The two-light Lowel Rifa eX 55 Pro Kit, for instance, provides a continuous soft light output with the included Rifa-Light Softbox enclosure. The Rifa Pro-Light, also included, is useful as a low-level accent, backlight or fill light. The kit comes with a four-leaf barndoor set for controlling the shape and intensity of the light. Estimated Street Price: $835.
Reflective umbrellas soften and spread the light from a lamp by reflecting the light toward the subject. The Norman Allure C1000 3 Tungsten Light Kit includes three continuous-light C1000 lamp fixtures with two reflective white satin umbrellas and three 10-foot light stands. Dual wattage levels with independent on/off switches can alternate levels of power between 350, 650 and 1000 watts with the included 350-watt and 650-watt bulbs. Estimated Street Price: $769.
Multi-lamps provide numerous lighting possibilities in one package. The Constellation3 Large SilverDome Kit from Photoflex accepts its daylight-balanced CoolStar CFL lamps, tungsten-balanced Starlite lamps and Bi-Pin Adapter for ceramic-based, two-pin G9.5 halogen-based lamps. All three lamp sockets can be used separately or together for mixing and matching as needed. The kit also includes a large SilverDome softbox, a 12-foot LiteStand, a Tilt Swivel mount and a Dual Kit Transport Case with wheels. Estimated Street Price: $1,299.
Lighten Up And Let Go
While the variety of lighting possibilities available may seem a little overwhelming, with some experience, you’ll find that lighting setups aren’t as complicated as they may seem. The tried-and-true setups mentioned here produce similar results with any number of popular studio subjects, from product shots to still lifes to portraiture, so before purchasing, give some thought to the setups you need most frequently. If you’re only interested in shooting small subjects, then a mini-studio setup probably is good enough. If you have any plans on expanding your portfolio to include portraits or larger subjects, the general rule is that the bigger, the better. Light output always can be stopped down by using lower-wattage bulbs, distance or diffusion.
The great thing about starter kits? While they may be basic, they’re easily customizable by adding other pieces as needed. Learning how to mix and match lights and light sources will give you the greatest results and will be a big step toward creating your own personal style. Through experimentation, your images will start to have a professional look that on-camera flashes just can’t provide.
A constant light source gives photographers a real-time light output for a better idea of how an image will look. The problem with continuous-light sources is that they consume a lot of power and produce a lot of heat, which is why on-camera flashes are strobe-based.
The Litepanels Micro camera light has solved this problem through LED technology. Providing one and a half to seven hours of continuous output from four AA batteries and an incredible seven to eight hours with Energizer’s e2 lithium-ion batteries, the Micro produces soft, luminous lighting in 5600-degree cool white daylight while generating almost no heat. It weighs less than four ounces, with dimensions of only 3.3×3.3×1.5 inches.
Output can be dimmed with the dimmer dial located at the top with little color shift, and the Micro includes a 3200-degree Tungsten conversion swingdown filter for warm white color temperature. Available options also include spare color/diffusion gels, a base plate for using the Micro off-camera and an articulated camera extension arm. The Micro also can be powered from a 5-12VDC source through an input jack. Estimated Street Price: $299.
Contact: Litepanels, (818) 752-7009, www.litepanels.com.
| Dynalite | (800) 722-6638
Hensel USA | (816) 268-3649
Lowel Light | (800) 334-3426
Norman | (800) 787-8078
Photoflex | (800) 486-2674