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.