We have been slammed recently with questions on lighting, ranging from what to purchase to how to set it up. We are beyond excited to introduce our Lighting on a Budget Series by Nicki Hufford of Hufford Photography. This girl has some MAD SKILLS and is a photographer whom I admire, respect and love. Her series has something for every photographer from the newbies to the pros, Read, ENJOY & PLEASE SHARE !
Studio Lighting on a Budget
When I started my journey as a professional photographer I did as most newbies do …. outdoor sessions, natural light and bounce flash.
Not only was I scared to tackle the big bad studio lights, I also thought they would never be in my budget. After a few years doing business – mostly during the summer months – my clients started to ask the dreaded question …. do you have a studio?
I seriously freaked !
But after a lot of researching and experimenting, I can now say that I feel very comfortable in all lighting situations. By the end of this 3 piece article I will show you how to see the light before you even snap the shutter.
Getting Started … The Portable Studio
Of course I didn’t want to turn away clients, but at the same time I was still working full time and photography was only supplementing my income. I did not have the resources or the funds to rent a retail location. After many many sleepless nights I came up with a solution. I knew my house was way too small to bring clients in for sessions, but most of my clients had homes big enough for me to set up a small backdrop. My studio career was born!
I purchased the cheapest studio light I could find, my cousin gave me an old backdrop stand that his work had in the basement, and I bought some king sized sheet (Yep not even backdrops!). All together I had less than $100.00 invested. It was very basic, but boy oh boy did I learn a lot.
For months I would drag my little portable studio around to my client’s houses. During this period of my career, I quickly learned how to light subjects in the worst possible conditions. Not everyone has tons of natural light, white walls, and a huge living room! When I first started using studio lights I did what most people do. I blasted my subject with an umbrella light. It was harsh and my subjects often got lost in the backdrop, and I hated the look of my pictures.
I was about to throw in the towel and try to figure out a way to market myself as only an outdoor photographer. Instead, I started researching. I spent hours reading about light. It slowly dawned on me that photography was much more about light than it was snapping the shutter at the right moment (ok… yes that helps). I was great at getting all of those special little moments, but the light was ruining the shot. I set out on a journey to master every possible look I could with just one light because at the time that was all I could afford!
My First Studio !
A few years later I started renting a studio on a per session basis from another photographer. For the first time in my career I had multiple lights and accessories at my disposal. At first, it was overwhelming. By this time knew how to light a subject, or even a group, with one light. But 2 or 3 lights! Then there were all the accessories. Beauty dish, barn door, softbox, octabox, honeycomb, snoot…. It was like a foreign language. I hit the books again. It was time to learn how to light with more than one umbrella light.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to take over the studio space that I was renting. I had a very solid client base by this time and photography had been my full time job for almost a year. Though the space was now mine, I still had to furnish it with all the items I was now use to shooting with. I was overwhelmed once again. Studio equipment is supposed to be expensive right!?! Clients will not take you seriously if you do not have the top of the line, most expensive equipment right!?!
Yep… this is what I thought too.
At one point I even considered taking out a loan to buy everything I needed. Then one night, while I was looking all over the internet at lighting, trying to figure out how the heck I was going to actually be able to use the studio I was now paying rent for, I stumbled across a $160.00 monolight kit. It came with a light stand, 150w monolight strobe, and a decent sized softbox. The reviews seemed good so I figured what the heck! Then I purchased the cheapest white vinyl backdrop and painted a few $10.00 wall panels to use as backdrops. I had my makeshift studio.
Some Things I Learned
Over the past 6 months I have realized a lot of things …..
- Clients do NOT know how much your equipment cost. In their minds, if it is photography equipment it must be expensive! They do not know the difference between a $ 500.00 monolight and a $100.00 monolight. If you can get the same results with a light that cost you $100.00, you can buy a lot more items to fill up your studio with the other $400.00.
- If you are creative, there are MANY ways to create a lot of different looks with just a few lights and backdrops. Start small and add on as you can. I will not buy a new piece of lighting equipment until I have figured out how to use the last item I purchased!
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Towards the end of every session I mix up the lighting and try something new. I know I already have my money shots so why not experiment when you have a willing subject!
- Most importantly, do not EVER think you have mastered studio lighting. There is always something new you can learn. I’m still learning every day.
Now that you guys know a little more about me, I will explain how I achieve many different looks using the small amount of equipment I have. I will give you tips that I have learned while on the job, pull back shots of how I set up my lights, and of course, show you the end results. I will even be going right into a client’s house again to show you how you can take quality photos for clients even when you do not have a studio!!!
But before we dive into all the juicy details here is the list of all the equipment I have in my studio.
- (2) Flashpoint II 320m, 150 watt second Ac/Dc moonlight strobes
- (2) 24×36 softboxes (Diffuses light and eliminates shadows)
- (1) 16” beauty dish (white) (Creates a harsher light but is great for close ups and pictures you want some shadow in)
- (1) barn door (allows you to control the pattern and intensity of the light by opening and closing the four panels)
- (1) 32 inch reflector (white and gold) (reflects light from any light source)
Techniques for photographing subjects with only one light
(Pictures 1, 2 and 3 —- Pullback, final edit, SOOC)
Photographing kids can be challenging. Throw in camera settings and lighting and it can easily make you want to pull out your hair. When I set up my camera for kids I normally am at Shutter – 160 F/stop-4 Iso-100. The light will stop the action of a fast moving child.
Normally I like to use a softbox with kids. I want a wide area of light. I set it up a few feet from them and I normally have the power on the light turned down as low as it can go. I like a little shadow and I hate the blown out skin look.
You can see in the first pullback shot I had the light fairly close to him and angled slightly down. He was playing and moving around a lot, but always on the ground. If he had been up running around I would have had it positioned straight. When using this type of lighting you need to be very carefully of where the child is.
I knew I wanted to catch him looking right at the light as in the picture above. When you get the light close to your subject the catch light in the eyes is fantastic. Notice how big they are in this picture! I still wanted a lighter background for this picture so I had him close to the backdrop too.
(Pictures 4. 5. 6)
As children get a little older, they will stand in one place. This is when you can start mixing up the light. For this picture I wanted a really soft spotlight look. I raised the light so that the bottom of the softbox was even with the top of her head. The light is roughly 3 feet away from her and angled all the way down. I added a reflector for a little fill light. You can see the subject is fully lit, but the background is darker from the floor line up and there is a dark shadow from her legs and body. This technique works amazingly well when the subject is wearing glasses!
(Pictures 7, 8, 9)
This picture uses the same technique mentioned above, however the reflector is now moved to underneath the subject. I used the gold side of the reflector to get a really warm feeling to the red backdrop (this is one of the wall panels I painted … total cost 20.00 !!). For lighter colors, I would use the white side of the reflector. I dropped my f/stop to 3.5 since we were so close to the drop.
(Pictures 10, 11, 12)
I love reflectors. They can act almost as another light at times. With this set up I have the softbox on one side and the reflector on the other. I wanted to darken the backdrop, so I moved my subject farther away from it, moved the light and reflector to about a foot and a half away from the subject, and then dropped my f/stop to 3.2 to create a nice blur. As you can see the reflector almost eliminated the shadows.
(Pictures 13, 14, 15)
Another way to completely change the light is to use a beauty dish instead of a softbox. A beauty dish can give you a ton of different looks. Here I knew I wanted the light to fall down her body, making the face the brightest area of the photo. The bottom of the beauty dish is just about level with the subject’s eyes and slightly pointed down. I added the reflector again but put it a little farther away so the fill light wasn’t very strong. By positioning the light above her I am also lighting the very top of her head which will help separate the subject from the background.
And there you have it! 5 easy ways to light subjects with just one light!
A few key things to remember….
- When working with only one light you will be dealing with some shadows. This is not necessarily a bad thing. You just have to watch where the shadows are!
- With young children, you really have to be patient and wait for them to turn the correct way.
- The closer the light is to your subject, the darker the background will get.
- The angle of the light is EVERYTHING. If your light is pointed directly at your subject, you will have what is called broad lighting. This can work well for children but normally isn’t very good for adults. When you eliminate most of the shadows you can actually make the subject look heavier and I don’t know any client that wants that!!! When a person’s face is turned slightly there is a short side of the face and a long side of the face. When you position your lights so that the short side is brighter the subject will look thinner. With kids you really do not have to worry about that, but with adults it is a nice thing to remember!
- Remember that the light will gradually get darker and create an effect called fall off. When this happens, areas of the image that are closer to the light are brighter than the areas that are farther away. Use fall off to emphasize areas that you want the eye to be drawn to and hide areas that you don’t. When only using one light, the fall off is much more noticeable.
- Use your modeling lamps! Whenever I set my lights, I step back and look at what the modeling lamps are showing me. They will show you where the light will hit the subject and if you need to move it a little to get the look you are going for.
- Though I do not recommend it, if you must photograph a larger group with just one light, pull the light pretty far away, crank up the power, and position it as close as possible to the center of the group. Raise the top of the softbox so that it is level with the tallest person in the group. Turn the softbox so that it is horizontal and angle it slightly down.
Have more lighting questions?! No worries!
In part two of this article, I will show you how to create a ton of different looks with just two studio
In strobes. Once you add a second light you can really get creative!
JOIN our GROUP to ask questions !
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