Studio Lighting Techniques you Really Need to Know
With any type of photography, the lighting techniques you use will greatly affect the way your work looks, as will the choice of props you decide to use. Below are some lighting principles I abide by when carrying out photography in my studio and will also refer to a selection of props I can’t go without. Don’t forget, the techniques you adopt should vary according to the type of your shoot, the client and style you’re aiming for.
Continuous or flash?
Firstly you need to decide which type of lighting source is best suited to your shoot’s purpose. The continuous option is relatively inexpensive and great for those starting out in studio photography. As the name suggests, it is a continuous source of light which will help find where the shadows and highlights will be throughout the shoot, and is a good option for still life photography. However, do bear in mind that this type of equipment emits a lot of heat, which isn’t ideal if you’re shooting portrait or fashion. Flash equipment puts more control in the photographer’s hands, allowing you to adjust your shots to create the desired style.
Photographing newborns and children
As mentioned earlier, continuous lighting can be a problem if you’re working with people – the constant heat from the equipment is likely to irritate your subjects. With delicate little babies, this is especially a concern. If your studio allows for natural lighting, take advantage of that. If not, use soft continuous lighting.
With older children I recommend using a combination of flash and continuous. Attach a softbox in front of the child to make their face even rounder and the catch lights in their eyes stand out. To completely eliminate harsh shadows and create even lighting I recommend fixing a large softbox – a 32”x40” usually works well. This simple but effective setup results in really vibrant colors and suits the feel of this type of shoot.
Portrait shoots require an altogether different approach. Quite often you will work with clients who are out of their comfort zone when in a photography studio. So it’s up to you to manipulate lighting levels so that the client not only feels comfortable, but is amazed with the end results. Taking pregnancy photography as an example, use soft, flattering lighting to emphasize the curve of the client’s bump whilst minimizing areas that might want a little less attention after 9 months of pregnancy.
A distinct style of shot which is especially popular in portrait is the silhouette photo. To create this look, place strong lighting directly behind the person and bring in a soft second light from the front if you want to bring their face out of darkness.
Tips for fashion shots
Here you can get really creative. Experimenting with the intensity and positioning of your lights will yield surprisingly varied results. Begin with single flash lights from the side to create truly dramatic compositions. For a more flattering look, angle the lights at 45 degrees from the front if the client is not too full in the face. When you have mastered the style you’re aiming for, bring in a second light to highlight the person’s hair or clothing, or to separate the client from the background.
Studio photography props you should never be without
Every photographer has a collection of props they swear by. The props you need really depend on the type of photography you shoot, but I do think every photographer should have 3 studio staples, which I’ll explain below.
Outdoor photo shoots can present photographers with some amazing backgrounds. However, in a studio you can truly personalize the look and feel of your photos thanks to having a selection of backdrops handy. There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a backdrop – it all comes down to personal preference. I recommend browsing Pinterest for inspiration – a lot of the ideas you’ll find there can be recreated fairly cheaply. Personally I couldn’t live without black sheets for baby photo shoots. They’re perfect for hiding moms and dads in the background and are ideal for when you just want a strong arm holding a beautiful baby.
For children, I always give them something to stand on such as a low box or stool – something safe but which anchors them to the spot is invaluable. A big luxurious chair is also a perfect prop for any age client, even if it’s just to pull up to a window and to sit them in beautiful natural light. If traditional family portraiture is your thing, then a grand sofa with personality is a must.
When children are involved in a photo shoot, keeping them occupied can be a task in itself. Thankfully there is no shortage of props you can use for the job – these props not only add to the personality of the photos but they have the added benefit of keeping the little ones entertained. Consider dolls or costume jewelry for girls, and sports accessories or teddy bears for the boys. You can’t go wrong with balloons either. Also, asking the parents to bring their child’s favorite toys works well too.
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