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  1. #1

    Studio Lighting

    I tried to help some people set up two studio lights - the goal was to take photos of people's faces, with no shadows and smooth, even illumination. If anyone has some advice (beyond the big mistake I made due to ignorance), please suggest it here.

    We purchased two electronic strobe lights, which get triggered by the camera's built-in flash. Since I didn't really want the camera flash to do much of anything, I mounted a Nikon SB-900 flash on the camera, and aimed it at the ceiling.

    Everything seemed to work fine, but no matter what I did, the shots were all under-exposed. It was as if the strobes weren't even firing, but I knew they were. By taking photos in (M)anual mode on the camera, shutter set to (B)ulb, and my opening the shutter, having an assistant fire the flash, then closing the shutter, I found out that everything was working. In despair, I called the manufacturer of the lights, who called me back half an hour later - turn off the TTL. Once that was done, everything was fine. Big thing for me to remember, if I'm not using Nikon flash units, shut off the TTL system. I left the camera in (M)anual mode, setting the aperture by "guess", and used the SB-900 flash to trigger the lights.

    Next came the goal of eliminating the shadows. With reflectors on the lights, I got lots of shadows. I then mounted the devices (not sure of the name) that place a white cloth in front of the lights, held in place by a wire frame. These things are big, around 1 foot high by two feet wide, but the shadows were gone. Mission accomplished, but the lights were now taking up a lot of space.

    As a test, I removed the cloth devices, and aimed the lights at the wall behind the lights, which was painted a light gray color. Everything was still fine, lots of lighting, no shadows, and everyone seemed pleased with the results. That's where we stopped, and that's how things are still set up.

    My knowledge about this stuff is basically zero. It's the first time I've really gotten to work with strobes like this. If there are things we can still do to improve the setup, please feel free to suggest them. Should we be buying a light meter for the strobes? I've never used one, but maybe that would be better than guessing at the exposure by looking at the captured images.
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  2. #2
    You did exactly right mike with what you had... ttl is a biggie not to use for optical triggers...
    Don't waste money on meters... when i approach a studio setup I...
    Set ISO to 100
    Set shutter to 160 or 200 (in M)
    Adjust lights positions and power usually around power.
    A few test shots adjusting the aperture to set exposure.

    For even lighting...if you have a diffuser for both lights...put them both directly in front of person . One will be over their head and the other low to the ground both at 45 degrees and aimed at face. I'd prob set the bottom one a lil less power or pull it away a foot at a time to give SOME dimention to the face if you don't have power adjustments on the lights. That's called clamshell lighting...and its great for older people with wrinkles or as I call it... character lines

    You can do the same but left and right sides with a lil different results as well.

    PS... if you do have power adjustment on the lights... set it really low and move the lights in as close as possible with out being in the shot and that will make the light "source" seem "bigger".

    Pss ... if you wanna go the extra mile... using the clamshell method....try to only get the top light to show on the eyes by moving the bottom one so it won't "catch" in the eyes. Seeing two white dots can make them look alien sometimes...exspecially if your wanting even lighting.

  3. #3
    Thank you! There is a goldmine of information in what you just posted... here's my summary, since we do have adjustable power:

    Quote Originally Posted by slim1 View Post

    • Set ISO to 100
    • Set shutter to 160 or 200 (in M)
    • Adjust lights positions and power usually around power.
    • A few test shots adjusting the aperture to set exposure.
    • diffuser for both lights...both directly in front of person . One will be over their head and the other low to the ground both at 45 degrees and aimed at face.
    • set the bottom one a lil less power
    • set bottom one really low
    • move the lights in as close as possible with out being in the shot
    • only get the top light to show on the eyes by moving the bottom one so it won't "catch" in the eyes.
    It all makes sense - very logical. We will try it out later this week. Again, thanks!
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  4. #4
    Bob Malphurs
    Way back in '75-'76 I worked for a photography company out of St. Louis as a photographer doing family portrait work. This was a traveling studio setup going around the country to Sears stores. The equipment I used was all first class, camera (Camerz Classic) used 100' 70mm roll film, multi strobe power supply for a 4-strobe setup. There were 2 strobes in front, one for the different backgrounds the customer choose and one set up high behind the person(s) with a snoot pointed down at the back of the head.

    One of the two strobes in front was setup just above the head and down and slightly off to one side at full power. The other setup at eye level off more to the other side at half power. Both strobes were in 16" reflectors with diffusers to soften the flash. The one high and behind was to add luster to the hair. The one on the background was to eliminate shadows. Of course back then using film you didn't have the option to "see" instantly how your exposure was so of course I used a flash meter.

    Later in the 70's I did some wedding photography. I was using a Mamiya RB67 for the posed shooting and a Nixon F2AS for the rest. For my posed shots I used two Sunpack flashes on stands with umbrella diffusers. One was hard wired to the camera and the other on a remote trigger. And used a flash meter as well. I always used a diffuser with the flash attached to the camera.

    Controlling the shadows is everything in portrait work!
    Last edited by Bob Malphurs; 02-21-2012 at 02:32 PM. Reason: remembered name of camera

  5. #5
    Do you guys have one or two photos of how things "should" look when the lights are set up as described?

    I don't think I'll have the option to use more than two lights, but I like reading about how to aim them for best effect.

    It's not directly related to this, but can a polarizing filter be used to minimize the reflection of the lights in the subject's eyes?
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  6. #6
    this was a four light set up, 2, 36 inch soft boxes to my left and right... one behind her and to my right aimed at her head to light the hair. I believe i used a umbrella on that one. and a simple speed light with a colored gel aimed at the black paper to give it the glow behind her.

    My crazy ex...
    2 light set up... beauty dish above and on my right, and a softbox down low and to my left aimed up and to her face

    3 light set up... soft box low and to my left again... umbrella to my right and high to detail the crown and her left side hair... had a snooted one in the back on my left aimed forward to light the hair and give it sheen as well as that subtle light on her right cheek...

  7. #7
    Those go far beyond what I was needing - very, very nice! Beautiful!!

    The faces are lit up very nicely, and the skin looks three dimensional, not flat.

    I notice we now have rectangular reflections in the eyes, no doubt due to the square diffusers (is that the right name) in front of the lights. I wish there was a way to avoid that. Would a polarizing filter cut down on that reflection?
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  8. #8
    i edited the catch lights out of the Dr's image... you can see that its almost creepy and soul-less... Mike, take note today when you are around others and actually look at their eyes and you will see there is ALWAYS some sort of reflection in them. we may not notice it day to day, but our brains 'see it' and process it.

    Last edited by slim1; 02-24-2012 at 09:14 AM.

  9. #9
    Thanks Mike. A good portrait will always have a catch light in them... not to say it HAS to be there... but it add realism to it, plus it draws attention to the eyes which is what a portrait is really about IMO. With out it you run the risk of having black holes for eyes. But it is ultimately up to you and you can do it how ever you want.

    yes the 'square' is a 24x36 inch soft box

  10. #10
    Thanks very much for all the helpful advice.

    We tried to set the lights up as described, and spent a few hours adjusting everything. The results were wonderful. The head of the hospital wandered over towards the end, and he was very impressed! Now we need to get an additional light to show off people's hair nicely.... but this is for portraits. The basic photos I originally wanted to take are coming out perfectly as-is.

    What we need to do now, is find a location where we can set things up permanently - it's a lot of effort to have to assemble and disassemble the studio for each time a photo is needed.
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