10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits

The post 10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits

Portraiture is as vast a genre of photography as it is rewarding. There are a lot of ways to go about creating portraits with a lot of visual interest, but one of the most satisfying ways to do this (to me anyway) is to create emotive portraits. Being able to capture your subjects showing emotion (whether that be positive or negative) not only allows you to show your viewer a more human aspect of your subject, but it can also help create compelling and arresting imagery. This article provides you ten tips to help you with your create emotive portraits. Some of these tips are technical, but most of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, focus on how you interact with your subjects.

1. Concentrate on the gesture

When you’re photographing emotion, it will be helpful to consider what information you need in your frame. If your subject is smiling, crop in close on the head and leave all other information out. The space in your frame is valuable, and you want to ensure that you get your message across clearly. Unneeded information (such as things in the background or body parts that are not involved in the gesture) serve only to detract from the focus of the image.


By cropping in closer, the emphasis of the composition is placed on the gesture of the expression, leaving nothing to distract from it.

That said, pay attention to your subject’s body language. If they are gesticulating with their arms as part of the expression, be sure to include that in your frame as it will help to complete the expression.

2. Keep the lighting simple

Image: Basic lighting techniques work well when trying to capture emotion. A lot of the time, you do...

Basic lighting techniques work well when trying to capture emotion. A lot of the time, you don’t need more than one light and a reflector.

Just like in a lot of other walks of life, less can definitely be more in emotive portraiture. By keeping your lighting simple, you are controlling how much information is in the frame. Just like the first tip, this is about ensuring that your viewer’s attention is placed squarely where you want it to be.

The lighting pattern that you choose will likely depend on what emotion you are trying to convey. For bright, happy emotions, you may opt for something like butterfly lighting. You also might choose to use a lot of fill light. For darker emotions, like sadness, more dramatic light such as that provided by short lighting is a fantastic tool that provides many shadows and can add tons of mood to your images.

3. Communicate clearly

Image: Before you even start a shoot, explain to your subject as clearly as possible what you want f...

Before you even start a shoot, explain to your subject as clearly as possible what you want from them. If you need to, show them examples.

Assuming you are staging your portrait session rather than taking candids, you will want to very clearly communicate with your subject exactly what it is that you are trying to achieve. Be specific and avoid vagueness. If you tell someone to be happy, you might get that generic smile that everybody gives a camera. Instead of happy, try saying something along the lines of: “I’m looking for genuine expressions of joy. I want you to imagine that you’ve just got a new puppy.” You’ll find this kind of thing works well very often as you almost always evoke genuine emotion from someone.

If the puppy doesn’t work, feel free to substitute it with anything that might. Kitten, baby, chinchilla, motorcycle; it doesn’t matter as long as it works.

4. Genuine rapport


Having a good rapport with your subject will often give you more subtle and genuine expressions.

To get the very best and most authentic expressions out of your subjects, you will want to build a genuine rapport with them. Be nice, be polite, let them talk about themselves, show them the back of the camera, joke around (appropriately) and develop a light-hearted banter (if warranted, not everyone appreciates it).

Also, try to keep the session relaxed and stress-free. You, as the photographer, might be worried about the lighting and all of the technical things, but I think it’s vital for you to worry about your role in your head and keep your subject’s focus on their role.

5. Make your subject an actor

Image: Instructing your subjects to act out various scenarios can give you a range of images from wh...

Instructing your subjects to act out various scenarios can give you a range of images from which to choose the most natural and evocative images.

An approach that can help to elicit good expressions is to tell your subject to act rather than to pose. Still images and video are very different things, and people change their behavior accordingly. If you suggest that they should treat the session and the scenarios you give them as if you were filming, or as if they were acting on stage, you can get much more natural expressions. Better yet; book an actor if you want the very best results, and it suits your project.

6. Look away from the camera


One of the easiest ways to get emotion into your photos is to have your subject look away from the camera.

One of the simplest ways to help convey real expression is to make sure your subject isn’t looking directly at the camera. Instead, pick a point for them to look at and direct them to do so. Where you pick isn’t important as long as you can capture and clearly convey the emotion that you are after.

This is very useful for the more somber emotions. Sadness, longing, and thoughtfulness can all be more easily portrayed with your subject looking off into the distance. This isn’t a rule, so please don’t shoot every single shot this way unless the situation calls for it.

7. Give permission to be ridiculous

Image: Tell your subjects they can be as ridiculous as they want. It can help to loosen them up and...

Tell your subjects they can be as ridiculous as they want. It can help to loosen them up and act more natural later. Sure, there will be unusable frames, but you might just hit gold.

Many people (including those with much experience) tend to go rigid in front of a camera. Let them know that they can act ridiculous. Moreover, encourage them to act as ridiculous and exaggerated as possible. This will help them to loosen up, and it will also help to lighten the mood of the session. Having your subject’s pull funny faces is a good way of cutting through the seriousness of a photoshoot.

Another trick that I sometimes use (it doesn’t work on everyone) is to get someone to fill their cheeks with air and then blow out as hard as possible.

If they’re open to it, it almost always results in fits of laughter.

8. Have a set of techniques that provoke reactions

Image: Blurting out random words and photographing the reactions can lead to fantastic results.

Blurting out random words and photographing the reactions can lead to fantastic results.

There are a lot of tips on how to provoke reactions from people. My favorite is to blurt out random words and photograph the reactions. To do this, just say a different word in-between frames. It could go something like alpaca, cheeseburger, dunce cap, or giant mushroom. Feel free to adjust your words based on the person you are working with.

Again, it doesn’t work on everyone, and you may have to switch to another technique.

If you know your subject well enough, you could always show them some funny pictures or memes on your phone. Just be sure that whatever you show them matches their sense of humor or you might ruin the rest of your shoot.

9. Give food for thought


Try giving your subject a specific scenario to think about for a few frames. This works well across the board, no matter how happy or sad you want them to act.

Instead of strings of random words, you can give your subject a specific thing to think about. This works well for all manner of emotions, whether that be happy or sad. I recently worked with an actor, and she introduced me to the sentence, “Imagine a badger eating spaghetti.” For laughter, I don’t think I’ve come across anything that works better.

For sadder emotions, I suggest (from experience) avoiding being too specific. If you say something along the lines “Imagine the loss of a pet” and they recently lost a pet, it’s really not going to go down well.

Instead, ask them to imagine feeling a loss and let them think about whatever it is that comes to mind. Remember, when trying to capture negative emotions, you will generally have no idea what’s going on in your subject’s life. While you want to capture an emotion, it’s not usually a good idea to put your subject through unnecessary emotional turmoil. Please try to be respectful of that and the people you work with.

I know of a lot of wonderful photo projects that exist to document the rawest emotions in people (Sam Taylor Wood’s “Crying Men” is easily the best photography exhibit I have ever seen). I am not saying “don’t do that” if that’s your goal. However, do be explicit with your intentions to your subjects, and do ask them if there’s anything they would rather you not touch on.

10. Outtakes

Image: Don’t forget to take a look at your outtakes from any given shoot. They are usually the...

Don’t forget to take a look at your outtakes from any given shoot. They are usually the most spontaneous and natural shots of all.

During a normal portrait session, outtakes can often be seen as a fun extra. However, when you’re creating emotive portraits, it’s the outtakes where you might find the most genuine expressions. Don’t forget to give them a look through once you have the photos on the computer. You may find that a spontaneous outtake has given you exactly what you were after.


Seriously, the world needs more outtakes.

That’s it

Sometimes getting your subjects to react the way you want and then to convey those emotions well in your photographs can be a challenge. With these ten tips, you hopefully have a few more tools in your belt to make that process easier. These are just a handful of things that can help; however, and there are plenty of other techniques out there.

If you have tried and tested methods, or things that you say to subjects to provoke expression, please add it to the comments below.



The post 10 Tips to Create Emotive Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Steps For Better Product Photography in Natural Light

The post Steps For Better Product Photography in Natural Light appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Taking photos of products can seem like a daunting task. If you look at a lot of advertising, you will find yourself inundated with a lot of high-end product photography that can seem (and probably is) out of reach for a novice. The thing is, not all product photography is equal. In many cases, a much simpler approach will do the job just fine.

This article will guide you through a process that can get you started taking product photos with minimal equipment. In these examples, you don’t even need a studio, just a backyard, and decent weather. You will also see that you can replace some dedicated kit (reflectors and diffusers in this case) with some basic and cheap substitutes.

What you need

With one optional exception, you will only need some basic kit to go through the process outlined here.

Camera – There’s not much to say about this one. You will need a camera.

Lenses – To get the best results you will want to choose a lens with a close focusing distance (if your products are relatively small) and a focal length that will give you the option to fill the frame.

If the products that you are photographing are quite small, you may want to opt for a macro lens. Fast lenses aren’t much of a concern here as you will want to choose an aperture that ensures complete focus on all parts of your subject.

Tripod – Because this is still-life photography, you absolutely should use a tripod. The reason should become clear as this tutorial progresses, but it will make your life so much easier.

An outdoor space – As for the where, all you need to get started with this tutorial is an open outdoor space. Even a small backyard will do. Anywhere that will lend you a decent, clean background will do.

Tissue paper – In lieu of a dedicated diffuser, you can use tissue paper. For ease of use, you can mount this in a frame of some description with clips or a bit of tape. This allows you to control and manipulate the natural light in your photos. I did use a dedicated diffuser in this tutorial, but tissue paper will work just as well.

White and black card (foamcore works well) – Use these as reflectors and flags respectively to give you further control over the manipulation of the light.

Backgrounds (optional) – Using the environment as a background will be fine a lot of the time, but sometimes you may need something different.

Don’t want to rely on what’s there? Bring your own backgrounds, such as these purpose-made boards or use plain colored paper. The choices are endless.

Color Management – Depending on what you are photographing and whom you are creating product photography for, color management may be optional, or it may be a legal requirement.

Tools like the ColorChecker Passport are indispensable for getting accurate colors in your images.

Even if it’s not necessary for your situation, it’s still a good idea.  The word ‘product’ implies that you are selling something. Even if you’re only creating an eBay or Facebook Marketplace listing, ensure an accurate representation of what you are selling. It is a means of treating the people you are selling to with respect. If you’re providing commercial services to a paying client, then that accurate representation of the product may be a legal requirement. Do your research and find that out before you get started.

Note: While you can use tissue paper and foamcore to great effect, I still believe you should buy a 5-in-1 reflector or two. These give you access to white and silver reflectors, diffusers and flags. Godox sells one for $15, so there’s no excuse. You can also use 5-in-1 reflectors as a background in a pinch.

Getting started

With your gear collected, this process is relatively straightforward.

Step 1: Find a space


Finding a space that gives you plenty of room to work and gives you a decent background may be the most important step in all of this.

As long as you are photographing small(ish) objects, where you choose to set up isn’t very important. Since the focus of your image is solely the product, other elements like the background won’t be taking up very much space in your frame in most cases. As long as you can find a space that gives you a clean background (or somewhere to place your own) and gives you plenty of room to work, you will be fine.

If you are working with small objects at a close distance to the camera, work with small apertures like f/16. If you want an out of focus background, you will want to ensure there is a good distance between your subject and the background.

Without going into the math, the closer your camera is to the subject, the shallower the depth of field becomes. When you are really close (especially with macro lenses), the focal plane reduces to a tiny sliver. To combat this, use small apertures.

In terms of lighting, as long as there is light, you will be fine. If you have all of the equipment listed at the top of this article, you will be able to manipulate the light in most situations.

Broad daylight? No problem. Shade? No problem. Any time of day will work except for the night where you would probably need to add an external light source of some description.

Step 2: Set up


As this spot was lit by direct sunlight, I put the diffuser up before doing anything else.

Now that you are in your space, pick where you want to set up and decide where you are going to photograph your product. Place your camera on a tripod and ensure that you have a good idea of how you are going to frame your product.

You can now evaluate your lighting. If you’re in open daylight, setup the tissue paper as a diffuser over where your product is going to be. You can fine-tune this later, but any diffusion you may be using should be in place before you start anything else. Diffusion material is going to affect the color of your images. Having it in place allows you to see the light as it’s going to appear in your photos while you are working on your composition.

Step 3 – Color Management


With the light diffused, take your steps towards color management. You want to do this before placing your subject to avoid moving it.

If you are opting to replicate accurate colors, do it now. Place your grey card (or whatever tool you’ve chosen) where your product will be under the exact lighting conditions that your final images will be created with. Take a photo of the card. If you’re setting the white balance in-camera, do it now. If you’re using a tool like the ColorChecker Passport shown in the example images, you can save it for the software later.

Step 4: Place your subject

Place your subject where you want it for your desired composition. Once that’s done, you can begin modifying the lighting. (This image is with the diffusion panel removed)

The next step is to place your product in situ for the composition that you want. Adjust the subject and the positioning of the camera until you have your desired effect. I find it is important to get this right at this stage. With this done, you are free to adjust everything else (such as the lighting) while being able to compare any test shots. It also allows you to blend multiple exposures later (providing it would be permissible to do so).

Step 5: Choose your aperture


Details are essential when you are selling something. The image on the left is shot at f/4 and you will see many of the details are concealed by depth of field. In the right-hand image, all details are present, but the background is less obscured.

With products, most of the time, you will want to choose an aperture that provides maximum focus on the whole of the subject. Since the depth of field is most affected by the distance of the camera from the subject, small objects close to the camera (particularly with a macro lens) will lead you to use much smaller apertures than you might typically use in other situations. If you need to, take a few test shots at various aperture settings. Review the results until you have the desired effect. Depending on your camera, you may find the depth of field preview button useful here as well.

Shooting tethered is also a great way to be able to see if there is enough depth of field in your images.

Step 6: Evaluate the lighting

Here, the subject is lit with unmodified light. You can see that the contrast is high and there is missing detail in both the shadows and highlights.

With everything in place, you’re just about ready to go. Here is where you can fine-tune your lighting to your heart’s content.

Adding the diffuser above the subject helped to even out the exposure between the background and the subject. All details are now present.


Use your white card(s) to fill in any shadows that may be providing too much contrast in your images. The beauty of using a card is you can cut it into any size and shape to match any need you have so that you are only reflecting where the extra light needs to be. For the most part, you are going to want to avoid heavy contrast in product photos, so feel free to use reflectors generously.

A bit of white mount board at camera left has filled in that side of the subject just a tiny amount. It makes the exposure evener.


In the event that there’s light falling on your subject where you don’t want it, use your black card as flags. For example, if the main source of light is coming from behind your subject, you can use a flag to shape that light so that it is only falling on your product where you want it. You can also use flags to darken areas around your subjects, such as the surface it is resting on, to put more emphasis on the product itself.

Introducing a flag to camera right has darkened that side of the subject. It has increased contrast just a bit and reduced the impact of the specular highlight on the droid’s head.

This step may seem optional, and to be fair, it pretty much is, but if you want your images to stand out, this is by far the most important step. The more attention to detail and effort you place into getting the lighting right, the better your photos are going to be.

It pains me to suggest that you could to move your camera at this point. However, as a last resort, if you’re having problems controlling the contrast in your images, you can set your camera to spot metering mode and evaluate where your reflectors need to be from there.

That said, if your light is suitably diffused, you shouldn’t have to resort to that. Alternatively, you could use a second body or a light meter if your subject is big enough.

Step 7: Final shot


The final image with minimal post-processing.

With all of the prep work done, you can now take your final shot. If all has gone well, you should have a well-lit, well-exposed image in the composition of your choice. Going through all of these steps should also mean there is very little to do in terms of post-processing.

That’s it

Is this the only way to take photos of products? Absolutely not. It’s not even close to the only way to do things outdoors. This is just one easy method to help you get results with minimal gear.

Hopefully, you’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t need a fully decked out studio and a myriad of specialist and obscure equipment to achieve better product photography results. Basic equipment, basic camera craft and attention to detail can take you a long way and get you results that will help you to sell whatever it is you are trying to sell.



The post Steps For Better Product Photography in Natural Light appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography?

The post What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography?

Beauty dishes are common and well-loved lighting modifiers. They are particularly useful for portraits (beauty is in the name after all). They also tend to be a lot cheaper than decent sized softboxes. Years ago, your choice of beauty dish was quite limited. Nowadays, if you try searching for beauty dishes, you will be presented with a multitude of options that greatly vary in size and even how they set up.

2- What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography?

Although the numbers don’t seem to be that different, the actual sizes of these beauty dishes vary greatly, and they all have a distinct effect on the light in your images.

What do you do when faced with this kind of choice and how do you know what size beauty dish you should buy? This article discusses three common sizes of beauty dishes and shows you what effect they have on your images. All of the beauty dishes discussed here are silver, and none of them are collapsible. As long as they are of decent quality, the fact that a beauty dish is collapsible should have no impact on your images.

What is a beauty dish?

Three different size beauty dishes. Left: 16″ Middle: 20″ Right: 27″

Beauty dishes are bowl-shaped modifiers that are known for the contrasty light they provide. The quality of light is usually somewhere between hard and soft (when brought in close to your subject). This sets them apart from other modifiers, like umbrellas and softboxes, where the goal is to achieve the softest light possible. This allows you to achieve well-defined edges and shadows, but still retain a flattering light on your subject.

This image shows an unmodified beauty dish on the left. A gridded beauty dish in the middle, and a beauty dish fitted with a diffusion sock on the right.

Often, you will find that beauty dishes come with grids and diffusion socks to help modify them further. Grids alter and increase the directionality of the light, while diffusion socks diffuse the light further, softening it a bit and altering the shape.

What sizes are there?

Any search for a beauty dish should reveal a huge amount of results these days. You can find tiny beauty dishes that are only a few inches across that are designed for flashguns and you can find massive beauty dishes that would be ideal for lighting groups of people. This article compares three sizes that fall more into the normal sized category. These are a 27″, 20″ and 16″.

All three beauty dishes were positioned the same distance from the subject to clearly demonstrate the differences in the effect they provide.

1. 27″

At 27-inch in diameter, this beauty dish is at the upper reaches of what you can expect to find in terms of size. When it’s in close, the light it provides is really soft and is comparable to a medium-sized softbox, but with a bit more contrast to it. It also provides large catchlights in your subject’s eyes.

Because of its size, it’s easy to bring the light further away from your subject to achieve a similar effect to that of smaller beauty dishes, while giving you more room to work. This beauty dish would also be great for lighting multiple people, whereas smaller dishes might struggle.

The 27″ beauty dish provides really soft light when placed in close. Pay attention to the shadow and highlight transitions as well as to how the light wraps around the subject.

There are a couple of disadvantages to a beauty dish this big. The bigger the light source is in relation to your subject, the less bright your subject’s eyes are going to be. If you want bright, clear eyes, a smaller beauty dish may be the way to go. It is also harder to control the light fall off (without a grid) as the bigger source will cast more light behind your subject.

2. 20″

The second beauty dish we’re going to discuss comes in at 20 inches. This is pretty close to what may be considered a standard size for a beauty dish (if there is such a thing). Placed a few feet (1-4) away from your subject, the qualities of light it produces are great for all sorts of portraiture and for a wide variety of subjects.

It is great for male and female subjects, though for flattering portraits of older people you may want to consider not using a beauty dish. Instead, opt for large softboxes and umbrellas. As the beauty dish isn’t a great deal bigger than your average subject’s head (from an appropriate distance), you also have good control over the light fall off, and you have even more control when you introduce a grid.

The 20″ beauty dish also provides good, soft light but the edges of the transitions from shadow to highlight are more defined. You’ll also note the light wraps around the subject less and results in darker shadows toward the back of the subject’s head.

3. 16″

This last beauty dish is 16-inches in diameter. This is the size that I have used the most ever since I bought it well over a decade ago. You can see in the images just how battered and well-used it is.

Because it is quite small, it is easy to control and great to bring in really close to your subject. This beauty dish clearly lights and defines your subject’s eyes. The harder light source also provides clearly defined edges between shadows and highlights but in a flattering manner.

If you want to reduce light fall off as much as possible, this size is definitely the way to go. However, if you want to increase it, you are better off with a larger modifier. This is because moving this beauty dish any distance from your subject will result in really hard light that you might find unflattering to most subjects.

The 16″ beauty dish also provides excellent light. Here you can see the transitions from shadow to highlight are clearly defined. Also, the rapid light fall off means the areas towards the back of the subject’s head are more in shadow.

In terms of portability, this size beauty dish is great. It doesn’t weigh very much at all and just carrying it in your hand takes minimum effort.

When used as something other than a key light, this size beauty dish is really effective. Its small size makes it unobtrusive and easy to position anywhere you need, whether that’s for use as a hair light or fill.

What size should you get?

Left: 16″ Middle: 20″ Right: 27″

Some of the differences between these three modifiers can be subtle and hard to spot if you’re new to lighting. If you’re still wondering which you should opt for, my best advice (which is by no means gospel) would be to evaluate what you need it for.

Do you need portability? Get a small one or consider a collapsible one.

Will you be shooting groups of people often? Go for the largest one you can.

Are you shooting in a small space? Go for the small one again.

Are you shooting in a large space where you can’t get the lights very close to your subject? Again, go for the biggest one possible.

Whichever you choose, make sure that it comes with both a grid and a diffusion sock for the most control possible.

No matter which way you choose to go, you are going to find yourself with a versatile and useful modifier that will last you for years.

Have you used these modifiers? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


what size beauty dish

The post What Size Beauty Dish is Right For Your Portrait Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode

The post 5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Choosing aperture priority mode in difficult lighting situations can free your mind up to deal with the things that matter most to the photo, like timing, rather than messing around with the dials to get the same result.

There’s a lot to be said for the manual exposure mode on your camera. When you’re starting out, learning how to shoot in manual will help you to learn the relationship between shutter speed and aperture. This ensures that you learn what the camera is doing every time you make an exposure. It also builds the basis for you to take what you learn about exposure and correct for the camera’s inability to cope with extreme exposure situations as well as to make creative choices for your images.

After you’ve learned the ins and outs of manual mode, however, there are a few reasons why you might want to forego your hard-learned manual skills for Aperture Priority mode. This article outlines five of these reasons and details what Aperture Priority mode might offer you and your photography in some situations.

1. Aperture priority does the same job as manual mode

In manual mode, the meter in your camera is taking a reading based on your set ISO (provided you’re not using auto ISO). The chances are likely that you’ve picked a deliberate aperture setting before you even lifted the camera up. To get your exposure, you now have to alter the shutter speed so that the indicator on your camera lines up with what the meter dictates is a correct exposure.

Aperture priority does the exact same thing, except that the camera sets up the shutter speed for you.

In instances where you are trusting your camera’s light meter (let’s be honest, that’s most of the time), this will result in the same exposure every single time whether you are shooting in manual mode or aperture priority mode.

What aperture priority mode does is remove the need for you to set the shutter speed yourself. It frees you to concentrate on things like composition without having to constantly keep an eye on the meter.

Exposing for the meter in manual mode resulted in an exposure of f/11 at 1/50th of a second.

Exposing the scene in aperture priority mode just a second later resulted in the exact same exposure. f/11 at 1/50th of a second.

In situations where you need to compensate for dark or light subjects, aperture priority mode still gives you full manual control of the exposure through exposure compensation. Are you taking photos of a dark subject like a black dog? Dial in -1 stop of exposure compensation just one time and keep shooting without having to constantly adjust your settings to get to the same result. Are you taking photos of a fluffy white dog? Same again. This time, add +1 stop of exposure compensation and away you go.

Dark subjects will require you to underexpose them. In Aperture priority mode, this is easily done with exposure compensation. Once you dial in exposure compensation, you are set to go until it has to be changed again. With light-toned subjects, you will have to overexpose them to maintain the correct exposure.

High contrast subjects, like this sheep’s white face lit directly by the setting sun, will also have to be underexposed by at least a few stops.

The only difference between aperture priority mode and manual mode in these circumstances is that you will be spending more time focusing on the creation of the photos than you will be on the dials on your camera.

To be clear, I am not advocating for not learning how to use manual mode. For the best results, it is important for you to understand how your camera works in relation to exposure. Using manual mode is the best and fastest way to do that. So, please, don’t skip over manual altogether. However, once you have it down, using other modes alongside your knowledge of exposure and how it works will help you and your photos in the long run.

2. Speed

The backlighting in this image created an extremely high contrast situation. By dialing in -3 stops of exposure compensation, I was able to ensure that the issues were dealt with in a series of images with one turn of the dial.

As mentioned, using aperture priority reduces the amount of time you have to spend watching the camera’s meter. Because the camera is now setting the shutter speed for you, the only thing you have to worry about in most situations is exposure compensation. Once you set your camera to aperture priority mode, it takes only one finger (on all modern cameras that I’ve used) to adjust the exposure compensation settings.

Need to underexpose by a stop? Just turn the one (relevant) dial three clicks. Done.

The only other thing you might have to worry about is if you have the need, or want, to change your ISO. But that is going to be more uncommon.

3. Aperture priority still gives full manual control

At the risk of repeating myself, but I feel this point really needs to be driven home. Aperture priority mode gives you full manual control over your exposure. It is not automatic, or an auto mode, in any way more than it allows the camera to set the shutter speed based on the meter you are already using.  At any time while in aperture priority mode, you will still have full manual input on what exposure the camera is recording. You just have less physical steps to go through before you get there.

4. Helps to create a constant exposure in changing lighting conditions

One scenario in which aperture priority mode really shines is in changing lighting conditions. For example, if you’re out on a windy and cloudy day, the light levels can constantly shift. In aperture priority mode, your camera changes the shutter speed for correct exposure (already taking into account any exposure compensation that you might have set). Thus, helping you to achieve a consistent look for all of the images in a sequence. This is most useful in terms of shooting a sequence of images to later stitch into a panorama.

When creating a sequence of images for a panorama, aperture priority can help to ensure a consistent exposure throughout the frames.

If you were shooting this sequence in manual mode, it would require you to be constantly looking at the meter and changing your shutter speed settings as required. This isn’t a big deal, but using aperture priority mode allows you to get the same results without constant fetter over the settings.

At sunset, the light rapidly changes. Add a moving subject to that high contrast scene and you have an exposure nightmare. Aperture priority can help to maintain a fairly consistent exposure between frames.

This isn’t perfect, and extreme shifts in lighting can have drastic effects on your images and your exposure. You will still have to pay attention to the details to ensure nothing is going wrong. On normal days, however, it will work just fine.

5. TTL and HSS enabled flashes

Using aperture priority with TTL and HSS enabled flashes might just be the perfect match.

When you are using a flash with TTL (through the lens metering) and HSS (High-Speed Sync) enabled, the chances are that you are going to be working with a fixed aperture anyway.

Remember, shutter speed does not affect flash exposure, only ambient exposure. Aperture priority mode will give you the freedom to set your desired aperture and then let the camera do what it needs to match the meter.

Not only will you still have full control over the exposure compensation for the ambient, but you will also have full control over exposure compensation with the flash unit.

Again, this allows you to get the exposure where you want it one time, and then you are free to concentrate on the actual photos.

That’s it

Aperture priority can be a fantastic tool for any photographer. At the end of the day, it does the exact same thing that manual mode does. It just takes away some physical steps that you have to go through in manual mode to set the exposure.

That said, like just about everything else in photography, it is not perfect, and it won’t always be a solution.

If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: shooting only in manual mode does not make you a better photographer. Aperture priority and shutter priority modes do the exact same thing, just in a different way. Use whichever works for the situation you’re in.

Do you use Aperture or Shutter Priority? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.


5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode

The post 5 Reasons to Consider Aperture Priority Over Manual Mode appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment

The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

There’s a lot of studio equipment to get familiar with and with it, a lot of terms to learn.

If you’re new to studio lighting, it is easy to get intimidated by the amount of stuff you have to learn. The jargon alone is enough to make your head spin. Fortunately, none of the things you need to be successful in the studio are particularly complicated, there is just a lot of it. The purpose of this article is to serve as a primer to introduce you to some of the most basic studio lighting equipment, and terms you will need to navigate a photography studio.

This is not a comprehensive list, and with new tools and techniques being invented all the time, it could never be.

A little warning: Some of these terms are used differently by different photographers. Others get interchanged with one another. While it can be confusing at times, it’s not necessarily wrong. However, it is useful to know about when you hear someone refer to a flag as a gobo or refer to ambient light as continuous light.

Types of light

Strobe – A studio strobe is a dedicated flash unit. They can sometimes be referred to as a monobloc or monolight. Usually mains powered, more battery-powered offerings are being brought onto the market all the time. Power output between models can vary greatly, with cheaper strobes offering as much power as a cheap third-party flashgun.

Strobes are powerful flash units that pretty much dominate studio photography.

Continuous light/HotlightContinuous lights serve the same lighting functions as strobes, but they don’t flash. Instead, they are high-powered lamps that can usually be fitted with modifiers in the same way as strobes. While mostly associated with video, continuous lights still have their place in stills photography. There are a lot of LED lights coming onto the market at the moment, and many of them are viable options.

The hotlight moniker comes from the fact that they tend to get very hot. Be careful with modifiers that sit close to the bulb as they present a fire hazard. This does not apply to LED lights.

Flashgun/speedlightFlashguns are any small light with a hot shoe mount for placing on top of your camera. They are highly portable, and some come with reasonably high power outputs. Although their versatility is ultimately limited to their size and power output, they are still an extremely useful tool for any photographer interested in off-camera lighting.

Flashguns are small but competent light sources that are invaluable for portable studios.

Light functions

Key light – Your key light is the main light with which you are shaping your subject. This will usually be the brightest and most prominent light in your scene.

Fill Light – A fill light reduces the intensity of shadows created by your key light, thereby decreasing the overall contrast in your scene.

Rim light/backlightRim lights light your subject from behind to help separate them from the background. Often, rim lights are positioned so that only a sliver of light is visible on the sides of your subject.

Background light – As it says on the tin: background lights light the background.

Hair light – Hair lights are used to add emphasis to your subject’s hair. They can also be used to help bring up the exposure of your subject’s head if it is blending into the background.

Ambient light – This is any light that is present before the addition of any other lighting sources. This could be from lights in the room or daylight from a window or outside.


UmbrellasUmbrellas usually come in silver or white and can be attached to your strobe via a mount. By firing the strobe into the umbrella (which reflects the light back to your subject), you are creating a much larger light source which creates a softer light. Although mostly directional, umbrellas can have a lot of spill, and they aren’t the easiest modifier to control.

Umbrellas are your most basic modifier. They are good for soft, diffused light, but they are hard to control.

Translucent Umbrellas/Shoot-thru UmbrellasTranslucent umbrellas don’t reflect light, but are instead made of diffusion material which you aim the light through. This softens the light, much in the way of other modifiers, but without the benefit of directionality.

Translucent umbrellas also provide soft light, but they aren’t as directional as softboxes.

SoftboxesSoftboxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Once attached to your light, a softbox acts to shape and soften the light so that it is more flattering. Softboxes also tend to be quite directional, and they are easy to control and further modify.

Softboxes are the workhorse of the photographic studio, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Strip boxesStrip boxes are softboxes, but they are long narrow rectangles that produce a much narrower beam of light. These are great for lighting a subject from behind for a rim lighting effect.

Striplights are a useful type of softbox that offer very directional light.

Octaboxes – Also a type of softbox, an octabox is octagonal in shape. The rounder light source is useful for shaping the light for portraits. Octaboxes also tend to be quite large, making them an ideal modifier for portraits.

Reflectors (the modifier kind) – The reflector is a modifier that goes directly on your strobe. They channel the light in a specific angle for very directional light. They are also a very hard light source. Most are designed to take a variety of grids.

Reflectors, like this 110-degree reflector, provide a very directional and very hard light source.

Snoots – Snoots are modifiers that are designed to focus your light in a very narrow beam. They are great for both hair lights and background lights.

Snoots direct your light into a very tight and controlled beam.

Barn doors – Barn doors are fitted with two to four flaps for you to manually adjust the aperture the light is let through. These flaps can help you narrow the focus of your light on a specific aspect of your subject (such as their hair), or they can be used to flag the light from hitting a spot that you don’t want it to.

Beauty dishBeauty dishes are directional modifiers that are somewhere in between soft and hard light. They are great for beauty photography (hence the name) as well as fashion and portraiture altogether. They often come with grids and diffusion socks to give you even more options in how to use them.

Beauty dishes offer a contrasty light somewhere between hard and soft.

Grids/HoneycombsGrids are modifiers for your modifiers. Placed on a reflector, or softbox, or beauty dish, they narrow the beam of light further and help to ensure that the light is only falling on your subject (or where you want it to).

Grids help you to further modify the directionality of your light.

Gobo – A gobo is placed in front of a light source to change the shape of the light. This can be as simple as narrowing the beam and be as complicated as creating complex patterns. The easiest way to explain this is to imagine a Venetian blind with light streaming through. Now imagine the pattern on the wall. The blind is acting as an effective gobo and shaping the light.

CTO Gels – Color correction gels are used when you need to correct the color temperature of a given light. For example, if you have a gridded beauty dish that is particularly warm (like mine), and you want to use another light as a hair light, that second light might be very cool compared to your key light. By placing an orange CTO gel on your hair light, you can match and balance the color output of both lights.

Color Gels – You can also use gels towards a creative end. You can gel your lights to produce just about any color that you want to.

Reflectors (the reflective kind) – Reflectors are an important part of any studio kit. These allow you to reflect light from your key light back onto your subject. They are a means of creating a fill light without using a second dedicated light source. Reflectors come in many shapes and sizes, from the ubiquitous 5-in-1 reflectors to fancy tri-flectors sometimes used in beauty portraits.

Reflectors and diffusers are two vital tools when it comes to shaping and controlling your light in the studio. Also shown here is a reflector stand.

Diffuser/Scrim – A diffuser is a piece of translucent material that you place in front of a light source to alter the shape of the light or to reduce the intensity of the light. Some diffusers do both.

FlagsFlags are used to block (or flag) light from falling in your scene where you don’t want it to. You can use them to stop excess light falling on your background, or you can use them to reduce the exposure on the parts of your subject that aren’t the focal point. For example, sometimes, I like to use flags to help underexpose everything from the neck down in close portraits. This helps to ensure that the face is the main focus of the image.

Studio accessories

Light stands – Simply a stand to hold your light source. Ensure you have one that can hold the weight of your light. A high-powered, dedicated strobe requires a lot more support than a speedlight.

This image shows a boom arm attached to a lighting stand on a dolly. It’s a fantastic and versatile bit of kit.

Dolly – A light stand with wheels. Most useful.

Boom arm – A boom arm is a light stand that you can position at any angle between completely vertical and completely horizontal. These are useful to get your lights high up and also to place your light at angles a traditional light stand wouldn’t be able to manage. You can mount different varieties of boom arms to other light stands as well as permanent fixtures like walls.

Reflector Stand – A dedicated stand designed to hold a reflector in place.

Background/backdrop – A backdrop is any surface that you place your subject in front of. These range from paper and vinyl rolls to bare or decorated walls to pieces of painted canvas.

This image shows a painted canvas background. At the top of the frame, you can just see grey and white vinyl rolls on a motorized support system.

Background stand/support – Any support system designed to hold a backdrop in place. These can be free standing or wall mounted.

Clamps – Clamps and other fastening devices come in all shapes. You can (and should) use these to hold all manner of things in place. Backgrounds, flags, reflectors, gels, and many, many other things need to be held in place. For example, bulldog clips are indispensable for holding canvas backdrops up, whilst double-headed clamps can affix to a table and hold a flag or reflector.

This image shows a selection of clamps and clips that will you always find a use for in the studio. The double-headed clamp is holding up a piece of black foam core for use as a flag.

Rails – In bigger studios, you might see lights fixed to fittings on the walls and ceiling. These rails allow you to move your light relatively freely around a space without the hassle of a light stand.

They also help to keep cords out of the way of you and your subjects.


Quality of Light – Quality in this instance refers to the physical characteristics of light. These include shape, intensity, and color.

Lighting pattern – A lighting pattern is a specific technique in which a light is placed in a prescribed manner for predictable and established results. Examples of these include butterfly lighting, Rembrandt lighting, and split lighting.

PC Sync Socket/Cable – The PC sync is a means to connect your camera to a flash with a cable. You can use this option in lieu of triggers.

Triggers – Triggers are devices that allow a camera to communicate with your lights and ensure that your flashes fire while the shutter is open. These range from very basic models with just one function, to complex devices that allow for full control over the settings of multiple lights.

Triggers allow your camera to communicate with your flash so that they work in sync with one another.

Slave mode – In slave mode, a flash will detect the light from another flash via a sensor and fire. This is great in situations where you have multiple lights, but only one basic trigger.

Mount – A mount is the means in which a modifier is attached to a strobe. A lot of lighting manufacturers have their own proprietary mounts associated with their systems (Bowens, Profoto, Elinchrom, etc.) So you will need to ensure that any modifier that you buy will fit the system that you own.

This is the shape of the commonplace Bowens S-mount.

Modeling light – Many strobes come fitted with two bulbs. One is a flashbulb, where your strobe light comes from, and the other is a modeling bulb that is on whenever the strobe is not flashing. This makes it easy for you to see what the light is doing to your subject. As a bonus, if you’ve cut out all ambient light (like you should in a studio environment), modeling lights give you the ability to see.

That’s a start

While this list is not, and can never be, a complete list of studio lighting equipment, it should serve as a decent primer to get you started in the world of studio photography. If you feel that I’ve missed something important, please add it in the comments below.


The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

How to Use a Photography Ring Light in Unconventional Ways

The post How to Use a Photography Ring Light in Unconventional Ways appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

With a ton of options on the market, adding a ring light to your kit has never been cheaper.

Continuous photography ring lights seem to be everywhere nowadays. There are dozens of offerings from dozens of companies that you can choose from, and they are popular with photographers, make-up artists, and videographers. The main use of a ring light is on-axis lighting for an even, somewhat flat exposure.

However, what do you do if you don’t like that effect or the distinctive ring-shaped catchlight for that matter? Because these lights are continuous, and because of their size, they have more uses than ring flashes of the past. If you don’t like the straight-on effect, you don’t have to use a ring light in that way.

In normal use, you would place the light directly in front of your subject and shoot through the aperture of the light.

This article demonstrates six uses of a continuous ring light that isn’t their intended use. It will also (hopefully) show you that these relatively cheap and effective lights are useful to have for any photographer in the studio.

Normal use

While not to the taste of many photographers, ring lights can be used to create bold and vibrant images.

If you’re unfamiliar, a ring light is a circular, ring-shaped light with a large aperture designed to be placed directly in front of a subject. You then take your images by positioning your camera through the aperture of the ring.

Traditional ring flashes had the light attached to the camera. This front (on-axis) lighting provides an evenly lit image. This is one of those things that you either love or hate, but photographers who love it tend to really love it.


With the continuous versions of these lights, you have a wealth of options with how to use a ring light. Because the light is always on, you can position it anywhere you want. With a lot of the options on the market, this gives you a high-powered, lightweight and versatile continuous light for around $100.

Because of the brightness of a continuous ring light, your subject’s pupils will be constricted, allowing you to see more of the color in their eyes.

Here’s a bonus if you’ve never used continuous lights before. Because the output is constant, your portrait subject’s pupils get constricted. This means you will see more of the color of their eyes in your photos.


Below are five examples of ways you can use a continuous ring light to great effect without ever using it as a ring light.

1. As a normal light

Placed at a 45-degree angle and angled downwards, these ring lights work well as normal light source.

Despite its circular shape, ring lights are great when used as a normal light. Raise the light and angle it towards your subject to distort the effect the shape of the light has, and you can use it as a small softbox. You’re not limited to how you can light your subject this way, but I’ve found that all of the basic lighting patterns work well.

You are not limited to the shape of the ring. Use flags to block off portions of the light to shape it however you want.

If you have more than one ring light, you can use them together to create just about any two-light setup that you can imagine. If the ones you have have an adjustable output, managing your key to fill ratios should be pretty easy.

2. As a prop

Having your subject pose with the light itself can create some interesting and fun portraits. It can also help to lighten the mood during a session.

If you have an LED ring light, they don’t get very hot. Feel free to have your subject pose with the light itself for some very different images. The results will vary with ring lights of different sizes, and you have to worry about the plug and the cables, but it’s still a fun technique. Though you probably won’t use it very often thanks to its tendency towards uplighting.

3. As ambient fill

Modern ring lights are getting quite powerful and it is more than possible to use them as fill lighting in conjunction with studio flash.

You can mix any continuous light with studio flashes for some interesting effects. By using a strobe as your key light, you can then bring a ring light in for some gentle fill.

A couple of things that you will want to keep in mind is that your strobes are probably way more powerful than your ring light, so set the power accordingly. Also, you will probably want to have a ring light with an adjustable color temperature if you are going to be mixing light sources.

You could also reverse this and use the ring light as key and flash as fill. As before, make sure the power on your strobes goes down that far before committing to this.

4. As a compositional device

Putting the light behind your subject creates an interesting tool for composition. Also, it may just be me, but I love that rim light that it is producing.

In its normal use, I am a fan of creating a composition with the actual ring light framing the subject. I just like it for whatever reason. However, you are not limited to that. You can place the ring light anywhere in your frame for some cool effects. Try placing one behind your subject for a halo effect, or placing one at an angle just inside your frame for a curved band of light running through the composition.

5. Dragging the shutter

When you’re mixing a ring light with studio flash, it opens the door to some interesting techniques like dragging the shutter. Here, flash is acting as fill and the shutter speed is set to 1/15th of a second.

This is similar to using the ring light as ambient fill, but if you use your strobe normally, you can expose for the high-powered strobe and the low-powered ring light by dragging the shutter.

This technique is not for everyone, but it can produce some interesting results.

A little warning: if you’re a technically-minded photographer, you’re probably going to hate this technique, as the results tend to be a little soft. However, it can be used for some striking results. If you do like it, you still have to be careful with controlling the movement of your camera.

You do have to manage any movement in your camera while using this technique. If in doubt, use a tripod.

Because the power output on your flash is not in any way controlled by shutter speed, you can set your shutter speed as slow as you need to make this work. However, you may want to use a tripod for really slow shutter speeds. This technique can provide some cool effects in its own right, but no two attempts are going to be the same.

That’s it

There you have it. That’s six ways that you can use a continuous ring light without ever having to use it as a ring light. Considering how cheap these things are, they are a very useful tool for any photographer who wants to get into off-camera lighting but for some reason is put off by flash.

Do you have other ways that you use a ring light? Please share with us in the comments below.


The post How to Use a Photography Ring Light in Unconventional Ways appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography

The post Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

There are a lot of lighting patterns for you to use in your portrait photography. Some of these are covered quite well. Rembrandt and butterfly lighting are two that are both easy to set up and yield great results a lot of the time. Of course, you can use just one lighting pattern all of the time and build a fantastic portfolio; however, if you want to have a full skillset with a variety of techniques to use in your portraits at any time, you will want to learn and understand as many of these lighting patterns as possible.

Broad and short lighting are often clumped together because of the similarities in how they are implemented and described, but they couldn’t be more different in how they affect your images.

This article will introduce you to the broad and short lighting patterns and explain when and why you might want to use them and what you can expect to achieve while using them. These are two very easy lighting patterns that can seem confusing at first, but once you get your head around them, they give you powerful tools to help shape the light and your subjects in your photos.

What is a lighting pattern?

First, let’s start with the very basics. A lighting pattern is any named lighting setup that gives you specific results. There is a fair list of these established lighting patterns for you to learn outside of the broad and short patterns discussed here. These include Rembrandt, Butterfly, split, cross, clamshell and more. Learning and understanding these lighting patterns can act as a shortcut to helping you get great results in your portraits. These lighting patterns apply to both natural light and artificial light, so it does not matter which you prefer.

Broad and short

The names of the broad and short lighting patterns refer to which side of the subject’s face is being lit first.

Sometimes, understanding what broad and short mean in terms of lighting can be confusing. To make it as simple as possible, imagine a face turned slightly away from you. That face now has two sides divided by the nose. The side of the face that is closest to you is the broad side because you see more of it than the other. The other side, the one that’s furthest from you, is the short side.

With broad lighting, your light is going to hit the broad side (or the side that’s closest to you) of the face first.

With short lighting, your light is going to hit the short side (or the side that’s furthest from you) of the face first.

Broad lighting

Broad lighting can be used to great effect to help widen faces or give you more contrast than some other lighting patterns.

When you choose to light the broad side of the face, it has several effects on your image. These include:

  • Broad lighting widens the face.
  • Broad lighting usually throws the short side of the face in shadow (dependent on light placement).
  • Broad lighting provides more contrast than some lighting patterns like butterfly lighting.

When you want to use it

Because broad lighting tends to broaden (go figure) the face, you’ll want to use broad lighting when you’re photographing subjects with a narrow face. Using it on subjects with a wider face can exaggerate that shape and you’ll want to avoid it there.

If there’s a feature on one side of your subjects face that you want to take the emphasis away from, you can pose your subject so that feature is on the short side of their face and use broad lighting to ensure that it’s in shadow, taking the emphasis away.

How to set it up

Setting up for broad lighting couldn’t be easier. Just have your subject turn away from the key light until you have the desired effect.

While there is no one way to set up broad lighting, here is a basic method to get you started.

As in the diagram above, place your light forty-five degrees from your subject. Ensure that you have your subject’s face posed away from the light source.

It really is as easy as that. Just remember that you can control the transition from highlight to shadow by changing the distance of the light from your subject and by using different modifiers.

Next steps

Adding fill to your broad lighting can help with extreme contrast while still retaining shadows for depth.

Lighting patterns are a starting point. This isn’t a zero-sum game. To take your broad lighting setups further, feel free to experiment with fill light. You can use reflectors or a second light to lift up the shadows and reduce the contrast in your images for more flattering portraits. Conversely, you can also choose to emphasize the shadows and the contrast for darker, bolder portraits. The best advice here is to know what result you are after before you start.

With a reflector as fill, you can now control the overall contrast in the image.

Short Lighting

Short lighting (depending on variables like your modifiers) tends to lend itself to dark, shadow-heavy imagery. This makes it the perfect lighting pattern when creating low-key images.

When you choose to light the short side of the face first, it also has several effects on your portraits:

  • Short lighting narrows the face.
  • Short lighting will throw the broad side of the face in shadow.
  • Short lighting provides heavy contrast and is ideal for low-key images. It is also useful when you are trying to create images with a lot of depth.
  • Short lighting can be used to hide imperfections.

How to set it up

Again, there is no one way to go about a short lighting setup.

Short lighting is trickier to set up than broad, but take your time and be deliberate in where the light is hitting your subject.

For this example, start with your light source forty-five degrees to your subject just like you did for the broad lighting setup. This time, have your subject face towards the light. If you have a modeling light, or you’re using natural light, watch the highlights on your subjects face carefully. Either move the light or your subject until the brightest part of your subject’s face is the short side.

Tip: If you’re having trouble seeing the contrast with your eyes, you can squint. I can’t even begin to tell you why this works, but it does. Squinting makes it far easier to see the contrast in a scene with your eyes.

That’s it. While short lighting is slightly trickier than broad lighting, it is still easy to accomplish. Once you have it figured out, it will become second nature.

Next steps

Because short lighting tends to be heavy on the shadows, you can use as much fill as you want to control them. Use a reflector for a gentle lift, or a second light to bring them close to the other tones in your images.

Since short lighting is so shadow-centric, you will almost certainly want to use fill light to control the contrast in normal situations. You can use a reflector, but if your shadows are quite deep, you may want to opt for fill light. Try exposing your fill light three stops less than your key (your main light) to retain your shadows while ensuring that all of the details are still there.

Using a reflector lifts the shadows in this example, but retains enough contrast for depth.

End matter

There you have it; two basic, but powerful lighting patterns that you can use to create bold dynamic portraits. I encourage you to go out and practice with each of these set-ups. Experiment liberally with your distances between your light and subject and try as many different fill lighting techniques that you can come up with. Once you have the basics down; if you want a real challenge: use the short lighting pattern to create a high key image.


The post Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Review: Pixapro 105cm 16-Sided Easy-Open Rice-Bowl Softbox

The post Review: Pixapro 105cm 16-Sided Easy-Open Rice-Bowl Softbox appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Studio photographers, and other users of off-camera flash, are living through a bit of a renaissance. New, innovative and (maybe most importantly) affordable lights and modifiers are popping up all the time – and a lot of them are fantastic. One of the companies that is at the forefront of this movement is Godox.

The Rice Bowl is a large softbox with an unusual shape.

It seems that every time you turn around, there’s something new being released. Enter the Pixapro 105cm (41.34″) 16-Sided Easy-Open Rice-Bowl Softbox (Say that five times fast). Pixapro is Godox rebranded for the UK market. As soon as I saw this thing, I was entranced. Not only is it massive, but its shape means that it’s almost perfectly round (for all intents and purposes) and, as such, will shape light quite differently to your bog standard rectangular softboxes and octaboxes. I bought it and as this review will show you, it was not a mistake.

What is it?

To simplify it, the Rice Bowl is a large umbrella softbox. It’s called an umbrella softbox because it opens like an umbrella, but functions as a softbox thanks to two layers of diffusion material that cover the front. The reason this is a big deal, is that it takes away the massive pain that is putting together and pulling apart standard softboxes. I have more than a few that I’ve put together and then vowed that they would stay that way until the end of time. With the Rice Bowl, all you have to do is pull on the metal rod and open it up like an umbrella and screw the reflector plate into place. It takes seconds.

While the shape of an umbrella, the two layers of diffusion make the Rice Bowl an effective and portable softbox.

As mentioned, the shape of the Rice Bowl also sets it apart from it’s cousins. Because it’s 16 sided (That’s called a hexadecagon by the way. If you want to call it a hexadecabox, I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me), it almost appears completely round. This means that the way it shapes the light and wraps it around your subject is quite different to other softboxes, which can provide you with another tool in your lighting kit.


The Rice-Bowl softbox does do a few things well.


The Rice Bowl is massive which makes the quality of light it produces wonderful for portraiture.

Here, the Rice Bowl is compared to 22″ beauty dish.

At over 41″ (that’s just under four feet), the rice-bowl is a massive modifier that still packs away in a portable package. Sure, there’s always giant octaboxes and parabolic umbrellas for when you need really soft light, but they don’t pack away anywhere near this easy. For fans of large modifiers, this means two things:

  • Once your done with it, you can pack it away and store it neatly with ease.
  • It travels well and is quite light, so it shouldn’t weigh you down in normal circumstances. I probably wouldn’t hike several miles to a location with it, but short distances should be just fine.


The 16 sides of the Rice Bowl make it almost perfectly round, which will shape the light differently to rectangular and square softboxes.

The Rice Bowl’s unique hexadecagon shape gives you a rounder source of light than your traditional softbox. The light it produces is gorgeous and soft and ideal for all kinds of portrait lighting. If you have a thing against square and rectangular catchlights, then this might be the modifier for you.

Easy to setup

Setting up the Rice Bowl is dead easy. Just pop it open, secure the reflector into place and attach the two layers of diffusion to the velcro.

As mentioned, setting up the rice bowl is as easy as opening an umbrella. Beyond that, you have to screw on a bit at the end of the rod to keep it secure and attach the diffusion panels. It doesn’t take very long. Add to that that there’s no awkward loose rods to bend and manhandle into place and nothing to pop out with great force and hit you in the eye. The Rice Bowl is a real treat.

Carry bag included

Not only does the Rice Bowl come with a convenient carry bag, but it also fits back into it with ease.

Since it’s well suited to location, it should be no surprise that the Rice Bowl comes in it’s own carry bag. An extra bonus here, is that unlike other modifiers that collapse, once it’s out of the bag, it’s easy enough to get back in and it still fits.


At a price of $110, this thing is fairly cheap. Massive modifiers (especially ones this well made) usually come at a massive price. Just compare the Rice Bowl to any offering from Elinchrome and Broncolor if you’re in any doubt.


Because I am invested in the Bowens system (RIP), I opted for the S-mount. Pixapro offer mounts for just about any system that you could want.

Pixapro sell the Rice Bowl with just about any mount you want, so no matter your preferred lighting system, you should have no problem using this modifier.


Perhaps nothing can be too perfect, and that is the case with the Rice Bowl. Fortunately, the list of cons is a short one.


Because of its shape, when it’s mounted on a normal light stand, you cannot get much of a downward angle with the Rice Bowl.

In terms of the light it produces, the depth and shape of the Rice Bowl is fine. Where it lets it down is when it’s on a light stand. Because it’s so deep and large, when it’s on a normal light stand you can’t point it in a downward angle very easily. This is quite limiting when it comes to designing your lighting with it. Certain lighting patterns like butterfly lighting will become a challenge.

To get around this, you’ll need to buy (or already own) a light stand with a boom arm. This isn’t that big of a deal, but if you want to get the very most out of the Rice Bowl, you may have to be prepared to make other purchases.

To get the absolute most out of the Rice Bowl, you will want to have a boom arm to ensure that you can place it at any angle that you want.

That one screwy bit

The screw that secures the reflector into place is small and easy to lose.

Remember I mentioned that you had to screw a bit of metal on to secure the Rice Bowl once it’s setup? That one piece is very small and very easy to lose. I’m keeping a very close eye on mine.


At the end of the day, I can talk about the Pixapro 105cm Rice Bowl Softbox all I want, but what really matters is the proof. Here’s a few examples of what the Rice Bowl can produce in the studio.

That’s it

At the end of the day, I love this thing. Not only does it produce gorgeous light that is flattering to a whole host of subjects, it is light, easy to set up and just a pleasure to use. I would definitely recommend the Rice Bowl to any photographer who wants to add something else to their lighting kit. If you think the 105cm version might be a bit big for you, Pixapro do make a smaller version that comes in at 65cm for $90.


The post Review: Pixapro 105cm 16-Sided Easy-Open Rice-Bowl Softbox appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

7 Steps to Perfect White Portrait Backgrounds in the Studio

The post 7 Steps to Perfect White Portrait Backgrounds in the Studio appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Photographing subjects on a white background is one of those things that looks easy from the outside. However, once you start digging into the details, it turns out it’s not quite as simple as it seemed at first glance.

Unfortunately, being able to shoot on a white background is one of the most useful skills for you to have in all sorts of photography including portraits and still life. Even if you hate it stylistically, you will eventually have plenty of people ask you for a pure white background.

When you get the technique right, there are a whole host of things you can easily do with your photos, such as cutting your subjects out for composites. Even when your technique isn’t perfect, there are a host of post-processing options to get you, and your images, there in the end.

However, this article outlines a process to help you get perfect results straight out of the camera every time. If you’re handling a high volume of images – whether that be portraits or products – this may save you countless hours in post-production.

What you need

You will need a few lights for this technique. In this example, there are three lights and a reflector.

To get started with shooting on a white backdrop in a studio, you will need a few things.

  • At least two studio strobes with modifiers or flashguns (three or four would be preferable and will make your life easier). Softboxes are the easiest option for your background lights.
  • A light-colored backdrop. White is preferable, but this technique will work easily with anything up to mid-grey. It is more than possible to do it with darker backdrops but to avoid complications, stay light when you can.
  • Space. You will need space to get the best results. As described below, you will need to keep enough room between your subject and the background to help prevent spill from the background lights falling on your subject. For portraits, this could easily take ten to fifteen feet of space in addition to the distance you are from the subject. For smaller subjects, space is much less of an issue.
  • (Optional) A light meter. Because we’re dealing with moderately precise ratios, a light meter will help you here. You can get by without one, but it does make it easier.

Step One – Choose your aperture

Before you do anything with your lights or your subject, the first step in this process is to choose the aperture you want to shoot at. This choice is going to be the basis for everything else you do in this process. Anything from f/8 to f/4 is a good bet for studio portraits, but you can choose anything you like. Your only real limitation here is the power output of your lights.

If you choose f/11, then your backgrounds lights will need to be set at least two stops brighter, which would be f/22. You may struggle to achieve that with low-powered strobes. If that’s the case, then you will have to choose a larger aperture for your final image.

For the remainder of this article, the chosen aperture will be f/5.6.

Step Two – Light your background

When lighting your background, take the time to ensure that it is evenly lit. This will ensure that all of your background is white with no darker tones creeping into the sides and corners.

Once you know your aperture, the next step is to set up your background light(s). If you can, use large, directional modifiers like softboxes. This will help prevent excess light spilling where you don’t want it. It will also help to ensure that the background is evenly lit from top to bottom, preventing any inconsistencies in exposure in your final images.

Place your lights on either side of your backdrop and pointed towards it at a forty-five-degree angle. Try to position them so that you get even coverage.

Step three – Set the exposure for your background lights

The easiest way to find the exposure for you background is to use a light meter. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, you can still chimp the histogram to make sure it’s overexposed.

With your lights positioned, all you have to do is set the power so that the camera will record your background as pure white. Your background needs to be at least two or three stops brighter than your subject. Because the hypothetical aperture we’re using is f/5.6, that means the backgrounds lights should be at f/16 for three stops of exposure difference.

If you’re using a meter, be sure to check the exposure at the top and bottom of the background and not just the middle.

Step four – Place your subject for a test

On the left, the subject is too close to the background and the light is wrapping around her and lighting her front. Placed a few feet further away, the subject is rendered as a silhouette. (The detail in the darker image is from the overhead fluorescent that I hadn’t turned off yet.)

To figure out where your subject needs to stand, or be placed, put them in front of the background and take a test shot with only the background lights on. If they are far enough away from the background, your subject should be in perfect silhouette, and there should be no light falling on them or wrapping around them in any way.

Where there is light falling on your subject, just move them further away from the backdrop until you achieve that perfect silhouette.

If your exposure is right, you should have no details in your background and no details in your subject.

Because you are lighting a white (therefore reflective) surface, your background is effectively a light source and acts like one. The light from your backgrounds will fall off at a rate governed by the inverse square law. What you are trying to do is to place your subject in a place where the light level drops enough that it has no effect on your subject at your desired aperture.

Step four (part 2) – Flag your background lights

To ensure light isn’t going where you don’t want it, flag your background lights. Here, I’ve used black fabric and covered all but the section of background that will be in the photos.

It may be that you can’t achieve a perfect silhouette of your subject for some reason. This issue can arise from not having enough space to work in, or it could be that your modifiers are producing too much spill. One way to combat this is to flag your lights.

Flagging simply means to block light from where you don’t want it. You can do this in any way that you want. V-flats and black curtains (as in the example images) are both cheap and effective ways to flag your light.

Simply place your preferred flags in a manner that blocks excess light from coming back towards the camera, but doesn’t interfere with the part of the background that will wind up in your composition.

Step 5 – Place your key light

Once the background lights are done, you can light your subject in any way you want.

Now that your background is lit and you know where your subject needs to be, you just need to light your subject. All you have to do is place your light any way that you desire (any lighting pattern will work), and set the power to your desired aperture (f/5.6 in the examples).

Unlike the background lights, you don’t have to worry about what any excess light from your key light is doing. Because you are so far away from the background with a light set to a much lower power, it will have little to no effect on the final exposure of the background. However, do pay attention to what the light is doing off to the sides. If it’s firing into a nearby white wall or another light-colored surface, then that surface will act as a reflector in your images.

Step 6 – Add fill (optional)

Use fill lighting to reduce the impact of heavy shadows in your images. You can use another light if you wish, or a reflector as shown here.

If you want to add a fill light to your set-up, you can now do that as normal. You can fill with another strobe, or you can use a reflector as shown in the example images. The main thing to remember about fill light is that it should be at least one stop lower in power than your key light.

Step 7 – Check your final exposure

With everything set-up, you should have a perfect white background straight out of the camera.

With everything in place, take a test shot at your desired aperture. If your key and fill lights are in your desired position, everything should be spot on and you should now have an image with a perfectly white background straight out of the camera.

That’s it

This isn’t a hard technique, but it does require a fair few steps and a lot of attention to detail. Don’t be put off by any of that. Once you’ve set it up a few times, it will become second nature very quickly. You will also be able to learn how to set it up in a few minutes, potentially saving you a ridiculous amount of time post-processing backgrounds that aren’t perfectly white.

The post 7 Steps to Perfect White Portrait Backgrounds in the Studio appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

The Real Consequences of Taking a Break from Photography

The post The Real Consequences of Taking a Break from Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Have you ever felt fed up with your photography? Disillusioned? Frustrated? Uninspired? Burnt out? If that’s the case for you, you are not alone in those feelings. Most of us feel that way at some point or another, often on multiple occasions. Fortunately, there is and always has been a lot of sound advice available for when you feel that way.

Advice that prompts you to try new techniques for a different perspective and a fresh outlook is one great example of common advice that may help you to overcome the frustration.

Sometimes doing something different, like getting out of the studio, can be enough to give you a fresh perspective on things.

This article discusses one particular piece of common advice that’s given to photographers a lot. You will have probably heard (or read it) given to someone else at some point, even if it hasn’t been given to you. That advice is when you feel this way, take a break from photography. On the surface, this can seem like a great idea and a great piece of advice. However, once you dig a bit deeper and dissect the possible outcomes (as this article does), you should see that the repercussions of following through with a break from photography can be significant.

Where is this coming from

This topic is quite personal. I followed this advice several years ago after struggling with severe burn out. Because of this, the topics discussed in this article are based on some of the things I experienced after taking a break. That said, even though this is quite personal, I try to keep that aspect out of this article as much as possible and keep things analytical and leave the anecdotes to a minimum.

Even so, you’re situation and experiences won’t be the same as mine. I may have experienced these consequences, but that doesn’t mean you will. If you are considering taking a break from your photography, do have a good, hard think about if any of this applies to you.

There are benefits

Taking a break did allow me the chance to spend time creating images that matter to no one other than me.

As mentioned, the advice photographers often get is to take a break from photography. This does have some benefits (and I did experience those).

By taking a step back, you can gain both space and time to give things an honest appraisal and discover exactly what is causing the feelings of frustration that led you to the point of wanting to take a break in the first place. This a huge advantage and if used well, you can take that insight and fix, or cut out, whatever was causing your frustrations.

Some of the things that are easier to evaluate from a safe distance include: what you like and don’t like, the direction your photography is heading in, your working habits, and your personal values and how they apply to your photography.

I used to use a white background a lot because I loved it. At some point, I stopped loving it and became bored, but didn’t realize until I took a long step back.

That time can also give you the opportunity to let some information sink in. If there’s a concept or a technique that you just can’t wrap your head around, stepping away from actively pursuing it gives your brain the opportunity to work on the problem in the background.

The downsides

While the positive consequences of taking a break can be obvious, some of the potential negative consequences are less so.

Habits and systems

As you develop as a photographer, so does your list of processes and systems that help you achieve what you do. A post-processing workflow is just one example of something that may be disrupted by taking an extended break from photography.

If you’ve been involved with photography for any amount of time, you have gradually built a series of habits and systems that you go through every time you take photos. This could be your post-processing workflow, it could be the way you research locations, or it could be the way you conduct yourself on social media.

The thing is, these habits and processes were built step by step. You didn’t just wake up one day and have a complete post-processing workflow in place.

When you decide to take a break, you’re taking a break from your habits and routines. If these were developed over years of practice and daily ritual, what happens when your break is over? Chances are, when you come back, you may very well struggle to jump back into those complex habits. Instead of building things up gradually, you are trying to get back into a routine all at once. This can extremely difficult at the best of times.

While on my break, I spent a fair amount of time shooting landscapes for fun and as an excuse to be outside. While fun, landscape photography requires a very different approach and set of processes to portraits.

If you think about this just in the context of social media, posting content everyday (or at least regularly) can be a significant job with plenty of work going into each post. Stopping that routine and then trying to come back to it months later could be overwhelming and it might take significant effort to overcome a challenge like that.

Once you add that to the possibility that once you step away from social media, you may very well recognize just how toxic it can be, which makes it all the harder to willingly step back into that arena.

Things change

Depending on how long your break is for, things that you take for granted can change dramatically. My break lasted a couple of years. In that time, Photoshop transformed into something only slightly recognizable. Lightroom transformed into the go-to for photographers, and Instagram went from iOS users only to taking over the world.

You can probably see the disadvantages here. In this technological world, everything changes at a ridiculous pace. By taking time out, you are removing yourself from a position where you can adjust to these changes as they happen. When you decide to come back, you now have an enormous workload of stuff that you have to learn or relearn just to put yourself at the same level you were before.

People change

If you’re a portrait photographer, or any sort of social photographer, this is probably the most applicable point to you.

Much as the tools of the trade change over time, so will your network. Once you’re on a break, any previous contacts or clients will move on and find another photographer. Models, make-up artist and other collaborators may move on or change focus themselves.

Over time, your network of clients, collaborators and co-conspirators changes organically. However, if you’re on a break, you don’t have as many opportunities to add new people to your network.

This applies equally to social media and real life networking.

If you weren’t on a break, this would still happen, but your network would still be growing naturally. However, if you’re not there to grow that network, the holes that these people leave will be empty once your break is over. If your break is an extended one over a couple years, you may come back to find that the network that you put a significant amount of time and effort into building is decimated.

Piecing it back together

All of these things on their own may not seem insurmountable, but once you add them all together, they can accumulate to an enormous challenge that will set you back in both time and effort.

Having to refocus on these things also means that once you’ve decided that you’re ready to come back to photography, you have to put a great deal of time into the things that aren’t photography.

For a lot of people who are frustrated and disillusioned with their photography, it is often these ancillary administrative tasks that cause the feelings of frustration and disillusionment in the first place.

Weigh your choices

If you are in a position where you are considering taking a break, I understand and I empathize. A lot of photographers have been there before.

Before you make a decision, please, please take the time to consider all of the possible consequences of taking a break.

Again, my circumstances will be different from yours and your consequences may not look remotely like mine, but there will be consequences that you may not be able to see yet. Please try to take them into account.

Have you taken a break from photography or considering it? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

The post The Real Consequences of Taking a Break from Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

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