Step By Step How to Do a Head Shot on a White Background

Today you are going to come ride along with me as I shoot head shots for a client in San Diego, California. I was hired by a company to create simple head shots of their instructors in the San Diego area.

There is a very big market for head shots and quite a few people want them shot on a white infinity backdrop. There are many ways to do this but I’m going to take you along on a shoot with me and show you how I do it:

Step by step how to do a head shot on a white background


First off, what is a seamless backdrop?

It’s a giant roll of paper – thats it! I used an 8-foot long roll in ‘alpine white’ color. Again, it’s just a big white roll of paper. When properly lit, this roll of paper gets ‘blown out’ or overexposed, so it appears as a perfectly white void on which your subject sits/stands in the middle. This white void makes the viewer focus on your subject rather than a cluttered background.

Setting up the seamless backdrop

As you can see in the animated GIF below, I start by finding an open area at least 8 feet wide. This is easier to set up with two people, but on this corporate shoot it was just me.

To make this easier to set up by yourself just lay the roll of paper on the ground and position the light stands on either side of the end of the roll of paper at their lowest height. Make sure the paper is set to unroll from underneath the back of the roll ,and not over the top and front of the roll.

When you pull from the back of the roll the natural curl of the paper will let the paper roll straight to the floor then curl toward your camera  into the room. This will provide a smooth curved transition from the vertical roll of paper into the floor and toward you so the background and floor will appear seamless. If the paper is pulled from overhand when it hits the floor it will want to curl backwards toward the back of the room. This won’t create seamless transition as you pull the roll into the room.

Run the cross bar through the center of the paper roll – the cross bar will stick out about 2 inches on either side of the roll. The cross bar has 2 slots at each end and the light stands have two vertical screws. Lift up the roll and place these two slots into the two vertical screws and then screw in the included wing nuts to secure the roll onto the light stands.

Raising the seamless backdrop

Now that we have the paper roll secured on the light stands at their lowest height, it’s time to raise it up. The light stands have two sets of clamps and two sets of vertical poles that raise up. With two people you can simply raise the paper roll at the same time to the desired height and lock the clamps down to secure the paper roll at your desired height. With only one person you have to slowly raise one side, then the other, until you get the roll to the desired height. Check out the GIF below and try not to laugh at the CEO jumping in during setup.


Unrolling the backdrop

Now that we have the bar to the height we want it, we can unroll the backdrop. I always keep little clamps on each end of the roll to keep it from unrolling on its own. Unclamp the little A-clamps on either side of the paper roll and slowly pull the roll down. If you don’t pull slowly the roll can gain momentum, unroll really fast, and go much further than planned! Since we were only doing head shots I just pulled the backdrop down to the floor. Once the roll is at the desired length clip the A-clamps back in place to keep the roll from unrolling further on its own like you see below.

seamless backdrop, studio lights, corporate headshots

Lighting the shoot

The way to make lighting easy is to light in layers, one step at a time. In this case I’m going to light the backdrop first. Once I get that done I’m going put a subject in front of the backdrop and light them separately. Once that is lit correctly we are ready to rock!

Lighting the backdrop

Now that the backdrop is set up properly we want to light it so that it appears solid white. I placed an Alien Bees 1600 studio strobe 3 feet away from the backdrop on the left side and angled it to shoot across the backdrop. The light had a reflector on it to contain the direction of the light. This will make the light rake across the middle of the backdrop to light it up white.

Dialling in the camera settings

I set my camera to f/8 aperture as it’s a good middle ground depth of field to start. The studio lights will give me all the light I need so I set the ISO low at 200. I then set the shutter speed to 1/160 which is the maximum shutter speed sync my camera allows. In this room a 1/160 shutter speed is fast enough that none of the lights on the ceiling would register – essentially I’m killing any ambient light in the room so the only light that shows up in the photo is from the studio strobes.

I take a guess and set the studio strobe light at 1/4 power. I do a quick test at f/8, ISO 200, 1/160 shutter speed and get this:

corporate headshots, white seamless backdrop, studio strobes, lighting setups

Looks pretty good to me! You can see the area closest to the light is perfectly blown out white, but as you move to the right the light is becoming weaker and the white backdrop appears more grey. Because the light is weaker on the right side it’s also showing the wrinkles in the paper. Because I’ll be placing people several feet in front of the light stand and zooming into the middle of the backdrop I’m not concerned with the right side of the backdrop. If I were shooting a wider shot I would add another light on the right side of the backdrop to light up that side, but that isn’t necessary for this shoot.

Lighting the subject

Now that we have the backdrop dialled in it’s time to light the next layer – the subject. I place an Alien Bees 800 studio strobe to the right of the backdrop, about six feet in front of the first light. I put an umbrella on the light which spreads the light out (diffuses it) as it passes through the umbrella and gives it a nice, soft appearance. I set the light at 1/4 power, at a 45 degree angled downward, and raised to about 8 feet high to test it out.

I step in front of the backdrop like the goofball that I am and get this:

studio lighting, seamless backdrop, corporate headshots

The backdrop still looks good, but I (the subject) am overexposed. This means the umbrella light is too strong. I reduce the power from 1/4 power to 1/8th power, have the CEO grab two nearby Nerf guns, step back in for a test, and get this:

seamless backdrop, studio lights, corporate head shots

Looking much better!

The light hitting the white background is bouncing onto the back of the subject and wrapping around his body too much. To correct this I need to move the subject a few feet toward the camera so the light bouncing off the background falls off before it reaches him. When I do this I also need to move the umbrella light the same distance toward the camera to keep the same exposure.

I also want more room to the right to compose my subjects so I move the umbrella light two feet camera-right, and one foot toward the camera. I then have the subject move two feet camera-right and one foot toward the camera so the background light won’t reach the subject as much.  I take another test and get this:

seamless backdrop, corporate headshots, digital photography school, seamless backdrop

This looks great to me. The background layer is blown out white, the subject layer is properly exposed, and as a bonus just enough light is bouncing off the backdrop to give some backlighting to the subject. Here is a closer crop to see what we are working with:

studio lights, seamless backdrop, corporate headshots

The only thing I should do to improve this is have the subject turn his body to face the umbrella so there isn’t so much shadow on the camera-left side.

Positioning the subject

headshot, seamless backdrop

The client wanted simple head shots of their instructors for use on their website profiles. I had the subject stand in the same place, square up their shoulders to face the umbrella light, and smile. You’ll notice that the umbrella placed up above the subject and pointed down at 45 degrees leaves a nice catch light (the white reflection of the light) in the top right corner of the subject’s eyes. When you can place a catch light at the ten or two o’clock position (like on an analog clock) in the subject’s eyes it brings them to life. Here is what we end up with:

 Quick positioning tip

To keep everything consistent, place some tape on the floor where you want people to stand. I didn’t have any tape with me but I did have an extra umbrella. I simply placed the umbrella at a diagonal angle and told the subjects to place their toes against the umbrella. This squared them up with the light so each portrait was consistent.

Wrapping it up

Overall it was a very quick setup, shoot, and breakdown. We shot 45 different instructors in about 45 minutes! Once everything was dialled in we just photographed one instructor after the next. The shoot was fun, the client was happy, and the instructors loved their head shots!


Would you like to see more real shoots?

Did this post help you and did you enjoy seeing some behind-the-scenes info on real client shoots? If so sound leave me a comment below. If it would help I’d love to start sharing more live client shoots to show everyone how they come together!

For more portrait tips using a white background see these articles on dPS:

The post Step By Step How to Do a Head Shot on a White Background by Mike Newton appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Accent Lighting for Portraits

accent lighting

Tthanks to the wonderful Bridgette for her work as the make-up artist in this image

Studio lighting continues to mystify and bewilder many developing photographers. The intimidation of lighting ratios, modifiers, set-ups, etc… often seems as complex as deriving the quadratic equation or suffering through an explanation of Michaelis-Menten enzyme kinetics. Oh yes, for those of you biochemically privy folk, I did just go there! Well, one does not have to get lost amidst the photonic chaos if they understand how to interpret and understand the meaning of light.

Wow! Meaning of light? Sounds kind of deep and metaphysical doesn’t it? Please don’t worry! The only thing you need to remember about light is that it illuminates and creates shadows. Fairly simple, huh? We all know that when we shine a light onto something it allows us to visualize whatever is illuminated by the light. That is simple enough, right? Now, consider that behind every good light is a shadow waiting to give shape, form and dimension to your subject. This intricate interplay between what you illuminate and what you keep in shadow is what brings visual interest and creative acuity to your images. In studio lighting, this is your raw material with which you have to work and create.

There are many articles and books that describe studio lighting and as the student you may tend to focus on that main key light with simple one or two light set-ups, so we can dip our toe into the pool, so to speak, and see if the temperature is warm enough for us to dive in. A main or key light is simply the light source that is providing the primary illumination for our subject. Now, don’t get me wrong, one can create some amazingly, captivating portraits with a single light, but what if you want to add a little something extra? A little hint of spice to get some unique seasoning and flavor?

This is where accent lighting comes out to shine.

What is an accent light?


Accent lighting is typically a very controlled light source that highlights specific areas of the subject. It can be a hair light that gives you some separation from a background, or a side light that illuminates the drops of sweat on an athlete after an intense workout. It gives some shape or form to elements of the photo allowing your eyes to experience the different dimensions of the image. Now, there are two important things you want to remember about accent lighting:

  1. The source should be very controlled and only hit the areas you desire
  2. It should be brighter then your main light to create a proper highlight

Easy ways to control accent lights are with modifiers such as barn doors, spot grids or small strip soft boxes. Basically, anything that will narrow and direct the beam of light coming form the light source. Heck, it could be a flashlight beam, the sun shining on the back of a subject’s head, or even the bright screen of a tablet or computer in the right conditions (yes, the eye fatigue from staring at the LCD screen is setting in). Add some colored gels to the accent lights to really make your images pop or bring some warmth into the mix.

Personally, I love adding side accent lighting to my portraits by firing my strobes into narrow V-flats (two large pieces of foam core taped together to form a v-shape) directed at the subject on either side to highlight the cheekbones and neck and really sculpt out those beautiful forms in light and shadow. The possibilities with accent lighting are truly endless, and the luminous results are absolutely stunning.


For more on portraits and lighting check out these articles:

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Fro Knows Photo Beginner Flash Guide – Review

It’s a little past 4:00 a.m. and I just finished watching all three hours of the just-released Fro Knows Photo Beginner Flash GuideA lot of photography-related books and videos come across my desk, and my favorites are always those that have something to offer not only the beginner, but the advanced photographer as well. This is absolutely one of them. In this follow-up video to his Fro Knows Photo Beginner Guide, Jared Polin (the aforementioned Fro) leads you on an off-camera flash adventure, taking you from hopelessly intimidated to supremely confident in a style all his own. Not bad for a three-hour tour.  With expert assistance from friend and professional photographer Adam Lerner, viewers have a front-row seat to everything from breaking down the contents of an affordable-but-effective light kit, to a behind-the-scenes look at six professional-grade photo shoots, all lit with a single speedlight and a convertible umbrella.


The Beginner Flash Guide starts literally from the ground up, planting a light stand firmly on the floor and explaining not only the contents of the light kit, but how those five or six pieces all work together to achieve professional-quality lighting without breaking the bank. Jared launched in 2010– a brand and a website that quickly became synonymous with making advanced photography techniques accessible not only to professional photographers, but also to beginners, hobbyists, and enthusiasts. The Beginner Flash Guide maintains and elevates that educational philosophy, taking what can be the confusing language and landscape of photographic lighting, and essentially handing the viewer a dictionary and a road map.

Among the nuts and bolts laid out are: The Lighting Kit Explained, Four Ways to Trigger Your Flash, Flash-to-Subject Distance, How Shutter Speed Affects Ambient Light, Understanding Flash Zoom, and Quality of Light. Plus, thirteen “Quick Tips” interspersed throughout the lessons cover some minor and some not-so-minor details on topics ranging from which rechargeable batteries you should use (lithium) to how best to interact with your subject. Word to the wise– make sure you take notes– they’ll make retaining and applying the information to your own photography much easier. An additional, non-video element is the included Flash Photography Field Guide– a six-page PDF designed to be printed and tucked away in your camera bag for quick, easy reference. The field guide does a great job of summarizing the basics covered in the videos, as well as offering suggestions for overcoming some real-world lighting challenges.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a mentor or someone to show them the ropes when they are first trying to learn this stuff. The BFG can and will fill that void. But even if you already have a firm grasp of off-camera flash principles– or just need a refresher– the lessons in this video guide can enhance and build upon what you already know. There will always be trial and error when it comes to learning and experimenting with photographic lighting. The Beginner Flash Guide, though, can help you minimize the error.

Get your copy of the Fro Knows Photo Beginner Flash Guide here.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Fro Knows Photo Beginner Flash Guide – Review

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Choosing the Right Color Reflector for Your Photography

Of all the portrait lighting tools at our disposal, none are quite as versatile as the the five-in-one reflector. The concept itself is extremely basic. In the hands of a photographer comfortable with common lighting principles, the reflector helps us bounce light into or onto those areas that aren’t getting enough light, regardless of whether we are using natural, ambient, or studio/strobe lighting.  A reflector placed directly opposite a main light can act as a hair light, creating separation between the subject and background. Placed in front of a back-lit subject, we can negate the silhouette effect, using available, natural light to balance the exposure between our subject and background. Held at a ninety-degree angle to a subject’s chest, we can toss some light up on the subject’s face and neck, eliminating troublesome shadows caused by foreheads and chins when using overhead or mid-day lighting.

The possibilities really are nearly endless, and– just as importantly– affordable. While there are many options available, at about $40.00, The Westcott 40″ 5-in-1 Reflector meets (and often exceeds) my needs, in terms of price, size, durability, and versatility. But dropping $40 on a reflector and adding it to your bag of tricks is only half the battle. Like the name says, you’ve got five-in-one. While technically not all five are actually reflectors, knowing which of the five to use and under what circumstances is essential to successful photographs.


5-in-1 Reflector surfaces are attached to or removed from the outer ring with zippers.


The silver panel is one of the most useful, and is best for beginners first getting their bearings with reflectors. Since the silver reflects the most amount of light of the five, it is a great choice for low-light situations or those scenarios where you need a strong fill light. Since it  doesn’t change the color of white-balanced flash or studio lights, it is perfect for both indoor and outdoor portraits. Another reason it works so well for beginners is that most first-timers make the mistake of not placing the reflector close enough to their subject. The silver reflector’s ability to shine more light than the gold, for instance, allows it to be placed further away from the subject than we typically want, without sacrificing results. One word of caution, though– the fact that the silver is the strongest of the five is an advantage, but it can also be too strong in already bright light unless it’s feathered. Take some time to experiment with proper and effective placement.


The gold reflector is great for outdoor portraits because it matches the warm color tones of sunlight. The gold reflector is actually at its best when it is reflecting sunlight, casting a warm glow on the subject. It’s easy to turn normal skin tones overly yellow, however, if you aren’t careful. This is also why the gold reflector is also not recommended for studio or flash work. It not only changes the color of the white light that hits it, but can cast uneven color tones on the subject.


Under most circumstances, this one is my favorite. The white panel may not reflect quite as much light as the silver or gold, but when used properly it can still bounce just enough light onto the subject to overcome shadows and add subtle dimension opposite larger light sources. Since it is soft, clean light, it works well both in the studio and outside when there is ample light. While effective, the white reflector won’t do you much good at all in low-light situations.  It is also important to remember, though, that for the white reflector to do its job, you’re doing to have to get it very close to your subject. Wedding photographers love the white reflector because it doesn’t change the color of the light– or the dress.


In the outdoor portrait on the left, a white reflector adds just enough light to open up the shadows, while a silver reflector casts some dramatic light across the boxer on the right.


This one is pretty much the “anti-reflector.” Black, as we know, absorbs light, which helps to cut down on the reflections from shiny, reflective surfaces– one of the reasons it is used so often in jewelry photography. When placed properly, the black panel also creates shadows when light falls too evenly across the subject. The benefit of this “negative fill” is that it allows you to create shadows rather than overcome them.


Using the black “reflector” in a small space helped me achieve split lighting, which I usually create with a silver reflector in a larger area.


When all of the other reflection panels have been removed, the translucent is left. While technically not a reflector, this panel works great as a shoot-through diffuser for flash or location lighting, or as a diffusion panel between the sun and your subject. Since larger light sources provide softer light, using the translucent panel as a large diffuser gives you a very large, easily portable light source. While a large enough translucent reflector can also be used as an impromptu background for a head shot, the translucent panel will almost always be between your subject and the light source.


Using the translucent panel above the subject’s head, we spread the light and softened it.


The 5-in-1 Reflector can one of the most versatile lighting tools in your entire workflow. Taking full advantage of its capabilities, though, won’t be possible until you know what color reflector to use for which lighting scenario. Remember, though, that photography rules were made to be broken once you’ve learned them, so be sure to experiment with color and placement.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Choosing the Right Color Reflector for Your Photography

The post Choosing the Right Color Reflector for Your Photography by appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Studio Lighting: Unravelling the Complexity of Multiple Lights

As one gets started in studio lighting I think it is pretty common to get over ensconced in the lighting scenarios. It is funny because everything you read tells you to start with one light until you really start getting a feel for how to shape, angle and manipulate it with purpose. Most of us end up getting lost in multiple light set-ups struggling to find proper lighting solutions. I was not any different.

Soon after I got started, I found myself using 4-5 lights in every setup and then getting frustrated with the nuclear explosion of light that was going off with each shutter click. It makes me laugh now, because at the time I was solely focused on getting light on the subject, background and in most cases everything else in the room that was touched by the mushroom cloud of illumination. I did not understand the importance of shadow, shape, depth and form.

Maturing with studio lighting takes time and patience, and always remember that each light should have a specific purpose. Understanding how to build the lighting with intent in mind takes plenty of practice and a fair number of mistakes and experimentation. Just remember to keep an open mind and never stop learning from both your successful and failed attempts. So, let’s get down to business and walk through a more challenging lighting set-up being mindful of the reasons and rational for each lights use.

Creative Winter-106(sRGB-websize)


In pre-planning for any shoot it is always good to have some structure and direction to the idea or concept. Some focus, no matter how vague, will always be helpful. Understand what sort of mood, feel or emotion you hope to portray and have some insight into what you want presented in your final image. In the shoot presented in this article, the overall theme was a creative portrait based on the beauty of ice, winter and cold.

This already set most of my color palette to blues, whites, silvers and other cooler tones. I also wanted to give a feeling like the model was being seen through a pane or block of ice and knew I wanted some crystal like texture incorporated. Simply put, I needed a lighting set-up that would maximize the crystalline texture, but that would also provide a flattering light for the model. Sounds simple right?

Lighting Plan

Let’s think through this lighting for a moment. In order to light for texture, one needs to light from the side so that the light skims the texture and creates shadows that give some shape, depth and form to the surface. Great! We can side light our crystalline forms. Oh but wait, if we side light the model we are likely going to see every blemish, hair or imperfection on the skin and either are going to resort to a lengthy saddle-sore ridden editing session, or have a very unflattering photo of our model.

How can I get a nice beautiful light on my model? I know, butterfly or clam shell lighting provides a very flattering look and has a way of smoothing out the complexion. Awesome! But wait, if I front light the texture, I will lose the depth and form of the crystals. Quite a conundrum, huh? Well, at least it provides a framework to help me set-up my lighting. I want some sort of combination of side lighting and butterfly lighting that will accomplish both of my needs. Lets break it down in a diagram.



All make-up and styling was performed by the amazingly creative Dina Bree. The model, Leslie, was shot against a blue seamless background through a piece of plexiglass that had been treated to create a crystalline or frozen texture. White and silver confetti was released over the model during shooting to gain an effect as if snow was falling lightly.

I had two strip boxes, one on either side of the plexiglass skimming the surface and providing some side lighting to the model. The key light was a diffused beauty dish that was placed directly above the plexiglass and angled down at the model and positioned so that it would not spill light on the textured surface. My fill light was a 7” reflector with blue gel bounced off of the floor beneath the plexiglass up at the model again trying to avoid spill on the plexiglass. I knew I wanted both the textured surface and the model in sharp focus so I chose a very small aperture at f/16 to gain a large depth of field.

Thus, I had found a pleasant combination of side lighting and butterfly lighting to accomplish my goals within the original framework I had outlined.

When I conceived the idea for this shoot, I have to admit I was not sure if I could pull it off effectively. I knew the lighting would be tricky and that it could take some subtle changes or modifications as I progressed through the shoot. I also knew that it could be a complete disaster with an ultimate failed result. Either way it was going to be a great learning opportunity. Lighting with intent and purpose is critical as you move into multiple light set-ups. Planning and understanding the need for each light serves to unravel a lot of the complexity encountered in studio lighting scenarios.

Also, don’t be afraid to experiment within the set-up. This final shot was a fantastic accident as I decided to turn the key light off for some production shots and I got a whole new look and feel to the image. Take your time and think it through and make sure you have an idea of where you are going before you start. There is no need to fly completely blind. Be confident, clever and calculated and you will soon find that you can amaze yourself and satiate that starving creative beast inside you with a nice healthy meal.

Creative Winter-314-Edit(sRGB-websize)

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Studio Lighting: Unravelling the Complexity of Multiple Lights

Studio Portraits – Getting Started With One Light

Working with studio lights can be a daunting process for many photographers. Many find the studio to be a place of fear and anxiety where the sanctity of natural light has vacated and the hauntingly, horrific wasteland of light stands, strobes and modifiers is all that remains.

So how does one meander there way through this alien landscape and find a corridor of comfort in which they can relax? The simplest and often most powerful way to navigate this network of nerves is with a go to one light set-up that will provide a never ending reservoir of great imagery.

Early on when I started shooting with studio lighting, I was always overly concerned with the light. Sounds like a strange comment, huh? You must be thinking, “Of course he should be concerned with the light, it is studio lighting.” As intuitive as that thought might sound, I was always so focused on my light source that what I never paid attention to was the shadows created by the light.

In studio lighting, it is the transition of light to shadow that provides depth, beauty and interest to your photos.

Is this a hard transition with a distinct line and harsh contrast separating the two? Or is it a soft, gradual melting of the light into the shadow? This transition zone is what should be the focus of your attention when getting into studio lighting.

How do these shadows change with a large, soft light close to your subject or a small, harsh light placed several feet from your subject? These are concepts that need to be experimented with and understood and the best way to do it is to practice.

So let’s go ahead and give you a place to get started and begin to nurture your studio skills.

Keep it Simple

The best way to get started with studio lights is to keep it simple. This means one light and one light only.

That way if you don’t like what you see while you are shooting, you only need to adjust, move, or tweak one thing. You will not be fiddling around with everything and getting lost in the set-up. You will be able to keep your attention on your subject and the shoot. Also, use a large, diffuse light modifier that throws light like a hand grenade at your subject such as a shoot through umbrella (no smaller than 36 inches).

Light Source

My favorite go to light modifier for these cases is a Westcott 5 foot Octabox. I recommend using a large light source so that you can light both your subject and your background at the same time. Also, I recommend a diffused light source to soften the quality of the light and prevent extreme hot spots on your subject. Make it big, cause really, its okay if the light seems to go everywhere when you are starting out.

Okay, we have picked a light source, now where do we place it?

Light Placement

Without getting into too much physics, basically the closer the light source is to your subject the softer the light will be, giving you a nice gradual transition from light to shadow.

Subsequently, the farther the light source is from your subject, the more harsh the light gets and you get a harder transition form light to shadow.

Ultimately, you should try both scenarios to learn more about how it changes the look of your portrait. To start with, however, I recommend keeping the light source within three feet of your subject as a softer, more diffuse light is more flattering to your subject.

Also, in terms of light direction, you cannot go wrong with a traditional loop lighting pattern (named for the shadow created by the nose on the cheek) where the light is placed at roughly a 45 degree angle to the side and a 45 degree angle above your subject.

Loop Light Shadow

Loop Light Shadow

Here is a basic diagram of a simple set-up I frequently use.

Basic Set-up

Think Before You Shoot

Now before you set the power on your lights, think about what you want the portrait to look like and what sort of depth of field you will need.

If it s a simple head shot and you want a nice shallow depth of field with the eyes in focus and the rest of the photo gently blurring into a beautiful bokeh, then choose a wide open aperture of f/4.0.

If you have props and other elements in the portrait that you need in focus, then choose a smaller aperture and a broader depth of field of f/11. ISO should be set as low as possible to prevent noise. Shutter speed is not much of a factor with studio strobes as the flash is illuminating everything, so I would keep it set just below your sync speed at something like 1/160 sec. Thus, let the aperture you want dictate the shot.

Now, you can either adjust the power of the strobe till it reaches the proper exposure for your shot, or if you want to get even more detailed you can go ahead and use a light meter to set the strobe at the exact aperture you require.

Experiment and Learn

Now go to town! Shoot away! Move the light a little to the left or a little to the right. Bring the light farther form the subject or so close it is almost touching the subject. Experiment and learn. Stop worrying about making mistakes. That is how we learn and get better.

What is the worst that can happen? We get a series of horrible captures?

I do not know about you, but as a photographer I have had plenty of shoots that have been disappointing. Big deal!

Study the bad shots to figure out what went wrong and try again. Learn to embrace your mistakes and I promise you that improvement is not far away.

Katie Make-up-159(sRGB-websize)

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Studio Portraits – Getting Started With One Light

Studio Lighting: Building a Light Set-up

Studio flash photography often appears to be complicated and confusing for the new photographer.  The tangled, twisted mess of light size, power, angle, position, direction, etc… can be daunting to say the least.  Not to mention the need for extra equipment such as backdrops, light stands, modifiers, reflectors and the lights themselves. Wow! Already seems like too much huh? You might find yourself thinking, “I can just use the giant light source in the sky that is available everyday and be done with all this other mangled mess of an armamentarium.”  At times I would not disagree with you, as the natural light from the sun is hard to beat and is in great abundance, however, when I look at how much my understanding of light and shadow has improved from my many unsuccessful studio lighting shoots, the value of learning this sort of lighting is tremendous. And yes I did say “unsuccessful shoots!”

Strangely enough, when I got started with photography, studio lighting was one of the areas in which I was most interested. Not the easiest place to start I can assure you, but  it definitely does not need to be as awkwardly bemusing as it first appears. Now this article is not meant to be a full on detailed description of what lights or modifiers to buy or an in depth scientific analysis of the inverse square law complete with physics equations and Einstein like theorems.  It is more of a reason of why to get started with studio lighting and to break through any mental barriers that might be in your way.  I promise you, once you get your feet a little wet and wild in the studio, you will not only love it, but also find that you have a better eye for light even when you are out at the wee hours of the morning trying to capture that perfectly beautiful sunrise.

To shoot my studio work, I use simple, durable yet economically feasible equipment.  I currently use a set of Alien Bees strobes from Paul C. Buff. There are a lot of other brands of strobes out there, but these have worked well for me and fit within my budget.  Now, you do not necessarily need to use strobes. Westcott has their Spiderlite TD continuous lighting system that also could suffice. Basically any system of lighting can work fine. You could use a couple of lamps with a shower curtain liner to diffuse the light if you want. Don’t get too hung up on the equipment at first, but try to understand how to position and control the lighting to get the desired results.  I am trying not to get pulled into a discussion about equipment, but admittedly some equipment is required. In order to move on, I would recommend getting a good book or two on studio lighting to give you a thorough description of some lighting basics. Two that I have personally found useful are Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers, by Christopher Grey or Basic Studio Lighting: The Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Techniques, by Tony Corbell. There was also a nice post here on DPS recently called One Light Portraits: Simple Elegance, by Rick Berk.

Whew! Let’s move on and get into some of the nitty gritty of setting up a studio portrait shoot. Lately, I have been working on some creatively themed portrait shoots as a personal project.  The basics of what you need for a shoot are simple. You need a background and a willing model or subject. This can be a plain wall in your house and a close friend or even some fabric taped to the wall with a bowl of fruit on a table in front of it. My theme was fire, so first I went to the fabric store and found an interesting black/grey charred looking swath. A quick aside, if you want to find some really cool backgrounds in the U.S. go to a fabric store around Halloween and they will have some really great stuff.  Next, I got a hold of a local model, the fabulous Brittney and set-up a time for the shoot. I also hired the amazing Dina Bree Nast a local make-up artist here in Denver, Colorado. I must say, and this is just my own opinion, but if you have never hired a make-up artist for a shoot, you have to try it as the results are spectacular and it will reduce your post-processing time tremendously.

Okay, the date, model, MUA and backdrop were set. Next and most importantly, how do I design the lighting set-up.  A little planning goes a long way with a studio shoot. When you are just getting started you do not want to have to deal with moving a lot of lights around or having your subject face the wrong way and have shadows in places where you do not want them. A sure fire way to avoid this is to first give your subject a stool or a chair to sit on. This will keep them in one place at the same distance and proximity from your lighting set-up and your background. Secondly, stick to one lighting set-up and limit the shoot to it. You want to focus on getting the shot that you want and not be constantly worried about fumbling with the lights. If you are more focused on the lights and everything else going on with the equipment, you will not pay attention to getting a great pose and expression and let’s be honest, the lighting can be less then perfect if you capture the right moment.  Finally, you would like to have an idea of what sort of depth of field at which you would like to shoot. If you want the background slightly blurred go with a wide open aperture of f/2.8-f/4. In my plan for this shot, I chose f/8 as I wanted to capture a bit of the look and texture in the background as I felt it complimented the shot. Additionally, I keep my ISO low which for my Nikon is 200 and my shutter speed I usually leave at 1/125 of a second. Thus, my camera settings are set already and I have not even taken a shot yet.

I always start my lighting set-up with the position and exposure setting of the main light or the one that will be responsible for lighting the subject.  In this shot, I already know I want my aperture around f/8 so that I can capture that background detail. This already let’s me know where I want my main lights exposure to be set. Now, there are two ways to set the main light’s exposure. You can use a light meter or you can wing it by taking some practice shots and checking your histogram and adjusting accordingly. Either way works well even though many people have opinions about one way or the other. Personally, I use a combination of both. So what about position of the light?

To start out with, I think using a glamour or butterfly lighting set-up (named for the shadow pattern created beneath the subjects nose) is very easy and is incredibly flattering for the subject. To achieve butterfly lighting the main light is set directly in front and slightly above the subject with the light angled down toward the subject. As a beginner, having the light directly in front of the subject is useful cause if the subject turns their head one way or the other they will still always be within the range of the main light. I used a 36-inch strip softbox in this set-up placed about 2-3 ft from the subject in the horizontal position to achieve a narrow, soft beam of light that would not spill onto the background very much. Then I took a few shots to see what it looks like.


As you can see with just the main light, the subject is adequately exposed, however, I cannot see the background and the subjects dark hair blends in so much with the background that you cannot see the outline of her hair. What does this tell me? I need to light the background as well as the hair to separate her from the background and gain some depth to the image. Since my theme was fire, I wanted to incorporate some colors that would support the theme. This made me think of reds, oranges and yellows. So to light the background I set a strobe just up off the floor angled up at the background with a standard reflector attached, however, I decided to place a red acetate gel over the light to give a little color to the background and support my theme. To set the power of this light I turned off my main light and took a few practice shots with only the background light on to see how it looked and adjusted the power of the light until I liked the look.




Here you can see with only the background light, I have a nice subtle red glow to the background that also brings out the interesting texture to compliment the fire theme of the shoot. The background light also wrapped around the subject just a little bit, likely bouncing a touch off the white surface of the softbox in front of her, giving a red tinge to the shadows. If I did not want this extra red in the image I could have moved my subject farther form the background, but I liked the effect so I left it alone.

Next, I needed to separate the subject’s  hair from the blending into the background.  I set up an additional light right behind the subject just below her shoulders and directed it with a standard reflector at the back of her head. I decided to add a yellow acetate gel over this light to hopefully give a bit of a fiery glow to the hair. Again I turned out the other lights and I took a few shots to see how it looked and adjusted it as needed.




As you can see, I now have a nice burning glow that highlights the outline of the hair and separates the subject form the background adding some depth to the image. I also get a little more of the yellow light reflecting of the strip softbox and filling in the shadows of the face with a bit of a golden tinge. When I looked back at the photo of the main light by itself I decided that this slight tinge would add some warmth into the shadow area and really compliment the photo. I have to admit this was a happy accident as a result of the light set-up.





Next, I took a few shots of just the background and hair light together to check how the two looked combined.

What do you think? A pretty nice combination that provided the shot with the fiery look I wanted, while also serving to bring out the background and help the subject stand out. To be critical, I was not pleased with the illumination of the subjects right ear, but I figured I could work with angles possibly to make it more subtle. Finally, I turned the main light back on and took a few more shots to see how all three lights looked together. I was very pleased with the result and felt that the little bit of red and yellow that spilled over into the shadows of the subjects face really helped to compliment the look and bring it all together.  At this point the light and camera settings were never touched and all I had to do was shoot and make sure I got the pose and expression I wanted, which when working with someone like the experienced Brittney was super easy. Is the light perfect? Definitely not, but it all comes together to produce a nice unique portrait.

I hope by going through my thought process step-by-step for this shot and by showing the effects of each light separately that it gives you a little insight into working with studio lighting and how you can construct an image one light at a time. Having total control of the lights is a bit scary, but once you start taking some baby steps with it, I promise you it will make all aspects of your photography better. Studio lighting is all about the direction and intensity of light and how it transitions and compliments into shadow. Wait, isn’t that what all photography is about? So go ahead and jump in head first. Inevitably, you will make a lot of mistakes, have many over and underexposed images, and end up with plenty of shots of which you are not proud, however, you will also absolutely get some fantastically, fascinating photos and learn a lot about the the interplay and visualization of light and shadows.  Plus, let’s be honest, don’t we have these same problems with any shoot? Any shot involves the light, background and subject and how we decide to capture and expose the image. Being able to control the light should actually make getting a great capture easier.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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Studio Lighting: Building a Light Set-up