Gaining experience with studio lighting
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Old 08-01-2012   #1
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Default Gaining experience with studio lighting

I was wondering what others do to gain experience with setting up lighting in a studio environment? Other than reading books or watching videos online, what do you do to actually put that info into practice? Do you rent studio time or take classes if they are available? I am really interested in the setup and correct metering of lights in a studio for portraiture type work. Thanks all.

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Old 08-01-2012   #2
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

Reading books and watching videos is good, no doubt... but NOTHING more than DOING IT will get you better, faster.

While what you are interested seems difficult, with the right help, learning what you mention (...interested in the setup and correct metering of lights in a studio for portraiture type work...") is at most a 1-2 day thing. After that comes the real task of learning how to apply all that magic and make great photos.

I can show you how in 15 minutes how to create loop lighting, open loop, closed loop, Rembrandt, Butterfly, Paramount and on and on... but it takes practice to retain it.

How to practice these techniques? I used friends and family members in my basement, I used clients AFTER I got the shoot, I learned by playing... and I play a lot, even to this day, on a regular basis. I joined the local Strobist group and participate in local events with others. I shoot, but I also used to often watch more than I shot.

The book that I used to get this "classical" stuff down was by Christopher Grey called "Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers"... but I added my own slant to it... I did not use studio lights at the time, but multiple speedlights, which basically means I did not play with apertures of F/16 and F/22 as much as I played with F/4 to F/8, but the principals all worked the same.

Anyone can show me how a knife works, but it takes real effort to create those little masterpieces of edible and visual delight that a real master makes almost without apparent thought.

If you don't have anyone to talk to, to work and play with, do what I did at first... I bought that book, I recreated EACH setup, page by page and took the time to understand WHAT I was doing at each phase. Once you do it enough times, it becomes a tool to take out and use when you want.

You will also then learn one important fact... there is no such thing as the word "correct" when it comes to lighting, it all becomes variations of a theme so that you make it work for you and your needs instead of spouting the words, using the exact calculations and classical setups of the masters from the past.

A one point, the lighting setup becomes incidental and "YOU" starts coming through.
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Old 08-01-2012   #3
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

Shoot some images, pick what you consider to be the best then post it in the Portrait - People sub-forum for professional critique. While it is nice to get ooohs and aaahs from your mother, grandmother and fellow amateurs a good professional critique is invaluable for real improvement.

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Old 08-01-2012   #4
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

As Jerry said, you learn best by doing. At some point you have to simply buy some lighting and start playing with lighting. Studio strobes with modeling lights are best because they let you see the light and shadows before you press the shutter button.

Start simple. Get one good quality 300 Ws to 600 Ws studio strobe and a large softbox. I recommend a 3'x5' one since it is so versatile. Learn how to use that before adding any more lights.

If you can't get people to model for you then try and buy one of the wig mannequins with a wig. Set it up on a stand so it is about the same height as a person would be. You now have a perfectly patient model who will never complain while you play with lighting.

Reproduce a classical lighting setup. Now take more photos as you move the light a few inches in each direction, then a few more inches, etc. Carefully look at how moving the light changes on the subject and make notes of what you see.

Compare your notes with what you see in the images on your computer screen. You are trying to learn to see the light well enough to be able to change it to what you want before you press the shutter button. Sometimes you will find a variation that you really like so you can add it to your bag of tricks.

Enjoy.
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Old 08-01-2012   #5
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

For sure, learn by doing. Get the book, but rather than simply reading it, follow the directions and examples with some real equipment.

It's like baking cookies. You can read a dozen recipe books and never make the first cookie. You'll do better to take the book into the kitchen and follow the steps one-by-one. Same with learning lighting set-up.
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Old 08-02-2012   #6
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

Sailor Blue,
What 300W to 600W strobe do you recommend? Right now I have a Canon 430EXii speedlight and an umbrella as a diffuser, but only have been using this for shots I take at home. The problem I am facing is that I really have no space in my home for setting this up. Renting studio space to learn how to setup lighting could be a little pricey, but may be my only option, so that's why I posed the question of how others learned lighting.
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Old 08-02-2012   #7
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

Here's a suggestion for practice, assuming you have some lights - speed lights, studio flash, constant lights and even window light. Get a mannequin head off of ebay or craigs list. You can set that on a lower stool in your living room so you have lots of overhead room to work with your lights. Then practice what you learn.

Two down sides to shooting the mannequin head is the plastic reflects light differently than human skin does but you still get good practice and you can tell is your issue is lighting or plastic related. Also, the eyes at times don't get the catch lights from the flash even though they would with a human. You always will have the painted catch lights and you may have those from your lights as well. Just learn to tell the difference.
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Old 08-02-2012   #8
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

Quote:
Originally Posted by truephotoga View Post
Sailor Blue,
What 300W to 600W strobe do you recommend? Right now I have a Canon 430EXii speedlight and an umbrella as a diffuser, but only have been using this for shots I take at home. The problem I am facing is that I really have no space in my home for setting this up. Renting studio space to learn how to setup lighting could be a little pricey, but may be my only option, so that's why I posed the question of how others learned lighting.
You can continue using your 430EX II with the umbrella to learn but having a studio strobe with a modeling light will make learning lighting easier since, as I said earlier, you will be able to see the lighting before pressing the shutter. If you want to know more about what you need in the way of studio strobes then read through my article on equipment for a small home studio.

Sailorblue - PhotoCamel - Equipment Guide for Setting up a Small Home Portrait/Glamor Studio

You don't need much room. If you have any area 12'-15' long by 8'-10' wide' of you can do portraiture with a single light. If one side of the space has a white wall that can be your reflector.

I use my 12' wide dinning room but I am lucky enough that it connects to my living room so I can get the model as much as 10' from the background (6' is more normal but even 4' is often sufficient) and still have a 15' model to camera distance if I backup against the TV. I still wind up 6' from the model for many shots so having that much distance isn't absolutely necessary.

I have arranged things so I can pull my dinning table and chairs off to the side. I use a fabric background held by a pair of old light stands at the far end of the room. I back up into the space between a coffee table and a pair of chairs in the living room.

You want your main light diffuser close to the subject for soft light - 1 to 2 times the diagonal of a softbox or 1-2 times the measured diameter of an umbrella. This naturally helps reduce the size of the room needed.

I have 40" softboxes and in about 8' of width I can get the main light off to one side and the fill light close to the camera.

Sometimes I shoot glamor in a bedroom. That is when things get tight. In one bedroom I only have 2'-2.5' on the sides of the bed and 4' at the foot. I still manage to squeeze in a couple of studio strobes with softboxes.

Moving around to change the camera angle can be a problem, especially if I want to squeeze by a light, but I still manage. To get more space I sometimes shoot through the door way into the room.

A lot of photography is using your imagination to overcome obstacles. I'm sure you can do just fine if you let your imagination run free.
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Nissin Di866, Electra CLASSIC Plus studio strobes & modifiers
Sekonic L-358 Flash Meter, Yongnuo RF-602 Transmitters & Receivers
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Old 08-02-2012   #9
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

There are many ways of learning and of course, each of us learn best in different ways as well. To me, the gold standard in teaching and learning is to seek out apprenticeship and/or mentoring by a seasoned photographer.

It is useful, resourceful. and wise to read up on all phases of photography, to attend classes or seminars and watch instructional audio-visual pieces by professional photographers. Working hands on with an experienced photographer whose work you respect is best. You can watch your mentor on the job and assist him or her- that is the hands on part. You can shoot under his or her supervision and he or she can assess your progress right there and then. Even if you work for free in exchange for education, it is the best money you never made and your time will be well spent. As far as a learning opportunity is concerned; this is the gold standard,

A good mentor will not expect you to be his or her clone but wants to show you the ropes and the basics and then your own style is up to to create.

Ed
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Last edited by Ed Shapiro; 08-03-2012 at 11:28 AM.. Reason: SP
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Old 08-03-2012   #10
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Default Re: Gaining experience with studio lighting

Sailorblue and Ed,
Thank you for your insight!


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