Home studio Lighting set-ups for Beginning Photographers      

 

I am always pleased when I know that someone has actually read my articles.

Twice this past week I was visited by different aspiring photographers, that had read my last article on using lights and stopped by to ask advice on setting up home portrait studios.

For them and others that missed my past article on setting up a home studio, here it is again:

In each instance the photographers were quite troubled by the kind of lighting equipment other photographers were advising them to purchase and how much it was going to cost to get large and expensive studio lights.

They complained that they would have to wait till they had the money before a home studio lighting situation could be set up. I believe they were paying attention to those that included expensive manufacturer’s names for their studio type lighting setups.

One might be able to locate used studio lights with a bit of searching online. However, there will be shipping costs, plus there is a chance that they will arrive not working.

There usually isn’t lot of quality studio lights locally, and to confuse new photographers more there will be lots of those cheap, inadequate, constant light kits that were purchased by other unsuspecting beginners for sale.

My opinion is they don’t really need to go to the bank just yet, and would be better starting out with the smaller speedlight type flashes.

With the money they save by not purchasing those big studio type lights they could buy a couple inexpensive light stands, umbrellas and maybe even a softbox and backdrop.

Most small home photography studios are in the basement with equipment stored to the side until the photographer quickly sets up for a portrait session.

And if the room is less than twelve feet high, thirty feet long and only used for children, small groups or single person portraits, those big powerful and expensive studio lights may be overkill, and a real hassle when one wants to soften the background by shooting a wide aperture because there is just too much light power for small spaces.

Photographers intent on setting up small home studios for portraits and small groups don’t need to go to the expense of the brawny, studio type lights. They can easily, and without much initial cost, set up a studio with what I personally use, and call my “portrait kit”.

My portrait kit is four older hotshoe type flashes, each with it’s own wireless receiver and two stands. I can choose a shoot-through umbrella, a reflector umbrella, or once in a while a softbox, and might include a reflector. It’s an inexpensive and easily stored “portrait kit” that I would recommend for most first-time, home studio photographers.

Wireless senders and receivers come in all sorts of inexpensive incarnations, and it’s the same with lightstands and flash to umbrella mounts.

All of this is much less expensive, and a lot easier to store and/or move around than the big studio-type flash units.

Even if there were a wad of cash burning a hole it your pocket, my advice would be to proceed slowly, and learn how use light to best photograph a person first.

I have been using multiple flashes off-camera since the 1970s. I prefer inexpensive used units that I can cheaply replace if they get knocked over or I wear them out.

Hotshoe type speedlights off-camera will be perfect for that educational process, and when they are no longer a good fit with one’s creative growth, the choices as to the next step in lighting equipment will be educated decisions.

Light the Portrait workshop part two.                                              

 

 

 

The second of my two day off-camera lighting workshop is now over and I am pretty sure I have converted a few more photographers to using off-camera flash indoors and out.

The session we just finished was all outside. I would have been happier with a warm, sunny day that had deep shadows and harsh light, but what we got was a cold, slight overcast day instead. Oh well, at the end of the last session I told everyone (yes, our model too) to come prepared for a cold wet day.  As it was, the rain came at night with a wind that dried things out by morning, so all we had to contend with was a cool October, and fortunately, windless day.

Whether one is shooting under a bright sun or overcast conditions, the goal should be to balance both the ambient and the light from the flash. The subject shouldn’t look like a deer-in-the-headlights and the background shouldn’t be unusually under or over exposed.

I began by discussing TTL flash and how to set up and use high-speed sync. Then progressed to demonstrating manual flash lighting. I will say that TTL is wonderful for fast moving events and high-speed sync allows the photographer amazing control over ambient light.

Our first location was in the middle of a field where I had set up a backdrop and two flashes. The 15X15 foot backdrop was a well-used old painter’s tarp that I had found when sorting through the garbage at a house vacated by some tenants who snuck out during the night to avoid paying rent. A drag for the landlord, but an excellent find for me.

Painted backdrops are expensive, especially if they are large and seamless. However, for budget conscious photographers I suggest purchasing a painter’s cloth from the local hardware store and dying it grey. All those that want to be creative need to do is work on the dyed cloth with some spray paint or a large sponge dipped in paint. Instead of spending the extra cash on a seamless cloth, one just employs the cloning tool on the seams in post-processing.

After using different light modifiers at the backdrop location we moved to the edge of the meadow with it’s colourful background of fall leaves. Then we all carefully climbed down into the deep shadowed creek for some photos. After that our model, Sarah wanted to pose against a discarded Cadillac resting in the field. That Caddy was caked up to its bumper in mud from a spring flood that washed out the bridge and almost damaged the studio. From there we posed our model against an old rail fence and finished with a setup using flash and reflectors in a large open barn.

I know that between the very active day and all the handouts I gave those in attendance everyone was dealing with a bit of information overload. Hopefully they will review their notes and remember how we set up the pictures they have on their memory cards. After a few days and a bit of practice everything will come into focus. Pun intended.

Leading a Photography Lighting Workshop   

getting-ready

photographers

reflector

modeling

having-fun

checking

American photographer David Hobby, author of the lighting blog Strobist that promotes lighting techniques, wrote about learning to use flash, “You may not realize it yet, but you have just stepped through a door that may change your photography forever…Photography is literally writing with light.” And he continues, “…you’ll learn how to take control of your electronic flash. If you can imagine it, you’ll be able to create it.”

I like using flash, and in my many years as a working photographer I rarely photographed people indoors or out without using a flash; and last Sunday with Hobby’s words in mind I led yet another interactive lighting workshop.

Actually I wonder if “study group” might be a better description of what happens when several photographers get together to experiment with flash. Nevertheless, these sessions are always an enjoyable whirlwind session for me as I try to present as much information as I can without reaching information-overload for the participants.

As photographers in the workshop begin to realize how much better, and more creative, their portraits are when they begin taking control of electronic flash they get excited. That excitement is contagious. So much so that I have to remind myself to slow down and explain what I am doing and why I am doing it when I add lights to a portrait setup.

Sunday’s group of photographers were quick learners and were demanding as they pushed limits and exhausted the model, then without skipping a beat, when our ever-so-patient model needed a break, one of the photographers took her place and the group kept on going.

I remember reading a book entitled, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, about student-centered learning over teacher-centered teaching. Sometimes one has to step back from being the center of attention and let people learn by themselves.

When I realized those photographers had reached the point where they were beginning to understand where I was leading them, I just got out of their way and let them be, besides that gave me some time to wander a bit and take some pictures of what was happening.

This first of two sessions, Modeling with Lighting in the Studio is now over.

Next Sunday we’ll be braving British Columbia’s cool October weather as we take our model outdoors to pose in several different locations with different lighting conditions in each. I entitled that, Balancing Lighting Out-Of-Doors.

In the studio we used large and powerful studio lights that recycled instantly. Next Sunday we will use much less powerful, small wireless speedlights that require waiting for batteries to recycle. The quick recycling studio lights are grand, but I like the slower speedlights because they force photographers to think about and plan their next shot.

Last weekend was a lot a fun. It is great being with other photographers and watching them get excited about learning something new. Saying that, I will add a quote by French photographerJacques-Henri Lartigue that I have used several times before, “It’s marvellous, marvellous! Nothing will ever be as much fun. I’m going to photograph everything, everything!”

 

 

Open House Versatile Photography Studio

Guests arriveGuests 2Guests 3Guests 4AshleyAshley in Studio Horses at the creekHorse portraitsMonique on the horseThree with MoniqueMonique and dogOpen StudioFun on the HarleyAshley on HarleyMoniqueShy-lynRoasting hotdogs

I was invited to attend a photographer’s open house at a local studio last Sunday. The owners, Dave and Cynthia Monsees, hosted the event and invited photographers of all levels to attend. On their Facebook page they had posted “Versatile Studio took delivery of some new equipment this week. Two new 300-watt strobes arrived along with a 60-inch Octobox that is going to be interesting to use. We now have a 480-watt battery powered strobe complete with a 24-inch soft box for use anywhere on the site. More changes are happening outside of the Studio as we continue to grow.”

Versatile Studio is probably one of the best-equipped rental studios in the British Columbia interior, with a wide array of lighting equipment for use in the studio or on the studio grounds. As well as the indoor location, Versatile Studio facilities include a large open-sided barn equipped with backdrop and electricity for lighting equipment, a mowed meadow complete with an antique buggy and old farm implements, an old Cadillac resting in a field, and the real favourite, a tree lined stream with a sandy beach.

I joined several others to include a local photographer’s group called Coffee n’ Click, several members of the Kamloops Photo Arts Club, and other serious photographers, and I was pleased when Dave told me that twenty-five signed his guestbook. I wish I had thought to get a group photo.

The day started at 10am with refreshments. After a short welcome everyone split up and the excitement began. Several chose to use the studio and I decided to set up high key lighting for Ashley, one of the three models volunteering that day. The other models were Monica and Shy-lyn.

Several photographers walked to the meadow where a neighbor had brought over her horse and a donkey for models to pose on. Another group chose go down to the stream to take pictures.

I didn’t stay long in the studio. There were so many excited people competing for the model’s attention that after a couple quick portraits I moved on. A Harley Davidson motorcycle had also been loaned to the studio and I rolled it into position in front of a painted backdrop that hung in the open barn, where I tried out the new battery operated, wireless 480w studio light with a 60-inch Octabox, and added a large gold reflector I had brought from my store. The results were great.

The day was fun, most photographers barely stopped for lunch and before I knew it people were roasting hotdogs over an open fire and it was 4pm. I enjoy events like this where one can interact with other photographers are just having fun doing photography. Usually I use that studio as a place of work where I lead workshops on studio lighting, but on this day I didn’t have to be “on” and was able to relax and talk to other photographers.

This week the Kamloops Photographer’s Facebook page was filled with photographs from the open house. I am pretty confident that everyone had a great time at Versatile Studio’s event.

I always look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

 

 

Studio Portraiture Workshop

Class Portrait 1  Class 2

This past Sunday I lead the first day of a two-day workshop discussing posing and lighting. I hadn’t planned on undertaking any workshops this early in the year, but I had been getting requests from several excited photographers who are out there getting ready for spring and summer portrait sessions.

I finally made the decision to proceed when my friend Dave Monsees, owner of the Versatile Photography Studio near Kamloops, mentioned that photographers renting his studio told him they needed help in lighting couples. They lamented that most tutorials available were only about photographing one person.

I am sure if they browsed the internet they would have found what they were looking for, but working with live models is a lot more fun than reading articles and looking at pictures, so I hired two up-and-coming local models that fit that request perfectly.

In previous posts I have stated how I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when students of photography participate in active learning. So when I started getting requests that I offer  another session I crossed my fingers and hoped for an early spring, booked that large local studio, and hired two models.

During a workshop my job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and I rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead, unless it is to take a snapshot or two of photographers in action. And besides, when I finally let the workshop participants apply what we had discussed, there wasn’t room for me anyway.

The workshop dealt with modifying and placing light. We employed one, then two, and then three lights; and modified the light first with umbrellas, then changed to a softbox and reflector to create shadow, and, of course, that classic and compelling “Rembrandt lighting” effect.

This was an advanced workshop and I limited participation to seven photographers. As with all my workshops, my main goal is to help participants gain an understanding of how to use light. I want them to consider the “quality” of light instead of the “quantity” of light. I lecture to them that they should use light to “flatter” their subjects as opposed to only “illuminating” them.

I think that studying the mechanics of lighting includes two additional aspects, which are (1) experience, and (2) the willingness to step beyond lazily pointing a camera in a light filled room or out in the sunshine. Posing a model, or in our case, two models, seems to me to be more about engaging with the subject and being comfortable with telling someone how you want them to look. I once heard a photographer say that he never posed people because he thought is was rude to tell adults what to do. I can’t comment on that fellow’s work, maybe he was really lucky, but I expect there were lots of missed shots. I suppose he would disagree, or just plain ignore the words of award winning Dallas, Texas photographer, Caroline Mueller when she says, “What I look for in pictures (that) I take: eyes, hands, head tilt, body language, background, and use of space.”

I believe those photographers that are successful at portrait photography don’t hide behind their camera, but they start with a plan and are good at engaging, explaining, and demonstrating what their vision for the session is.

Now I am really looking forward to next Sunday. The few images I have seen so far are great and I am certain spending another day (this time with speedlights out-of-doors in the failing afternoon light) helping and watching each photographer’s progress is going to be a lot of fun.

class 3  class 4

 

Thanks in advance for your comments, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographer’s Lighting Workshop

    Sarah, Bart & Ronny

  Ronny & Candice

Sarah & Dave

Candice & Bailey

Bailey & Bart

I have just finished my first day of leading another Photographer’s Lighting Workshop. I will admit that a day spent guiding excited and, I must remark of this session, very talented photographers, does tire me out.

Participants that are willing to express opinions and aren’t shy about getting shoulder to shoulder in a process of experimenting, exploring, and learning are hard to keep up with, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I try to stand back and watch analytically, but every animated smile draws me in.  Multiply times seven each fired up photographer I was working with and there is quite an energy drain.

After over 40 years as a photographer I do have a pretty large chest of experiences in just about every aspect of this exciting medium and I was employed as a photography teacher for nearly half that time. I can easily sit a group of learners down and lecture about pretty much anything photographic and, particularly the lighting workshops that are currently all the rage for photography keeners.  My knowledge is on par with most experienced portrait professionals, and I teach so that beginners and intermediate learners can keep up with the jargon and the concepts.

I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when a student of photography makes the decision to participate. My job is to present information on the subject at hand and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on a stage, and rarely pick up a camera. That’s left to participants.

Sure, they tired me out, but in the recent daylong workshop on Lighting and Posing I was fortunate to be leading a group of surprisingly skilled and very energetic photographers, and I must add, two lovely and creative young models that in my opinion were willing to work hard in a demanding environment for modeling.

The workshop was held in a rural studio minutes outside of Kamloops, British Columbia. I like this studio because it owner, Dave Monsees, has filled it with quite an assortment of lighting gear. I think there are at least eight studio strobes to choose from, all setup for wireless connection with a drawer full of senders. There are soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusion screens, reflectors and a great selection of wall-mounted backdrops.

There was even a fully equipped kitchen at the back that we made good use of, with fresh brewed coffee, pastries, and a large pot of chili for lunch. It can’t get much better than good food, great people, and photography.

Monsees is regularly adding props and stools to sit and pose on, as well as a growing selection of light modifiers.

The large, well-equipped space is a great rental studio and a perfect environment for an instructional session like mine. We started the session with one light behind a reflective umbrella, and moved on from there adding a large softbox, a shoot through umbrella, and a rim light to give depth to our subject when we used a black background.  We changed backdrops and light positions regularly. And those creative photographers really kept our models active and, heck, made my day.

Regarding portrait photography, Famous portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh, once said, “I try to photograph people’s spirits and thoughts. As to the soul taking by the photographer, I don’t feel I take away, but rather that the sitter and I give to each other. It becomes an act of mutual participation.”

The first of our two-day workshop is over. I prefer two days because on the second we can review and reinforce what happened on the first. Now I am looking forward to spending another day and preparing to lead workshop participants into new territory.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

An Enjoyable Group Photography Process

Demetra 1a  Monica 7a

When I write my blog each week,  my goal is to educate, to be entertaining, and to have a new topic each week. My topics are usually the result of something I have been involved in (like this week’s post), or my thoughts on discussions I have had with other photographers. Sometimes, my wife refers to my discussions as rants about whatever issue has hit my “hot” button the previous week. It could be about joining other photographers to do scenics or wildlife photography, however, this week I am going to discuss a great time I had on the previous weekend.

Last Sunday I got together with friends Demetra, Monica, Dave, and Nancy in a photographic modeling session that was different than what I had been used to.  Demetra and Monica worked in front of the camera as models, while Dave, Nancy, and I were behind the cameras.

Monica 10a Demetra 3a

I usually write about photographers, but this time I wanted to include the models who were just as much a part of a fun and interesting photography process as the photographers. I don’t know what it would be like to put on a play that included input from actors, directors, producers, etc., but on this day five friends collaborated in a photo studio to see what we all could come up with and I likened it to a theatrical experience.

Normally I come prepared with ideas that I have creatively worked through before I start directing my subject. I rarely show the subject the images on my camera’s LCD; and, usually they must be content with my approval of what we shot as we move to the next pose. However, we were game for a new experience, and the thought of working together as a group to produce photographs seemed like a good time.

Dave and I began by searching for some sample pictures with different poses and lighting that we thought would be fun to emulate and presented them to the group before starting our day at the studio. Then we all joined forces and laid the pictures out so every one, models and photographers alike, could see them, as we worked out camera angles, lighting and posing.

Monica and Demetra took turns posing as Dave and I adjusted studio lights. Nancy kept making test exposures that we would all look at, and then we would compare with the sample pictures to see if the effect was what we were seeking.  We weren’t trying to copy the original sample, inasmuch as we were using the poses and the lighting as guides. Then once the poses and lighting were set each photographer would choose a way to personally interpret the original in a way that seemed best.

Demetra and Monica are both new to this, but were willing to work, I expect, as hard as any professional, and being involved in the decision of how they would appear in a final image appealed to them.

Nancy is familiar with posing subjects and the lighting process, but her subjects are usually students, or beauty pageant portraits, so working with models and other photographers was unique and entertaining. Dave is the newcomer to photographing models, however, after years of scenic and personal work he had decided to try something new. He converted a vacant building on his rural property to a full functioning studio filled with all types of lighting, light manipulators, and several choices of backdrops. The studio includes a full functioning kitchen, which we made full use of during this session.

We had all previously participated in the “shoot-what-ya-can” whirlwind Stobist meets, so this group style of working was familiar. As stated earlier, photographers and models interpreted the pose in their own way and then chose respectively slightly different perspective camera angles and physical stances.  I am sure the photographers will finish their images slightly differently in PhotoShop.

I have not talked to, or seen, Dave or Nancy’s pictures yet, but in the next week they’ll drop by my shop with their final image files and I will make CDs for Monica and Demetra.  I like to hang out with other photographers, and enjoy watching them work, but I prefer being the prime photographer when I do portrait work; however, I must admit I enjoyed this group process and hope we can get together again sometime in the future.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com