analysis of the lighting setup during a photo shoot
The photo above of Jessica, my assistant, shows the final lighting setup during a recent commercial shoot. I had to photograph various people at a medical technology imaging company for use on their website and promotional material. I had to show some of the workplace, but put the accent on the person I am photographing.
Of course, it is much easier to work with my assistant, and do test shots and changes in the setup beforehand. Then we can change the lights and anything else we need to, until we’re happy with the results. Then only do we call in the people we are actually photographing, and place them in position.
With this post I want to show the thought process in setting up the lighting for this photo. There were a couple of dead ends, and a couple of adjustments as we went along …
For the final setup shown above, there were two flashes used. One to camera-left, lighting up our subject. Another light on camera-right, much further to the back, lighting up the background.
settings: 1/160 @ f3.5 @ 250 ISO
Two flashes set up with light modifiers (which we will describe later on) – both set to manual output.
Why 250 ISO? At some point it is easier to adjust my ISO incrementally to change my depth-of-field, than adjust both flashes’ output to give me the DoF I need, for a particular round number ISO.
I wanted the relatively shallow depth-of-field that f3.5 provides; and I also needed the ‘snap’ that f3.5 provides compared to full aperture.
I started off with the flashgun in the background, set up to the left. But the proximity of desks and tables meant there wasn’t enough distance between the light and the bookshelf. Hence the fall-off in light is too drastic. In other words, I wanted a more even spread of light on the background. Here is what the background light looked like initially. The speedlight in the background was used with a white shoot-through umbrella.
It didn’t look like I intended. Moving the flash to camera-right, meant I could place it in an open space of the office area. This gave me more leeway in positioning the light so that I got a more even spread on the bookshelf and wall in the background.
I also liked how the background light – the speedlight with the white shoot-through umbrella – now gave a rim light on our subject.
In the photo above, we can see a little bit of flare as the light from the flash hit the front of the lens. I removed the filter, and moved the speedlight & umbrella deeper into the office area, just out of sight of the camera. This got rid of the flare from the flash in the background.
Now we add the second flash to the mix. I added a speedlight, with a white shoot-through umbrella, to camera-left.
It is starting to come together, but we can see flare in the image to the left.
I changed the white shoot-through umbrella out for a black-backing bounce umbrella. This got rid of the flare on the right-hand side of the photo, by containing the light thrown towards the camera.
The light is starting to look pretty good, except for the amount of light hitting Jessica from behind. It creates an odd shaped high-light on her neck. I moved the background light even further back, so it acts even more as a rim light, and I pulled its exposure down a touch so that the background is a little more subdued.
There was still one more thing I wanted to change. If you look at the full-length image above, you will see that the office furniture and dividers are lit up. I wanted the light more contained than that … I wanted our subject to be illuminated against the background. I didn’t want the dividers and furniture to the left so well exposed.
Umbrellas really scatter light widely. A softbox helps a little better, but still scatters the light around. What we needed here – and used eventually for this shot above – is a gridded softbox. The grid on the front of a softbox will turn the soft light form the softbox, into soft directional light. Now we have control. (More details about gridded softboxes at the end.)
By containing the light even more, I can accentuate our intended subjects, and have them stand out even more. Here are two final images, and I quite like them. Our subjects will stand out from the background, but the background still provides context. A fine balance.
(Unfortunately I didn’t take a pull-back shot to show everything in relation to each other. However, it should be easy enough to visualize since the setup is very simple.)
Lighting equipment used with this photo session:
Here is what the gridded softbox looks like that were used:
The softbox does need a speedring to attach it to the speedlight or other flashgun.
The speedring I used here is the one made by Creative Light (B&H), which is specifically made for speedlights. It also rotates, which is helpful if you use it with other softboxes as well.
Other accessories used can be seen on my equipment page.
You get different types of grids – ‘eggcrate’ and ‘honeycomb’. The actual construction and look of the grid will tell you which name is applicable. The Softgrid shown above is of the eggcrate type. A search on B&H’s website will show you numerous options and possibilities.
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