Saturday, August 22, 2009

Studio Lighting Trick for Stock Photography

Have you ever wondered how it seems so easy for some photographers to get great lighting for their stock photos? Have you read all of the books about studio lighting and the concepts still seem illusive? Well, you are not alone. Professional studio lighting is a lifetime pursuit; however, you can get the basics down fairly quickly. Ultimately, you need to make some decisions as to what you are after. I have seen photographers make great photos with 6 lights or even 20 lights, yet you can create magic with just one light, it's all in the approach. One simple rule applies, the more lights you use, the more complicated things can get, so in the beginning, keep it simple. When looking at studio lighting set ups, I can share a trick that I have used repeatedly, and still use today. This trick works on any close up shot of people and will yield a great deal of information. Ready? Here goes. You simply find a magazine that has a lighting style you like, and one you would like to emulate. It doesn't matter what magazine or photo you choose, providing it is a close up. You see, the key is looking at the eyes of the photo and you can see the catchlight reflections. Catchlights are the reflections from the lamps or reflectors that show up in the eyes. From these catchlights, you can generally learn the placement as well as the size of the lights used in the photo. It turns out to be a wonderful learning tool. Let's look at an example:
This is an image from my Health and Beauty portfolio. I have punched out the eye in Photoshop to show you the lighting setup I used. As you can see from the catchlights, I used a large square soft box and placed it to the model's upper right (my left as I face the model). The second catchight is a strip soft box placed low and in the center to light the skin from below. Just by looking at the catchlights in her eyes, you can learn the placement of the lights. Now, what you don't know is the ratio between the lights, or in other words, the strength of each light. This is where you have to use a little logic and try and think through it. For example, you could assume from the catchlights, that the upper square soft box being larger, was used as my main light, and the lower strip soft box was used for fill. You are correct if you made that assumption. It would be up to you to place the lights in a similar fashion with a model, and play with the ratios between the main light and fill light to get the desired results. Let's try another example:
Looking at the eye on the right side of the image, you can see a 3 light set up. You can also see that I used smaller lights for a harder light. Remember, bigger light sources yield a softer light, and smaller light sources yield a harder, more harsh light. This image was a punk shot for my Lifestyles portfolio. And again, I have punched out the eyes to show you the catchlights. Looking at the catchlights, 2 lights are higher placed to the model's far left and right, and one is placed a little lower and center. You can also see that the lower light is the smallest light. Now, here's your test. It's time for you to try and read between the lines. Why did I use 3 lights in the lower image as opposed to 2 lights in the upper image? Why did I select soft boxes for the upper image and smaller lights for the lower image? Why was the lower light placed much lower on the model in the upper picture than in the lower picture? You can more than likely guess the answers, but with a little experimentation, you can learn the specifics. I hope you can learn from the catchlights as I have over the years. It’s a very valuable tool! DW