Studio techniques to try at home

Give your portraiture a professional edge by getting to grips with a simple home studio photography kit – read on as we illuminate the subject…

Getting a home studio kit will set you back a modest outlay, but it’s a worthwhile investment if you want to or umbrellas, both of which enable you to soften and diffuse the light from the bare flash bulb in much the same way as clouds soften sunlight.

The spread of light from an umbrella will usually be wider than with a softbox, so umbrellas are good for lighting large areas, while softboxes are better if you need to control what’s illuminated, and what is in shadow. Alongside softboxes and umbrellas, you’ll have circular reflectors that attach to the front of the flash and produce a beam of light that has a spread of about 90 degrees.

Use a key light

It can be easy to over-complicate things if you’re just getting started with studio lighting, so begin by using a single light. This is your key light. Changing the angle, height and position of the key light can create dramatically different effects.

“It’s easy to over-complicate things if you’re just getting started with studio lighting”

take your portraits to the next level. The difference off-camera flash can make to the quality of your portraits is huge. By positioning the flash heads and controlling the light they emit, you can create polished, professional portraits from the comfort of your own living room.

Starter kits come with two lights and a few different fittings that attach to the front. Most kits have softboxes.

Exposing for flash might seem complicated at first, but there’s a simple formula that will get you started. Select manual mode and set the ISO to 100, aperture to f/11 and shutter speed to 1/200 sec. Take a test shot. If it’s too bright, either close the aperture or lower the flash power. And if it’s too dark, do the opposite. Changing the strength of the flash can be achieved either by adjusting the output settings on the head, or by moving it closer or further away.

Once you get to grips with exposing for flash, you’ll see the control it offers. Consider that with natural light there’s only ever one ‘correct exposure’. But with a home studio kit, you have more options. Want to use a lower ISO? Just increase the power. Want a shallow depth of field? Lower the power and open your aperture.

Straight on, the light is flat and fills out the shadows in the face. Up high, it creates shadows under the chin and accentuates cheekbones. From one side, the other side of the face will be in shadow. From behind, it creates a rim of light around the edge of the subject. When you’re comfortable with one light, bring your second flash into play. With portraiture, there are two main options with the second light. First, you can use it to supplement the light on the subject, perhaps by firing it at a lower power to fill in the shadows, or by hitting the subject from behind to create an edge light. The second choice is to turn the light to illuminate the background rather than the subject. This allows you to control the contrast between the subject and the background.

Flattering light

The larger a light is, the softer and more flattering the effect will be on your subject. This might sound odd, but the closer the light source is to the subject, the softer the light will be, because its size increases in relation to the subject.

Another great way to make your flash more flattering is to ‘feather the light’. This means that rather than angling the light directly at the subject, you angle it across the front of the subject instead. Using this technique gives the light more of a wraparound quality, and evens out the distribution of the light across the person you are photographing.

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