Q & A: Three Tips for Better Home Studio Lighting Results

Allen Mowery
November 3, 2011

Photography Lighting Tips | Allen Mowery
For those becoming interested in photography, “strobism,” or artificial lighting, can sometimes be a daunting prospect. I recently received an email from a frustrated reader who was trying to set up a small studio and was having some issues with getting the lighting correct.

I’m trying to set up a small area for indoor photos to shoot my nieces, nephews, etc. I am a big fan of outdoor photography…inside scares me!

I have a roll of white seamless paper, and I bought two strobe lights with umbrellas from Cowboy Studios (not expensive lights). I am frustrated and on the verge of tears with trying to figure it out. I’m trying to get more comfortable in the Manual Mode and admit it intimidates me in a big way. I have the shutter speed set at 1/125 and F 6.3. My meter shows that it would be way underexposed at that setting, but going lower in shutter speed makes it blurry. I have it at ISO 100. I’m having issues with light placement, too. In one of your tutorials you have the lights each coming in from the side of the subject. I’m getting horrible shadows with that arrangement. It’s a bit better with the lights right behind me shooting towards the subject, but still some shadows. Any words of advice?

1. Check Your Camera Settings

Most of my artificially-lit indoor work is shot at ISO 400 and occasionally ISO 200, depending on how much light I have going on and the desired effect. Unless you’re blasting away with high-powered lights or shooting outdoors with fill flash, ISO 100 is probably too low of a setting.

For shutter speed, 1/125 is pretty good, but feel free to adjust as needed, or simply play around with it to see the full range of control and effects that different shutter speeds can produce.

And don’t be afraid to open up your aperture a bit more if needed. A shallower depth of field can work wonders in portrait photography while allowing more light to enter the camera.

2. Evaluate Your Lights

Your strobe slaves are probably a large part of your problem. Granted, there are a variety of slaves on the market, but pretty much all of them are very weak, with many of them being extremely weak. You may want to consider upgrading to something more powerful, like speedlights or monoblocks.

JUST A NOTE: Even one or two lights would work for simple portraiture, depending on the desired lighting effect…don’t think you need a full array of lights to accomplish some good results.

3. Watch Light Placement

A pretty standard placement is to have them positioned above the subject with the stands at a 45-degree angle to the subject and the lights tilted down at a 45-degree angle. This generally provides good, even lighting. However, this can result in some pretty generic images, so feel free to experiment with placement for different effects. For instance, some of my recent self-portraiture work (posted on Facebook and Flickr) has two umbrellas pointed straight towards each other at head level with the subject (me) standing in between.

JUST A NOTE: If light placement alone does not eliminate shadows, take inventory of your lighting modifiers (umbrellas, softboxes, etc.) and their size, your camera settings, and the power of the lights you’re using.

Have questions about photography-related topics (or anything, really)? Email me!

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