Day 56: Studio Lighting

I gave up. On reception lighting. I didn’t know what the hell was happening half the time and I was sick of missing moments because I didn’t know what was going on with my gear. One time my batteries kept dying and I found myself hours later in my hotel room trying to figure out where I went wrong. Finally I figured out that my exposure compensation was set to a stop over and all my images looked like they were taken mid nuclear blast. It was awful.

So I decided that until I could light ONE. SUBJECT., I couldn’t light a whole dance floor. So I did just that. I learned to light one subject in many different ways. Shooting studio subjects (let me be clear, my studio was my dining room with a backdrop, see below) allowed me to slow down with no stress, and shape and create my light. It allowed me to think each step of the way without having to worry if I missed a bouquet toss or a fancy first dance dip. So, when you’re worried about lighting 100 people, sit down and work on lighting one.

For this shot of Jessica, I got a large beauty dish and raised it about a foot over her head. Then I pointed it down so that it was aimed right at her face. Since the beauty dish was on a boom stand, I was able to shoot from behind the dish without the light stand being in my shot. I love that you can see the inverse square law in play here. The light hits her face and creates a shadow under her jaw. Then it tapers off quickly, creating a gradient through the image. It’s simple and clean and easy, but it took me a while to get right! It’s trial and error and the more you do it, the better you get at doing it faster and more efficiently. Don’t be upset if each shot takes you 20 minutes to setup! Set the expectation with your friend/subject that they can play a game on an app or chat with you while you’re trying to get the light right. The point to this process is to learn, not necessarily to capture amazing images.

This next image of Jessica was also very strongly influenced by the inverse square law. I got an octobox and positioned it very close to her just outside of my frame. It took a long time to get right. To show you more details on that, scroll down a bit and I’ve included several “oops” outtakes when I was still trying to get the light right. I tried a few different modifiers, some of which made their way into my shot. I also slapped Jessica with some super hard, unflattering light. And fifteen minutes later, I took this shot and fell in love with it.

This next image was one where I tried to re-create lighting from a Pinterest image I saw. The light was so incredibly even and soft across the whole image. Knowing what I know about the size of the light in relation to the subject, I decided to bring in my two biggest modifiers and bring them in close. The result came together pretty fast and was very close to what I was looking for.  But I wouldn’t have known how to create that light if I didn’t understand some basic lighting principles about the inverse square law, flash to subject distance and the size of the light source. Luckily, we are smack in the middle of a ten day lighting series so if you’re not caught up, get on that!

This next image of Taylor is also strongly inspired by the inverse square law. (Do you see how much I use this lighting principle? Seriously, it’s always at the front of my mind when I bust out a flash!) This image was greatly inspired by this PIN. I wanted to light a male subject with lots of dramatic light. To do this, we used a softbox with a diffuser angled down on the subject from the right hand side. I love this image. It also took me a good fifteen minutes to get right. I was learning. I need to say this several times here because you have to understand, it takes a long time to get right.

Crystal had a really simple lighting setup. It was a large strip box, horizontal and placed a foot above her head and angled down. I had tried several variations before finding this one and once I did, I used this setup time and time again.

This last one of Taylor was a fun one to create. It was just a large beauty dish angled downwards on his face. The light was off to the left but the diagram shows on the right. I suppose it doesn’t matter which way, but sorry if that is confusing!

My first lighting workshop was an all day seminar where we watched Joe McNally and David Hobby shoot and listened to them talk for six hours. I was so lost. I was so incredibly lost, you guys, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Like, if you asked me what I didn’t understand, I couldn’t tell you. But the part that REALLY stuck out to me was when I watched Joe McNally set up a shot with three subjects and several different lights. If you don’t know who Joe McNally is, let me give you just a small idea. He has shot in 70 countries for companies like FedEx, Song, MetLife, and the New York Stock Exchange. His work is published in National Geographic, LIFE and Sports Illustrated and he’s won countless awards for his work. He’s truly amazing.

So back to the lighting workshop. He was creating a “Band Style Photo” on stage. Lots of drama, with lights, flags, modifiers and even a separate flash for an exit sign in the background. And it took him 25 minutes to set up. Even one of the best photographers in the world, who knows flash like the back of his hand, needs to take some time to set up his lights. He doesn’t just wave a wand and magically know where each light should go. He takes his knowledge, maps out his plan, and then it’s trial and error. With each trial, he sees the error, fixes it, and tries again until he achieves the desired look. This doesn’t always take 30 seconds. When you’re going into these projects with the intention of learning flash, make sure you’re aware: It will take time.

Friends, that was day 56! I’ll see you tomorrow for day 57: Focusing in low light.

Day 98 is currently reserved for any questions you have throughout the next 100 days. To submit a question, please click here!  If you’re interested in supporting this project, please share, PIN and comment! Any other questions, comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at denise(at)denisekaris(dot)com

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris