Studio lighting workshop – 12-May-2011

El Presidente - by Eric BudworthOn a cold night at the beginning of May there was a huge turn out for the clubs lighting workshop, with about 30 members attending.  This is the second such workshop held by the club in the last few years. Ray Goulter planned the evening, organised the models and arranged a lighting set up with the club equipment as well as setting up the club’s studio flash system in the hall and introduced the evening.

Another two studio flash systems were set up in the hall by Ashley Hoff and Gary Secombe, which allowed a total of three “studios” to be used for the night. James Allan and Matt Carr also set up a tabletop studio system in the foyer, which used standard studio incandescent lights for table-top photography and used this setup to teach some of the concepts of light and how to illuminate a subject. Members were therefore exposed to many items of equipment used in studio photography, including reflectors (styrofoam and a white projector screen), umbrellas, light boxes, different coloured backdrops, snoots and honeycomb attachments.

Most studio flash heads operate by slaves, and an item of interest was the radio transmitter which attaches to the camera’s hotshoe, with the receiver plugged into one of the flash heads. This means the camera is entirely free of a sync cord.

The evening started a little slowly but everyone soon got into the spirit of things and the models, Lauren Miller, Adam Bentham and David Hopkins were in constant demand during the evening.

Most members used their DSLRs but compacts were also catered for with James’ and Matt’s light tent set-up. Ray even manhandled his Cambo view camera at the end of the evening to take four images using 4″ x 5” sheet film (Ilford FP3).

James had asked his teenage son Tom if he was interested in attending – and uncharacteristically he agreed. With his brand new Canon 550D he was snapping away at the models and came away quite enthused.  In fact there was a lot of involvement from everyone who attended and many people took photos home at the end of the night.  Several people mentioned how useful they found the evening.  As the evening drew to a close it was hard not to feel sorry for the guys who were packing all of their equipment back into the boxes – there was so much gear!

Unfortunately we won’t be able to show you any of the final model photographs as the release did not cover publishing these photos on the web. But we have however included some of the shots from the workshop and the shoot courtesy of Eric Budworth.

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To summarise some of the lessons learnt, here are a few points James learned from this and the previous lighting workshop:

  1. Light can be harsh or soft.  Harsh light gives bright (often burnt out) accents and dark (underexposed) shadows with sharp borders.  Soft lighting is preferable for model photography or macro/still life work.  It gives a more pleasing range of softer tones.  You can use a soft box/umbrella or diffuser to soften the light from your flash/strobe
  2. Shadows can be dark or light. It is often pleasing to be able to see some of the detail in the shaded areas. To lighten the shadows and show this detail you need a weaker light source shining from the opposite direction to throw some light into the shaded areas. You can achieve this simply with a reflector.  Alternatively if you use a 2 light set up – remember to make one light stronger and one weaker.  You can do this by adjusting the distance from the subject.
  3. When using a flash, adjusting the shutter speed usually has little effect on the exposure. The burst of light from a flash is strong and brief. It is so short that it can be used to freeze motion. Usually a shutter speed of say 1/125 is suitable.  The exceptions to this rule occur at either extremes of shutter speed.  If you set the shutter speed too fast (say 1/500s) you may have problems where the shutter is not properly open when the flash fires (the flash synchronisation speed!). This will leave you with a mere vertical band of properly exposed subject.  If you set the shutter very slow (say 1/8s) you will find that the ambient light of the room will also create an image.  (This is the strategy if you want to take a portrait of someone in front of night lights or a sunset.)
  4. When using studio lighting, the automatic mode of the camera will not work.  In automatic mode the exposure and perhaps the focus are set with a preliminary flash and the photo is taken on a second flash. This is fine with your on-camera flash, but the studio lights will only fire once (the first time) so that you are left with a dark underexposed photo a split second after the studio lights fired.
  5. It is best to set your camera on manual mode. Getting the correct exposure is not too hard.  In daylight photography the exposure is determined by setting the shutter speed and aperture for a set ISO setting. In flash photography you are left altering just the aperture to get the correct exposure for a given ISO and flash intensity. You can use a light meter to give you this setting, or as James’ son did, you can do it by use trial and error. He took a shot, reviewed the result in the playback mode and adjusted the aperture up or down until he got it right. Beware some modern cameras will automatically adjust the ISO even in manual mode. You need to turn this function off, or your adjustments will make little effect.
  6. The subject has to be directed. To get the shot you intend you have to tell the subject what you want. You can’t just sit back and let it happen as you would with candid family shots or street photography. You have to be forward, bossy, funny, whatever it takes to create some interest in the subject.

The evening finished with the usual tea, coffee and biscuits and testimony to the fact it was a popular evening was the lateness in finishing.

Members are reminded to print two of their best shots in A4 to be given to the models, and to provide a CD of their best shots, also to be given to the models. Ray will compile the images into a single CD for each of the models, as well as arrange for them to be given their prints.

The club thanks those who organised the evening and those who gave assistance during the workshop, and all the members who participated.

And if you want a little more information, you can download Ray’s BPC Studio lighting Workshop primer in PDF format or use Ashley’s studio lighting primer to view some interesting internet content.

If you have any comments about the night please share them with us – all feedback is greatly appreciated!

Ray Goulter and James Allan

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