There are basically two types of lighting you can use when it comes to still photography: strobe/flash lighting and continuous/available lighting.
Strobes or camera flashes produce daylight-balanced lighting, but it can be tricky foretelling how this burst of light is going to look on your subject until after the shot is actually taken. Continuous or available light, on the other hand, is nice because you can see the quality of the light before you actually take the shot.
Until recently, most continuous lighting units used bulbs that were not color-balanced to daylight, and therefore created color imbalance when mixed with natural daylight. Today, however, you can shoot with an affordable lighting kit that is both continuous and daylight balanced.
This lesson explores some basic indoor lighting techniques featuring an extra small SilverDome® soft box and a Photoflex® CoolStar™ 150 CFL.
- SilverDome SoftBoxes
- A Simple Kit
- What You See Is What You Get
- Eliminating Shadows
- Changing Perspectives
- Fine-tuning The Shot
SoftBoxes come in all different shapes and sizes, and depending upon the materials with which they are made, can be used with either continuous and/or strobe lighting. The Photoflex SilverDome line consists of traditionally-shaped (rectangular) SoftBoxes that are designed to work with both continuous and strobe lighting, being made of heat-resistant Brimstone fabric.
While every SoftBox will help to diffuse the lighting with which you are working, size plays an important role in how diffused the quality of light can get. In basic terms, the larger the SoftBox, the softer or more diffused the light will be.
In this portrait lesson, I used only an Extra Small SilverDome and some available window light to give you a sense of the type of light this sized SoftBox can create. Below, you can see the range of sizes in the SilverDome line.
A Simple Kit
The kit I used for this lesson was a Photoflex® StarLite® Basic Digital Kit with the StarLite 500 watt lamp (tungsten-balanced) switched out with a Photoflex® CoolStar 150 CFL (daylight-balanced). This kit is easy to set up and plugs right into the wall. [figures 2 & 3]
The reason I decided to use the CoolStar bulb instead of the StarLite bulb was because I wanted to match the color temperature of the daylight coming through the window of the studio. Had I been using the StarLite bulb, there would have been an obvious color shift in the result shots.
Here, you can see the basic setup. I had Whitney, my model, sit in a chair near a window and positioned the SoftBox to her right to illuminate her right side.
What You See Is What You Get
I liked how this continuous light was looking on Whitney and proceeded to take a few shots with this lighting setup. Here's an outtake from this series.
In reviewing the images on the camera, I thought the results looked pretty good given that only one small light was being used. The light on Whitney's face was both soft and directional, and the light coming through the window created a subtle rim light along her left side.
Still, I wasn't crazy about the shadows being cast along the back wall and floor, so I decided to bring the SoftBox around to Whitney's left side and zoom in a little tighter on the lens. With the SoftBox positioned where I wanted it, I took a few more shots from various perspectives.
With the light flopped, the feel of the lighting changed significantly. I still had the soft directional lighting illuminating Whitney's face, but no longer had the distracting shadows in the background.
After showing the results to Whitney and my wife Tamara—a commercial photo stylist who was helping us out with this shoot—we all decided that it might be good to have some shots where Whitney was standing, as the seated poses seemed a little stiff.
So I set the chair aside, raised the SoftBox up on the LiteStand somewhat to adjust to Whitney's standing position, and took a few more shots. Here's one from that series.
In reviewing the results, I really liked the quality of light illuminating Whitney's face. My only concerns had to do with the composition and the angle of view. To adjust, I took a wider stance to lower my perspective and then rotated the camera slightly to create a more off-angle composition.
When I found an angle I liked, I had Whitney strike a few more poses while I fired away. Here's one from this series.
As you can see from the results, the light produced from this Extra Small SoftBox looked very natural and in sync with the window light of the background.
For the last series of shots, I wanted to incorporate the chair again, as it accented Whitney's red hair nicely, but this time I just wanted it to be a background element of the shot.
To start, I zoomed out on the lens to create more of a full-length frame. Once the composition looked good, I took a series of shots.
Fine-tuning The Shot
In reviewing the results on the camera, I felt like the shot was almost there. I just wanted to make some minor camera changes and then take a few final shots.
I realized that once again my point of view was a little higher than I wanted it to be, which meant I needed to come down a bit further. So rather than assume an even wider stance (hey, I'm a photographer, not a gymnast!), I opted to shoot from a rolling studio stool. I also felt that the shot had a slightly wide angle to it, so I zoomed in tighter and rolled back a bit to compensate for the longer focal length.
Finally, I decided to widen my aperture setting in order to brighten the overall exposure for a somewhat "dreamier," backlit look. After a final series of shots, I felt I had captured the look I was going for with this one.
As you can see from the final result, you really don't have to use a ton of lighting equipment to create beautiful lighting for your subjects. In fact, sometimes simple is best.
As always, remember to experiment with your lighting and camera techniques, and above all, have fun in the process!
Written and photographed by Ben Clay.