There are many factors that go into creating a portrait or fashion shot, including the basic concept behind the shot, the characteristics of your subject, the scene, the camera gear and settings, and last but not least, the lighting strategy. The more you experiment with your lighting gear, the more you realize that it's the subtleties that make all the difference.
This lesson demonstrates some simple indoor lighting techniques and examines the use of four different LitePanel fabrics to be used as a fill light source.
- The Common Shot
- The Moveable Window Light
- Separation with a Hair light and Grids
- The Fill: Choosing the Right LitePanel Fabric
For this indoor portrait, we wanted to have our model strike an over-the-shoulder pose, as though we've just caught a glimpse of her lost in thought, or have just locked eyes with her.
The Common Shot
Before setting up our lights, we took a quick shot of our model with the camera set to Auto and with the built-in flash enabled. Although this is a very common way of photographing people indoors—and most people are used to seeing this type of flash lighting in their results—the lighting is anything but natural looking.
As you can see, the result looks as though our model is leading us down some dark hallway and we're holding the flashlight. Definitely not the mood were we looking for.
The Moveable Window Light
Next, we mounted a Photoflex 650w strobe to a LiteStand, attached a 7-foot OctoDome soft box to it, and positioned it to the right of the model. We wanted to create a soft, wrap-around light (similar to window light), and the 7-foot OctoDome was just the tool for the job.
Once the soft box was positioned where we wanted it, we disabled the built-in flash, synced the strobe and camera via a wireless transmitter and receiver and took a shot.
The result shows a much different look than with the previous shot. The light from the OctoDome has illuminated our model and background wall in a very soft, natural way. There are no distracting shadows and the features of the model's face are much more dimensional.
Depending on the positioning of your soft box, you may only need one light source to achieve the look you're after. For instance, if you have your soft box angled more toward the front of the model, that may be enough to illuminate both the model and the background and keep the shadows from being too dark.
Separation with a Hair Light and Grids
In this case, however, even a 7-foot soft box cannot wrap light all the way around the subject positioned the way it is here. Before we addressed the front shadow area, we first decided to add a subtle hair light to add further separation from the background.
To do this, we mounted a Photoflex Boom to a Boom Stand and attached a Photoflex StarFlash 300w strobe to it. To keep the light beam narrow, we attached a 40-degree Grid to the reflector. We set the StarFlash to half power, attached another wireless receiver to it, and took another shot with just this light activated.
The result shows a nice level of light outlining the left side of the model against the black background.
To increase the level of separation between the model and the background and lessen the light spill on the background, we decided to add a set of Grids to the face of the OctoDome. These Grids have Velcro sewn along the edges and are very easy to attach to the face of the OctoDome, which has edges that are also sewn with Velcro.
Once the Grids were attached, we re-activated the main light and took another shot.
The results were fairly dramatic. Both the OctoDome and hair light—with Grids attached to each—did well to highlight the edges of our model against the dark background. However, we thought that the light on the background might be a little too dark and decided to angle the soft box ever-so-slightly toward the background.*
*NOTE: Even a 2-3 inch adjustment in the angle of your soft box can make a significant change with how the light falls on your subject and background.
The Fill: Choosing the Right LitePanel Fabric
Next, we decided to address the dark shadows on the front of the model. We set up a Photoflex aluminum LitePanel frame (39x72") and mounted it to a LiteStand via a Photoflex Main & T Clamp. Then we attached the White reflective fabric to the frame and angled the panel so that it would bounce the light from the OctoDome into the shadow sections of the model's face.
Once everything was in position, we took another shot.
The result shows that the White fabric helped to reduce the overall contrast by bouncing light into the shadows, but we agreed that it wasn't quite enough fill for this shot.
So we replaced the White panel fabric with Silver panel fabric. The Silver fabric is as color-neutral as the White fabric, only it bounces light with more intensity.
As you can see from the result, the Silver fabric helped to fill in the shadows without overpowering the effects of the main light and the hair light, creating a nice tonal balance.
While the Silver fabric helped us out with the brightness of the fill, we felt that tone could be a little warmer. So next, we replaced the Silver fabric with the Soft Gold fabric, which is a zigzag combination of Silver and Gold fabric.
Once everything was in position, we took another shot.
As you can see, the Soft Gold fabric provided the same level of fill as the Silver fabric, but also warmed up the skin tones, as well as the back wall to certain degree.
Finally, we decided to try the full Gold fabric to see how that would affect the shot.
NOTE: The Gold fabric is very rich in color, but it doesn't work for every shot, as it can be a little overpowering. However, depending upon the skin tone of the model and the overall lighting scheme, the Gold fabric can really create a beautiful effect not possible with other reflectors.
Once the gold fabric was in place, we took a series of final shots. This one ended up being a favorite.
The Gold panel added warmth to the shadows similar to the way the glow from a fireplace might. Not only is the tone of the model's skin and jacket much warmer, but so is the tone of the back wall. Depending upon your vision of the shot, you can use the various LitePanel fabrics to great advantage.
Check out the LitePanel fill comparisons below to see the effect of each.
When you use lighting tools to emulate the light qualities you see in real life, then you create a better expression of your photographic vision. Sometimes, it's the subtle changes in light that make all the difference. As we've seen here, the choice of lighting tools and knowing how to position them play a fundamental part in determining how your shots will turn out.
Remember to experiment with your lighting gear and have fun!
Written and photographed by Ben Clay.