Jay P. Morgan: Using Continuous Light and Strobes Together

Pro Showcase photographer Jay P. Morgan demonstrates how to mix different light sources for a stylized effect.


In this post, you'll see how I used strobes and a continuous light source together on set to create an interesting portrait.  I wanted to take some wonderful images of Rebecca Grant on a small set that represented a back stage make-up area.  To accomplish this, I used a combination of continuous lights and strobes.  I wanted to create a shaft of light in the image for dramatic effect.  A shaft of light cannot be seen by our eyes unless there is something reflected in it, like water, mist, dust or smoke.  I used smoke to make the light coming from our 2K visible.  The way I exposed for these two light sources in the same image was critical to this process.  It's a much different experience when the continuous light source is continuous and not fading like the sun.

Here, you'll see how we set up, lit, and exposed the image above.  With that knowledge, you'll be better equipped to make images where a continuous light source becomes a key lighting element in the image.

As mentioned above, I used both continuous light sources and strobes.  The continuous light sources were used in conjunction with smoke to create an interesting shaft of light coming form the background.  My camera settings were critical with using these two light sources together. They can be very different in power and color, so let's look at the exposure triangle to understand how they work together.

First, I set the ISO to 320.  I wanted to shoot with a stop brighter ISO than I usually use to help the continuous light to register.  The ISO changes both the shutter speed and aperture equally, so it controls both the continuous light and strobe light equally. When selecting the shutter speed, remember that it does two things: (1) it controls motion, and (2) it controls the continuous light source.  It has little-to-no effect on the strobes.

When selecting the shutter speed, you must factor in your subject's movement because you're shooting with continuous light.  Continuous light does not freeze action like strobes because it’s a continuous light source and not a quick flash.  I didn’t want my model to be rendered blurry in the shots, so I went with a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. Remember that from a starting point of 1/60th of a second, the exposure of the strobes will not be affected by incremental adjustments.

Here's how I chose my aperture setting.  I took a meter reading of the 2K from the model and got f/8 as my reading.  I wanted the 2K continuous light to be brighter in the shot, so I opened up one stop to f/5.6.  Aperture affects focus, so I was happy that this was fairly wide open to allow the background to be soft. The make-up mirror read well at this exposure as well.  I then adjusted the power my strobes until they give me a meter reading of f/5.6.

Next, I wanted to set the color balance to "Strobe" (about 5600 degrees Kelvin).  I wasn't worried about the color of the 2K, as I wanted it to be warm.  I could have put a full CTB or blue gel on it if I wanted it to be the same, but I wanted two different color sources, as it would enhance the look I wanted in the post process with Nik software.

Here's one of the final images combining a 2K tungsten light with strobes.  Lets take a look at how I got here, starting with the light and then the post effects.

Light 1 
My first light, the rim light, is a strobe with an OctoDome: extra small attached, mounted on a boom arm.

Light 2
I then added a LitePanel with Soft Gold fabric on camera right to brighten the model's face.

Light 3
Next, I switched on the 2K that you can see in the background.  It provided a slight halo on the head.  When we added smoke, this became a shaft of light.  I did not change the color, as I wanted it to be very warm.

Light 4
The face was still too dark, and I didn't want to add a light source up front, so I pushed the LitePanel in closer to the model to brighten her face.

Light 5
My last light was a strobe head with a 20-degree grid attached to rim-light the shoulders and body on the right side.

At this point, I was ready to shoot.

One of my favorite images from this shoot was done when the model looked at the OctoDome through the makeup mirror.  The light from the OctoDome bounced off the mirror and became a key light on her face.  Very cool effect.

Now let's look at the post process. I took the image into Nik Color Efex 4, and using the Cross Balance filter, i dialed in Tungsten to Daylight for the first step.

Next, I painted her out so that she was still somewhat neutral and dialed the whole layer back 40%.  I then added a vignette on the lower right corner to darken the edge of the makeup mirror.  The crossover from Tungsten to Daylight turned the light in the background blue, which was my goal.  It's a great look.

This is the final image, which I was very pleased with.

The more you shoot, the more you realize there are so many lighting scenarios where you need to combine continuous light sources with strobes.  I hope this lays a good foundation in learning to control your light and be creative in the process!

To see more of Jay P. Morgan's work, visit jaypmorgan.com



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