This lesson demonstrates how to prepare a very simple portrait lighting set-up on location and make it look as though it was shot in the studio. Here, our subject was Leilani, a young woman who was having her Quinceañera.
A Quinceañera is the celebration of a young woman’s fifteenth birthday, marking the transition from girlhood to womanhood. It is similar to a Sweet Sixteen or Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Note that the approach we used here is also ideal for wedding portraits, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and prom events where full-length portraits are not required.
For this lesson we used a single StarFlash® 150 strobe with a Medium LiteDome® SoftBox. The fill light was provided by a LitePanel with soft gold fabric. The background was a 7 inch x 8 inch roll-up painted canvas.
- The Lighting Set-up
- The Portable Background
- Camera and Lens Choices
- Posing Options
To make your setup more convenient and versatile, we have now included The Photoflex® FlashFire™ Wireless Trigger & Receiver. Using this equipment allows you to move more freely with your camera instead of limiting yourself to within a few feet of your lights.
Even adding just one trigger and one receiver you can set your secondary lights to slave so that they fire through the infrared sensor. Either way you choose to use the FlashFire, you cannot ignore its ability to provide your “tool bag” with a great amount flexibility.
Choosing the Proper Location
First we needed to choose the best location to set up the light, reflector and background. For Leilani’s Quinceañera, we chose the living room of her parent’s home. We have found that a good minimum working space to do this type of simple set-up is an open space, measuring 15 feet in length and 10 feet in width. Here, we set up diagonally, since the furniture encroached on the necessary space. [figure 3]
Here, we can see the setup with the Medium LiteDome on the left, the background and the LitePanel on the right with the soft gold fabric.
Here’s a shot of the StarFlash 150 head and accessories, as well as an up-close shot the soft gold fabric of the LitePanel.
Since the StarFlash 150 watt is color-balanced to daylight, we set the White Balance in the camera to “daylight” (around 5500 degrees Kelvin). All pro-sumer and professional SLR digital cameras have this white balance capability, and this is one of the easiest ways to render balanced color with these types of portraits.
We used a handheld flash meter in the incident mode to determine a good exposure (measuring the the amount of light projected from the from the StarFlash 150 illuminating our subject). The reading at ISO 100 was f/11. We set the shutter speed to 1/125th of a second to ensure a good sync speed with the flash. Most digital SLRs stop syncing above 1/200th or 1/250th of a second. Check the instruction manual for your individual camera to see what its sync speed limitations are.
Also keep in mind that setting the shutter speed too low can allow ambient room light or light from the modeling lamp in the StarFlash 150 to affect both the exposure and the White Balance.
Below, we see the position of the Medium LiteDome with the StarFlash 150. It is on the subject’s left and feathered across her face and body toward the LitePanel reflector. The amount of fill is dependent on the closeness of the LitePanel to the subject and the angle of reflection from the main light.
There should be a distance of at least 3 feet between the subject and background in order to keep the subject’s shadow from showing up on the background. If your main light is positioned higher than your subject, you’ll achieve a nice a drop shadow under the chin and the shadow cast from your subject will fall lower, out of sight.
Next, we angled the LitePanel to bounce light into the shadow side of the subject’s face. Incidentally, what we had here is commonly known as a “2/3 lighting setup”, where you have the main light positioned at about a 45 degree angle to the subject.
This photo shows the setup from a broader view. You can see the camera position and the height and angle of the main light clearly.
Here’s the first result from this lighting setup.
Here, you can see a top view of the setup. Notice the distances of the subject to the reflector and the background. As you can see, this setup shot shows that you don’t need a lot of space to create a studio quality portrait on location.
Using the same lighting set-up, we next came in tighter on our subject for a more intimate portrait.
Next, we came in even tighter and took some detail shots of what Leilani was wearing.
Lastly, we decided to create a profile lighting setup by adjusting our main light. Notice that the LiteDome here was at a 90 degree angle to the subject. We also moved the reflector to maintain the fill on the shadow side of the face.
As you can see from our final result, this new lighting and posing setup creates a clean profile of the subject. Notice how the subject’s face is positioned 90 degrees in relation to the camera, but her shoulders are at about a 45 degree angle. Such an angle is ideal for this type of pose. Also note that the flowers were raised up slightly to add some foreground interest.
These are just a couple of the many simple lighting setups you can employ on location. Remember to experiment with your lighting, and above all, have fun!
Written and photographed by Steve Kurtz.