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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

StarFlash Kit Portraits at Home

Lighting Equipment

You don't have to own a photo studio or break the bank in order to create beautiful full-length portraits. Some of the most arresting indoor portraits can be made with available window light and one or two additional daylight-balanced strobe lights. With a little know-how and some basic lighting tools, you'll be well on your way to creating first-rate quality portraits for you and your clients.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     Built-in Flash Lighting
  •     Disabling the Flash
  •     Adding a Soft Main Light
  •     Adding a Rim Light
  •     Comparisons
  •     Using a Specialty Lens

For this lesson, we wanted to use the Photoflex StarFlash 650 Mercury 5' OctoDome Kit with the extra StarFlash 300 strobe head to show how to create a dynamic living room portrait.

Built-in Flash Lighting

Before setting up any of the lights, we first took a compact digital camera set to Auto and took a snapshot of our model, Rohan, playing his guitar. As you'll soon see, this "before" shot helps to illustrate the lighting differences between it and our final result shots.

In this first result, we see that the built-in flash of the camera was really pushed to its limits, as it fell short of providing adequate lighting for the subject. More importantly, however, the quality of light it produces is flat and uninteresting - typical of this type of lighting (figure 1).

Figure 1

Disabling the Flash

Next, we decided to use a digital SLR camera with the pop-up flash deactivated to try and capture a more natural-looking result. As you can see, the lighting quality has improved significantly over the previous shot, but with the aperture set to its widest opening, we had to use a fairly slow shutter speed to render a good exposure.

Using a slow shutter speed here, however, resulted in significant motion blur. Notice Rohan's hand strumming the guitar (figure 2).

Figure 2

Adding a Soft Main Light

To improve the overall lighting and freeze any such motion, we decided to add some additional lighting to the scene. We first started out by setting up the 5-foot OctoDome and attaching it to the 650 W/s StarFlash strobe and LiteStand (figure 3).

We positioned the kit in the adjoining room facing Rohan and powered up a wireless transmitter and receiver to sync up the camera with the strobe (figure 4).

Figure 3

Figure 4

Once this light was in place, we took another shot, this time with a faster shutter speed.

The result shows a significant improvement of lighting on our subject. The soft box has illuminated Rohan softly and evenly, which balances well with the ambient light coming through the windows (figure 5).

Figure 5

Adding a Rim Light

In reviewing the result, however, we realized that we wanted to make the lighting a little more dynamic by adding a "rim" light to the scene. This rim light would provide highlights to the edges of Rohan's body, as well as help increase the separation between the background and him.

So we took the StarFlash 300 W/s strobe head, attached a small LiteDome and set of Grids to it, mounted it to a LiteStand, and placed it directly behind Rohan.

NOTE: To keep the contrast high with this light, we did not attach the front diffusion face (figures 6 & 7).

Figure 6

Figure 7

Once this rim light was in position and powered up, we attached another wireless receiver to it so that it too would sync with the camera.

When you're building a set that uses more than one light, it often helps to look at the effects of each light individually. Once you see the effects of each light, you'll know better how to adjust each one when it comes time to fine-tuning them.

To see how the rim light affected our shot here, we first disabled the main light and then took another shot (figure 8).

Figure 8

The result was just as we'd hoped for. The rim light helped to add distinct highlights to both Rohan and the chair and helped to lend a more engaging mood to the shot.

With our rim light positioned and powered where we wanted it, we then powered up the main light once again and took another shot with both lights (figures 9 & 10).

Figure 9

Figure 10

We were very pleased with the results. The combination of the soft light coming from the OctoDome and the window light, as well as the relatively hard rim light from the rear strobe, helped to make this living room portrait visually engaging.

Comparisons

To give you a sense of how far we'd come with the lighting, compare out first shot with the built-in flash against this most recent one (figures 11 & 12).

Figure 11

Figure 12

After we had our final lighting set-up in place, we asked Rohan to try some alternate poses. This one happened to be one of our favorites (figure 13).

Figure 13

Using a Specialty Lens
Finally, for a different look, we decided to replace the zoom lens we were using with a Lensbaby lens. This lens is unique in that it allows you to tilt and shift your plane of focus and create a very shallow depth of field, similar to that of a large format view camera.

As you can see from the result, this specialty lens helped to add to the ethereal quality of the shot (figure 14).

Figure 14

This is just one of many lighting configurations you can create with this dynamic lighting kit. Remember to experiment with your lighting set-ups and lens choices, and above all, have fun!

Lighting Equipment

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