Introduction to Studio Photography

Professional Studio Photo’s… Within Everyone’s Reach!

Why use Studio Equipment?

Studio Photography used to be a expensive business. Because of this, this kind of photography was relatively unknown to many photographers.

But now, a professional photo studio is very affordable! Our vast product range can be a bit overwhelming, so we wrote this mini studio guide to cover the basics and to explain some terminology.

Basic Knowledge about Shadows

flash2flash1The length and hardness of a shadow is determined by the power of the light source, the distance to the subject and the type of light: direct or indirect. Compare this to your own shadow: on a sunny day, you have a

long, hard shadow. On a cloudy day, your shadowis hardly visible.

This is because the clouds have the same effect on the sunlight as a diffuser has on a studio flash: it makes the light more even and bounce around the subject.

Example 1 shows the subject directly lighted with one studio flash called the “main light”. It casts a long and sharp shadow.

Example 2 is lighted with a flash, each using a softbox diffuser. Not only is the subject lighted more evenly, it lightens up the shadows more and makes it more soft.

Additional Lighting

Additional lights can be used to light up the background.

Using one ore more additional flashes, you can light it up evenly to eliminate shadows, or create a gradient effect.

For portrait shooting, a third light (“effect light”) is often used as a hair light to create more depth in the portrait, as shown in example 3.

Using Diffusors

Most flash kits come standard with diffusors. The purpose of a diffusor is to evenly spread the light, like clouds do with sunlight on a cloudy day. Another benefit is the reduction of reflections on glass objects and on faces, which for example makes a person look sweaty.

A softbox is the most common solution. It has a reflecting silver layer on the inside, which bundles the light before it is emitted forward through a diffuser. This make the best use of the available light.

The main advantage of an umbrella diffuser is the little time it takes to set it up. This makes it ideal for a portable studio. Compared to a softbox, however, more light is scattered so the lighting efficiency is less optimal. This can be compensated by turning the flash’s power up, or repositioning it closer to the subject.

Using reflectors

Reflectors are one of the most widely used tools in studio photography.

You can use them to lighten up shadows, or to reflected a slightly colored light onto the subject. They come in various sizes and shapes, some are 5-in-1 or 7-in-1 with multiple colors you can choose from.

They also enable you to make the best use of available daylight, when you don’t want to use lighting equipment.

How much power do you need?

If you are shooting portraits or you are doing small product photography, 100-150Ws flash heads can be used. When you are shooting a whole person, 200 Ws is a desired minimum. For larger groups and objects, 400W flash units are advisable, whereas for very large groups of people 800Ws or more are the best choice.

Of course you can always reduce the flash power on a unit when needed. It is better to turn it down a little, than having too little light for your project!

Flash Light vs. Continuous Lighting

Continuous lighting offers a “what you see is what you get” approach. This is ideal for product photography and video. Shooting models is also possible, but for a model the continuous bright light is less pleasant. It also makes the pupils smaller so the photograph isn’t as natural as with flash light.

The advantage of flash light is that you don’t neccesarily need a tripod: using studio flashes your photos are less sensitive to vibration. It’s also better at capturing (“freezing”) motion.

What camera should you use?

You don’t need an ultra high-tech camera. Basically, any camera that lets you enter the shutter speed, aperture and ISO manually is suitable for studio photography. A good starting point is to set ISO value on 100 and the shutter speed on 1/125.

You can then experiment with the aperture and power setting on the flash head to find the desired lighting values. Alternatively, a flash light meter can be used to quickly find the best values.

What camera setting should you use?

If you’re using studio flashes, ISO100 is a good starting point, with shutter speed 1/125. Of course you can experiment with this, but it often produces good results. The precise amount of light is a combination of aperture setting on your camera and the power setting on the studio flash(es).

Lighting Techniques Combined

This picture shows a combination of various lighting ideas we described above.  The main light is near the camera and provides the most light for this scene. This is the first light you set up.

The fill light, at a lower power setting, provides depth. The optional reflector works as an effect light. It can be swapped with an additional flash if you like.

The background flashes, also optional, eliminate all shadows in the background.

Further Lighting Techniques

With studio lighting, the possibilities are endless. Just let your creativity run free!

A common lighting technique is low key lighting (example 4). It makes a photo look interesting, mysterious or atmospheric. Few lights are used and there are lots of shadows.

Example 5 shows the exact opposite: high key lighting has little to no shadows and gives the photograph a fresh, upbeat look. With a standard flash kit, you already have lots of lighting options to choose from to give the photo that particular look that you are looking for.

Example 4

Example 5

All this effects can be achieved with a standard flash kit: with two studio flashes you have plenty of options to create that particular atmosphere you’re looking for.

How do I Connect a Studio Flash?

All studio flashes come with a sync-cable. You can connect this to your camera’s “X-contact” connector. If your camera doesn’t have one, perhaps your camera flash gun does. You can also use a hotshoe for equipping your camera with an X-contact.

Flashing using Slave Mode

Another option is through slave mode. Most studio flashes have a built-in slave sensor. Simply turn on the “Remote” button on your studio flash. As soon as the built-in sensor “sees” another flash, it triggers the flash at the same time. In practice, using “slave” mode lets you trigger an unlimited number of flashes simultaneously.

The downside is that this doesn’t work for setups where the flashes are far apart: one flash may not see the other one so it doesn’t go off.

Go Wireless! The Remote Trigger Set

A wireless trigger set

The most widely used solution for triggering studio flashes, is a wireless trigger set. This doesn’t suffer from physical obstruction of the signal, like infrared (slave).

So it’s a very reliable solution for triggering your studio flashes.

What is a Modeling Lamp?

All studio flashes come equipped with a modeling lamp. This is helpful for creating your composition. You can turn it on to see where shadows will be, if there are any undesired reflections, and so on.

When you have found a setup that works, you can turn if off if you want. The bulb that actually produces the flash, is called a flash tube,

What’s the Test Button for?

Test button on a studio flash

If a flash doesn’t go off, there can be a number of reasons.

Perhaps the sync cable is not connected properly, the flashes are too far apart for the slave mode to work correctly, or the wireless trigger set receiver is set to a different channel than the sender.

The test button helps you in finding out what’s wrong.


What’s this Thing called a Spigot Adapter?

All light stands and most other lamp holders have a universal connector called a spigot. Almost all photo studio equipment is mounted onto stands using this universal connection.

Because of this, light stands can be used in a number of ways: with a reflector holder or as building blocks for a background support system.