Portrait Photography #2

So, we know what Portrait Photography is; what now? (If you don’t, check out my previous tutorial.)

Setting up

This time, I’ll let you know about setting up for some interior photography. It will get you the idea of how to gear up a room (or a proper studio). So, what do I need?

  • Strobes / Monolights: A professional monolight can easily get around the 400 to 500 euros price tag, but if you’re planning on doing this for a living, it’s a great investiment. Why? Because a good strobe setting allows you to be consistent (and by that you know that the output is similar looking and you don’t need to stop to adjust every single photo, as the power and colour temperature will prevail). Also the recycle time and flash duration are longer, meaning you’ll get those lights for a longer time. If you’re not willing to spend that much, there are photographers and websites helping you to gear up for less, even that meaning that the results won’t be as good but it’s not professional level that you’re looking for. Don’t give up!
  • Main Light Modifiers: These are all about controlling light and, generally speaking, we can split modifiers into two main groups: soft and hard modifiers.
    • Soft modifiers: These modifiers soften light generally by diffusing it: they spread it out over a large surface so that light rays are scattered. They are used anywhere you want to reduce shadows and make things look smoother (that’s why they are usually used for key lights in portrait photography). You’ll find these in umbrellas and softboxes. Umbrellas can be shoot-through (semi-transparent umbrellas that you place in front of your light source, placing them between the subject and the strobe) and reflective (opaque, black outside and are usually silver, gold or white inside, open-side to the subject, with the strobe pointed away from them, straight into the umbrella; the inside reflects the light in every direction and the liner materials determine the colour and quality of the light being reflected).Umbrellas come in all shapes and sizes and are very popular modifiers. Their small size, low price and versatility are pros, but the biggest disadvantage is the lack of control they give over light spills.There is really no home-brew solution for umbrellas. If you prefer softboxes, you’ll find the pyramid-like, lined with a silver material ones, which have space for a strobe at the top of the pyramid and a diffusion cloth at the base. Like the umbrellas, they come in almost all dimensions and their biggest advantage is the ability to control light spill and to accept modifiers. Also , they can be found as octas, which are more associated with studio photography, and consiste of an octogonal-shape umbrella or box.
    • Hard modifiers: Hard light is the default with strobes (same for a speedlite or a camera flahs). It is a small point of light that brings out imperfections and coarse textures, but is  Still, it’s extremely useful to have controlled beams of light (think: rimlights/hairlights) and it’s absolutely critical in product photography. There are four basic types of hard modifiers: Reflectors (the concave accessory that that cuts down light spill to the sides when using a bare bulb (which is rarely done) and when using umbrellas or grids), Grids (metal grids of various thickness and density, that stop scattered light rays coming from the strobe bulb, creating a thin, quite soft beam of light; some also have movable flaps on each side of the grid which allows for finer, tighter beam control), Snoots (a tapered tube of black metal used to create a very harsh, small beam of light) and Beauty dishes (a small reflector – usually silver, gold or white – placed in front of the strobe, while a concave reflector is placed around the strobe, to create a very even, hard light with an extremely sharp drop-off). The most effective and related to portraits are the beauty dishes, for being extremely useful as a key light, especially for people with good, smooth skin (or make-up).


Light is flexible and you can work it as you will, remember that! There’s more gear that, not being light modifiers per se, can work as them:

  • Flags: Professional flags tend to be black cloth or paper stretched on a frame that has a small handle to make it easier to place on a stand. At home you can use pieces of black paper or black cloth and tape them where they need to go, and therefore control light spill and keep down highlights.
  • Scrims: Panels covered in diffusing light-coloured cloth (usually white), placed where light needs softened locally.
  • Bounce cards: These are cards that reflect just enough light; usually they area opaque white, silver or golden, but you can sometimes substitute them with a mirror. Generally used in contra to a key light as a way of lightening or opening up shadows created by the light. The type of material determines the light’s quality, the distance from the subject and light determines the bounced light’s intensity.

Reflectors! Yes, reflectors 🙂

As an example, I’m leaving here a Lighting Setup from F-stoppers:

The main light is an Einstein strobe at 1/8 power with our camera set at f/11 for the aperture, 1/160 for the shutter, and at ISO 100. The 70-200mm lens was at 200mm. I like to keep my shutter one or two clicks away from its max sync speed to avoid accidently hitting it and winding up with an unusable image. Remember the shutter speed will in actuality have very little to do with the sharpness of our image. At f/11, my image without strobes is pitch black and that flash duration we were talking about, which is somewhere around 1/4000 of a second, is what is dictating the sharpness of my image.

The Mola Demi Beauty Dish was on our main light with the grid also inserted for a more dramatic light. The silver reflector was handheld and reflecting light from the beauty dish back up into the shadows underneath our model. You may notice a slight difference from image to image in the exact density of the shadows underneath the subject’s chin. This is because the grided light makes it much more challenging to catch the light with the reflector. One tip that can help, if you are really having trouble, is to dim the lights in the room and use the modeling light on your strobe so you can visibly see the light you are trying to reflect. Camera right you can see the background light, which as discussed was a medium Paul C. Buff softbox, that was skimming light across the backdrop at a much lower power setting. Finally, there are black “fill cards” or simply pieces of foam core on either side of the model to create shadows on the edges or outline of the subject.

Being more technical, this may not have been the most interesing post, but I hoep that you understand what each material does and learn how to use what best for you 🙂


See you soon!



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