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Comparing portrait lighting schemes

From: Photo Assignment: Off-Camera Flash

Video: Comparing portrait lighting schemes

Well, we spent a lot of time in the studio taking many photographs using these different lighting schemes. So let's take a look at the work we did and see our how our changes that we made with our lights and with our camera settings affected our photographs. So I am going to start here with the single light, and this is the easiest of all the lighting schemes. You have one light on one stand, using an umbrella, and you keep the light more or less frontal, a little bit to an angle, but not too far because since you only have one light, you don't want to cast our shadows on the other side.

Comparing portrait lighting schemes

Well, we spent a lot of time in the studio taking many photographs using these different lighting schemes. So let's take a look at the work we did and see our how our changes that we made with our lights and with our camera settings affected our photographs. So I am going to start here with the single light, and this is the easiest of all the lighting schemes. You have one light on one stand, using an umbrella, and you keep the light more or less frontal, a little bit to an angle, but not too far because since you only have one light, you don't want to cast our shadows on the other side.

As you can see, the results are quite pleasant. This is a very nice rendering, very straightforward. And if you do nothing else, in terms of moving the flash off your camera, but to put it on a stand, use a modifier and get that close tothe model, you are going to improve your photos many times over. Now, the one thing that I wanted to show you was that sometimes you may want to brighten up that background a little bit. In this case, we were shooting with a white background that got just slightly gray from the ambient light.

The way that you do that, of course, as I talked about in the course, is that you just go out of Program mode, go into Manual mode, and then you can slow the shutter speed down, in this case, from a 60th of a second to a 30th of a second. And just by doing that, you brighten things up a bit. Now if you feel like that your model is getting brighter as you do this, then you can change that, too, by changing your aperture, in this case, we are about 4.5.

So if I just stopped it down a little bit, 5.6, maybe as far as 8, but I doubt it, then the model would go back to the skin tones that we had before, but the background would still stay brighter. That's really neat that you can make all these changes only using one light and just a few subtle adjustments on your camera. So this is a single light in the Manual mode. I've brightened things up a bit by taking it off program.

Now let's take a look at two lights. This is our first two-light setup, and this is the Over/Under, and we are in Program mode. I just think this is a wonderful lighting scheme. And if you want to differentiate your portraits from work that a lot of other people are doing, I would definitely consider this in your bag of tricks. In Program mode, on Over/Under, you get more natural skin tones, but yet they have just a little different look. It just has a different feel.

Now, you can also use the same lighting scheme to get something that's more high key, more fashion-like, and that's by making the two adjustments that we did. One is that I increased the flash output by going to flash exposure compensation and going to +1, and then I took it off Program mode, went to Manual mode, and slowed the shutter speed down to a 15th of a second. So we made two changes here.

The lights are exactly in the same position that they were before. So you can see these two camera changes make a very big impact on the photo itself. Now one thing to keep in mind. When you start going to those slower shutter speeds, you have to either have the camera on a tripod or hold it very steady because you can get camera shake, and it can soften your photo a bit. It won't be quite as sharp. So keep that in mind if you start playing with those slower shutter speeds, and make sure that your model stays still, too.

So this is Over/Under in Manual mode, and then we went to two flashes, and you started out with the basic two-flash setup on two stands. So we had two flashes before on one stand and one above the other. Now, we have put one flash on each stand, and you have made the stands 45 degrees, basically, from the subject, and in this case, just one-to-one lighting which means each flash was outputting about the same amount of light. So you get a bit of a flat rendering.

It's very pleasant, but there is nothing very dramatic about it, and that's because you have equal amounts of light coming from two different directions. So here we go. So again, I think this is a very flexible lighting setup. You could have one person here. You could have two persons here. You can have five people standing there and not have to move your lights around. I think that's one of the advantages of this. However, if you wanted to get a little bit more creative with the lighting, then you could do something like change the ratios, and in this case, we have gone from 1:1 lighting to 8:1 lighting.

And the 8 means, of course, that the 8 is the brighter side. So this one was set to 8:1, and now we start to see a little bit more modeling in the face. It's a little bit more artistic. As the model moves her head around, you will get different effects because you have two different light outputs. Now, a trick is if you want to check your lighting, go to the eyes and look at this. You can see both of the lights in the eyes. The brighter side, which in this case is over here, it has a bigger catch light in the eye, and then the less light output is a much smaller dot, a much smaller catch light.

So you can check your lighting schemes by just looking in the eyes of your subject. So once again, the eyes do tell all, don't they? And then of course, you can change it around the other way. Now, this side is the 8. This side is the 1, and you can play with your lighting effects that way and then have the model move her head around, and you can see how these two different light outputs play out on her face. And again, it's more interesting, in the sense that you have lights and darks in the same shot.

Now I will tell you right now that it's not that one of these schemes is better than another; these are all useful schemes, and you should really think about mastering them all, and then that way you can pick the one that you want. Now I am going to exit out of this mode for just a second because I want to show you some metadata. So here we are. On the single light, you can see that we are at 1/60th of the second at f4, in Program mode, and I want to point out that the ISO is at 800 here, and I can get away with that these days.

I couldn't have a few years ago, but I can now, especially shooting with the 5D Mark II. It can handle these high ISOs and still give you a very good rendering. Normally, I would probably work more like around ISO 400. I wanted the flashes to recycle quickly when we are working. Let me just zoom in here and show you. So, this is ISO 800, and the detail and the noise control is just excellent.

So we can do that now because our little strobes aren't just powerful as big heavy studio lighting. So, we do need to have our camera sensitive to that so that we can have more flexibility of how we set our exposure. Obviously, you are going to set what's comfortable for you. I think the main point here is don't be afraid to shoot at ISO 400, or even 800. Take a look at your results, and see what you think. Now on this high key, I want to show you, again, here is where we went down to 15th of a second, and as I cautioned you, you do have to be careful here when you start shooting at those slower shutter speeds.

I am going to zoom in here. When you start shooting at those slower shutter speeds, you have to hold the camera very steady to make sure that you don't get any camera shake there and soften up your photo. A lot of times putting on the tripod might not be a bad idea at all. So as we just scan through these shots here, you can tell, just by using one or two lights, you have a lot of options. You can create a lot of different looks. Most of the time you can just shoot in Program mode if you want.

It's very easy to carry around. You can use this at home. You can use this on the road. You can take it to a wedding reception and shoot family shots. I want you to try these. I want you to master all of these, take notes, refer to your notes, then of course, when we get to the part where we are talking about sharing our images online, I want to see your shots there, too.

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Photo Assignment: Off-Camera Flash

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