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Studio and Flash Lighting - Introduction

Photography under artificial light

A studio can be a temporary arrangement put up when and where required or a permanent structure, it can be small, or large, and studios can come with everything provided or just be an empty space to work in.

In this article we are going to look at providing lighting for photography in the widest way we are able and from this look at more specialist articles on specific aspects or items. So we are looking at photography undertaken under artificial light or combined lighting.

If you are taking photos of a macro item with flash, product or food photography under constant lighting or taking a portrait with a few lights and reflectors then each of these arrangements is your studio on that occasion, and the lighting involved is the studio lighting.

A lot of the items we will be looking at will be collapsible and portable items that allow you to turn any space into a studio for photography.

Type of Lighting

The first decision is the type of lighting to use. The choices include:-

  • Tungsten or other existing room lighting (available light)

  • Tungsten photofloods

  • Cool lights

  • Mains flash systems

  • Intelligent battery powered flash systems, like the Nikon Creative Lighting system.

Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Available light, using whatever is in place, can lack lighting power, and can give a variety of colour casts or variations from different lights, often with patches of light, rather than an even lighting, but it can provide character, mood, etc. and as its there it may be the obvious answer if you can work successfully with it.

Tungsten photofloods or spotlights, have the advantage of providing a lot of light cheaply, but gives you a lot of heat, often making working difficult and presenting a fire risk.
Cool-lite's   are a new development, they use a quantity of low energy bulbs, to produce a lot of light but very little heat. As you can get daylight bulbs these systems can be built to provide daylight coloured light that can be combined with daylight and electronic flash easily. Cool-lite's have the advantage that you can see the lighting effect before you take the image, and are superior in this respect to systems that involve low powered modelling lights to try to give an impression of what you will see. Some systems are built with switchable lamps allowing you to vary the light output. The disadvantage is that they are quite bulky.

Mains flash  has historically been the main lighting source in studios, and is an economic and reliable way to build setups that give you a lot of light for a brief flash, without a lot of heat. The advantages are in cost, low heat and being able to be put together economically. The disadvantages are the limitations in use and space a lot of these items take up.

Intelligent battery systems are only available for some camera makes and the Nikon Creative lighting    system at the moment is the unique and by far the most powerful. They have the advantage of speed of deployments, can be used anywhere as you don't need mains and can be mixed with just about any other lighting except mains flash. The disadvantages are in seeing what you are taking before it's taken, although it does have a sort of strobe preview, and it is expensive.

All the artificial lighting systems can be used with reflectors, diffusers and other attachments, that allow you to control and modify the light. All can also be built into large systems with many lights or kept simple.

Currently I have all of these systems but most photographers will choose one or two. As I teach photographers its useful to have a sizable collection of all of them, although in practice other than for teaching I usually will use either the cool-lite system or the Nikon Creative Lighting system.

I tend not to use available light, as there is often not enough and I get too many different colour casts. Tungsten floods get over the amount of light, but colour variations still occur and there is a lot of heat to cope with. I rarely use mains flash as there is less control and it takes a lot longer to set it up. The mains flash is also largely a duplication of what I can achieve with the Nikon Creative Lighting system. However don't discount it as it costs a fraction of the price to build a mains based flash system to the Nikon system.

Modifying the Light

The artificial light that we get is hard, harsh, produces very strong shadows and is generally stronger in the centre than the edges. We have a number of ways of modifying the light so that we can control the effect and colour.

Softening the light is done by reflecting it or diffusing it. While we can change the colour of the light by using filters, material or by using coloured reflecting surfaces. By using masks, barn doors and funnel shaped devices we control light that can appear in specific places.

We get the modelling effect partly from how soft or hard it is but also from the direction and relative strength of different lights. see A Quick Look at the Direction of Lighting in Portraits


The Lighting Equipment and Its Use

We look at the items used in studio and flash lighting in:-

And at using some of these in:-

Projects/Experimental photography

But also check the topic index and Lighting and Reflectors section,  as more articles may have been added since this article was written or last updated.


By: Keith Park Section: Lighting and Reflectors Key:
Page Ref: Studio_lighting Topic: Flash, Studio and Reflectors Last Updated: 04/2009

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