How to Trial and Error Through a Three-Light Studio Setup — A Hippie Sitting On A Stool, Grinding Rocks. Why? Who Knows! He’s a Dog Toy.

I do a lot of trial and error when I set up my lights for a studio shoot. This article details a three light setup, and features a hilarious model.

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Last night, I photographed a hippie sitting on a stool grinding rocks. They’re actually, most of them, classified “Semi-Precious Gems.” I gave up on a Halloween party that I got a last minute invite to because I have a shoot scheduled today for a cute kid, and I wanted to be awake for it.
The way the night went, I figured I should set up the lights then instead of when I woke up. I’m probably not awake yet. I’ve scheduled this post for 10 am and it was almost 2 am by the time I was finished writing it.
I’m bad at waking up.
After an hour I think I had the lighting structure, position and ratios set up.
All images are taken at f/5.6, 100 ISO, 1/200 sec. I like to include some depth of field when photographing closer up, and though you may not see the effects in the following images, it would be apparent if I were photographing the hippie and not the whole stool. Maybe I’ll show you at the end.
First shot is fill light alone, he’s my master light that tells the others what to do. All it does for the image is fill in some shadows so the image isn’t so contrasted. It’s directly over my head, pointing straight into the image. Softbox on a boom arm. I looked at my histogram on the back of the camera to decide if it was at a good power and even with a solid black backdrop there wasn’t any clipping.
Don’t worry, I’ll give you a side-by-side for the images at the end of the article so you can see the changes between each one easier.
Oh, all images are straight out of camera, too. I haven’t retouched them in any way, other than to convert them to jpg with Camera Raw. The banner image is touched up.
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Next image includes the key light, the closest and most (apparently) powerful light in the image. This one is about 45° up and right of the subject (facing the photographer.) It’s a little above my strobe’s minimum power (same with the fill.) I wish I had more space and could separate the subject from the background a bit more, limiting this light’s effect on the background. It’s also firing through a softbox.
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The third image includes the background light. A speedlight with a snoot (it focuses the light into a circle shape.) This one helps separate the subject from the background, and helps the eye find focus in the image. In the side-by-side at the end of the article, you can see my progress in deciding what power to have this at. Ultimately, I liked it at a reduced power, giving a subtle effect on the background. The last image is my favourite, and the settings used for the banner image on this post.
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Here’s the edited hippie from the banner image where you can see some depth of field. The rocks in front are not as sharp as he is, even though I added a great deal of sharpening in Camera Raw. This, like the splash of backlight, helps the eye find focus in the image. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

 

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