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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Lunchtime Videos! Three Product Photography Tutorials and a Pro-On-The-Cheap

Nothing like a few photography videos to help the chicken nuggets go down.

I’m just passing the time by on my lunch, since I can’t do much while I’m stuffing my face. Not sure why I am spending so much time researching product photography, but they are interesting to watch.

First is Karl Taylor setting up a product photograph. I posted a video of his previously where he was photographing a wine bottle. In this video he has a slew of cosmetics…

This guy is an absolute master. Everything about his method is getting things right in camera with minimal editing later. I gush every time I see his studio and the gross amount of equipment and modifiers he has at his disposal. I haven’t heard him list how long it takes to get some of these product shots, but I expect that he works for hours on some of them.

He starts the video with an explanation and example of the completed shot and then moves to a time-lapse of the setup process. He loosely arranges the items and positions the main light and adjusts its power until he is comfortable with the results. Next, he starts adding in accent lights to provide contouring and interest reflections on the slick black cosmetics cases and tools.

The key to his intense detail is his step-by-step process, adding one light at a time, his attention to detail and his obvious level of experience. This is not dissimilar to what I do with portrait photography: one light at a time.

Watch this video and you will never have a full wallet again… Tens of thousands of dollars, he says, of equipment to make the shot.

Oh, here, this one will make your bank account feel better.

 

This next video is DIY and extremely budgeted product photography. Basically, he makes a photo tent or box out of an Ikea table. You can purchase tents like these for fairly cheap from Amazon, so I think his actions are a bit counter-intuitive, but this video does describe some useful techniques for lighting.

His “Product Shot Booth,” or a photo tent, is like a miniature studio for photographing small objects. They usually have either bounce or shoot-through-diffuser lighting for all around brightness and soft shadows as well as a curved material, his project paper, that creates a seamless backdrop. An Infinity Plane? I don’t remember the cool word for it.

 

The next video is from Fstoppers. This setup is a step up from the previous, but not Karl Taylor level.

They’re using a really interesting speedlight modifier that they invented, it looks incredibly effective. They’re also using the MagMod speedlight modifier, I’ve heard of this but I haven’t seen it in action yet. It seems really versatile.

Good advice on the step-by-step setup in this video, a look at some cool modifiers and different speedlight brands, and some advice about getting some quality condensation.

Watch a pro put together a product photograph for a bottle of wine and be inspired

In this video Karl Taylor describes a set lit with 5 lights and exactly what each one adds to his final piece.

This isn’t a technical video where he is going to talk about power settings and whatnot, so if you’re new to studio photography you won’t be left behind. He describes his set and the reasons for the props he added and why each light is necessary.

Business Portrait Timeline — A Red-Eye Photo Studio Challenge

I’ve developed quite the collection of portrait studio gear over the last couple years, and I’m getting itchy to start using it to develop the stunning images that my clients deserve. Corporate headshots, or high quality imagery for anyone with a LinkedIn or other social media profile, seems like the way to go. Starting off, anyway.

I’m still working out the kinks of a convenient, efficient and quick workflow with a portable, small-space-capable studio, so late one night (OK, it was early one morning, to be technical) I attempted to get through a self portrait in the span of 1 hour.

Imagining myself as the client: “I want this stranger in and out of my home as quickly as possible so I can get back to watching Game of Thrones in sweats. The images better be good, fast, and I want to review them before he leaves.”

Knowing this as the photographer, I have a breakdown similar to this:

  1. Set up photo gear: 15 minutes
    • Backdrop stands and backdrop
    • Light stands (up to 4, but probably just 1 or 2 with only an hour on the clock)
    • Lights, levels and positioning
    • Camera settings (custom white balance and other basics)
  2. Photograph the subject: 15 minutes
  3. Review images, select and pay: 15 minutes
  4. Pack up: 15 minutes

That’s a very tight schedule. My plan is to tell the client to free up 2 hours for the session, while my goal would be 1 hour. Under promise, over deliver!

I accomplished my timeline well enough, and even had time to spare. I changed a filter halfway through which messed up my white balance, and didn’t bother correcting it. I assumed I might do it in Photoshop later, but no matter what I did the results were not where I wanted them. The photograph below was taken on a different occasion under similar circumstances, where I took the time to set everything up correctly.

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The botched photograph had more professional attire, but that is still one of my favourite shirts. I let my friends write and draw on it with one of those fancy clothing markers. It went as expected: lewd jokes that I can’t wear in public. They’ve all but faded now, and are not visible in the photograph.