If you want to take your images to the next level, mastering the skill of using multiple lights to create professional quality images is a must. When most photographers set up their first studio, they typically use two studio lights — one set one up on each side of their subject and attempt to produce an even light with as few shadows as possible. (This is typically born out of the frustration of having used an on camera flash for so long and dealing with unsightly shadows that this type of lighting creates.) Once you understand the three key areas of lights and how you can use them together, you can easily eliminate such shadows and do a whole lot more.
3 Key Points of Light
What are the three points of light we’re talking about? Learn to work the magic of your key, fill and backlight and you’ll be able to create hundreds of beautiful lighting setups. A good starter kit would be a 3 piece, 1,000 watt Quartz Light kit, especially if you’re not used to handling strobes.
- The Key Light – This is the main light used on your subject.
- The Fill Light – The purpose of this light is to fill in the shadows created by the key light, preventing them from getting too dark.
- The Backlight – This is used to separate the subject from the background.
Where to Start
1. Light your subject with the key, or main light first. Move the light around to see where and how the shadows are falling on your subjects.
2. Add your fill light and either place it the same distance from your subject as the main light at a lower setting or move it a farther distance away. This will soften the shadows from the main light but not totally eliminate them.
3. To separate your subject from the background add a backlight up high and behind your subject. Play around with settings and height of the light to see the different effects you can achieve.
Here’s two simple lighting set-ups to try to get you going using multiple lights.
Clamshell lighting is the perfect setup for headshots or tight beauty shots. (The clamshell refers to the shape of the reflection in your subject’s eyes). It’s great for shooting older folks because it fills in lines and wrinkles. Basically, it makes anyone look good! The key is to keep your main light at a little higher power than your fill.
- Key Light/Fill Light –For both the key and fill light, use two, 1’ x 4’ stripboxes that will give a full wrap of light. You’ll achieve a flatter light than either a softbox or beauty dish will give you. Place the boxes horizontally in front of your subject with the top light about 2 feet higher than the bottom light. The top strip will be your key light and should be set about 1 stop higher than the bottom light.
Another option is to replace the top strip box with a beauty dish and use a two-foot softbox for the bottom light. This gives more of a pop to your lighting and is good for hair and makeup shots.
- Backlight – Rectangular softboxes don’t always do the trick. Try a 5′ octagon softbox to the left and slightly behind your subject. The octa, as it’s known, allows flexibility of moving your subject around without losing the lighting effect.
Dramatic Edge Lighting
Commercial advertisers often want an edgy look for their brand and this lighting set up is a great technique to achieve just that. It’s especially popular with sports advertising or for masculine products such as tools. Try shooting on a black backdrop for an even more dramatic effect.
- Key Light – Place a beauty dish on a boom arm approximately eight feet directly in front of your subject. Point it slightly below the face. This will help eliminate spill onto your background.
- Fill Light/Backlight – Use two strip lights as your rim lights. Place them evenly on opposite sides of your subject, illuminating the edges and sides of the subject. Set the edge lights at 1.5 stops higher than the key light.
Keep practicing different effects with your three lights by changing location, height and power. Create a reference notebook for each practice shot and keep a digital image file to reference for future projects.