Many a photographer starting out would like to know what lighting combination would work the best. A new studio has the advantage of starting with a new slate. Mimicking current studio setups may not always have the best arrangement because they sometimes have to make do with what was inherited or added to through the years.
The main light should be at least three feet wide and in a soft box configuration. The reason for this is that a soft box places the surface of the light close to the subject without getting in the way of the camera or photographer. Another reason is that the light is kinder to skin surfaces and tends to wrap around the features without losing the modeling.
The fill light works best if an umbrella reflector is used. This type of light does reduce the intensity which is a good thing for a fill light. An umbrella (at least three feet in diameter) also works well further from the subject and out of the way of the photographer. The fill light should be placed as near the line of the camera as possible to avoid getting under eye shadows (bags) and in order to prevent double shadows from the nose and chin.
A hair light should be wide and shallow in order to spread the light horizontally but not shine into the lens. A built in shade can be used with this soft box for working close to the top of the head of the subject and not shine light into the lens. The soft box type of hair light allows working close to the head while still presenting a wide angle of light. A spot type hair light is much too narrow for showing the hair in it’s true colors and will too easily burn up lighter colored hair.
The back light can be a round regular reflector situated directly behind the subject or preferably off to one side but out of the picture. This latter type of back light should be snouted rather tightly for a narrow angle so as not to spill onto the subject unless for special effects (edge lighting with black background).
A kicker light on the other side of the room can be used for edge lighting, additional background light for high key effects or as a spot light on specific background props.
All lights should be calibrated for a specific ISO and balanced for equal intensity. The exception is the fill which should be from two the three and one half stops weaker than the main light. There are many other lighting setups that work for special effects. Among them are the single spot (use the back light) on the face (metered, of course), a single main light at a strong angle with all other lights bounced off the walls and ceiling for a strong but soft modeling effect. However, ninety per cent of the regular portraits will be well served with the five light setup detailed above. Photogenic lights have been a favorite in many studios. For digital work, three hundred watt seconds per light should be sufficient. With a Canon DSLR you can set the camera manually at F5.6 or F8 for plenty depth of field using a 150 mm focal length portrait lens. This foolproof lighting setup produces beautifully lit portraits of babies, children and families alike.
Article is copyright by Kenneth Hoffman, retired portrait photographer of forty eight years.