Studio Lighting: You Got This

It's only been three years since I first picked up a camera.  It feels strange to say that.  I’ve been playing with cameras since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I looked through a viewfinder with the intention to create something more than a snapshot.  

 Leave it to me to step out of focus!  It's what you get when a six pack of IPA meets shallow depth of field...

Leave it to me to step out of focus!  It's what you get when a six pack of IPA meets shallow depth of field...

Three years isn’t long, but I feel like I’ve lived a dozen lifetimes since then.  I never imagined learning so much.  It’s remarkable how much a person can learn when he or she actually wants to.  For the first year & a half, it was all fun and games.  I never imagined this as a career.  It didn't seem possible. But I stuck with it.  I was always told, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I’ve heard it over and over, but I still credit that quote to my dad.  He said it first, so he might as well have coined it.  You’d think such momentum and change would naturally lend itself to an adventurous frame of mind in every aspect of a person’s life, right?  Nope.  In photography, I’ve been reserved.  Always learning, but playing it safe.  Camera + Sunlight = all I need.  In many cases, that’s true.     

For a long time, I considered myself a natural-light photographer.  Meaning, I prefer sunlight over studio lights.  Many photographers call that a cop out. Truth be told, it is - to a degree.  I’m a firm believer in education.  Not traditional education necessarily, but I do put a high price on knowing your stuff.  It’s perfectly fine to call one’s self a natural-light photographer so long as he or she does so by choice and not based on a blatant lack of education.  To be a photographer is to know light.  To be uneducated in such is a hindrance.  I faced that fact this summer.  And I changed it.

I’ve used modifiers, bounced light, and even tossed in the occasional make-shift lamp to throw a little spark into a shot, but real studio lighting was a concept I didn't care to mess with.  First came the cheap collapsible reflectors.  I still live and breathe by those things.  Second came rudimentary shop lights and department-store bulbs.  Finally, I sucked it up and dove in head-first.  Over the summer I challenged myself to learn studio lighting.  Not to simply know the concepts, but to apply them.  The idea always came with such a stigma.  I’m happy to report, I’ve put that stigma to rest.  

With a fair amount of YouTubery and a day of trial and error, the days of relying solely on the sun came to an end.  I'll tell you one undeniable fact I’ve learned.  It’s wonderful to know the ins and outs of natural light, but It’s a far more sophisticated method to create or add light as you see fit.  

Somehow I imagined endless calibration, light adjustment, and hours of frustrating nonsense.  Strobes (or speed lights in my case) were these elusive creatures rivaled only by leprechauns and white unicorns that couldn't be caught or controlled.  Terrifying?!  Not so much.  With a little education and a few adjustments, I managed to nail my first 100% studio-lit session without skipping a beat.

In all honesty, naturally lit, candid moments are the best.  But!  Studio photography is a horse of an entirely different color.  The possibilities are endless, and I encourage all my readers who have the same reservations to quit limiting yourself to the light that happens to be available and open the door to the possibilities of introducing and shaping light of your own.  So far, I’ve found a combination of available light and artificial fill light to be the best of both worlds.  

Normally, I would refrain from any topic that made me out to be a newbie of any kind.  Not for pride, but for the sake of education.  I don’t preach what I don’t know.  I could talk all day long about the ins and outs of natural light photography, but studio light has always been a ghost to me. So many people find the idea of studio lighting daunting and avoid the topic altogether.  In this case, however, it was literally an overnight change.  I encourage you all to venture into new methods and cross your own boundaries.  I’m sure, like me, you’ll find it was never that complicated to start with.  

Gear I recommend:  Click image for links

ANY CAMERA WITH A HOTSHOE:  I shoot Nikon 

THINK TANK CAMERA BAGS: 

UMBRELLA DIFFUSERS:  This kit comes with stands!  

REFLECTORS:  

CACTUS RF60 SPEED LIGHTS:  These things are so far superior to the name brand speed lights, it’s not even funny.  And cheaper.  CACTUS all the way!  

CACTUS V6 TRANSMITTER: 

The rest is gravy.

Have fun :)