July 9, 2011
When it comes to choosing what type of lights to use in a photography studio, there are hundreds of opinions. For the home based studio, any of the various types of lights will work as long as you make the proper adjustments to your photograph techniques and settings. However, keep in mind that a small room will get hot very quickly with “hot lights.” Also, high powered strobe lights have a tendency to trip circuit breakers which get confused by the sudden surge of power. If you’ll be using such lights, it will be necessary to provide some sort of power conditioning to avoid this problem.
The more lights available, the more options a photographer has. But, within the limitations of a home studio it is important to realize that great shots can be taken with just a few lights.
Although great shots can be taken with a single light, single light source pictures are some of the most complicated shots to get right. It is difficult to both provide depth and texture to a shot and at the same time prevent harsh or unflattering shadows. Therefore, it is generally better to setup your studio with at least two lights. The light’s height should be adjustable.
With two lights, a photographer has multiple options. Both lights can be used to illuminate the subject from various angles and distances in order to create the desired effect. Another option is to use one light on the subject and another on the background. Generally, this is done with a reflector to provide secondary, or “fill” lighting on the subject. As an added bonus, two lights will generally not draw the kind of power that will cause problems with the fuse box.
Next, the studio should have some sort of object that can be used by the subject to sit on. The traditional stool is perfect for the home based photography studio as it is both small and easy to reposition.
Finally, the studio needs a background of some sort. Painting a wall is an option, but it may be more practical to simply hand a backdrop behind the subject. There are of course, stands and backgrounds made specifically for this purpose, but simple hooks attached to the ceiling or wall can hold up an array of drop cloths, sheets, or even a length of uncut fabric.
Placing the Lights
Setting up the studio lighting then becomes an issue of placing and testing various lighting patterns. Start by using traditional lighting setups. Place a test subject on the stool where you plan to shoot your real subjects and set your lights with one slightly above and to one side, and the other at the same angle on the other side, a bit further away. Take several test shots until you are satisfied. Mark the position of the lights and stool. Bits of colored tape on the floor work very well for this.
Repeat this process with the main, or “key”, light in the same position, but with the second light illuminating the background. Use a large piece of white poster board from the hobby store as your “reflector” on the other side of the subject. Again, shoot until you are satisfied with the lighting and mark the second set of light placements. A different color of tape can keep the two arrangements separate.
These two lighting setups are your starting point for your photography sessions. Since each subject is different, it is unrealistic to assume that simply placing the lights in the same positions will produce great photographs every time. However, starting from a known good setup will save time by allowing smaller incremental adjustments.
There you have it, a small, easy, inexpensive home studio. Start taking photos with your new setup. Soon you will master dozens of interesting variations with your studio’s equipment. As time, money, and energy permit, you can add additional lights, backgrounds, props, and seating objects. The only limit to your home studio’s photos is your imagination.