Studio Lighting Tips and Techniques

By John Stuart


Most photographers only have experience working with flash on location or shooting in their small home studio. As a result, working with a wider range of lighting gear in a larger studio can be intimidating and a bit overwhelming. With so many lights and accessories to choose from, what is the best way to go? If you need tips and techniques on studio lighting, keep on reading.


1. Get a Good Grasp of Studio Accessories and Their Use

Before you start using studio gear, you first need to understand how it works and what it is used for.

  • Reflector. Also known as a fill-light, a reflector’s job is to get rid of unwanted shadows. Available in different sizes and colors, this accessory will brighten up both highlights and shadows. A silver reflector will not alter the color of the light while a gold reflector will add a warm tint to the image.
  • Umbrella. Another light modifier, umbrellas are also available in different sizes and colors. Translucent umbrellas are ideal for beginners since they spread out the light effectively. Silver, gold and black lined umbrellas serve different purposes and are geared towards seasoned photographers.
  • Softbox. Offering more control than the previous accessory, softboxes are ideal for portrait photography and technical photography. These can be square or octagonal.

2. Start with a Single Light

Figuring out what every piece of gear in the studio does will take time. If you’re a beginner and this is your first time stepping into a larger studio, cut yourself some slack and start slow. Start using a single light and build your way up from there. Whether you choose to use a reflector or a fill light, make sure you fully grasp the purpose and functionality of each piece before moving on to the next one.

3. Make Sure to Use the Right Camera Settings

Shooting in a studio differs from shooting outdoors in terms of lighting conditions. This is why you will not have to meter for the light available. Taking photos in a studio implies that you get to establish the flash and camera setting you are using and dictate the mood you want to achieve by controlling the power and position of the lights while coordinating your aperture and ISO settings. If you’re unsure about your camera and light metering skills, join a professional photography course that will help you understand the principles and basic rules of light.

4. Get Familiar with a Few Lighting Styles

Practice makes perfect. If you want to perfect your skills or build a portfolio, learn the most important portrait lighting styles.

  • Short Lighting Style. If you want to photograph models full-faced, the short lighting style will enable you to elongate the face and make it look thinner. The part of the face that is furthest from the lens receives the most light.
  • Broad Lighting Style. This is the opposite of the previous technique. The part of the face that is furthest from the lens receives the least light.
  • Butterfly Lighting Style. Flattering and glamorous, this lighting style emphasizes the entire face of the subject. To achieve this, you will need a flash and a reflector.
  • Split Lighting Style. For this technique, you need to place the main light on one side of the model. This will create a powerful shadow right in the middle of the subject’s face. The result will look dramatic.

5. Guide Your Subject

If you are using a small light source, you will have to guide your model on how to pose and give them specific instructions on where to stand and how to hold their head or hands. If you are using larger light sources, your subjects will have more movement freedom. However, you will still have to guide them and help them pose the right way in order to achieve a certain image or capture a specific mood.

6. Keep in Mind that Shadows Create Volume

While front lights hide texture, side or above lights make it stand out. Deep and long shadows give the impression of volume. When trying to bring still life and products to life, photographers resort to this technique in order to achieve three dimensionality for foliage, sand and rocks. However, when you want to conceal wrinkles and achieve a smooth, soft portrait of your model, you should position the light source near the axis of the lens.

About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and