Studio Night – Portrait lighting with ‘budget’ equipment

by Oct 26, 2022

Our talk and demonstration this evening was again a session in the hall delivered by Joe F, providing us with further insights into the minimum equipment needed to achieve effective portrait lighting. This is the third portrait session provided by Joe, the other two taking place on 5 October 2022 and 16 March 2022, which are both available as blogs on this site. The majority of the images recorded for the evening were using Vince and Geoff as our Guinea pigs models.

On this occasion Joe was deploying ‘budget’ lighting units rather than the more costly studio strobes and large soft boxes used during his first session.  He has told us that the battery powered dimmable LED fitting complete with ‘barn door’ light shaping flags used tonight (Yongnuo YN160) was purchased on-line for not much more than £20.  He also deployed other fittings during this session, of varying cost, coupled with a 5-in-1 reflector set-up..

Yongnuo YN-160

Joe started the session by taking a shot in manual mode using only the ambient lighting in the hall.  The mixture of fluorescent lights of different colours rendered the image recorded with a strange yellowish skin tone.  Whilst this image was not usable, Joe did describe how the white balance of such an image could be corrected by using a grey card in the shot and the ‘dropper’ tool in post-processing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop.

On-camera fill flash

The second image of the evening was taken with on-camera flash.  This image is displayed above, and clearly demonstrates the draw-back of this lighting source which gives very flat lighting.  The colour correction problem has gone away however, as the flash intensity has overpowered the ambient lighting.

Gold reflector left, one LED right
Gold reflector low left, one LED right

Joe than set up his LED lighting with one main light to the right of the subject and a gold reflector to the left of the subject providing infill light to the shadows.  He demonstrated how the reflector can be moved to achieve the desired degree of infill to sculpt the three dimensionality of the subjects’ face. It can also be positioned to lift the shadows below the subjects chin caused by higher lighting positions – although care is needed here to avoid a ghoulish lighting effect (the torch under the chin look).  Joe explained that whilst a gold reflector may be suitable for some settings or skin tones, in other cases a silver or white reflector will be more appropriate.  Sample images shown below.

Silver reflector left, one LED right

Joe also showed us how the reflector can by pulled into curved shapes to add more intensity and directionality into the reflected light, using this technique to better wrap light around the subject.

Silver reflector low left, one LED right

Joe also stressed the need to review the lighting adjustments carefully when building up any set-up. The need to avoid overly intense lighting effects (glare) on skin surface is essential.  Geoff than stepped in as a model, and Joe showed us that the problem with glare off of the skin is far more easily controlled with some models rather than others. A full head of hair is an asset here.

Geoff – with no glare issues

Joe also described how the quality of light on a subject can be controlled by feathering the way light falls onto the model – by gently and gradually moving the subject from a shadow area into the light, rather than an all or nothing approach.

Silver reflector higher left, one LED right

On completion of these simple lighting set-ups Joe moved on to bring in a higher level light on the other side of the subject,( above head height and 45 degrees away from the camera position and 45 degrees elevation), to simulate a high window in a room perhaps.  The point light source resulted in fairly deep and sharp shadows, which Joe softened by using a portable scrim cloth diffuser.  He demonstrated how moving the scrim towards and away from the subject affected the lighting shape and intensity.  Joe adjusted the light output from the multiple light sources and the reflectors to best sculpt the light on the models’ face.

We must once again thank Joe for providing us with a useful and entertaining evening of education on this topic, all delivered with enthusiasm and good humour.  He was able to conjure effective lighting conditions out of some very basic set building, with the ability to adjust the lighting effects in fine detail even before any image had been recorded.

Blog updated 2-11-2022 with additional image and supporting text

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  1. David Ashworth

    I’m sorry that I couldn’t attend as these have been enjoyable events, Joe. But, thank you for the informative write-up David. However, regarding ‘budget’ equipment, the overuse of Vince does show that on occasions you do get what you pay for.

    • Hi David thank you for your kind words. I was lucky this time to have Jeff also stand in as a model but the pictures of him were taken with other cameras, which I hope others will share.
      I also hope that everyone can take away some thing they can use. And could stimulate them to take more pictures..

  2. Brian Connolly

    This was a very insightful evening, showing what a little planning and some very good value equipment can achieve.

    In order to balance out the use of Vince, I was hoping to add one of Geoff, looking suitably moody but it seems we cannot add images to comments. It would be good to be able to do this.

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