How to set up studio lighting: 3 classic setups for dramatically different effects

How to set up studio lighting: 3 classic setups for dramatically different effects

In our latest photography cheat sheet we’ll show you how to set up studio lighting, introducing you to three classic arrangements that photographers have been using for decades. We’ll show you how placing your studio lights in slightly different ways can dramatically change the tone of your images.

How to set up studio lighting: 3 classic solutions

You don’t need a massive pile of sophisticated (and costly!) lighting equipment to get started with creative studio portraiture. A simple two-head home photo studio kit is more than enough.

SEE MORE: Best studio flash kits: 6 models tested and rated

Here we’ve focused on three basic setups which will be more than enough to get you going, but the sky’s the limit even with just two heads.

It’s always a good idea to ‘build’ your lighting. Start with your main light and once that’s in the right position introduce the next light and then position your reflectors.

The height, angle, power and distance of your lights will have a dramatic impact on the shape of your subject’s face, not to mention whether you use a naked flashbulb, a softbox, a snoot or an umbrella.

SEE MORE: 6 simple lighting setups for shooting portraits at home

Nearly all studio kits come with modelling lights and it’s vital that you keep these on so you can see how the light is falling on your subject.

Use your camera’s LCD screen too; sometimes switching to monochromatic preview mode can help you concentrate on shape, tones and shadows falling on the face and pre-visualise the end result.

How to set up studio lighting: 3 classic solutions

How to set up studio lighting: 3 classic setups for dramatically different effects

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How to set up studio lighting: 01 High
In most cases you’ll want to have your main light positioned above the model. Notice how the shadow from the nose falls down the face, elongating the features. Ideally you want the shadow of the nose to point towards the end of the lips. The triangle of light on the cheek on the shadow side is often referred to as ‘Rembrandt’ lighting; get your model to move their head slightly to achieve this.

How to set up studio lighting: 02 Eye level
With the flashlight to the side and at the same height as the model the light falls across the face, causing a shadow that widens the facial features. If this light is balanced with one of equal strength on the other side it can be quite effective, but as a sculpting technique height would be better. Keep your flashlight’s modelling lights switched on so you can see how the shadows will lie.

SEE MORE: Studio lighting – 4 seriously simple lighting techniques to try at home

How to set up studio lighting: 03 Low
There are unlikely to be too many situations when a low light is going to work well as your primary light source. It gives a spooky look, so Halloween is probably the only time you’re even going to think about using this technique. As you can see from our example, underlighting is not very flattering even on a young model. With underlighting the nose shadow is clumpy and any bags under the eyes will be amplified.


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