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High light, soft light - studio lighting beginners' guide

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Category: Studio Lighting and Flash

High light, soft light - studio lighting beginners' guide - Attaching a flash umbrella to your studio flash light is the first step to better lighting and is one of the basic principals of lighting “The bigger the light the softer it is”. Here we explain one of the basic lighting improvements in our studio lighting beginners' guide series. Words and Pictures Chris Burfoot AMPA ASWPP

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Generally speaking for flattering lighting, light should come from above. Light from below is very un-natural, as you can see! There was a very old camera club rule that nose shadows should go down but should not cut into the lip. I don’t believe in rules for lighting - it depends on what you are trying to achieve. This lighting style would make a great “evil” theatrical portrait!
Hard Light, Soft Light. One of the basic principals of lighting is that “The bigger the light the softer it is”.

You can see from this example that the on-camera flash is a very hard light because it is also very small - about 2x1cm! Our other photographs have so far been taken with a studio flash fitted with a 16cm reflector. This has the immediate effect of making the light softer simply because it is bigger. But if we fire the head into an umbrella we can make our light source bigger still and we can spread the light over a larger area softening it further.

Think about nature. In the desert in Africa the Sun is a tiny point source of light and it therefore gives a very hard high contrast light. We all know that the Sun is immense but because it is 93 million miles away, in relation to us it looks very small. On the other hand if we think about a typical summer in the UK where we have cloud cover from horizon to horizon, the whole dome of the sky becomes our light source. This gives very soft light with hardly any shadows.

Making light softer
So, let’s fit an umbrella onto our light and see what happens. Tip: When using a brolly don’t forget to adjust it so that the modelling light is filling, but is not spilling over the edge of it - don’t waste your light!

flash lighting
Taken with on-camera flash - Red-eye and shadows - yuk!
studio lighting
Light from below is not very flattering!
By adding a silver brolly to our head we have increased the diameter of the light from 16cm to 85cm. We are also now using reflected light rather than direct. The light is softer and more flattering. Note that we have still retained the shading on the left and the background has become darker as there is not so much light falling onto it. Silver brollies retain a reasonable amount of contrast
studio lighting diagram
studio lighting brolley
Using an Umbrella softens the light.

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vlaaitje  7 Netherlands
23 Jul 2007 - 3:57 PM

very interesting as well...I was thinking to buy the starter set..so it is good to read first some info about it. It is a pity that not much members look at these info....its very handy to know !!

Thanks for that

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20 Feb 2008 - 3:09 AM

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amplacem  6 United States
20 Feb 2008 - 3:09 AM

great starter info! Smile

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