Studio @ Home – Easy Lighting

Photography Studio @ HomeOnce we have explored location and a few basic backdrops options we are going to hit lighting. The backdrop assignment will be up next. However, I thought it would not be fair to do the first assignment without even a little bit of home lighting discussion.

After all, light is the substance from which your photograph is made of.

There are several lighting options if you are building up your home studio: Tungsten, Halogen, Florescent, small speedlites and the big canons – studio flashes. Each with its vices and merits. I will dedicate a full post to explore the several options. But just to get things started, I wanted to discuss the most available light of all: Available Light.

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Where Can I Find It?

Well, as the name implies, available light is the light that you have available at the time of the shoot, with no added “artificial lights. That rules out Strobes, Tungsten and other strobist man made lights. The good ol’ sun will provide all the light we need.

Therefore, the question should be revised. It is not “Where” but “When”. You can make beautiful images with available light, the thing is that you can only make them when the sun is up and smiling. That completely rules out night time and for some scenarios, also rules out cloudy/rainy days.

As for where – We will discuss your living room / kitchen or wherever your studio is and your porch / back yard.

Harsh Is The Sun

Here are the two facts that any photographer learns about the sun after about ten clicks of exposure: It is bright and it is “harsh” (or hard). 

Yes the sun is bright, sadly not always bright enough. Remember – it is a home studio we are talking about. What can we do? It depends. For some subjects we can crank up the ISO. Both on the D70 and on the D300 I can go up to ISO 400 and still get a pretty noiseless image. This is a good option when shooting images that don’t have to be super sharp.

Another option (and this also depends on our subject) is to open up the aperture. This will trade of with the Depth of Field (DOF) we want to have in the picture. Usually bigger DOF is needed for product shots, where we want to our product to be sharp end to end.

The last option is to use reflectors: A foamboard will do wonders in term of reflecting any available light back to your subject.  Another option is to use V-cards. Those are cheap and easy to make. 

The other aspect of the sun is the harshness of the light it casts. Wait a minute the sun is huge, and I know that big objects produce soft light, not harsh. Well, almost. Yes, the sun is big, but it is also very far. And harshness of light is influenced by the relations between the apparent size of the light source and the subject. Since the sun is so far away, its apparent size is very small, and this is why the sun produces harsh light.

Fortunately for us, the sun’s light is bright enough to be strong event when it is reflected into shady areas.

The Light In The Shade

tumsWhen we explored small backgrounds & backdrops for product photography, I mentioned that one of the easiest ways to take a product shot is to shoot it in a shady location with a piece of Bristol or paper behind it.

Let’s examine this for a sec. How would you define the light quality in the shade? 

Soft. 

This is because there is no direct light that’s hitting your subject. The light is reflected from all directions, mimicking a huge all wrapping light source. 

Is this light soft? Yes. Is it interesting? This is point that can be improved. The light is less interesting because it has no distinct direction. In future posts I will discuss how to add direction to available light. For now this all wrapping light can provide some great product shots.

The image on the left is one of my first experiments with this setup.
Way before I had any strobes. I can do better today :) However, see how
there are no hot spots and the plate gets nice squares of light.

Window Light

Ghetto Flower SetupNext on our list of available light sources, is the window light. As the name implies, window light, is the light coming from a window. This light is perfect for shooting both people and still life. 

Now, I am not talking about direct sunlight, where the rays of light are hitting your subject. This is more about soft light that is coming from a window that has no direct sunlight coming through.

The bigger the window the better. Big windows will allow more light to come in, allowing you greater freedom in choosing your ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

Big windows also act as softboxes, providing soft light.

Lastly, a big window provides directional light, which can help create some more dramatic lighting. Sandra Freeman image on the left is a great example.

What happens if direct sunlight is hitting your window? This is great. You have  very strong and very big light source. All you need to do to unleash its power is to cover it with some sketching paper. The paper will diffuse the light and TADA! A mother nature monster lightbox.

With Available light at your hand, you are ready for Studio @ Home first assignment. Stay tuned.

Further Reading: