Studio Lighting Deconstructed: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

Studio Lighting Deconstructed: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace


Hi everybody welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on AdoramaTV brought to you by Adorama. It’s the most awesome camera store in the world check them out at Adorama.com Well we are joined in this episode once again by the amazing Nikki Nikki you might remember her from our cinematic portraits where you are all weepy and awesome. If you haven’t seen that check it out it was a lot of fun. Well in this episode we’re going to be answering some questions that have come through email to me and comments on YouTube about studio lighting, specifically can I do some deconstruction? Can I show you each light? What it’s doing and why it’s there? So that’s exactly what we’re going to do in this episode. We’re going to deconstruct studio lighting. I’m not going to do anything really fancy but we’re going to show you the formulas that can work for every single studio lighting setup. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, if you’re using 50 lights or one light this stuff works every single time. So Nikki we’re going to have you go back here and be next to your stool here you’ll notice that I have four studio lights set up, right here. The reason I have four studio lights is these are the same lights that you’ll see in every lighting setup, every single time. You might not see all of them every single time, but you’ll at least see one or more of these in every single lighting setup. Sometimes you’ll see multiples of these, but to understand all of this stuff we are going to fly a drone over Nikki and show you these lights and then I’m going to walk you through it one light at a time. In this lighting setup we have a key light, fill light, hair light and background light. These four lights represent the four basic categories of lights used in almost every studio lighting setup. Let’s take a look at each of these beginning with the key light. Some people call the key light the main light. The key light is the cornerstone of every lighting setup in most situations there is only one key light. Metering begins with the key light and all other lights are positioned and metered in relation to the key. In our lighting setup the key is doing most of the work, we have nice soft light illuminating most of Nikki’s face. The fill light helps fill in the shadows on our subject. Sometimes you’ll use it to eliminate all of the shadows but most of the time it’s just used to gently fill the darker areas. Normally it has a power level that’s lower than the key light you may have several fill lights in the lighting setup and it’s also common to use reflectors to provide fill light. You can see how our fill light just adds a touch of light to Nikki so there’s some detail in her hair and under her chin. The hair light provides a highlight to your subjects hair. This light also has two other names. When you have a dark subject on a dark background like I did in my recent Beauty lighting episode, the highlights from this light help us separate the subject from the background and so you call this light a separation light. Some people also call this light a kicker light. This is usually the case if you’re adding highlights to something that’s not hair, like fenders on a car or sleeves on a jacket. The hair light is usually metered the same or just a bit brighter than the key light. You might have one or more hair lights the background light is used to add light to the background and it’s not uncommon to have several background lights, especially if you have a large background. The background light is usually metered equal to or less powerful then the key light. You can see that our background light just gives a subtle highlight to the background, while letting the edges go dark. Some of the light from the key and fill is going to be falling on our background, so our final image will have a background that’s a bit brighter than this. Alright that was really cool. Thank You Nikki for letting me fly a drone over your head. There’s another thing we really need to understand, when we’re doing studio lighting setups and that is how do we repeat the same setup over and over? Now if you don’t know about light ratios, make sure you watch my video about light ratios, so we’re going to talk a little bit more about that right now. Remember when you’re metering for light ratios, we’re looking at the key light and metering that and then metering all the other lights in relationship to that key light and so what we don’t want to do is write down all of the exact metered values. So let’s say our key light meter is at f/8 and our kicker light meters at f10 or whatever you wouldn’t write that down in a notebook and a diagram saying the exact values. What you want to do is write down the relationships between those lights and to do that it’s very, very simple, let me show you how to do that right now. This is a diagram of our four light setup, now you can use anything to create a lighting diagram, a simple notebook and a pen are just fine. It’s a good idea to label your lights and you might want to add some notes about the modifiers you’ve used. Some people write down the exact metered values for each light but I prefer to record the relative values instead. In this setup our relative values would look like this. These numbers show us the exposure value differences between the key light in all of our other lights. The key light is always zero because there is no difference between the key and itself. In this example the fill light meters one stop lower than the key. The hair light is one-third stop brighter and the background is one and a third stop lower. Now we can eliminate our metered values and create a chart that looks like this. Once we know the relative values, it’s easy to make changes if we need to, for instance if our key light metered at f/5.6 we could use our light meter to quickly determine the values for the rest of the lights and you don’t have to memorize all these f-stop numbers. Most light meters have a calculator for metering exposure differences otherwise known as light ratios and I’ve included a link in the description of this video for my tutorial on metering for light ratios and once you know this technique, it’s just as easy to meter for f/5.6 as it is for f/11 or any other number. Using these techniques you can create your own studio lighting setups and you can create a notebook where you have diagrams and showing the relationships between all of the different lights and that will mean that your stuff works no matter what gear you’re using or where you are. The relationships can stay the same even though the key light might meter differently. Now way back in the day about ten years ago I created one of my classic digital photography one-on-one videos about all of the different lighting setups that I use using this system, so make sure you check out that video. There’s a bunch of different setups that you can try in your studio. I’ve created a link to that video in the description of this video Thank you Nicki Nicki for being an awesome model in this video and holding very still as I took all those different pictures of all the different lights, it was really awesome of you to do that. Make sure you check out Nicki stuff on Instagram, here’s her Instagram right here you can check that out and I’m included links to her Facebook and YouTube and all that good stuff in the description of this video, make sure you check that out as well. Thanks again for joining us we will see you again next time.


45 thoughts on “Studio Lighting Deconstructed: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

  1. Mark, I have enjoyed these KiKi portrait videos. Very nice. She is a very good singer and enjoy her videos on YouTube. Thank You for your introduction of her to us. I will mention that I had one point that begs mentioning on the tears video. I wish that those tears looked more realistic and less like make-up. But that did not lessen the value of the video. Keep up your nice work over the years. What happened to your Phoenix operation? Are you now a permanent Nomad Photographer. Where was this video created. Thailand??
    Thanks again.

  2. Great video as always. Probably the simplest and best demonstration I've watched on this topic. How small a room can you use to set this up?

  3. Mark, fantastic as always. Can you make a video on the best height of the camera for various portraits in relation to the subject, IE, head, body, bust, or multiple subjects, ect..

  4. Hello!! I'm inspired by ur videos i want to become fashion photographer if u agree my suggestion I wanted to work with you AND AM RAVI FROM INDIA……

  5. When I saw your thumbnail I thought you had color-graded Niki, but since you are your regular color she looks golden. I've never seen a golden person before; is that makeup or is she really that color? Looks interesting!

  6. Great video. Especially like the top view drawings and the drone part. Great way to explain how to place and set up lights.

  7. If you are in a room with fluorescent office lights just above your model, do you turn the fluorescent lights off or do you kill them with increasing shutter speed or f-stop on your camera so they don’t affect the ambient light and the colour of your pictures? It is just that my grey background was not grey….like it should have been…and I did not know if I should have turned them off (my camera was on auto white balance by the way…)

  8. Goodness me. This is just brilliant Mr Wallace! This just explains and teaches me just what I need for studio lighting. Thank you.

  9. That's very interesting as I would normally assume that a hair light or rim/separation light would be exposed lower than the key light. I recently done some school photos and found that I had to lower the power of my hair/rim/separation light just over a full stop down from what the key light was measuring because it was too overpowering. I had my key light metered at f2.8 in a softbox, the other light behind and to camera left was eventually metered at f1.8 which was a standard reflector with a 50 degree grid. When the second light was also metered at f2.8 it was causing some really high key or over exposed areas

  10. Nice work Mark , strategically positioned stain to show how easy it is for people to get hung up on a small detail 😎

  11. The good thing (there are several) about Mark is that he is NOT a pretentious "Artist".! ….. He knows what works for him, and he explains the process well. Everybody should try other things as well, but at least you know "his way" will work to some kind of reasonable effect.
    On a side note……WHY do models wear So Much F'ing Makeup..!!???

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