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Studio Lighting Basics and more

Studio Lighting Basics
When lighting a portrait or beauty subject think of the dark side of the moon. The sun lights up the bright side and a shadow is cast on the dark side. More reflector = less shadows. Lights cast shadows. If you want to reduce shadows on the dark side you add light on the shadow side. To brighten up the shadow side you need a 2nd light source, either a 2nd light OR a reflector to bounce light from the main light (sometimes called Key light), to brighten up the dark side.

Photo by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York. This shot was made during the October 19th DPA LiHD Lighting Webinar with Live Demos. Model: Becca Goebel. See lighting diagram below.
Photo is lightly processed with NIK Viveza 2 Software to bring out the details. lighting6

Lighting Diagram from Live Webinar Demo. The main light is a 60 inch Octobank at 7 feet height (center of light), model is seated. A reflector on the models left bounces light from the main light back to the model. The 2nd light, a 20 inch Octobank tilted slightly down, provides some direct light on the model and bounces additional light into the reflector back to the model for a more diffuse look. A 3rd light head is aimed at the background to light the muslin background cloth. This light has a GRID on it to narrow and focus the beam to a spot behind the models head. Camera Info: Panasonic GH2 on a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod with 322RC2 pistol grip head.

Focal Length and Lens X Factor: Using a slightly longer lens is more flattering. Many camera systems have an X Factor, a result of the particular optics combined with a specific digital sensor. Using a slightly longer lens than normal (longer than 50mm on a full frame sensor body) will produce more pleasing features in a portrait subject. First you determine which sensor size your camera has. Panasonic camera have an X Factor of X2, Nikon and Canon cameras (except full frame bodies) have factors of X1.5 and X1.6 respectively. Then determine what is the normal focal length lens for your camera body (32mm – 35mm for Canon or Nikon and 25mm for Panasonic or Olympus cameras. This determines which focal length to shoot with to reduce wide-angle distortion and affect telephoto distortion – good distortion that narrows faces and creates out of focus backgrounds. IE: If you have a Panasonic G1 Camera with the small Micro 4/3 sensor and an X Factor of 2 your normal lens is actually a 25mm lens, thus a more flattering lens would be a focal length of 35 or 50 which would translate to an 70mm or 100mm lens once you apply the X Factor, both focal lengths useful for portraiture.

Height of lens and camera relative to subject: Level or slightly above (6 inches). To shoot portrait shots, beauty photos you ideally want to shoot from a camera position either level with or slightly higher than your subject. If you are lower than your subject you get the up-the-nose, large jowl and chin look which is not particularly flattering for anyone.

Size of light relative to subject: The larger the light softer the light. Soft shadow rule, size (diameter) of light = to distance between light and subject. To produce soft shadows the diameter of the light should be equal to the distance of the light to the subject. IE: If the light is a 60 inch Octobank and the distance from light to subject is 60 inch you will have soft shadows in the photo.

The Diagram above provided by DPA instructor Milton Heiberg, Orlando illustrates the soft shadow rule.

Flash VS Model light: Flash is better for shooting people, easier to stop action and the lights don’t get hot thus models don’t wilt. However flash lighting is more difficult to learn and control primarily because the light you see, the modeling lights in the flash system, are not the same lights that actually expose the photo. Hot lights are easier to see and manipulate the effects, but are actually very hot, and they can trip breakers or fuses as they draw a lot of power, especially if you have more than one unit.

Adding More Power: There is a common misconception when people start using lights, flash or Tungsten Hot Lights. They think that by adding a 2nd light they will be able to increase the exposure by a number of f stops (exposure values). Adding a 2nd light increases the light by only 1 stop exactly. Pay attention to the shadows and direction of light. If you see 2+ shadows there were 2+ lights used to light the subject.

White balance: When shooting with flash switch your white balance (color balance) setting to Flash or Daylight for consistent WB, Do NOT use AWB. As you reposition the camera, or zoom in or out your AWB will change the white balance depending on how much of the subject VS the background is in the photo. To keep a consistent WB in all the photos from a session switch to the Flash or Daylight WB settings. Using Color Calibration tools such as The Spyder Cube or Color Checkr with streamline the inevitable color management process once you begin post processing. These Datacolor tools cut down on workflow time and effort significantly.

Photo by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York shows the Spyder Cube in action and a detail.

Spyder Checkr is a new Datacolor product for calibrating specific camera and lens combinations to speed up workflow and standardize colr balance and calibration.

Becca is holding both the new Spyder Checkr color calibration target and the Spyder Cube fixed atop a Manfrotto table top tripod. The Cube will also mount on a post hidden inside the Checkr and the whole unit can then rest on a tripod.

Shooting Flash Shutter Sync Speed: 1/125 – 1/250 sec: Each camera has a specific sync speed which syncs the camera shutter with flash. The faster the shutter speed the less chance of affecting the exposure by ambient light, or stray window light. However if you wish to add ambient light you must reduce the shutter speed to allow the ambient light to bleed into the photo, thus affecting the amount of blur and the white balance. Typically more ambient light will add warmth to a photo. To achieve the ambient Light mixed with Flash effect, slow the shutter speed to 1/30 sec or less.

Tripods: Utilizing a tripod such as Manfrotto in studio shooting is a very helpful tool. In a portrait or beauty lighting situation you are more interested and concerned in consistent framing VS camera stability. By using fast shutter speeds of 1/125+ and flash lighting which freezes motion there is very little danger of camera, subject motion or blur but a consistent framing of the subject keeps things running smoother during a shoot.

Webinar Submission Specs:
All DPA students can submit photographs for inclusion in the Digital Photo Academy, LiHD Webinar, and Online Photo Class Series. If you would like to submit your photographs for an upcoming webinar, read the following. Each webinar has a specific theme or topic. You can see the date and topic of the next webinar at, Tip of the Day, Online Photo Class. Note that webinars are edited and formatted days in advance, thus please submit your photos at least a week in advance of the webinar, late submissions can not be added. Photographs are chosen, and edited, for their applicability to the webinar theme, artistic and technical merit, and content length. If your photograph is NOT chosen, it will be archived and may appear in a more appropriate future webinar.

Submit your photographs to:

By submitting your photographs for consideration, you grant and authorize, The Digital Photo Academy, and Panasonic, the following rights: The right to use your photographs in the content and promotion of the webinar series, and for use on each company’s respective website. You further authorize your photographs may be archived online and/or in a database, and allow unrestricted internet availability of any webinars containing your photographs. You further authorize the use of your photographs in any future webinars. By voluntarily submitting your photographs for consideration you agree to the aforementioned without any legal claims, or claims for remuneration, whatsoever. You, as the photographer, retain the copyright © of any submitted photographs. The aforementioned companies will make best possible efforts to apply proper photo credit and acknowledgement with your photograph whenever possible and practical.


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