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Fashion photographer Lindsay Adler has just released the ultimate creative studio lighting guide in an e-book format, which also features a free 28-page downloadable preview.
Photographs © Lindsay Adler, from her book, Creative Studio Lighting: A Professional Guide to 30 Studio Setups for Creative Photography
A follow-up to her wildly popular Studio Lighting Guide, which introduced photographers to the basics of studio lighting, Creative Studio Lighting: A Professional Guide to 30 Studio Setups for Creative Photography opens up an entirely new world of exploring light. Whether you are seeking high key, low key, dramatic, or glowing effects with gels, grids, and unusual modifiers, you’ll find a wide range of styles to fit your mood and add life to your lighting.
We recently caught up with Adler for a behind-the-scenes Q&A about the creative lighting techniques she shares in this volume. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of guides on studio lighting on the market, but none give you this range of creative looks, with the detailed information needed to recreate them. From beginner to advanced lighting, this guide offers solutions that will work whether you have two, three, or four strobes at your disposal.
Your new e-book is dedicated to creative lighting in a studio setting. Please talk about your process when conceptualizing a new studio setup. How do you decide what tools to use and how to apply and/or mix them?
|Variations on portrait lighting using two Profoto D1 Air 500 W/s Monolights. At left, Adler used a Profoto 5-degree Honeycomb Grid in front and a Profoto 3 x 4' Softbox behind for a high-key, wraparound effect. At right, she achieved a crisp shadow effect by lighting with a Profoto 10-degree Honeycomb Grid in front and a Profoto Softlight Kit (with Beauty Dish and Grid) at left.|
Whenever I approach lighting a shot, I always ask myself, “What is the main purpose of this image? What am I trying to say?” Once I can determine my visual message, this allows me to start brainstorming different creative approaches to get my message across.
Is this shot meant to be light, dreamy and ethereal, or dark, dramatic, and mysterious? Should it have a subtle and quiet feeling, or something much more harsh and dramatic? In each shot, everything should work together to communicate that goal, including the posing, the styling, the expression and, of course, the lighting!
After I decide on the mood and purpose of the image, I can begin to narrow down my choices of modifier, the direction of light, and then begin to experiment with unusual solutions.
|At left, Adler used 4 Profoto D1 Air 500 W/s Monolights with assorted accessories to evoke the glamour of Hollywood stage lighting while, at right, she achieved a more austere look using one light and a Profoto Telezoom Reflector.|
If I want a dark and dramatic image with harsh lighting, maybe I’ll try a zoom reflector or a spot projector as a modifier. Or perhaps I’ll use a more traditional modifier, but at a short-light position to give me greater shadows and drama. All of these decisions stem from my original purpose for the image—what is the mood, where do I want my eye to go, what should the viewer feel or see within this image?
Once I’ve got a shot or setup I am comfortable with, I often push myself to try something new. I try a new modifier, add a gel, or push the light to an extreme angle. This is how I keep innovating. First I go safe, and then I go crazy!
What do you find to be the biggest roadblock for a novice looking to achieve creative lighting in a studio environment? Is there one basic approach you can recommend to help jumpstart the creative process?
Many novice photographers walk into the studio and just test out lighting with no goals or ideas of what they’d like to accomplish. Experimentation is great, but having some sort of idea where you are headed or what you are trying to achieve helps to give you focus and narrow the possibilities.
A photographer should definitely first begin by learning their lighting tools inside and out. Understand what each modifier does, the differences that relative placement of lighting tools makes to the resulting illumination, and other essentials of studio lighting.
Once I mastered the essentials of studio lighting, I really began to experiment by studying the work of other photographers. I would find images with creative lighting, and then challenge myself to recreate these effects. This would push my understanding of lighting, so that even my mistakes became valuable lessons.
I encourage photographers just beginning to experiment with creativity to figure out an end goal for the image. What is the purpose or mood of the image, or perhaps, what is the studio lighting setup they are trying to emulate? Work toward this, problem-solve, and learn!
Do you have any thoughts about using too many lights or lighting effects in a setup? What, if any, recommendations do you have for avoiding this kind of issue?
|For this setup, sunglasses emphasize the catchlights in the model’s eyes. The equipment list at left and lighting diagram below provide additional details. For a full look behind the scenes, download a free preview of Adler’s e-book.|
Photographers often love gear, and are under the impression that more lights and more gear is better. As with so many things in light, less can be more. Some of my favorite lighting setups are achieved with two lights that have been carefully placed.
If a photographer invests in a studio lighting kit before understanding how to use it, he or she should know that there is so much that can be achieved with a single studio strobe. A second strobe opens up further possibilities, especially when trying to create separation between the subject and the background. A third light allows you more flexibility for trying new creative approaches or stylized looks.
Is an image achieved with 10 strobes any better than an image achieved with just 1 strobe? Absolutely not! It all depends on how the visual message of the image is communicated, and if this is done well.
The setup information that accompanies the lighting diagrams in your e-book includes very specific distance notations. Do you record the relative distances for your studio lighting setups in general? Can you briefly explain how the relative distance of various lights and accessories affect an image?
I’ve been shooting with studio lighting for more than 15 years now, so I often do not record the relative distances of light in my day-to-day shoots, because the light has become so ingrained in my mind. The relative distances of lighting tools make a substantial difference in the quality of light on your subject!
As a rule of lighting, the larger the light source [is,] relative to your subject, the softer the light. In other words, a big light source close to your subject is going to give you very soft results. As you move a light source farther from your subject, the harsher the light becomes. I offer many tutorials on this topic on my Website learn.lindsayadlerphotography.com.
The reason you care? In the studio, where you place your modifier in relation to your subject will make a large difference in the end result. The quality of light completely changes depending on distance. A beauty dish, for example, drastically varies in its quality of light based on how close/far it is from the subject, and you must be extremely mindful of these distances. This is why I found it essential to include these distances in the guide.
In addition to featuring images of your final setups, your e-book includes a wide variety of behind-the-scenes images, shedding light on your working methods. Would you recommend that other photographers capture behind-the-scenes images of their studio setups? Are there any parameters you’d recommend that they follow for doing this?
|These behind-the-scenes images provide valuable context for the lighting setup of Adler’s Hollywood stage lighting image, featured above.|
When you discover a lighting result you really like in the studio, it certainly doesn’t hurt to capture behind-the-scenes images. If you love that setup and you are still getting familiar with your lights, you’ll definitely want some behind-the-scenes shots to help you recreate the look. You’ll want some shots that show you the modifiers used on each light, the relative distances of the lights (perhaps a slightly overhead shot), and you’ll also want to write down the power of the light. This is where a light meter comes in handy to help you get precise.
In the world of commercial photography, when I shoot a particular look for a client I often shoot behind the scenes for two reasons. First of all, behind-the-scenes can be an important tool for marketing on social media to share a sneak peek into my creative process. Second, for commercial clients I may need to exactly recreate a lighting setup for consistency in a campaign or on a website.
One example in your e-book, the Golden Goddess 3-Point Light, involves post-production work to achieve a very unique look. You provide a free download to the preset used for this on your Website. How often do you employ presets in your images? Please describe your process for perfecting the look with this post-production technique.
|Before-and-after views illustrate the effects achieved through post-production adjustments made to Adler’s RAW file. Learn more by purchasing the full version of her Creative Lighting guide, which contains a link to download Adler’s free “Golden Goddess” preset.|
Post-processing is an important part of my creativity. I don’t think of Photoshop or Lightroom as ways to “save an image,” but instead as other outlets to get creative with my photography.
When I’m shooting in the studio I often shoot tethered so that my images show up in Lightroom as I’m shooting. This way I am able to make tweaks to the color, contrast, and other elements that affect the look of the image. I shoot tethered with Tether Tools TetherPro cable into Adobe Creative Cloud using Lightroom.
In my Golden Goddess Image, I warm up the white balance in my RAW file to get the golden effect. This gives the skin a more golden, warm look. I then increase both the contrast and clarity to help give the image that extra “pop” to look more metallic on the oiled skin.
By using a preset, the images load into Lightroom with the end creative effect applied. At that point, I can see if I need to make changes to my lighting or adjust anything to achieve my desired end result.
Learn more about lighting from Lindsay Adler in her new e-book. Download five free studio lighting setups or purchase the full guide today!