Studio Lighting For Natural Light Photographers | Getting To Grips With Strobes And Softboxes | Paul Wilkinson | Skillshare

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Studio Lighting For Natural Light Photographers | Getting To Grips With Strobes And Softboxes

teacher avatar Paul Wilkinson, Portrait Photographer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (18m)
    • 1. Why studio lighting feels intimidating (when it doesn't need to be!)

    • 2. How windowlight helps you understand studio strobe lighting

    • 3. Part I | Demonstration of lighting patterns with window light

    • 4. Part II | Set up your lights and camera

    • 5. Studio Lighting Shot 1 | Rembrandt Lighting

    • 6. Studio Lighting Shot 2 | Rim Lighting

    • 7. Studio Lighting Shot 3 | Split Lighting

    • 8. The Benefits of Studio Lighting

    • 9. Your Project (...and Outtakes)

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About This Class

If you've ever felt intimidated by studio lighting, then you're not alone! For a long time, I struggled to understand all the numbers, formulae and technical detail that seemed to be a necessary requirement for getting started with studio strobes, especially as I just wanted to get back to creating beautiful portraits!

I finally had a breakthrough, and realised that my knowledge of photographing people using windowlight was all I needed to get started.

If you're reasonably confident with natural light photography, this tutorial will give you the confidence and skills to invest in, set-up and use your first studio light, including three very different lighting patterns you can create with just a single flash in a soft box.

This class covers:

  • Why I found studio lighting so confusing to start with (and the huge breakthrough that changed everything for me, bringing the fun and creativity back to my portrait photography)
  • The simple studio set-up I use everyday (and why the shape of your lighting modifier matters)
  • How to create a stunning studio-lit portrait using a Rembrandt lighting pattern
  • How to capture a beautiful studio-lit portrait using a Mask lighting pattern
  • How to photograph a dramatic studio-lit portrait using a Split lighting pattern
  • The three benefits of studio strobe lighting over natural window light, and why it's proved essential for my photography business

For each portrait you’ll see my images straight-out-of-the-camera with exposure settings and the final edit, too. We'll finish off with some words of encouragement before it's over to you to put your new skills into practice!

Enjoy - and don't miss the outtakes at the very end! :-)

Paul and the team

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Paul Wilkinson

Portrait Photographer


Paul is one of the UK's most sought-after portrait and wedding photographers - not just for his eye for an image but for the manner in which they are created (mostly laughing, always relaxed!)

His images have adorned numerous publications from the BBC to the Times and have won countless awards as well as giving him the accolade of Fellowship of the Master Photographers Association.

He and his team are based near Oxford in the UK though often you'll find him clutching his passport and his cameras as he creates images for people across the globe!

This class is brought to you by the Mastering Portrait Photography team!

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1. Why studio lighting feels intimidating (when it doesn't need to be!): The problem with buying studio strobes very often is you're left with a manual that's got numbers in it. You're left with some kids that you've never had to drive before. On everywhere you turn, people talk to you in terms of F stops and ice owes and sink speeds and settings that are just beyond the creative. When all I really wanted to do was create beautiful pictures, lighter face really well. So I bought a strobe. I bought a soft box and it took me forever to get my head round it, and most of the blockage I had was I could not find a way of it being creative and enjoyable. It was all too mechanical. Every video it talked about Evie's and F stops. It had light meters on instruction manuals, and yet none of that. None of that led me to being a to create beautiful pictures. In the end, I had to resort to what I knew best, which was using window light. I was like most photographers started out with no kit, a tool, and so what? I built up with a skill set that was based entirely around using available light and in this video. I'm going to try and show you have thinking that way. Actually, it makes the whole process of learning studio like, ah, lot more enjoyable, a lot more creative. And in the end, in the end, creates far more beautiful pictures. Then the numbers could ever, ever allow. I'm Paul Wilkinson. And this this is mastering portrait photography. 2. How windowlight helps you understand studio strobe lighting: the best way to approach learning studio lighting is to think of it in terms of something simple, something familiar and something tangible in this case, window lighting. So when I set out like most photographers, I owned a camera on. I took pictures of people for fun, and eventually people asked me to do it more and more. And I sleep gently into becoming a professional photographer, much like I think, most photographers. And then one day I decided it would be really useful if I had studio lighting. So I went out and I bought myself one strope, one soft box on one lighting stand, and I brought it all home on. I picked an instruction manual on I realized while I was useless, I could not get my head round. How to take this Elektronik bit of kit and create natural looking photographs. So I looked on line. I went to you. Tube went on, very seminars ride. See people doing this and they all spoke of it in terms off numbers. It was always f stop this and one over 200 that, and I So this and they do is light meters, and it was all very mechanical because, of course it easier. There are settings you have to know. And I couldn't find a way of making that process creative. I didn't enjoy it. I wasn't creating pictures. I loved us, creating pictures that were average. They just didn't feel right In the end. For May, I had to go back to what I knew best, which is how to light faces using available light. Because if I could picture it that way, if I could picture how would I like this face if I was sat in front of a window? How'd I like this face If I was out on the street, how would I like this face if I had just a portion of a door open letting daylight in and in fact, that that is the most powerful way of learning studio light because it helps you unlock stuff you already know we're not learning something new except for how to turn the power up and down on a light. Everything else is almost certainly already in your skill set, and one side work that out. Once I'd unlocked that tiny little bit of detail. Everything else just flowed from it and you can see the same quality of lighting now in my studio work as you can in my available light work. They're one and the same. I'm looking for the way the light lands on the face, the way it flicks off the skin, the way it shapes the face and, most important of all, the way it puts a spark into someone's eyes. All of this has stemmed from one thing, and that's my understanding of light coming in a window and where to place someone in it. And in this video, we're going to explore precisely that I'm gonna show you how to take the ideas of window like very simple ideas and apply them to using studio strobes very simply using your cameras, your light meter. There'll be no numbers. We're just gonna take some photographs. I'll show you how the light works will show you what to look for on the back of your camera so that you, too, can get the very best out of studio light and make it look more natural than natural. It's easy, it's simple, it's straightforward, but oh, boy is a heck of a lot of fun. 3. Part I | Demonstration of lighting patterns with window light: So before we start with studio strobes, why don't we just work through some of the different lighting patterns you can get out of a single window? We're gonna do that sitting here in our studio. Why am I doing it here in the studio on Why am I sitting down? Is because our studio windows away too low. Some haven't offset everything to get the best possible light. But we're gonna show you out of light Isaac's face back here. We're gonna get some beautiful pictures and I'm gonna translate that information into setting up Stroh's putting them on stands on taking very beautiful pictures. The first lighting pattern. I've brought eyes ak a long way along the window, almost beyond the window. So he's the near side of the window to may have asked him to look out of the window on that lighting, then is hitting his face perpendicular. So if I turned his face to the side and likes coming this way, have lit the mask of his face is called mass lighting. It's a simple trick with a dark background. So the difference between the lighting striking Isaacs face on our background is quite pronounced and have a lovely tones because I just got really beautiful dark skin. But there's a great own in the background. So all of these tones layering up, and that's what happens when you point someone, so they're looking straight into the light. Then what I'm doing is I'm moving quietly backwards, and as that happens, you'll notice that the light starts to wrap around the face slightly more. So if he looks at me directly, you'll see that it's just tiny matter, like striking the far side of his face. The right hand side of his face is, you see it on camera. You might see a little bit of light there, and as they push him further and further back, that light starts to get stronger. Because, of course, the position of Isaac's face that way and the windows getting closer and closer. The light now and the angle of the light is changing. And what I'm looking for the whole time is for the light to flatter his features toe light , his skin and, of course, at the right points to get cats lights into the eyes. You can't do that all of the time, but you should strive to. Now these windows are too low. So we're sit doing all this sitting down, which is a little bit more complicated. And if I was working its let's say, stately home where I've got 20 foot windows. But the principles are identical. All I'm looking for is as I move Isaac along the window and changes height ever so slightly . The way the light comes in the angle and it's striking him creates very different looks ranging all the way from a mask light all the way to a split light when he's looking at the camera and only half his face is lit all the way to the back where you've got either Rembrandt lighting or the very least of really beautiful 3/4 light. All of these are very effective lighting patterns, and they will all create beautiful pictures. So going to use all of these ideas were gonna parable strobe and translate what we've just done using window light into a very similar effect. But this time, using Elektronik lights 4. Part II | Set up your lights and camera: So in terms of the settings on the back of the strope, I've just got this set to six. Now. This particular Strobel go from 2 to 10 there in evey stop. So they're like doubles each stop. Every one of these is different. You'll know your own settings for your own strobes. Don't worry too much about it. Set it somewhere where you feel comfortable. If you want to have a nice, shallow depths of field, then you can open the aptitude and use low power on here. If you like a really deep depth of field, you can turn the power upon here and have your aperture turned down. It doesn't matter. Don't worry about it. Just know that that power setting is simply the amount of light that is gonna come out of the strobe when you fire it. And you just learn this stuff by trial and error. So I know if I put this soft box quite close to Isaac's face and I'm shooting with six on here, then it's gonna be around about F eight on my camera. But again, stress and stress and stress don't worry about it. This is not a numbers game. What we're going to do is take a picture. We're gonna look at the history, Graham, and they were going to figure out what your aperture what you're I So what your power should be and I've set the camera to the flash sync speed. You have to look that up in your camera manual because they're all slightly different on All it means is that speed at which the fastest possible speed at which the shutter can be opened and the flash will fire while both shutter plains of fully open. Now that's for mechanical shutters. But even mirror less cameras still have a sink speeds. To look that up in the manual on this camera is 250th of a second on. It would be different for all of them. Cheaper camera. You might find it 160th of a second midrange at 200. But these units to 50 again. Don't worry about it. It is what it is. So once you've got your shutter speed set, you don't change it. So what can I change to make the picture brighter or darker? Well, obviously, I can turn the power up and down on the stroke. That's one I can change the ice. Oh, that's too. I can change the aperture. That's three. They're the only three things that change the brightness. You don't adjust your shutter speed, which causes photographers photographing daylight. We do instinctively remove the shutter speed up and down all of the time. In the studio context, it's the last thing that you change. So here, tuned and 52 seconds on the started, let's say F eight I so 100 that set it six would take a picture. We look at the history am and then I'll figure it out from there. Okay, so what I'm looking at is the shape of the system here, and I'm looking at the tones on the image, so you jump between a full screen view. So I'm looking at the way the light is creating that beautiful mask on Isaac's face. Beautiful. Pretty much Rembrandt lighting without contained triangle on his right hand. Because you see it then I'm looking at the history Graham, and you can see all of the tones of bunch down to the left but photographing someone with very dark skin. I haven't tried to get light onto the wall. So there is still a tail up there, that long tail of like those are all of the tones that run that back wall. So what? I could do you house a little bit dark. Maybe it's just a little bit dark, but that is what I quite like this darkness. But if I wanted to brighten it a lot is look at the aperture and open up and I'm just not stood up a little bit, just a little bit brighter. And I know for looking history and I got tones all the way from Black Away. G asked. Under the right, That's pretty much perfect. 5. Studio Lighting Shot 1 | Rembrandt Lighting: So in this first shot, we could Isaac, who looks amazing, and I have got what I consider to be the basics off your studio requirements, which is a soft box on a stroke. Why have I got a square or rectangle? Soft box is because that is the closest thing I confined to. What looks like a window is broadly speaking the same size window. It's definitely the same shape as a window. So if I move this round of control it, then I can get the same effect as I had with a window. Now you can use umbrellas, of course you can, and their big doctors in deep on brothers and shallow and brothers. But the way I figured out, what if I had something that looked and behaved abstentia, ble like a window? Then I'd get the kind of beautiful shots I was getting using windows. So that's what this to tour is about. It's all about using a rectangle soft box on treating the lighting as if I was using a window. So we've put Isaac where we have these more or less the same distance from the wall. As in the early shots we shot against the window in the video. I've moved a soft box here, so it looks more less like a window. So the light is washing off in what you should notice when I take this picture is that the light is striking. Isaacs face really beautifully and creating really, really lovely images. That's cat sites in his eyes, the shape on his face. It's sort of a Rembrandt lighting. You should see a triangle just on this opposite cheek, but also because the light is pointing that way. The back wall, which is white, isn't getting very much like the same as it wasn't from our window earlier one. So I have quite a dark grey background. Isaac Skin looks beautiful. He looks half asleep, but it's an amazing portrait. 6. Studio Lighting Shot 2 | Rim Lighting: okay in this lighting set up, All I've done is I've moved Isaac slightly further forward towards the camera. I haven't even like too much because I'm still trying to keep the background nice and dark . And if I removed the light backwards, of course, the background would start to get lighter. I've moved Isaac along so that his eye line is actually just off the edge of the soft box. And then I came to look across. Of course. What do I get? I get this lovely wash of light onto the mask of his face. I don't know what the official term for this is. We felt it called mass lighting. That's probably closest your going to get, but it creates is really beautiful. Lighting on the mask of Isaac Space creates a great light along the rim of the eye. It's a beautiful lighting pattern. It's a simple lighting pattern. It's one worth trying. So when I've said this, shut up. What I've actually done, possibly inadvertently, is I've moved Isaac a little bit closer to the light because the light now is also striking straight onto the mask of his face. When I looked at the test shot that hissed grammar. Show me a become a little bit brighter than I wanted. It was just starting to create highlights on the skin that I didn't want to blow out. And so I've knocked the aperture up a little bit from F 6.7 F eight on that would just take the edge off. It keeps the background nice and dark. It means the tones or contained on Isaac's face, and it's just a beautifully lit image. 7. Studio Lighting Shot 3 | Split Lighting: So in this shot, we've moved a light back a little bit relative to Isaac's face. And if you look now, we've got split lighting. Why you split lighting very much. No, really, it's a very dramatic lighting. However, if we get eyes and put up his hood, and if we turn off the lights, you can see how that looks. It's a really effective dramatic portrait. Why do you turn off the lights when you're setting up shots like this? It's much, much easier to visualize exactly how your final image is going to look in the studio. Predominately, though, we don't for filming. We work with all of the lights off, except for the modeling lights on the flat is, and that gives you a much better idea. It's much more creative because you can shape the light and you can see how it's gonna work . 8. The Benefits of Studio Lighting: So in this short video, all we've done really is illustrates how you can take studio lights and by thinking the same way as you did when you using window lights, you can create really, really effective lighting patterns. We've shown you how you can adjust the darkness of the image by just changing your aperture , just changing your ice so and just changing the power on the back of the life. It's all straight forward and by thinking about it in the same way that you thought about window night, you too can unlock the creativity of using strobes in the studio. But in the end, why you strop's why not just use window like? Well, as we've neatly illustrated in our studio, the windows aren't always where you want them to be with strobes. Of course, I could move them anywhere I like. I could make them hire can bring them down low. I can change the power, So if I want something with a really deep depth of field, I can shoot it. That way. I just turn the power upon the light. I turned the opportunity. F 16 or F 22 got really big depths of field. I've also got like at night. If you're like me and you're a busy studio, you can't always choose to be photographing in great conditions from the hours of 10 o'clock in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon. That's just too much of a luxury. Whereas here it could be a dark day. It could be a rainy day. It could simply be that it's nighttime and I can still create images that look like they're daylight. They look like they're lit by a window, and I could do it all day, every day. 9. Your Project (...and Outtakes): So now why don't you grab a stroke? Grab a soft box. Rabble lights down. Grab someone called like Isaac. Go create some pictures and upload them to the your projects. Tab down below. We love to see your images. We always have a look. We were smile. It's great to see beautiful portraiture. It's always great to see beautiful portraiture. If you've enjoyed this video, why don't you head across to mastering portrait photography dot com, which is essentially where this video originated? There's loads more content there, more videos. There's the forum, their podcasts there Q and A's their critiques. You never know. You might just enjoy it. It's an entire website dedicated to one thing and one thing alone. And that's the passion of portrait photography. Until next time, take care, do it is all that I'm sitting. So it made it feels like Jack and Rory down here. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Once upon a time, I bought a light. That light was huge. That light was beautiful, but I haven't got a clue how to use it. Maybe you've got learned to laugh a bit, all right, and along came some ideas and those ideas came in the form of lights and windows. And I took those ideas and I created what I know. Do N'Diaye's Beatle shonka? Uh, I'm sorry on I lived happily ever after, right? May I keep checking cause you keep drifting off better, right?