Creating a complicated lighting setup (the finishing touch)

This is the last of my three blog entries where I built up a studio lighting setup that looks great for shooting portraits (If you missed part 1 and part 2 be sure to check them out since they help this blog entry make sense). A lot of what I’ve done so far has been in my portrait studio but the principles apply to any location where you’ll be shooting. The portrait shots we’ve captured up to this point have all looked great and there’s not a lot more we can do with the light on Dug. What we haven’t looked at so far is the background.

We’ve been shooting on white seamless paper (available in rolls of various lengths) and up to this point we haven’t talked much about it. In every shot so far the background has looked neutral grey because we haven’t allowed much light to hit it. If we completely blocked light from hitting the background then the color would have been much darker grey (or even black). For the rest of the shots we’ll be using a third flash to create some unique looks for the background.

The picture above uses adds in a flash with a 1/8″ grid to create a bright white spot behind Dug. This is a really great look because the corners are getting dark (vignetting) and it’s being done in camera instead of being done in post processing. This kind of darkening occurs with most lenses (especially at very large apertures) but we’re exaggerating it by using the grid and the flash. To get a better idea what the white background looks like without the third flash here’s a production shot from a high angle to show how the white paper looks grey:

And here’s what the background looks like when I added the third flash into the mix:

Keep in mind that adding a flash just for the background is not something you’re only going to do in the studio or with white paper. I use flashes all the time when I’m out on location to light up backgrounds.

Now if you really want to get interesting lets add some color. Here’s how the shot looks when we add a red gel to the third flash:

We’ve totally changed the feel of this portrait just by adding a pure red gel to the front of the flash. Here’s what the studio looked like as I took this shot:

What’s great about this is that you now have endless possibilities. Here’s the same shot but with magenta gel on the background flash:

It looks a bit more purple than magenta and that’s something you can control with a combination of flash power setting and processing in Photoshop, Lightroom or another photo editing program. In this case I did minimal Photoshop color shifting so that Dug stayed the same color as the other shots.

Here’s another shot of Dug but this time I used a blue gel on the background flash:

This is my personal favorite background color for Dug. I think that the blue color is a perfect compliment for the yellowish color of Dug and that really helps him stand out.

I bring lots of colored gels with me on every shoot and I use them for more than just coloring backgrounds.  You can create all sorts of different looks by putting colored gels on rim lights, main lights or by mixing colors. For me working with color and light is where you can really bring out your creativity and tell a story. The possibilities are absolutely endless.

And that’s where I’m going to call it quits with this lighting setup. I hope this entire series of blogs gives you some ideas for the next time you’re bringing out some flashes for a portrait session. Next I’ll replace Dug with a person and talk about working with people on the posing stool.

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