2.2 Studio Know How - Lighting & Equipment

Light quality is often considered the single most important factor in photography. In a studio their are no rain clouds, bright sunlight or setting suns. The photographer has complete control over the set up. The only limitations are space, equipment, ability and perhaps most of all - imagination.

The Burton studio comes equipped with 4 x Bowens Gemini Esprit 500 compact flash (the 500 indicating the maximum capacity of the light in watts). When used on full power the cycle time is 1.5 seconds and quicker at lower power. A discharge switch ensures that, when moving from higher to lower power settings, follow on shots are not incorrectly exposed.

They all come with a model lamp that can be dialled up or down to show where light and shadows will fall allowing the photographer to set shots up quickly and make creative decisions and adjustments with greater ease. The flash unit can also be used on location.

Here's the light before the use of attachments, showing the dials for model and flash lamp settings.

At the rear of the lamp we can see the switches the beep is very useful as an audio guide to whether all lamps have fired or not. The very necessary lamp with - maintains the power in the lamp but enables it to be switched on off during the shoot for various lighting requirements. E.g. shoots with and without back lighting of a full length body shot lit bottom and top followed by the same shot with light only on the upper body.

The cell enables a very simple, very useful but tricky to explain functionality. Lets explain it in a logical sequence of events. The camera has the trigger, the trigger fires one of the lamps with the corresponding unit. That leaves three lamps to be triggered. Switch on the cell/s and they will synchronise - very important. 

The two main sources of light are tungsten (red heads) and flash. The tungsten light remains on all of the time, it is constant.  The flash is used to light the subject and only when activated (fired) as described above. To help each flash comes with a modelling light to help set up the subject. The modelling light can indicate where light and shadows may fall.

In the studio, once we are ready for shooting we work with the modeling and flash lights only. Tungsten works on a different wavelength and will give our pictures a yellowish glow (we've all go some of those in our family albums).

Soft Boxes

The main aim of the soft box is to provide 'diffused' light - providing a soft light that provides gentle highlights and soft shadows (no hard edges) and even coverage. Great for product / still life photography.  Allows greater control than an umbrella. This will be my main light source for the portrait shoot. The model's skin tone will absorb some light and I'm expecting to need stronger highlights than a brolly would provide.

This diagram shows the component parts for a soft box. The outer skin (1), steel rods for creating the shape (2), the speed ring (3), inner diffuser and outer diffusers (4&5) and the outer bib (6). The speed ring enables quick attachment and release of the constructed softbox to/from the flash lamp. Some speed rings also enable the softbox's position to be adjusted

Barn Doors
A set of four clips that are used to control the light source - thus attached to the light source. Warning. they get very hot and should only be adjusted with a 'door key'. (remember that Joe). I plan to use these in the Subutteo product shoot.

The brolly. Shown here in an Elinchrom D'lite kit (see what they did there!). Mainly used in portrait photography. The flash is fired in to the umbrella and back on to the subject. This diffuses the light - causing in to bounce around the umbrella before landing back on the subject. The light will flood the subject area providing soft shadows and smaller reflections than the direct light source from a softbox. Another warning Joe - they would melt if used with a continuous light source.

Snoots give a very directional circle of light. This will be perfect for the Subutteo shoot where the light will be used to recreate the effect of floodlighting. Great for casting shadows and highlighting specific areas. They can be used to create a spotlight effect on subjects.


Usually used to lighten shadows and are more subtle than using additional light sources. When used for very specific applications they enable careful control of shadows e.g. allowing enough light to allow details through but not so much that it distracts. They come in many shape, sizes (and price ranges). Coloured sheeting/card can be used to great effect. This Bowens kit demonstrates the extent of options available.

Lastolite are probably the market leaders in diffusers and reflectors here's an example of their tri-grip reflector in action. They can also be used with stands.


Fitted to a spillkill the two types of honeycomb provide either wide or narrow pools of light. Great for lighting specific areas and creating soft edges.


Help to control light direction (reducing reflected light) and create shadows (less so if close to the subject).

Light Table

The object of product photography is to show details of an object clearly. Lighting an object well brings out details and provides pleasing highlights and contrasts. One method for controlling the lighting of small objects is to use a light table. This table was used in my trial product shoot.

The Gemini Classic 500C features the unique ability to easily integrate with the Bowens Pulsar trigger - a device that sits on the hot shoe of the camera and simultaneously fires the flashlights.

An essential hand held device that can be used to measure both reflected light (light coming from the subject) and incident light (light falling on the subject but prior to hitting the subjects surface). 
The lightmeter will come fitted with a diffuser (the white dome shown here) which is slid back for taking reflected light readings. The meter is then pointed at the subjects surface. The reverse is true for incident readings. The diffuser is closed and the meter placed at the subject's surface and pointed towards the camera. Incident readings provide a good average. I will use incident readings for my portrait and product shoots.

This one is the ever popular Sekonic range the L-358 Flash Meter.


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