Photography Lighting - Studio (Flash)

There is many ways to utilise light in order to create a certain effect. As this is a very wide field (including natural light, continuous light…) I want to only write a little bit about studio flashes today, as they are what I am most familiar with and what I use for pretty much all my indoor shoots. I don’t want to get super technical here or explain to you exactly what to do. There is thousands of websites where you can read that sort of stuff; I just want to write about my personal experiences and what I think is important.

The photo above shows a (not quite finished…) setup I used for my first ever photoshoot in 2011. This is the first time I ever had to light a shoot by myself.
Those flashes are all Bowens, I think the one with the octa box is a 1000W, the other two are 500W. I am also pretty sure I ended up using a light on the floor as well, which would have also been a 500W.
I think the key to getting a good setup is to just not be afraid to try everything. Through trial and error and a lot of failed attempts you eventually learn. Of course you can go online and read all about classic lighting setups as well, I did that too, but I find that sometimes the things you discover by accident turn out the best.

Also always think about what you want the light to do. Do you want a dramatic effect? Do you want a photo where the background is revealed, or would you rather make sure the subject is made to look very separate from the background? The modelling bulbs in the flashes will help you work out where the flash will hit later. Also, what are you shooting? Are you shooting beauty, fashion, music or maybe even products? What is important?

These are all things to consider that will help you work out how to set up your lights and whether or not you want to use a softbox, or a beauty dish, or a snoot.. or or or.

In terms of settings, I also think it is best to try it a few times. Most flashes I used were very similar anyways, but when you use one for the very first time, you may have to fiddle around to find the best settings for you camera and the flashes to work together (you will definitely have to use M mode); I would suggest to start with the flashes set low.

During my time working in a photo studio I came across many many people who called themselves photographers, but actually had never ever used studio flashes before, so they blew out bulbs, complained as to why they couldn’t use a faster shutter speed etc. etc.

So really, my advice would be, start with the lights low and just get a feeling for it. I feel most comfortable shooting at maybe 1/100s, f/14 and ISO 100, but that varies depending on what I am shooting.

If you eventually want to do professional studio shoots, rent out a studio for two hours and do a little shoot with a friend first to get an idea of how things work. You will get stuff wrong, that is normal. You will also sometimes not notice that something is wrong until months later. That is also normal. The more photography you do, the more you develop a sort of.. “eye” for it.

I have shot many pictures thinking the light was great a few years ago. Now looking at them, I notice right away that one side of the photo is lighter than the other, or that I had some stray light coming from somewhere… But it is part of learning and no one starts out perfect. I am sure in a few years I will look back on photos I shot now thinking the same.

The photo above is from a shoot I did in a pub in Camden. As I don’t personally own any studio flashes, I had to make do with two 430 EX II flashes, which are detachable shoe mount flashes. The backlight is a borrowed Bowens 500W (that actually broke halfway through the shoot…).

But this shows that you can make do with what you have sometimes and that when something breaks, you just have to rearrange and try your best. Just don’t be afraid to try it out, even though it is a bit scary at first. But remember, it is just light, you can control it :)

  • Jen.


How much photoshop is too much?

Well. In my opinion editing a photo is part of the process and in no way “cheating”. Being a photographer consists of more than just showing up and pressing a button. You have to be a people-person, you have to know your technical stuff and you have to make your photos stand out from the rest.
Not to misunderstand, I am a firm believer in trying to take the best possible photo, so that no major retouching/ editing is required, but personally I don’t use photoshop to fix my photos, but to enhance them, give them a certain style. Though photoshop can do amazing things and make almost any shot look good, I don’t like spending hours and hours correcting things I could have prevented when actually taking the shot. A few examples:

1) Composition
May sound lame, but I find that people who don’t regularly take photos have a really hard time framing an image in a way that makes sense. Ever seen legs cropped off etc? Yeah. Not good. Always make sure you have a plan in your head as to what you want to be in the photo. Also decide if you want landscape or portait. Of course you can crop a photo later, but adding things to an image is much harder…

2) Exposure
Yeah, sure, you can fix underexposure quite easily in post, but you’ll make your life a lot easier by making sure you’re exposing correctly to begin with. And overexposure is much harder, if not impossible to fix in some circumstances.

3) Lighting
Now, you won’t always be in control of the lighting situation, but when you are: Do spend the extra time to make sure your set up is spot on! Never think ’Oh, I can fix that in Photoshop!’. You could, but trust me, it’s so much easier once your lighting is perfect and you’re going to get a much more accurate preview of what the end result will look like!

I am going to attach a photo from my first ever studio photo shoot. December 2011. Of course I made many mistakes on that shoot, because half the time I had no idea what I was doing, but even today I am still very happy with my light setup, and I am glad that back then I took the extra time.

As this photoshoot was filmed, I am able to pretty accurately reconstruct what exactly I used… If you are interested in that let me know and I will make a separate post one day!

As you can see, almost nothing changed, really. I like my images to be pretty contrasty and sharp, so I bumped those things up, adjusted the colours slightly, darkened up some light-halo patches, lightened up a few details. That’s it.

Hope this was helpful to some.

For any questions please go to and I will reply to it there or use it as the topic for a blog in the future.
- Jen.

DEAD! Acoustic video

This is my latest little project. A little acoustic session filmed in Soho the other week. Had four runs through the song, used first audio straight from Rode video mic (unedited) and then cut the whole thing together in Premiere CS6 in about an hour. Voila :)

Filmed on my 5D MK II and 50mm f/1.8.

Using Format