Learn Studio Lighting Techniques with Rob Pugh

Studio lighting offers an exciting world of opportunities - mastering the light means that you are in control and can add your own personal touch to portrait photography. Here are four different set-ups that you can try, with illustrations and suggested camera settings.

These images were taken by Rob Pugh (Sony Ambassador and wedding photographer) during his recent seminars at our Burgess Hill studio.

Build up layers of light

During the seminars, Rob showed how to start with just one light, and then enhance your image using additional lights and modifiers. We've detailed camera settings at the bottom of this blog.

Lighting set-up 1 - Using one Speedlight:

Lit up using just one Speedlight placed in front of the model, with a reflector to lift some of the shadow under the chin to form a basic clamshell lighting effect.


Lighting set-up 2 - Clamshell lighting

This is a classic technique where a key light is placed above your subject, angled down at 45°, with a fill light below your subject, angled up at 45°. From a side-on view this looks like an open clamshell (or Pacman!).

Your fill light will help kill the most prominent shadows caused by the key light, offering a nice soft, well rounded look with nice catchlights to bring out details. This is a great set-up for beginners - just make sure the fill light does not overpower the key light.


Lighting set-up 3 - Clamshell lighting

This setup looks to concentrate the light on the subject, using grids to direct the light, from front and behind. Note how the light is most prominent on our model's face, with the remaining fallout evenly distributed across his body, but not reaching the background.

Grids help concentrate the light, but by nature offer a harsher light.

Why use a rear light?

Separates the subject from the background
makes your subject ‘pop’
Helps to emphasise cheekbones


Lighting set-up 4 - Softlight plus grid

This technique experimented uses a larger modifier for a wide, soft light, which is then narrowed by placing a grid on the front. Adding the grid to the modifier helps direct the light on to your subject, limiting light spill onto the background.

A smaller light is placed diagonally opposite, creating a rim light on the right hand side of his body. Both the rim light and the grid are there to help the subject stand out from the background.


Camera settings for using Speedlights in the studio

  • Set white balance manually in-camera (5600K)
  • Know what your maximum Sync Speed is (varies per camera – most Sony’s are 1/250th)
  • Lowest ISO possible
All four of these images were shot at (on the Sony a7R III):
  • f/6.3
  • Shutter: 1/250th
  • ISO 100
  • W/B 5600K

Tips for shooting portraits using Speedlights

Wait until the capacitor beeps to indicates it has recycled before firing again, otherwise the Speedlight won’t output at the full Kelvin you’ve selected.
Set the secondary Speedlights to one stop lower than the key light

Tips on how to pose your model

  • Make sure the eyes are the focal point – on Sony’s use the Eye-AF feature, otherwise use a flexible spot AF selection points (small centre spot, typically expanded by an additional 1 point on either side)
  • Shoot slightly above your subject:
  • Makes the model look up, which removes any double chins...
  • ... as well as increases eye-contact and alertness

About Sony Ambassador Rob Pugh

Rob Pugh is a wedding and portrait photographer who shoots on Sony, and is an Ambassador for them. During his talk(s) we were fascinated to hear how Rob would primarily shoot weddings using just two prime lenses (50mm and 35mm f/1.4).

‘That isn’t enough’, we hear you cry… Well, quite! But what Rob does is use Sony’s clever feature to switch in-camera to the APS-C sized sensor. This offers extra reach due to the crop factor, while effectively doubling the number of lenses Rob has on him.

And while you do lose some resolution with this approach, on the Sony a9 (24MP), this still gives a resolution of 17MP – more than enough for most scenarios!

You can see more of Rob’s work on his website.

Kit used:

Sony a7R III
Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.4
3 x Phottix Speedlights
Magmod adapter kits for speedlights - to attach the gels
Phottix Indra 500 
Manfrotto 420B light stand (Allows ‘Boom’ Style reach for lighting at angles)

You may also like:

Amazing Portraits using Speedlights and Gels - with Rob Pugh

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