• TeamGeeVirdi

How To -- Understanding Studio Lighting


There are many different light shaping tools, this short guide will help you to find a way to learn how to painting with light. It is often said that light is the main aspect of cinematography. Lighting is a storytelling tool and can be used to great aesthetic effect but is often also a practical necessity. We take a brief look at the theory and technology behind the craft and try to expand on some of the techniques used.

In order to control the look and impact of an image the photographer has to do more than just pick a lens and point the camera. How light falls within the scene and the lighting ratios will not only ensure the audience can see what’s going on but will also give the scene its atmosphere and help to convey narrative meaning.

1. Coverage :

The coverage of a light shaper tells us how the light is distributed. It can be:

  • Even-e.g. big soft box behind camera, open reflectors defocused, Para FB defocused, optical snoots.

  • Center weighted-e.g. open reflector focused, Para FB focused, PAR reflector, some Fresnel spots, any light shaper with honeycomb grids.

  • Linear graduated- e.g. long and narrow softboxes at short distance, strip-lites and light bars as sidelights.

2. Edge-transfer:

The edge-transfer gives us an idea of how abrupt the light ends once we reach the end of the light angle. It can be:

  • Very sharp- e.g. optical snoots and attachments.

  • Quite sharp-e.g. Fresnel, satellite and honeycomb grids.

  • Soft- e.g. soft boxes, open reflector and acrylic area lights.

  • Non existent- e.g. bare bulb, ballon, lite-stick and light-bar.

3. Shadow definition :

Shadows of hard lights are highly defined while soft lights have a low shadow definition or lights that have no shadows at all.

4. Shadow contrast:

Working in black or very large studio we can expect black shadows whenever we do not intentionally brighten them up with a fill-in light. In smaller or more brightly painted environments however, light can be bounced by walls and fill-in the shadows. In this situation the shadow contrast depends directly on the light angle of our source. Directed spots or standard reflectors with honeycomb grids do not hit the walls very much, resulting in black shadows. Working with a balloon we have a 360 ° light. All the studio walls will get a lot of light and the shadows will be very bright. When we are working with such a “wide-angle light”, the inverse square law is a possibility to control our shadows: The closer we get – to the object or model – the faster the light falls off after hitting it. This makes the walls (and the floors and ceiling) darker and the shadow contrast is increased.

5. Highlights :

We will have a very close look at highlights – directed and diffused reflections. In general we can say that the highlights of hard lights are very small and completely burnt. Those of soft lights show clearly the form of the light shaper (rectangular or round) and might still be burnt a little. Diffused lights finally should not show any dominant highlight anymore, but they can reduce the colours dramatically (e.g. the colour of eyes in a diffuse portrait).