So you haven’t got the mega bucks to invest in studio lighting but you want to give your portraits a push? Don’t worry you already have plenty of alternatives to studio lighting at your fingertips. Take a look around your house or place of work for light emitting devices. For starters, you’re probably reading this article off of one…
Each light source has it’s own particular qualities, whether it’s soft (comes from large diffuse light source) or hard (strongly directional). Light also varies in its intensity, direction and colour. The best way of finding out what the light looks like and how it behaves is to experiment with it.
Now the trouble with using alternatives to studio lighting sources are that they often don’t have the same intensity as a studio lights. To make your alternatives to studio lighting work, you need to make your camera more light sensitive to light. So you will need to crank up your cameras ISO and also use the widest aperture (smallest f-stop) your lens can muster. Remember to keep your shutter speed above 1/60 second, this is the lowest speed that you can comfortably hand hold and get a reasonably steady shot.
Here’s The Top Five Alternatives to Studio Lighting:
Household lamps are probably the go to piece of kit for alternatives to studio lighting, you can position them easily and you normally have several of them in the house so that you can ‘build’ a lighting set up, using more than one lamp. In this picture the multi directional light source, spills out a soft diffuse light, from 360 degrees. This gives a more flattering effect than a flat screen.
Be careful where the catch light in the eyes falls. Having the catch light positioned at the bottom of the eye can look a bit weird as we are used to seeing light sources above our subjects head (sun and ceiling lights). I moved the model, so that the catch light fell to the side of the eye, which gives a more natural look.
Computer screens are normally quite large and can give off a wonderfully soft light that is perfect for portraiture. I set my desktop to image to white and cranked up the screen brightness to give the maximum intensity. The photo was taken in a dark room to show the effect. Experiment with angling the screen in different directions, to create different lighting effects. Okay it might be a bit of wacky alternative to studio lighting but it’s very portable and you can adjust the brightness with the press of a button – just like real studio lights.
Okay, this type of shot isn’t going to make you look like a Hollywood A lister on the red carpet but it’s fun! Using small spectral lights will make for an interesting photo because the contrast between the areas of brightness, (where the lights are) and the areas of darkness (where they aren’t), makes for a visually intriguing photo. Also giving your subject a prop immediately makes them more at ease and creates a more relaxed and natural photograph so in my book fairy lights offer great alternatives to studio lighting.
The good thing about this as a light source is that there generally isn’t a shortage of models that are prepared to sit in front of the TV, whilst you fiddle about. TV screens are similar to computer screens but they have a larger surface area and therefore are a bigger light source. Use this bigger light source to your advantage and perhaps take head to toe shots.
Depending on what TV show is on intensity of the screens brightness will vary, try and look for shows which feature a white screen – perhaps scour the TV listings for programmes about polar bears in the snow! You also need to be careful at the colours cast from the screen as these can be very unflattering in portraits. A quick fix is to is to convert the image into black and white.
Window light is one of the best alternatives to studio lighting because it’s so versatile. There’s something rather beautiful about window light. On a bright summers day the light can be quite hard, casting dark shadows. But on an overcast day the clouds act like giant soft boxes in the sky creating a beautiful diffuse light.
Both hard and soft light come with there own challenges: diffuse light can lack intensity so you might need to open the aperture, slow down the shutter speed and possibly crank up the ISO. Hard light can create ugly shadows, which you can either minimize by getting the sitter to be face on to the window or get the person to sit side on to the window and use a reflector to bounce some light onto the shadowy side of their face.
So be like a moth in your own home and gravitate toward any light sources, grab a model and your camera and get experimenting. You will find that your house is full of great alternatives to studio lighting. Get in touch I’d love to hear how you get on.
If you love this sort of photo project, don’t forget to give me your email address (on the top right hand corner of this page) as well as monthly updates, you’ll also receive a free ebook ’10 Fun Cool Things You Can Do Right Now With Your DSLR’.Sue Venables
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