Hair / Fill / Background Light?

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by mendonphoto, Oct 7, 2004.

  1. Subject: Hair Light / Background Light / Fill Light ?

    Okay, so I just finished reading my book on portrait photography. It
    had about 40 pages on lighting techniques. Now, I know that 40 pages
    is really just a start, but it's about all I can absorb for now until
    I get some more experience.

    I also just purchased a 3-light studio strobe kit (with umbrellas and
    softboxes) from somebody on Ebay. All the basic techniques discussed
    in my book call for 4 lights:

    1. Key light
    2. Fill light
    3. Hair light
    4. Background Light

    Now, my questions are these? Is it possible to get by with just the 3
    lights? Can I use a good reflector to act as either the fill light or
    hair light? Is the hair light really necessary? Could I use reflected
    light from the background light as the hair light? Or, should I just
    break down and start looking for a fourth light? If that's the case,
    does anybody know of a good, cheap 5600K strobe that would act as a
    slave (that would fire when the other strobes fire)?

    I want PROFESSIONAL looking results. Not just pretty good results.

    Thanks for any help you might give.
  2. AAron,

    You can use a white fill card instead of a fill light. A hairlight is a good thing as is a background light. A hair and background light will add depth to your photos.

    Probably the most common mistake that people beginning in photgraphic lighting make is using light modifyers, umbrellas or softboxes, which are too small and placed too far away from the subject. Hopefully one of your softboxes is 3'x4' which is ideal for portraits of one or two people.
  3. Great portraits have been created with one light, two lights, three lights and more. Actually, some of my favorite portraits have been created with just 2 lights and a reflector.

    Now to answer your question: yes, you can more than get by with a three light setup. Here are a few combinations that will give a four-light-look with your three heads.

    1: Eliminate your fill light, and place a reflector on the side opposite the main light, between subject and camera, to kick some light back into the shadow side of the face. Try to bring that reflector in as close as possible to the camera axis for the most natural fill effect.

    2. Choose a background that is on the light side and skip the background light. Make sure there is enough tonal separation from the subjects hair/clothing and the background. Keep your fill light back as far as possible so that the difference in intensity of light falling on the subject and the background is minimized (inverse square law stuff). Kicking the hairlight up a hair (pun intended)can accentuate separation.

    3. By a cheap used on-camera strobe which has manual settings, attach a cheap slave and use it as a background light. I did this for a while when assembling my studio stuff years ago. I often attached a Stofen Omnibounce to turn it into a soft barebulb of sorts.

    4. Same as above, but hang cheapo strobe from boom as a hairlight. You can make a cheap snoot out of black foamcore or cardboard to keep the flash from flaring into the camera lens.

    5. This one is tricky. If you have a barebulb head, you can place a silver reflector on a boom above the background light and cant it back to reflect light into the hair. You might want to wrap a piece of aluminum foil around the backside (side between subject and light) of the barebulb to minimize scattering light all around the studio. It is a lot of trouble for a modest effect.


    enjoy the journey.
  4. You can deffinetly get away using only 3 lights. Since you are starting out i wouldnt go
    out and buy a fourth light. If you can't control 3 lights how are you going to control 4?
    There are many ways to work around this. Since you have a softbox try using that as a
    fill. If its rectangular turn it horizontal and let the light bleed to the other side of the face.
    Use reflectors to help fill the light more. If i were you i would start off using 1 light. Learn
    to control that 1 then start adding lights. You can't expect to start out and have
    PROFESSIONAL results the first time you shoot. Once you start getting more comfortable
    using your lights you will know what you want and dont want. Hope this gives you some
    food for thought. Just think bout it, we all have to start somewhere and it doesnt have to
    start with the best.

  5. AARON

    See if you can get ahold of a video or two on studio lighting. Three videos that I can recommend are by Frank Cricchio, Ed Pierce, or Monty Zucker. Seeing it in a video will clear up what you read in 300 pages in a book.

  6. Here is the set-up I used and the resulting photo.
  7. I go with the guys. I would play around with reflectors more than adding lights. The more lights you use the more complicated. I also will only use max 3 lights in your scenario. I'm Shooting a bottle of water for a client with a model and they want black and white. I will have one scrimmed over head light to capture highlights and subject (hero) fill for the beaded water drops on the bottle. I will have one light bouncing off of one 8x4 reflector camera right to the subject and then another reflector camera left directly opposite as a subtle fill. One white card out of frame in front of the bottle tilted up grabbing the over head light values. I think what I am trying to say is play around with reflectors. You can achieve some dramatic effects. Have fun because you learn on every new shoot. I don't care how long you have been shooting it's all about tweaking your basic lighting knowledge. Be prepared for a bit of head scratching! lol!

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