How close should the lights be to the subject?

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by ryan_smith|9, May 29, 2009.

  1. I recently starting using a lighting kit for photographing my daughter. I am totally new and am learning every time I use it. The kit I have is here. I have been taking pictures with the lights standing about 5-6 feet back from the subject. This is the only decent light in this room and the pictures have been coming out fairly dark like you can see below.
    For the picture below, I was using a Nikon D70S with the kit 18-70 f/3.5-4.5 for the photo below; I used about a 35mm DX focal length. Since then, I have purchased the Nikon D90 and a Tamron 28-75 f/2.8. This new equipment should greatly help with the lighting as I am now at a constant 2.8 and can bump up the ISO a little without any loss of picture quality.
    My question is though, for pictures like the one below, is 5 ft too close/far away for my setup in order to get pictures that really 'pop'? As you can see in the picture below, I have been forced to use on board flash which in turn produces nasty shadows. What would be the best setup to get a bright picture without the shadows utilizing my current equipment? Should I get an external flash such as SB-600 to help with this setup? Any help is appreciated.
  2. If you are actually using the lights you linked to, something is not right, here. That's plenty of horsepower.

    How are you triggering the strobes? How are you setting the exposure on the camera?

    Separately from those issues, though... get your subject a little farther away from the backdrop, and yes, move the softboxes closer. Even a couple of feet will meka huge difference in the quality of the light. But mostly: set exposure manually, using a low ISO, perhaps 1/125th on the shutter, and around f/8 on the lens. Then adjust the lights to get yourself in the neighborhood, power-wise.
  3. I'm guessing you had to use the on-board to trigger the flashes? If so, turn the on-board down to minimum power (set it manually and select 1/128th or whatever the minimum is). Not TTL.
    In addition, you could completely eliminate the effect of the on-board flash by blocking the visible portion of the spectrum with a $12 SG-3IR or similar infrared filter.
  4. I don't know nikon as well as canon, but if you are using the on board (popup) to trigger the strobes with a canon, then you will not see their effect because the TTL metering fires a short preflash which will fire your strobes before you take the picture, leaving them drained when your TTL popup flash actually fires the main flash.
    Do you have a sync cord?
    If you do, consider keeping your on board flash off and only syncing to the one strobe... then you should get "strobe only" lighting.
    Maybe someone can step in an tell us if the Nikon on board will ever fire in manual mode.. the canon you are stuck with TTL unless you go with a speedlite.
  5. I had exposure set to automatic, which may be my issue. The strobes are constant, are not triggered by flash. I just felt like I had to use the on camera flash to help brighten the picture.
  6. I apologize, I put the wrong light kit in the link - it is this one:
    Th one above has a ton more wattage than mine currently does. Is it possible to replace the bulbs that originally came with the unit with stronger ones? Will it damage the lighting units if I do that?
  7. Oh, alright then, you're just going to be shooting using the ambient light..
    I don't know much (anything) about constant lights (AKA hot lights, even if these are "cool")
    For better results strobes will provide much higher f/stop (f/8+) and your max sync speed... have you looked into alien bees? I just picked up an AB800 and am pleased with the results.
    If you can return the kit and purchase a Nikon Speedlite you will be much better off for what I think you are trying to do... and Nikon has commander mode which (I think) allows you to use TTL with your off camera flash (but I prefer manual flash exposure in this kind of environment where it will be more consistant)
  8. You are currently using lights -- not strobes (flash). And the lights that you are using aren't powerful lights. In many cases, the brighter continuous light setups use tungsten bulbs instead of the fluorescent bulbs that you are using. Tungsten is usually brighter, but they are hot hot hot. I suppose that you could try to move the lights in very close to the subject (2ft. max), as that might help. But you will still have a problem with getting decent shutter speeds and decent depth of field. Also, with the lights up that close, you may encounter problems with the depth of light (that is, the light falloff behind the subject will be very dramatic) that will be annoying in situations in which you don't separately light the background. I think that you should get strobes.
  9. Hi, I would definitely move your subject away from the backdrop, at least 3 - 5 feet. Otherwise shadows end up behind like hard dark halos. I made this mistake once with film and I spent a lot of time dodging afterward. When I noticed that, I thought I had to say something along the lines of "avoid my mistake!".
    From a strictly physics point of view, intensity of light falls off as 1/(r^2). That is, one over r squared, where r is distance. In this case, the distance between the light and the subject. That means if you were six feet away, and you are now 3 feet away, you have four times as much light as before (intensity was 1/36, but became 1/9 when you moved).
  10. There is no one answer to how close the lights should be, it depends entirely on the effect you want to achieve. The closer you move the softboxes to your subject the softer the shadows will be because the light source will be relatively larger and seemingly coming from a spread of directions. By moving the lights further away the shadows become sharper. By moving the background further back the background will be darker as suggested above because of the light fall-off. Even a white wall can be made to look black with sufficient light fall-off. You may wish to make the two lights have different intensities to make one the key or main light and have the other at less intensity/greater distance to provide some light in the shadows cast by the key light.
    You are at the beginning of a journey on lighting. For an excellent guide on that journey go to
  11. (Sorry about double posting. I clicked one time too many.)
  12. You won't get that "Pop" you're lookin for with continuous lighting. That is usually attained with Strobes ('Flash) or sunlight.
    Stop using the build in flash, it's pretty useless except for a little fill flash outdoors.
    If you want to get some speration of your daughter (very cute by the way) from the background try using one of the lights exclusively on the background. Move her far enogh away from the background so that you can position one of the lights behind and to the side of her. Move the other light as close in to her as possible without it showing up in the frame. If you need fill, use a white foamcore board, or cover it with foil.
    I would suggest yoru next purchase be a simple single light strobe kit like this...
    Don't invest any more in continuous lighting.
  13. If you want to avoid sharp shadows bring the lights closer to the subject. That creates a smooth shadow edge transfer (borders of the shadow will be feathery like). The farther the lights the sharper the borders of the shadows. The other issue is lighting ratio. If you bring lights closer the ratio between light side and dark side of the subject will be higher. If you distance light source from the subject the lighting ratio between light and dark side decreases (if you are using a reflector).
    For portraits of kids a high key portrait usually looks better (everything too bright). You can use a big soft box if your light source is strobe. That create a very soft image. By the way if you bring light source closer to the subject image would be softer.
  14. With the tiny little bit of light you're using, estimate the range the kid has with the spatula and put the lights one inch further than that. When I was still shooting with fluorescents I used half again more watts that that for shooting 18x24" artwork, and I could use long shutter times because the art didn't suddenly swat something with a spatula.

    Note that in the studio we tend to work in "watt seconds". I might dump 400 or 600 wattseconds into a set that's smaller than this, but I shoot at 1/250 because all that energy is delivered within about 1/1000 of a second. To get 240 watt seconds you have to hold your shutter open for the entire second.

    If you've got a white ceiling you could buy any shoe-mount flash that can be pointed straight up to dump a bunch of extra light into the room. Color balance won't be perfect, and that's a very flat general light, but it might help keep the general level up if combined with moving the softboxes in way closer.

    But I don't think I've ever run into anyone that had shot with continuous and flash who continued to shoot with continuous lights. Power is just too valuable.

  15. Not sure if this is what you're after. I made a few quick adjustments, such as setting the black and white points. I also applied an 'S' curve to the luminosity channel.
  16. Here is another idea.
  17. Wow, thanks for your help all. It looks like I need some new equipment to get what I want. I have looked into the Alien Bees equip and that looks good. I think I can get away with purchasing one B800 and use one of my existing continuous lights to help reduce shadows. After looking around, I realize how weak my current equipment is.
  18. Well, one rule of thumb is if her clothes start to smoke, you probably ought to move them back a bit.
    Sorry, couldn't resist! ;-)
    She's pretty cute BTW.
  19. I like the shot with the clouds added.
    As far as mixing the AB with the hot lights, I don't know how much the hot lights will help, unless you move your AB waaayyyy far back. Perhaps sell (or return) your hot lights and get ONE AB800 (or even a 400 if your daughter is all you will be shooting) and then get a reflector and a reflector stand to reduce the shadows.
    Here is one light bounced into an umbrella to the right:
    ...and it was a speedlight to boot (a 430ex, about 5' away from my son)
    Perhaps look into and get a strobist started kit. Even it will likely produce better results than the hot lights do... that is basically what I used above.
  20. Hi Ryan,
    I use the exact same setup. It's true - the system is not as powerful as strobe lightning, but as long as your only shooting smaller items, it will deliver great results, at a very low prize. Remember that the softbox takes a lot of the power - this means that you need to position the lights fairly close to the subject. In some cases you also need to use i bit higher ISO e.g. 400. In some cases I also combine the lightning with my SB-800.
    Look at my portfolio - all the photos in "Portraits" (except one), is taken with the Interfit lightning.
    On the net, you can find daylight balanced 75W bulbs - this will boost performance a lot.
    Best Regards
  21. Ryan, with the excellent higher ISO capabilities of the D90, I think I would try to steer clear of F2.8, and go with a little smaller aperture. Use a higher ISO, instead. The wider apertures are going to limit you DOF to the point you are not going to keep everything in focus, and even the normal head movements of your little cutie will throw her face of the plane.
    Your best guide on placement of lights - not discounting the great advice given above - is your own experience. Experiment a lot, and see what works best. It really only costs you your time.
  22. I believe that you're on the right track in investigating the Alien Bees units, but I'm not sure that you could/should combine a b400 or b800 with your existing continuous lights. Even if (against the odds) the color temperature of the lights were to be an acceptable match with the color temperature of the strobe, you might find that the lights are not bright enough to provide decent fill-in (or even register in the exposure at all) once you start shooting at typical portrait apertures (say, f/5.6 to f/11) at typical shutter speeds (e.g., 1/125 to 1/250). I would suggest that you buy a single strobe like the Alien Bees b400 and use a reflector for fill-in light until you get another strobe. Although they can limit you in some respects, reflectors are great in that you rarely will end up with shots that are too flat. For shots of kids with smooth skin, use a silver reflector. For shots of your daughter similar to the one that you posted, a low-powered strobe will be all that you need, and the more powerful b800 might actually provide too much light (that is, you might find that it is difficult to shoot at wider apertures with the b800; with the b400 you could shoot at f4 or wider without making the lighting harsh by having to move the unit too far back from the subject).

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