Setting up a strobe/softbox for portraits.

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by pete_gregar|1, Jul 16, 2001.

  1. I wanted to know some basics on setting up a portrait shot.
    I have polaroid film for tests, but I don't wanna waste a bunch!

    <p>

    Equipment:
    Photogenic 1500 with softbox
    4X5 view camera
    and if I need them, reflectors and extra light stands.

    <p>

    What angle from the camera do I want the strobe? 30°
    I would angle the softbox to be perpendicular to the subject?
    then I would reflect on the other side just out of view of my lens?

    <p>

    When I use my flash meter do I ignore the reflector? (point the meter directly at the strobe)
    Or would I point it back at the camera.

    <p>

    thanks
     
  2. Angle: Your flash has a modeling light, turn it up to full power and
    once you have your sitter in place, move the softbox and light
    around until the lighting looks right to you. Move it from left to right
    sides, closer to your camera and away from it and towards the
    background, higher and lower, and closer and father away from
    your subject. Once you have a basic position established, try
    panning the box to the left and to the right and also up and down.
    Same thing with your bounce reflector. After every move go back
    and look at your subject from the cameras position. <P>
    The general rule to start with the Softbox or diffusers ios to start
    with the face of the box about as far from your subject as the
    length of the diagonal across the front ofthe softbox. Closer than
    this and the "ofter' or 'smoother' or less contrasty the light will
    appear. Farther than this diagonal distance and the more
    contrasty, or harsher the light will appear. This effect can be
    manipulated to great and creative effect. it is one reason why
    some professionals 9and very well equipped amateurs have
    several different size softboxes.<P>Metering: Some people think
    you absolutely have to point the meter dome at the light and
    some think you absolutely have to point it at the camera and
    others think you should point it at an angle that is somewhere in
    between. My advise to you is to do tests at all three angles and
    look at the results. All three aprroaches are valid, but what works
    best will be the one that gives you the result you want on the
    print.<P>Good luck!
     
  3. This is a really good time for:

    <p>

    1. Getting a book on studio lighting for some general ideas.

    <p>

    2. Using your 35mm or 120 camera to shoot a bunch of sample, to see
    what you like. One idea comes to mind: use 2 camera, one to take the
    portrait, and one to take a picture of the setup (camera, lights,
    etc.) since that's faster & easier than taking copious notes.

    <p>

    Angles & aiming the lights, & reflectors are all part of the art of
    studio lighting. It all depends on the results you want to achieve.

    <p>

    If you can get your room relatively dark and have modelling lights,
    use those as an initial guide.

    <p>

    If you are using an incident meter, hold it at the subject, aim the
    half-dome towards the lens, and meter; if you are using a reflected
    meter, aim from the lens towards the subject.
     
  4. The placement of lights will determine your light pattern... classic or contemporary. 45 degrees is a Rembrandt, 90 degrees is a split, 25+- degrees is
    a loop light pattern (and there are several versions like a short loop, long loop ect) and over camera is a butterfly pattern due to the shadow
    under the noise. Usually the light is at least higher than eye level but not so high that you eliminate the catch light in the eye's. If you don't have
    catch lights in the eye, it takes away and your portrait is lifeless. For fill you could use a sheet of foamcore on the opposite side of the face but with
    a large enough softbox you will have alot of over spill maybe not needing the fill. When metering, to start off, meter the light with the dome. If
    you just meter towards the camera, your REALLY averaging the light. For a white person, I tend to open up so that the skin has more punch and
    looks 1 zone higher than zone V... neutral grey. You will see the light patterns alot better with a small umbrella rather than the soft light of a
    softbox. In fact for your own eyes (with a patient model) use straight modeling lights and just move the light around to see what your getting.
     
  5. Yes you should start out as the other post suggests, feeling your way
    around by attempting to do a few exposures going for the 'Rembrandt
    effect'. The light goes 45 degrees on the horizontal(O being the lens
    axis and 90 being straight from the side)and then 45 up(midway between
    the horizontal and the top of the subjects head) and the light will
    form a triangle on the opposite side of the nose from the light source
    giving you what many consider and call 'optimum portraiture'.

    <p>

    Just remember halfway around to the back and halfway up to the
    vertical and a triangle of light on the opposite side of the subjects
    nose.

    <p>

    This is just me, but I would suggest a lot of experimentation
    with the butterfly set-up(over and under with your key above the
    lens axis), the reason being that when you perfect this set-up, it is
    right and works, no matter which way you subject turns.

    <p>

    When it comes to B&W portraits I'd suggest some experiments with
    'high key' or overexposure with and without a 25R which can produce
    some great results but in doing this you have to give careful
    consideration to wardrobe, backround, and key+fill to fill(in regards
    to skintone). You can experiment with 'high key' to lesser extremes
    with color(without the 25R of course!).

    <p>

    I've gotten some good results going with the butterfly set-up(with
    the main light directly over the lens axis) and 'high key'with a 25R
    filter overexposing as much as three to four stops, which has, in
    combination with printing on a FB warm tone paper with a creamy white
    base can gives you a porcelain type 'sheen' and smoothness to
    skintones which looks great when it works. It doesn't always work,
    and it's not for every subject/client but once mastered it's another
    tool in your pocket.

    <p>

    Ciao! and good luck
     
  6. I just hate when people talk about lighting in fixed terms like
    "rembrandt" or "classic" or "contemporary." I just think that kind of
    jargon is too limiting , especially for beginners. The most
    important thing about lighting is to set your light up and then
    move it around till it looks right to you and then shoot a Polaroid
    or just contemplate it for a while. if you aren't satisfied with the
    Polaroid, think about what would look better and then movethe
    light to that position and test again. As you gain experience you'll
    find this process gets shorter and shorter and you'll develop your
    own vocabulary of light.<P>
    Here is another tip: start with one corner of your softbox (what
    size is your softbox?) over the camera and then, using that
    corner as a pivot point, swing the opposite edge of the box closer
    to and further away from your sitter or the object you are lighting.
    Then try tilting the box down toward the siter or object. Or raising
    the box to well over the camera or well below. etc. <P>The great
    thing about Polaroids is that you can make notes about the
    image directly on the print about what you just did. Start a
    notebook with these Polaroids taped to the pages and make
    further notes about the photo if you need too.<P>But please ,do
    yourself a favor and refrain from mysterioso jargon such as
    'rembrandt", "clasical", "contemporary", etc. as much as
    possible.
     
  7. Starting the softbox at the corner of the lens?
    I will be using a 203mm lens. And will probably be doing full length
    children. So I normally would back the camera up a bit.
    Don't I want to keep the flash closer to the subject?

    <p>

    Or should I read this as keeping the corner of the softbox inline
    with the lens axis, then pivot the softbox.

    <p>



    <p>

    I can do practice runs in the basement. So I can have it lighted or
    almost dark. I can see the modeling lights better in the dark.
    Should I also keep the room dark when I take the shot? Or turn them
    on.
     
  8. Butteryfly setup.....

    <p>

    Would I have the reflector under the subject, direct opposite the
    above softbox?
     
  9. The main thing to remember about the Butterfly set-up is that if
    you position the main light or key light so that it is coming from the
    right of the lens axis, you would then position a reflector(or a
    softer lower intesity light than your key to work as a fill) to the
    left of the lens to catch and bounce some of the main lights rays back
    onto the subject as fill.

    If your key is right, your reflector is left, if the key is left
    position your5 reflector right, if the key is over the lens axis the
    reflector is under the lens axis and so on. When using the butterfly
    set-up, generally the reflector is a little closer to the subject than
    the key light in order to reflect the keys light back onto the
    subject.

    <p>

    You'll have to tweak this set-up a lot before you actually shoot
    and/or do a lot of tests. I believe the benefits of this particular
    set-up is worth the time and trouble.

    <p>

    Ellis, I respect your posts as thoughtful and reasoned, but I
    disagree with you on a couple of issues. Please do not take offense.


    <p>

    Sure when you talk about the Rembrandt effect, it sounds like
    needless jargon to a newcomer, and it sounded that way to me when I
    first heard it. I went out of my way to learn what it was, how it was
    used by Painters and Photographers and then I filed it away in the
    back of my mind as another tool to use when needed.

    <p>

    You cannot go wrong trying to expose yourself to the different
    set-ups/styles/tricks/variations that everyone else has used in the
    past. I'm not suggesting you learn this stuff to copy it, but to
    learn why. You can get this info by auditing an art and/or
    photography class, from art books, photograhpy books, seminars,
    anything you can find out. File all this away into your bag of
    tricks.

    <p>

    Having said this, I do agree with Elis about puting the light
    where you want, and this works a good deal of the time. All the other
    knowledge is valuable and comes into play when you need to be problem
    solver regarding a difficult set-up, when your normal way of working
    isn't working, as inspiration and as a springboard for new ideas and
    so on. The more tools you have, and the more concepts and styles you
    expose yourself to cannot help but make you a better Photographer.

    <p>

    Ciao
     
  10. Yeah..with all due respect to Ellis as well, I agree with you about
    the terms...I come from a trad. background and was taught in terms of
    butterfly, broad, short & rim lighting for portraits. These are really
    sort of the basics, and just about any lighting book from the last 50+
    yrs. will use these terms. I don't see it as any more mumbo-jumbo than
    talking about GNs, or whatever.

    <p>

    As far as butterfly lighting goes, the trick is to keep the shadow
    under the nose the right size...if it gets too big and falls into the
    lips, this is wrong, and if it's too small it won't be right
    either...it's a good lighting style for certain subjects, but with
    heavy faces it can flatten them out a bit....there are all sorts of
    styles to make certain faces look good as well, using
    highlights/shadows. My advice would be a good basic portraiture book,
    like Kodak's "Professional Portrait Techniques" or some of those old
    Focal press lighting books. Softboxes are really sort of a new thing
    in a way...I learned these styles using hardlights & diffused direct
    lights....my instructor would have thrown me out of the studio if I
    tried it any other way...but it taught me some important lessons, that
    I use frequently.
     
  11. I'm with Ellis. Learning only the traditional lighting set-ups can be
    limiting. It would be far better to learn about the properties of
    light in general (e.g fall-off, angle of incidence = angle of
    reflection, point sources vs large sources, etc...). Then you are
    properly armed to realize your pre-visualization of the image or
    perform a well informed exploration. Once you know how it behaves,
    light is very predictable stuff (well energy actually). Learning
    about how light behaves and WHY the traditional lighting setups look
    the way they do - instead of just how to copy the traditional
    lighting set-ups will bring you much farther in creating the light
    that you personally want!

    <p>

    This kind of knowledge can be had from a good lighting workshop or
    course... and lots of experimentation - of course!

    <p>

    Good Luck
     
  12. Okay...well, it's just a thought...what I was trying to say was that
    was how I learned to light...by doing the standards, whether it was on
    a tabletop, or in a portrait setting...it may be boring or repetitive
    or copying a style, but how is it any different than learning camera
    movements, or running film speed tests?? I agree that it's great to
    learn your own inner style or whatever, but for portraits, the client
    usually wants to look a certain way, or they at least want to be
    flattered by your shot...to broad light a certain type of face, a
    heavy one let's say would just look bad...unless you wanted to
    accentuate your client's broad face...

    <p>

    But this has nothing to do with Pete's question...so, as Ellis says
    what size is your softbox?? You said you're shooting full length
    shots, so what is your background like etc.
     
  13. Pete, don't try to learn only one thing, expose yourself to it
    all as I mentioned in my earlier post. I also mentioned earlier not
    to learn something to copy it, but to know the why, behind the set-up.

    You learn about what has come before you, the traditional rules,
    the different philosophies, the basics, and yes the terms. In order
    to break the rules, you've go to know what the rules are.

    <p>

    You are able to break a rule when you come up with something new
    that is just as good or better than what was being done by an earlier
    convention. Nobody gets into Photography just to do what's already
    been done and do it only that way, that would be ridiculous. We all
    want to come up with images that are new, fresh, innovative, that's
    the whole point of getting into Photography.

    <p>

    The 'old school', the traditional set-ups, the conventional
    wisdom, were at one time the state of the art and become popluar
    because they broke another rule and produced a better or more
    interesting image.

    <p>

    If everybody does the same thing, the same way, over and over, it
    gets old, it gets tired. The first time a I saw an image of a
    spectacular sunset as kid I said WOW! but after about a million of 'em
    who cares.

    <p>

    Pete, don't shortchange yourself, you can gain something valuable
    insights, inspiration, starting points for going in a completely new
    and innovative direction, by going over the basics and traditional
    set-ups.

    <p>

    I believe D.K. brought up an interesting point which pleads my
    case. An 'old style' or traditional set-up would suggest key,
    fill(from a softbox), kicker or rimlight, and a backround light as you
    main components. The idea of using a softbox is nothing new but for a
    long time if you suggested using a softbox differently than the way it
    was normally used in a traditional set-up you'd be considered crazy.

    <p>

    Photographer now use softboxes as the main or key light in a
    set-up, but the fact remaints that softboxes were part of traditional
    set-up but are now being used in a different way. THE OLD BECOMING
    NEW.

    <p>

    Check it all out Pete, you'll be better for it.
     
  14. I am in about the same situation. I'm using 4x5, medium, and 35. But
    concentrating on 4x5 for now. I will start with one light, basically
    following Ellis's approach, with a good sized reflector. I only want
    to buy more lights (if ever) after I think I've mastered one and find
    things I can't easily do with it. I'm doing everything from head and
    shoulders to environmental portraits. Would very much appreciate
    1)How much power for my one light?, and 2)Size/type of softbox that
    would make sense...conventional, "octabank" etc. I know there are
    multiple right answers here...I just need to narrow things down and
    start trying it.
     
  15. John,
    How much power? An adjustable, preferably an assymetric,
    2400 w/s pack is the minimum I'd take out it I am shooting large
    format portraits. I might not use it at full power but it is always
    easier to dial the power down than to create power that isn't
    there. You might want to consider having two 1,000 w/s packs
    anda bi-tube head (as well as a couple of standard heads) for
    versatility and backup in case one pack fails.<P>Size of Softbox?
    I have and use everything: 16x20 Chimera, 30x40 Plume Wafers
    40x50 Plume Wafer Worldbank, to a 54x72" Chimera. The one I
    use most is the 40x50" Plume Wafer. This gives me the best
    general quality of light for single portraits in a reasonably sized
    package.<P> I like the Plume Ltd (http://www.plumeltd.com)
    products because of the quality of light the quality of the
    construction and the design. The Wafer banks are about half as
    deep as similarly sized Chimeras (and the god awful Photoflex
    chimera knockoffs). This is important if you have a small studio
    or are travelling. Not cheap but very much worth it.
     

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