slave flash placement for portraits

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by amber|1, Mar 30, 2004.

  1. I am very new to photography, and I am happy to say that I have learned a great deal since "discovering" I have a small office space that I am using as a miniature studio (about 10'x17'). At first I was using hot lights for my main lighting, and although they worked OK, they made the room very hot and uncomfortable. Since I mainly photograph children and babies this of course was not working. I have recently replaced those lights with 3 slave flash units (guide no 90). They are the lightbulb type and I screwed them into metal cone reflectors. I also use an on camera flash (guide no 130) bounced from the white ceiling to trigger them. Per a photographer-friends request I covered the cones with difuser material. My question is........(did ya think I'd ever get here???) Where should I place the strobes? With the hot lights I could see the effect that I was getting. I bought a flash meter to determine exposure but Im not sure where to place the lights to flatter the subject the most. High or low? One behind as a backlight? Right now I have 2 of the flashes at 7' high on either side of the camera and one behind the subject at 8'. and of course the on camera flash bounced. Subject is usually 2'-4' from floor. Any advice greatly appreciated. Sorry so long to explain!
  2. Amber- As you are learning, it is very hard to determine just exactly what your flashes are doing if they don't have modeling lights. I would recommend that you soften your light with umbrellas or some other large diffusion surface, but again, without modeling lights that's hard to track.

    You don't specify what type of camera you are shooting with. If it is a digital, then you have the possibility of checking your lighting with the on-camera display, but this can take some time.

    Unitl you get some better lights and gain some experience, I think your best option might be to create a generic light set-up that you can live with. The light won't be too dynamic and you won't be able to change it to suit different subjects or needs, but it will get things properly exposed.

    Try two lights in umbrellas set up three feet above the subject and either side of the camera. The third you can either set up behind the camera shooting light over your shoulder to control the ratio, or use reflectors to soften the shadows and use the third light as a hair light (you'll need to create some sort of snoot for it, if you do).

    You'll have to shoot all your subjects in one spot, and not vary your lighting unless you want to do a lot of testing first. Note that this light will not be too interesting, but it will be consistent. It's similar to what the people use who go around shooting portraits for churches and firehouses, etc.

    But I think that this is one of those situations where you will learn that there is a reason for somewhat more expensive monobloc strobes. Frankly, if I were you I would have purchased one inexpensive Alien Bee strobe and one umbrella, which would probably have cost about as much as your three slaves, but it would have been much more capable and versitile. I shoot a lot of jobs with just one light, and if you know how to work it, it can work out extremely well. -Bill C.
  3. I appreciate the advice. Cost was definately an issue when I decided to buy the slaves. I just dropped $450 on a canon 85/1.8USM lens and a 50/1.8.(my husband had alot of trouble understanding why I spent more on the lenses than the camera!) I am shooting with a canon rebel 2000 and have been saving up for a digital rebel or 10D. I would like to also know wether any of you would recomend as a priority to buy a good lighting system or upgrade my camera body.
  4. Amber

    Lights 1st, your current camera eqipment is more than adequate.

    If you are trying to do this as a business then do yourself and your
    clients a favour and get some decent lights, yes you will also need
    umbrellas/softbox and reflectors.

    Your studio space is a little tight for anything much bigger than a baby as
    you don't really have enough space to move the lights around. Having
    said that I have taken many succesfull portraits in peoples homes with
    far less space.

    As said before find a setup that works and then add more setups as you
    get more experienced.

    You can always take a few safe shots with your basic setup and then try
    a couple of new ones, if they work make a note so you can use them
    again if not make some notes about what you think would work better
    and try that next time.

    If you buy some lights with proportional modelling lights you will be
    able to see the effect before you press the shutter and can make sure the
    catchlights are in the eyes etc...
  5. Amber, when it comes to buying equipment cheap, inadequate equipment is usually money wasted. As you have found, you really need a lighting system with modelling lights. Without them, your lights are mostly useless.

    As far as where to place the lights, put them where they make the subject look best. Its that simple. There are certain lighting techniques that have stood the test of time and are used daily by pro portrait photographers. All kinds of books have been written about the techniques. Check, they have a lot of good books that discuss lighting. Check the free lessons at the Photoflex website: And check the forums and archives at
  6. Well, if you sell your 85mm lens... you can may be get up to Digital Rebel and use 50mm lens as a 75mm portrait lens (works quite well). Then you'd get an instant digital review option which you might like better than experimenting with expensive light systems that have modeling lights. Keep in mind that pros use a lot of polaroid film to find the right setup! Your final result will be right there on the screen and you can shoot again if you need to. Guess work yes, but very convenient.

    Now, there is no alternative to a good lighting system. For babies, though, i.e. small subjects, you don't really need powerful strobes. What you do need is umbrellas/reflectors/softbox to soften the shadows.

    So, first umbrellas/softbox/reflectors, then, may be, a camera body, since you're already thinking about it.
  7. Also, for info on classic lighting and poses for children and adult check here
  8. Crank the AC and go back to hotlights. Diffusion is your friend. Try different setups
    to gain a feel for it. Vary the angle of your key light, figure out what you like as fill
    and then work on seperating from the background with a hairlight. Once you figure
    out what works for your taste, you should be able to translate it to flash with
  9. I agree with the modeling lights - they are really helpful. I elected not to buy cheap underpowered monolights with 40 to 60 watt modeling lights. 40 to 60 watts is basically useless and the output of the flashes are pretty low. A good modeling light wattage is at least 150 Watts - higher is better - proportional modeling lights are even better.

    As for your current setup, your on-camera flash is obviously more powerful than your slave strobes. Even bouncing off the ceiling will influence the scene lighting to a large degree. I assume that when you say on-camera flash, you mean a flash on the hot-shoe - NOT a builtin flash (I've never seen a builtin flash with a guide number of 130). Since your on-camera flash is probably infuencing your photos, I would recommend covering the flash with about 2 unexposed strips of any E-6 process film (Ektachrome, for example). This will block most of the visible light but pass the IR light which will trigger your slaves. This is how I do it with my setup and it works fine.
  10. I took a look at your portfolio and noticed that I did rate one of your baby photos (5 days old 6). Diffusing the flashes are a good idea - don't use direct flash. You can also bounce them off an umbrella for a softer light. Umbrellas can be bought for under $20.00. Your inexpensive setup (like mine) can do the job once you add some accessories. The accessories I'm adding are flexible enough to grow with and use on future expensive pro flashes.

    Keep in mind that your strobes are not variable power (I assume) so distance will control the lighting ratios, you have to move them. Since you have a flash meter, this should not be too difficult.

    My cheap setup consists of 2 Sunpak 544 flashes with AC adapters, 1 60" Photek Umbrella Softlighter II, 1 small Photoflex softbox (my first accessory), 2 small eclipse umbrellas, 1 22" white/silver reflector, 1 42" white/sunfire gold reflector. I chose to use the Sunpaks because I already had one, the guide number is 140 and the flexability of AC and battery power. This setup will do until I can afford a good professional setup.

    If it's in your budget, you can also get the Photek Umbrella Softlighter II - 36" for $50.00

    These will fit just about any flash including your slaves (it has an elastic sock-like sleeve).I bought the 60" ($75.00) model and have been very happy with the results.
  11. Hi Amber.. I have used household socket AC strobes also to take pictures of my infant son. They should be adequate for this subject matter in terms of actual brightnes
    To tackle the preview questions. I would go down to a hardware store and get the brightest FLUORESCENT bubs that you can find to go into a household socket.. I beleive that I was able to find something comparable to a 150 Watt incadencent bulb in light output. I went with fluorscent because they stay relatively cool for good light output. Regular household bubls could be used but if you want a really bright modeling light( as this is called) then heat will be a problem. In a dark room you might just get by with a 60-100watt bulb. You will use these "hot lights" to figure out how to setup your lighting.. So screw these into the light mounts intsead of your strobes and then position/ adjust your lights.. I'm not sure if you have anyway to anyway to adjust the output of your lights but if so then you may want to get a few different wattages so that you can have relative differences.. If you don't then you can just use neutral density gel filters ($5 dollars a pop or so).. and the would go over the flourescents when setting up and over the strobes when you are done.
    Here is a site with a couple of base lighting setups to get your started http://
    Those books are going to give you a good deal of basic rules and techniques.. but no book is going to give you an instant formula. It will be up to you to figure out what works for you. Some thoughts...
    Lighting from underneeth is usually not flattering.. Just try getting an assistant to move around the household bulb around while you look at the model from the camera's persepctive. Often with the main light placement one is trying to replicate the light for the sun, so think of that when placing the light.. 45 degrees to the side, and 45 degrees down a good starting point. So 7' high might be too high or low depending on how close the lights are to your subject.
    One are you doing with the light behind the subject? Is it pointed to the subject or the background? If I were you I would either eliminate this light all together (for now) or just use it to light the background evenly. Hairlights or kickers can be usefull but its not what you should start with. They can add useful hightlights.. but the real structure is provided by your main lighting.
    the 2 flashes on on either side are fine but usually a pleasing portait has a bit of shadow.. Try eliminating one of the side flashes for now and put a reflector (white poster board from craft store will do just fine. Position the board close to the subject so that some of the light from the main strobe reflects back on the subjects face just to soften up the shadow.. You can also try keeping the 2 flashes but dimming one either with setting on the strobe (not sure if your have that -- mine didn't) or ND filters.. But I would start with fewer lights..
    A good expercise would be to start with one light and a reflector and learn to get that to work with just one subject (try to keep the subject as far away from the background as you can to minimize shadows)...
    Then add in lights one by one.. For example you might consider using one of the lights just to light the background next.. I think that people are sometimes too eager to replicate the 8 plus strobes used in some of the more elaborate shoots. But to master multiple strobes you first have to learn to use one.
    In the long run you probably want to invest in a book or 2. has tons of recommendations .. I likeLight - Science and Magic but has tons of good suggestions
  12. One thing Amber.. I would ignore the posts telling you to start over with brand new modeling lights and equipment. The equipment that you have should really allow you to take solid portraits and experiment with lighting. You are just lighting some kids, or infants.. its not like you need all that much power (full length portaits or group shots of adults with props would not be possible for example). I would suggest that whatever money you do spend going forward, make sure that it will be usefull for other equipment down the light.. For example, lighting stands, umbrellas, reflectors.. this is all useful equipment now and it will still be useful if you decide to upgrade. Your flashmeter for example will always be essential
    I recently upgraded my AC strobes to a set of Alien Bee monolights.. They are a significant step up and open a few more options because of the built in modeling lights more power, quicker recycling time etc... However, I better appreciate and understand how to use my new lights because of my work with the AC strobes.

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