Tag Archives: studio lighting

Starting Out With Light Modifiers

Many readers of Beyond Here are wanting to take the step into the professional photography ranks. They are looking to make photography a significant part of their income, and then make it their main source of income. Making that leap often means learning the skills and having the equipment to shoot multiple days of the week and in different lighting conditions. In many cases this will bring an ‘outdoor’ photographer indoor where they will need a range of lighting equipment, and the skills to use them. In this post we look at starting out with light modifiers. Here is an overview of the basic equipment.


This image was shot with a single soft box to the left of camera

Reflector – a reflector is a very simple piece of equipment. They are straightforward to use and simply reflect the existing light. They come in silver and gold which create different levels of ‘warmth’ in the light. Reflectors come in a range of sizes and are cheap and worth having.


The simplest light modifier is a diffuser for a speedlite

Speedlite Diffuser – a speedlite diffuser is the most basic type of light modifier. They come in various forms, but the most simple is a piece of plastic which fits over the head of the speedlite. They are surprisingly effective in softening the light from your speedlite. They are very cheap and worth getting. The speedlite shown in the diagram is being used off camera. If you have never used your speedlite off camera, please see this post. Learning to use your speedlite off camera and softening the light will open up a new world of lighting opportunities for you.

Reflective Umbrella – umbrellas are ideal for creating soft light across a large area, which makes them useful for lighting groups of people. They are cheap and easy to use. The only disadvantage is that they tend to spread lots of light around. Like the reflector, reflective umbrellas come in different colors – silver, gold and white.

Shoot through umbrella

A simple set up for a speedlite to be fired through a shoot through umbrella

White Shoot Through Umbrella – shoot through umbrellas are great for diffusing light and spreading it evenly. They are simple to use, and as the name implies, you shoot the light through the translucent umbrella. They come in different sizes, so keep in mind that the light will be softer when coming from a larger source. Shoot through umbrellas and reflective umbrellas are very easy to use in an indoor environment. An example is in this post. Be very wary of using umbrellas outdoor. Even a very small gust of wind will catch the umbrella and blow your equipment over.

Scrims – a scrim is a square or rectangular frame with diffusion fabric spread across it. They are typically larger than umbrellas and can be used to create large areas of diffused light. Use a scrim to diffuse light from flash, continuous lights, or the sun.

Soft box – soft boxes give the photographer more control of light than umbrellas. Soft boxes are what I use most frequently in the studio environment. They are simple to use and avoid light spreading everywhere in the studio environment. Soft boxes come in a range of different sizes from small to very large. Choose which is most appropriate for your lighting needs and your space.

Soft boxes

An example of soft boxes in a simple studio environment

That covers the very basics of starting out with light modifiers. This post only touches the surface of a large subject. I’ve done it without mentioning beauty dishes, gridspots, Fresnel lights, or an octabox! Thanks for reading starting out with light modifiers. I hope it has demystified light modifiers and given you the encouragement to begin modifying your light.

What are Continuous Lights

In an earlier post on Beyond Here, we discussed How to Build a Home Photography Studio. In that post, I provided a brief overview of the requirements for space, backdrops, and lights. Once you have decided to set up a home photography studio, the decision on lighting is the most complicated and expensive decision. Your choice is between strobes and continuous lighting. Many photographers are familiar with the concept of strobe lighting – they work like large flash units, emitting a short burst of bright light. In this post we look at the question, what are continuous lights?

Very simply, continuous lights are always on. Rather than emitting a short burst of bright light, they emit a continuous stream of light.

Continuous lights

An example of continuous lights in a home photography studio

So why use continuous lights? Continuous lights have several advantages over strobe lights.

  • What you see if what you get. With continuous lighting the effect on your subject can be seen before the shot is taken. If you want to alter the way the light appears, you can adjust your lights or subject and see the impact before taking the shot.
  • They are easy to use. If you are new to studio lighting, strobes can be daunting to learn to use. With continuous lights you literally turn them on and then position the lights and subject to achieve the desired look. They are very straightforward to use.
  • Continuous lights can be used for video. It is increasingly common to shoot video with a digital SLR camera. Continuous lights can be used to shoot video – meaning you can shoot both still images and video in your studio using one set of lights.
  • They are fairly affordable. The exact price of continuous lights will depend on your location, the number of lights  you want, and the power of those lights. It is worth checking with your local photography store or online shops.

To assess whether continuous lights are the right choice for you, it is worth knowing that they have some disadvantages in comparison to strobe lighting too.

  • Continuous lights are not as bright as strobes. If you want to ‘freeze motion’ in the studio you will be more effective in using the short, bright burst of light from strobe lighting.
  • Continuous lights need a steady power source. If you are planning to leave your lights in your studio, then continuous lights work very well. But if you want your lights to be portable, strobes will be a better choice.
  • Strobe lights give you a lot more options in terms of power. With strobe lights you have greater control of the power output from each light, giving many more lighting options in your studio.

I hope this post has been useful in understanding what are continuous lights.

How to Build a Home Photography Studio

In this post we cover how to build a home photography studio, based on my experience building one 18 months ago.

Step 1 – Space

How much space will you need? Most standard size backgrounds are 3m wide, so ideally you want a room that is wider than this. You will see in the photo, my room is about 3.2m wide at the ceiling and slightly wider at the floor (due to the odd shaped ceiling). How long the room is, is less critical. Any space more than 4m long will be plenty for most studio shots.

Step 2 – Backdrops

Your key decision with backgrounds is whether you want to use paper rolls which will need to be replaced over time, or an alternative. Paper rolls work really well where you do full length model images and have a hard floor.

My room is carpeted and I do very few full length shots. I chose to use muslin backdrops. These are readily available from studio photography stores or online.

Home photography studio

Home photography studio

Step 3 – Hanging the Backdrops

While you consider which type of backdrops to use, you also need to consider how you will hang them. A common choice is to buy a portable stand which they hang from. I didn’t go down this path as you need enough room to fit the legs of the stand in your room. That would have been wider than my room is.

I chose to put mounts in the ceiling and hang the backdrops on standard size curtain rods. The rods are 3.1m and the backdrops are 3m wide. The curtain rods are very affordable – A$9 each from my local hardware store.

The downside of this system is that the backdrops are not portable. (I have a separate “pop-up” backdrop which I use when I need a portable backdrop. I will save that for another post.)

The upside is that the mounts in the ceiling are very secure, and although you can’t see it clearly in the picture, it means I can hang 5 backdrops at once (one in front of the other).

Step 4 – Lighting

Step 4 is straightforward but potentially the biggest decision from a cost point of view. As you can see, I decided to get three lights, soft boxes, and stands. This gives me a variety of options for lighting a fairly small space. These are relatively inexpensive and low power. I was able to do this due to the small space, and to keep costs down.

I also use speed-lites with shoot through umbrellas when I need more lighting options.

Step 5 – Get to Work

It really is that simple to get started. Now that you know how to build a home photography studio, its time to get to work!

Do you already have a home photography studio? What were the key lessons from building it? If you haven’t built a home studio yet, do you have questions I can help with?