First of all, it is recommended to use a smallish sized room with nice white walls. White walls will ensure that the light remains uncoloured, so that the person you are photographing doesn’t appear to be coloured by the light (imagine if your walls were shocking pink for example… ).
You could use a soft box, an umbrella, or both tools in the studio. A soft box is a small box that fits on top of the flash, the small flash tube shoots out light, which is reflected off the insides of the walls of the soft box and then passes through a translucent material which covers the front of the soft box, dispersing the light in lots of different directions.
An umbrella is a very similar piece of apparatus to a soft box with the main difference being that some of the light from the flash can pass through it, and the rest reflects off it. You can use it both ways to get different lighting results. When you put the umbrella onto the head of the flash, you will have a spill kill. It is a round piece of metal that fits around the end of the flash. We call it a spill kill because it prevents light from spilling out past the umbrella. This prevents light from hitting the walls and the ceilings, which can completely destroy your photography efforts. The whole purpose of a home studio is for you to have control of the light.
Let’s look at the differences between the light that comes from the soft box and the light coming from the umbrella. Flash heads have what we call modelling lights, which are simply tungsten bulbs that are always on. By adjusting the output you can make the light level go up and down. It enables you to see how the light behaves at various outputs. As you change the exposure you can see how the shadows change around the person or object you are shooting.
If you are using a flash, it is recommended that you use a flash meter. There are other ways of doing it but they are not precise and it would require a lengthy explanation. Firstly, you start by adjusting the ISO speed on your flash meter to match the your camera’s ISO speed. Set your flash sync speed to an adequate setting. To do that you will need to find out what the sync speed of your camera is. It is not a good idea to point the invercone directly towards the flash. Instead, point it at the position of the camera. If you’re buying a home studio kit, it will probably come with 200 or 400 watt second lamps. Using the flash meter you can measure the aperture. F8 is usually a good aperture to use.
If you’re using an older set of lights, the voltage will be different to more recent electrical appliances and can damage your camera, so it is recommended that you don’t connect your camera directly to an older set of lights. Instead of doing that you can trigger photoelectric cell triggers on your lights using a pop up flash on top of your camera. So that this doesn’t mess up the lighting of the shot, you will be able to adjust the flash on your camera to be a very small fraction (2% for example) of its normal output.
By working with an umbrella instead of a soft box, we can let some of the light escape through the umbrella, reflect off the walls and ceiling of the studio and make a softer overall lighting effect, rather than have almost all of the light reflect back onto the person or object we are shooting (as would be the case with a soft box). The shadows on the model’s face will not be as strong when using an umbrella as they would when using a soft box.
If you turn the light around to point directly towards the model, with the umbrella between so that the light goes through the umbrella, the room will be a great deal brighter than before. You’ll need to set the exposure again before taking the photographs. Doing it this way will obviously create softer lighting than if you just use the soft box, but the lighting will still not be as soft as letting the light bounce out of the umbrella (with the flash facing in the opposite direction to the person you are shooting).
A very popular method of setting up your lighting is ‘flat light’, which will reduce textures and shadows by using two or more flashes. Shadows on a person’s face will make their wrinkles and imperfections more obvious. Having one light shining towards the subject from one direction and another light from a different position will help to soften up the shadows. You might decide to let some of the light shine off one of the side walls. If you pay attention to these small details you will notice some very interesting results.
To set up the exposure, you’ll need to do one light at a time to guarantee that the light is even from both light sources. In this instance, I recommend that you do point the invercone towards the light. If one is about F8 and the other is around F8.5 it will be good enough, as the difference won’t have much of an effect. If your lights are on sliders, then just by sliding them forward or backward by a couple of inches will enable you to make very subtle changes.
If you are planning to create some soft shadows, you can use a technique known as Key And Fill, which is where you will have a light that is the key light (your primary light), which will form shadows on the subject’s face. Then you can use the other light to soften those shadows. You should start by setting up the key light before the additional light. It should be almost in line with the position from where you take the shot. After that step, set up the fill light to soften the shadows. You should play around with the location of the fill light, but it will probably be pointing at the model approximately at 90 degrees to the direction of the key light. If the key light is about F16 for example, and the fill light is about say F8, this should work quite nicely.
The next thing to check is the overall exposure. Turn both the key light and the fill light on, ensure you’re not standing in front of the key light, then check the exposure at the point where the subject is positioned using the flash meter. You can now set this on your camera.
If you use a longer lens and standing slightly further back, you can make sure that no unwanted light gets into your camera directly from the light sources.
By understanding how to meter it and spending time setting it up, you know that light will remain constant for a few hours, unlike natural light from a window which is constantly changing with the direction of the sun.