Free Photography Tutorials, Beginners to Advanced

An Introduction to Studio Lighting

Studio Lighting closeup of cocktail glass

Once you develop a taste for indoor photography it is only a matter of time before you will want your own studio lighting setup. A studio setup can be anything from a few table lamps, and a spare sheet for the background, to an elaborate multi flash system.

Although continuous light can be used, I would thoroughly recommend that, if you want to get serious about studio photography, you invest in a couple of studio flash heads. These do not need to be expensive, nowadays you can get a couple of lights for about the same price as a halfway decent telephoto lens.

Studio flash heads have several advantages for the photographer because they are powerful, even the lower priced units kick out much more power that the average portable flash, and infinitely more than continuous light. If you tried to get the same amount of light from a continuous source the heat would be unbearable. In the old days before studio flash was available photographers used big arc lights. Anything that was sensitive to heat, ice cream for instance, was impossible to shoot, they used to use mashed potato instead and make it look like ice cream.

Having lots of power means that you can control the light in interesting ways, you can manipulate the light using umbrellas and soft boxes to diffuse the light and soften the shadows, whilst still getting a reasonable exposure at a small aperture. Flash can freeze the action (as you can see from the picture on the right), with very fast exposure times, and give you all the depth of field you need, important for small subjects like the shots opposite.

All the head shots on the following pages were exposed at 1/100sec at f32 with the ISO set at 200. Altough the camera was set at 1/100th of a second, the actual effective exposure time is the duration of the flash, normally less than 1/1000th of a second. Your portrait sitter will not move as fast as my Martini, hopefully, but the pictures will still be a lot sharper using flash than they will using continuous light.

More light = faster shutter speeds = sharper photos
More light = smaller apertures = sharper photos

The peppers were shot at an aperture setting of f32 giving maximum depth of field, the picture is a sharp as a pin from front to back.

Studio Flash Recycles Fast

Studio flash heads also recycle very fast, much faster than a portable flashgun, so you can keep shooting at a fast rate. This is very important when you are doing portraits or model shoots, you need to keep shooting at a fast pace to get the best out of the sitters. Recently I had to do some group shots outside using a battery powered flash as there was nowhere to plug in my mains units, the recycling time was so slow that it became a bit embarrassing keeping everyone waiting while the flash recharged. I found it very hard to keep those smiles coming.

Studio Flash - Reliability

You don't need to go for any top of the range lights unless you are going to take up studio photography for a career. The top professional gear will be bigger, more powerful and more reliable when used all day everyday, but in my experience the bottom of the range lights are certainly powerful enough for use with our DSLR cameras, and as for reliability, I have just replaced my lights because, after fifteen years of dedicated service, one flash head finally gave up the ghost. The other light is still going strong but after such a long time, the company have stopped making the same model, so I had to buy a new set.

I have never had any reliability problems with studio flash, which is a lot more than I can say for the portable battery flashguns that I have used over the years. In fact thinking about it, in my entire photography life (about three hundred years) this is the first flash head that has ever gone wrong. Others have been replaced for bigger and better models with flashy (pun intended) new gadgets but never because they let me down.

Other tutorials in this section


Introduction page.

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Available Light

Getting the best out of the sun.

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Using Reflectors

Filling in the shadows.

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Break away from the in-camera flash.

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Fill-in Flash

Soften those shadows.

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Red Eye Removal

A quick remedy in Photoshop.

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Studio Lighting

An introduction to indoor lighting.

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Inverse Square Law

A bit of Physics for those who feel the need.

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