What Photography Studio Lighting is the Best?

Lights, camera, action! This has been used by photographers with their their models and directors when shooting movies.

But, think about those three words, lights, camera and action and their meaning. They mean that if you want an awesome visual image, you have to create the perfect lighting, the perfect camera settings and the perfect model for the action. Of the three factors, lighting can be said to be the factor that either makes or breaks a great photograph. Whether you are beginning out in photography, or you have years of experience in the same, you need to master the art of studio lighting because this is the medium that transforms regular images into masterpieces.

Determining the right type of lighting

Here is the first question which you need to ask yourself before you start looking for any lighting equipment. What do you aim to achieve with the photography and what lighting to use to achieve the intended results in a photography studio.

Different lighting patterns

Lighting patterns are simply the different ways in which studio lighting and shadows play across a given space in order to create different shapes and shadows. There are four major lighting patterns which are:

  • Split lighting
  • Loop lighting
  • Butterfly lighting
  • Rembrandt lighting


Split Lighting

Split lighting is exactly what the name implies. When used in photography, it will illuminate the face in such a way that one half will be in the light and the other half will be in the shadow. As a result, you will have a dramatic image which can be used for model or celebrity portraits and other works of art whose aim is to make a statement. Most photographers say that this type of lighting works better with men than it does with women, however, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to photography. If you use this lighting to make a statement and you end up with a great and dramatic image, there is no harm at all in going with it.

Split Lighting in Photography Studio Lighting - SHOOTFACTORY

There are specific measures that you can follow to create a split lighting pattern.

  • Get the person or object that you want to photograph close to the source of light. In the studio, you can achieve this by simply bringing a light source close to a sitting candidate.
  • Position the object and yourself at a 90-degree angle; this is the positioning which will create that dramatic effect of light on one side and darkness on the other.
  • Check to see whether there is a light running down the centre of the face of the person whose photo you want to take. If it is a small child, take your time and convince them to stay still because failure to do this will lead to an unclear image.
  • Take the photos as needed in colour. When you turn them to black and white, you will see the dramatic effect. If the effect is not as clear as you would like it to be, there are editing tools which will help you achieve that. However, when the lighting is right, you will not have to go to these extremes.
  • Keep refining the skill till you get to the point where you can take perfectly split lighting portraits.


Loop lighting

This is the second most popular photography style. This is a technique whereby you will need to have the light at an angle of 45 degrees above the person whose portrait you are making. The technique is aimed at creating a nose shadow that loops down onto their cheek at an angle. Most of the face will be illuminated in this type of lighting.

Loop Lighting Studio Photography - SHOOTFACTORY

The steps to follow when setting up a loop lighting photo:

  • Place the source of light above the maximum height that the person you will be photographing will reach when they are seated.
  • Have the subject sit down, and then adjust the lighting source until the angle between the object and the light is about 45 degrees.
  • To soften the shadow that the nose and the face will create because of the light being positioned to one side, you can have a second but softer source of light illuminating the other side of the face.

This is a lighting technique which works best with an oval face. The technique is awesome because it helps create an illusion of high cheekbones and it also makes the face appear slimmer and longer than it actually is. An important tip that will help you get the best loop lighting images is simply putting the source of lighting at an angle of about 30 degrees to the side of the face and just above the eyes. When the object is positioned higher up, it will form larger shadows, and that will be unflattering.

Butterfly lighting

This is the third most popular lighting style for studio portrait photography. When you place the camera directly in front of a source of light, you are able to create a butterfly shadow. This shadow illuminates the object and creates the most interesting images of their portrait. This is the ideal type of lighting that is needed when you want to soften facial features. For instance, people who have wrinkles look younger when photographed using this lighting. The style is also used to create patterns such as shadows under the chins and the cheeks.

Butterfly Lighting in Studio Photography Lighting - SHOOTFACTORY

Steps to follow when creating a butterfly lighting shot

  • Have the person sit directly in front of you in a lighting-controlled studio environment.
  • Place the main source of the light behind the camera that you will be using, but also make sure that the lighting reaches the subject.
  • If possible, create a secondary source of light and have it softly light the face from a position below the cheeks.
  • When you take the shots, the entire face will be softened by the butterfly shadow created by the camera, while lower light will highlight the desirable features.

A tip for the best source of light to use when creating this image is to try and use a harsh source of light such as window light, the sun or a flash. Indoor lighting will not give you the sharpness and definition that you need for the images.

Rembrandt Lighting

This lighting style is named after the painter because he was fond of using the lighting style in his portraits. The difference which exists between this lighting type and others is that it has a triangle of light that touches the nose. The shadow of the nose and the cheek in this style meet, creating a trapped triangle in the middle which is often the nose.

Rembrandt Lighting in Photography Studio Lighting - SHOOTFACTORY

The steps to follow to create Rembrandt lit photos

  • The source of light should be placed at a 45-degree angle on one side of the subject’s face.
  • For the perfect images, you have to make sure that the light source is above the head level of the subject.
  • Move to the other side of the object and place a reflector. This is what is going to prevent the object from having a bright and dark side.
  • If you will be getting the light from a strobe, make a few shots and see how they look and then adjust the lighting as needed.

The most significant point to remember when trying to take this photo is that the triangle of light shouldn’t extend beyond the nose. At the same time, it should not be too tiny. Take time and adjust the objects which are part of the source till you get that perfect balance between the light and the shadows.

Other lighting types which are common

The four styles discussed above are the most basic when it comes to creating dynamic and dramatic photos. However, there are a few other lighting techniques that you need to be aware of to be a successful portrait photographer.

Broad Lighting

This is a technique where the light is positioned on one side of the object that has to be photographed. The side that is close to the light will be well-lit while the other side will be darker. This is the perfect type of lighting that you use for clients that have a slim face which is coupled with hollow cheekbones. Broad light is perfect when it comes to adding volume to images and filling shadows, consequently, it is the best type of lighting to hide flaws in skin which has a lot of texture.

Short light

This is a technique where the light comes from the off-camera side of the face and is then pointed back towards the camera. When this technique is used the side of the subject’s face that is close to the camera falls into the shadow, creating a very dramatic effect. If you are taking photos of a person that has a broad face and you would like them to appear slimmer, this is the right type of lighting to use. An important tip to note here also is that all the four main types of images can be created using either broad or short light.

Flat light

This is another technique that is common in the creation of dramatic images in the studio. Flat lighting works best when you are not using pop lighting, and the source of light is usually located in the same direction as the camera. Flat light is not only used for portrait photography, but also in modelling and especially in full body shots. When used for portraits flat lighting should be placed at the same height as the face of the person being photographed. This type of lighting is perfect when the model has skin texture issues such as eyebags and wrinkles. The lack of shadows means that these flaws will not be highlighted in any way. An interesting tip which makes the application of this type of lighting even better is the use of flags as a backdrop to contrast them with the light in front.

Hard lighting

This is a technique where a very string beam of light which is directed at the subject and relative to the size of their head is used. In this technique, sources of light such as the sun are used because they offer little to no transition between the light and shadow. There are no mid tones, and the harshness of the light means that all the details on the person’s skin will be strongly highlighted.

Soft light

This is the obvious opposite of hard light. The source of light is larger than the size of the object being photographed. The effect is therefore the direct opposite of what happens when hard lighting is used. This means that features will be softened and there will be mid-tones. It also means that the person will look less flawed because eyebags, rough skin and other skin characteristics will not be highlighted in the photography.

What is the best lighting type?

Now that we are through with the basics, the question once again emerges, what is the best type of lighting. The answer to this question is that there is no one type of lighting that will be ideal for the studio. The best approach to give studio lighting is to learn all the techniques and apply as needed. Here are some guidelines which will be useful in helping you choose the right lighting depending on the situation:

  • Think about the effect which you want to achieve with the photos you are about to create
  • Assess the facial features of the subject that you are trying to photograph. Look at the flaws and other characteristics.
  • Ask the person if they are self-conscious about certain features and have their opinion about how they want these features represented.
  • Come up with the lighting that will create the most flattering images for your client.
  • Start thinking about the equipment that you have and whether it will be sufficient to create the images that you want to create.


Recommended studio lighting equipment

It is probably not possible to have all the lighting equipment and technology available in the market inside your studio. However, there are some basic items that you must have. Here is a list of the items which you should invest in when starting a photography career.

Continuous lighting

This is like the most basic equipment that you will need if you want to take the perfect photograph. The best thing about having this type of lighting in your studio is that you can actually visualise how the images will look before you even start taking the shots and this keeps you focused towards the right things. There are three types of bulbs that are popular in making continuous studio lights; tungsten, fluorescent and LED. The choice here depends on reference and not that much about the performance. If you want to make sure that your studio stays cool during photo shoots, however, invest in LED lighting because it does not heat up at all.

You can make your continuous lighting kit even better by getting it an adjustable power kit. The power kit is what determines how much light will be emitted by the flash at any given time.

Speedlight lighting

The second studio staple when it comes to lighting equipment are the speed lighting kits. The wonderful thing about these kits is that they can be used along with flashlights and umbrellas to disperse light as needed. They are also very versatile. You can take them to any photography assignment including weddings and other shoots that happen on location. They will give you the perfect on the go lighting studio to suit all your photography needs.

Moonlight strobe lighting kits

These are self-contained lighting kits which have self-contained power sources stands and reflectors. The best thing about investing in this studio staple is that it contains its own power source and you will not need to take a generator with you when you have the kit. If you are going to be doing a lot of model and object photography, these are the best kits to invest in because their results are perfect.

Those are the three types of lighting kits that you need to have to start a successful career in the studio. If your budget does not stretch to all three, make sure that you have at least two, one will serve as the in-studio source of light while the other will be perfect for situations when you will be on location.

The modifiers that you need for the perfect photo

There are certain modifiers which will be important to have as a complement to the light sources and types:

Softboxes and diffusers: Most of the times, these accompany the lighting kit that you buy. But if you are a self-assembly kind of photographer, which happens when you realize that one brand may be amazing at making certain parts of the kit while another will excel at a different tool, you can buy a diffuser directly because it creates a less dramatic transition between the light and the dark parts of the image.

Umbrella: Photography umbrellas are essential when it comes to lighting. The umbrella reflects direct light away from the source, bounces it off and sends it back to the subject when it is softer.

Beauty dish: the beauty dish is used mostly for model photography. It is similar to the softbox; the only advantage is that it does not have the extreme hard shadows which come from the naked light.

Barn doors: these are the tools that you need to focus and redirect the light as needed. You can change the focus of the light by opening and closing any doors as needed.

Gels: these are used to give colour to the light used in photography. They are able to create dramatic effects such as making the light appear orange to depict sunset and other similar effects.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into the lighting part of the photography process. When choosing the light type, you will have to combine all these aspects, not forgetting that the looks and preferences of the model to be photographed all matter. However, here are a few lighting basics that you can never go wrong with:

Continuous lighting: the brands that come highly recommended when it comes to continuous lighting are Ikan’s LED panels or Lowel and Impact. These brands will not disappoint, especially if you are starting out.

Strobe Lights: If you are looking for the perfect brand of strobe lights, think about Profoto B2 series and Wescott or Bowens. You can not go wrong with these.

Modifiers: there are several brands of modifiers that are available in the market. The best rated include the MagMod diffuser kit. It is inexpensive and very perfect for softening the light inside the studio.

Speed lighting: the brands that you cannot go wrong with then it comes to speed lighting include Nikon and Canon. They are ideal and to make matters even better, they are easily accessible and affordable.

So, the real answer to the question of what the best light for photography studios is that there is no particular lighting system or brand which is perfect. What determines the lighting which will work well in various situations is what you intend to achieve, the current state of your studio and the equipment which you have. As a photographer, therefore, you need to invest in the basics and always make sure that before arranging your lighting, you have a goal in mind and that the needs of the customer are catered for.


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