I’ve been asked more than a few times about my studio setup. It’s a 9ft roll of white seamless (most of the time) and some white tileboards. Often, the questions come about shooting on seamless and typically I point people to Zack’s blog where he talks in depth about this very topic.
I thought, however, that since I do a majority of my studio sessions on the seamless I would go ahead and take a few minutes to go over my setup and touch a small amount on the basics for the lighting. If you would like a more in depth tutorial I highly recommend checking out Zack’s site and that lighting on the cheap guru: David Hobby aka Strobist.
So I’ll start this whole thing off by showing you my current setup. Since my studio is currently in my house, I would like to point out the optimal size for this setup would be a bit larger than what I currently utilize, but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got! =) The basic dimensions for my studio space are about 12ft wide by 24ft long and 9ft high. It’s not possible to utilize every inch of space – there’s almost two feet of dead space behind the seamless paper due to the stand and the length can be adjusted if needed, but it’s set up for 12 feet out at the moment.
Based on my experiences thus far with the limitations of these dimensions, I would highly recommend a larger space. Not necessarily the width, though I’ve certainly encounter situations where I needed a larger width -like with large groups of people – but definitely the height and length!
Basically, the average adult is somewhere between 5 – 6 feet tall or so (some even a little bit taller than that). So they already are very close to the top of my seamless – which is extended to within about two inches of the ceiling. This means, that if you are shorter or shoot from a lower vantage point for any reason you’re going to end up seeing the edge of the seamless and whatever is surrounding it. Sometimes I have found myself having to fix this in photoshop later – which is why I bring it up now. Setting your seamless up so that it’s taller than 9 feet is better! =)
The longer length of the studio helps immensely with separating your light sources, which is important. I’ll explain why: when you look at your basic setup for shooting on, say, a high-key white background you have two lights on either side of the seamless to light it and then the lighting on your subject. Think of them as two separate entities. Light your background to what you desire and then you concentrate on your lighting for your subject. The further away from the background the more independent you make those two lighting situations. Since I’m pretty limited on how far away from the background my subject can be, I have pulled the folding doors off of a spare closet to use as barn doors to help control light spillage onto my subject. It’s my cheap and easy solution to the issue of limited space for the moment. =)
My lighting equipment at this point consists of two Alien Bee AB800’s and one Nikon SB800 speedlight. I will often vary where the different lights are actually used based on what I want with the lighting… but my most common setup for things like headshots is one AB800 on the left side of the seamless, one SB800 speedlight on the right side of the seamless and then the last AB800 upfront with the softbox – if I’m using the softbox (because I don’t have a way to use the SB with the giant softbox at this point). If I’m not wanting to use the softbox, then it’s both AB’s on the background and the SB on the subject.
It all comes down to working with the equipment you have. I’ve found though that the list of “I wants” tends to grow exponentially the more you learn with lighting and the more you wanna play around.
Of course the setup I mentioned earlier is what I use if I wanna make that white seamless a nice hi-key or blown background. But what if I don’t want a white, blown background? Easy. Because I’ve made sure to light the background separately from the subject, I can just make any adjustments without messing up my lighting on the subject. If I want a grey background – a nice medium gray – then I just go over to the background lights and turn them off.
The further away the subject is from the actual background, the darker the white will seem. AND, if you selectively light your subject with something like a grid, you can make your white seamless seem black.
Yeah. White becomes black.
You will find that you have to play around with your camera settings too though… to make sure your exposing your shots for the background and then using the light on the subject to make them look how you want. Basically, what I’m saying here is – get the background to look the way you want and then start figuring out how much light you will need/want on your subject and try to direct that light in a way that gives you the effect you’re looking for.
I’ve found that everyone explains it a little bit differently, but when I heard that same explanation it clicked for me. We all learn in our own way. =)
It all comes down to controlling where the light will go. And trying to see that in your mind ahead of time. It’s not something that comes to you overnight! You have to play around. But that’s the fun of it! Go play around with what equipment you have! That’s how I learned what I know so far, and it’s fun too!
And one more thing, go check out that strobist site! Equipment can sometimes be a bit on the expensive side. Okay… it’s often expensive. (at least for my wallet). Strobist has links to all kinds of DIY projects that are fun to create and even more fun to use. =) Have fun!!!