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    Your guide to studio lighting equipment

    The post Your guide to studio lighting equipment first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by John McIntire.

    There are many studio equipment to become familiar with, and there are many terms to learn.

    If you are new to studio lighting, you can easily be intimidated by the amount of things you need to learn. The jargon alone is enough to turn your head. Fortunately, none of the things you need to be successful in the studio are particularly complicated, there is just a lot of it. The purpose of this article is to serve as an introduction to introduce you to some of the most basic studio lighting equipment and to terms that you need to navigate through a photo studio.

    This is not a comprehensive list, and with new tools and techniques being invented all the time, it could never be.

    A little warning: Some of these terms are used differently by different photographers. Others are exchanged with each other. Although it can sometimes be confusing, it does not necessarily have to be wrong. However, it is useful to know when someone refers someone to a flag as a gobo or refers to ambient light as continuous light.

    Types of light

    strobe – A studio strobe is a special flash. They can sometimes be called a monobloc or a mono light. Typically, more battery-powered offers are placed on the market. Output power between models can vary greatly, with cheaper flash units that offer just as much power as a cheap third-party flash gun.

    Stroboscopes are powerful flash units that almost dominate studio photography.

    Continuous light / hot light – Continuous lighting has the same lighting functions as flash units, but they do not blink. Instead, they are powerful lamps that can usually be equipped in the same way with modifiers as flash units. Although they are usually associated with video, continuous lamps still have their place in photography for photos. There are currently many LED lights on the market and many of them are executable options.

    The hotlight name comes from the fact that they tend to get very hot. Be careful with modifiers that are close to the lamp because they present a fire hazard. This does not apply to LED lamps.

    Flashgun / speedlight – Flash guns are small lights with a hot shoe mount for placement on the top of your camera. They are very portable and some come with fairly high power outputs. Although their versatility is ultimately limited to their size and output power, they are still an extremely useful tool for any photographer interested in lighting outside the camera.

    Flashguns are small but competent light sources that are invaluable for portable studios.

    Light functions

    Key light – Your most important light is the main light that you use to shape your subject. This is usually the brightest and most prominent light in your scene.

    Fill light – A fill light reduces the intensity of shadows created by the key light, reducing the overall contrast in your scene.

    Edge light / backlight – Edge lights illuminate your subject from behind to separate them from the background. Often rim lamps are positioned so that only a strip of light is visible on the sides of your subject.

    Background light – As it says on the can: background lighting lights up the background.

    Its light – Hair lamps are used to emphasize the hair of your subject. They can also be used to increase the exposure of your subject's head as it moves into the background.

    Ambient light – This is any light that is present for the addition of other light sources. This can be from lighting in the room or from daylight from a window or from outside.


    Umbrella ' s – Umbrellas are usually supplied in silver or white and can be attached to your strobe via a support. By shooting the flash in the umbrella (which brings the light back to your subject), you create a much larger light source that creates a softer light. Although they are usually directional, umbrellas can have many splashes, and they are not the easiest modifier to operate.

    Umbrellas are your most basic modifier. They are good for soft, diffuse light, but they are difficult to control.

    Transparent umbrella ' s / translucent umbrella ' s – Translucent umbrellas do not reflect the light, but instead are made of diffusion material through which you direct the light. This softens the light, much on the way of other modifiers, but without the advantage of directionality.

    Translucent parasols also provide soft light, but they are not as directional as softboxes.

    softboxes – Softboxes come in various shapes and sizes. Once attached to your light, a softbox works to shape and soften the light, making it more flattering. Softboxes also tend to be quite directional and are easy to operate and further adjust.

    Softboxes are the workhorse of the photographic studio and they come in all shapes and sizes.

    Comic boxes – Strip boxes are soft boxes, but they are long narrow rectangles that produce a much narrower light beam. These are great for illuminating a subject from behind for an edge-lighting effect.

    Strip lights are a handy type of soft box with highly focused light.

    Octaboxes – Also a kind of soft box, an octabox is octagonal in shape. The rounder light source is useful for shaping the light for portraits. Octaboxes are also quite large, making them an ideal modifier for portraits.

    reflectors (the change type) – The reflector is a modifier that fits directly on your flash. They channel the light at a specific angle for highly focused light. They are also a very hard light source. Most are designed to take different schedules.

    Reflectors, such as this 110-degree reflector, offer a very focused and very hard light source.

    snoots – Snoots are modifiers designed to focus your light in a very narrow bundle. They are great for both hair lighting and background lighting.

    Snoots guide your light into a very tight and controlled beam.

    Barn doors – Barn doors are equipped with two to four valves so that you can manually adjust the aperture that is transmitted through the light. These flaps can help you reduce the focus of your light on a specific aspect of your subject (such as their hair), or they can be used to highlight the light of hitting a place that you don't want.

    Beauty dish – Beauty dishes are directional factors that lie somewhere between soft and harsh light. They are great for beauty photography (hence the name), but also for fashion and portraits. They are often supplied with grids and diffusion socks to give you even more options for using them.

    Beauty dishes offer a contrast-like light between hard and soft.

    Grids / honeycombs – Grids are modifiers for your modifiers. Placed on a reflector, soft box or beauty scale, they further reduce the light beam and ensure that the light only falls on your subject (or where you want it).

    Grids help you further change the direction of your light.

    gobo – A gobo is placed in front of a light source to change the shape of the light. This can be as simple as shrinking the bundle and as complicated as creating complex patterns. The easiest way to explain this is to imagine a blind with light that shines through. Now imagine the pattern on the wall. The blind person acts as an effective gobo and forms the light.

    CTO Gels – Color correction gels are used if you want to correct the color temperature of a specific light. For example, if you have a gridded bowl of beauty that is particularly warm (like mine) and you want to use a different light as a hair lamp, that second light might be very cool compared to your main light. By placing an orange CTO gel on your hair lamp, you can adjust the color output of both lamps and balance them.

    Color Gels – You can also use gels for a creative ending. You can gel your lights to produce just about any color you want.

    Reflectors (the reflective type) – Reflectors are an important part of every studio kit. With this you can reflect the light of your most important light on your subject. They are a means to create a fill light without using a second specific light source. Reflectors come in many shapes and sizes, from the ubiquitous 5-in-1 reflectors to beautiful tri-reflectors that are sometimes used in beauty portraits.

    Reflectors and diffusers are two vital aids when it comes to shaping and controlling your light in the studio. A reflective tripod is also shown here.

    Diffuser / Scrim – A diffuser is a piece of translucent material that you place in front of a light source to change the shape of the light or to reduce the intensity of the light. Some diffusers do both.

    flags – Flags are used to block (or mark) light so that it does not fall into your scene where you do not want it. You can use them to prevent too much light from falling on your background, or you can use them to reduce exposure on those parts of your subject that are not the focal point. For example, sometimes I use flags to help under the neck in underexposed portraits. This helps ensure that the face is the main focus of the image.

    Studio accessories

    Light stands – Just a standard to hold your light source. Make sure you have one that can support the weight of your light. A powerful, special flash requires much more support than a flash.

    This image shows a boom arm attached to a lighting stand on a dolly. It is a fantastic and versatile package.

    doll – A light stand with wheels. Most useful.

    Boom arm – A boom arm is a light stand that you can place at any angle between fully vertical and fully horizontal. These are useful for getting your lamps high and also for placing your light at an angle where a traditional light setting might not work. You can mount different types of boom arms on other light standards and on permanent fixtures such as walls.

    Reflector standard – A special standard designed to hold a reflector in place.

    Background – A background is a surface on which you place your subject. These vary from rolls of paper and vinyl to bare or decorated walls to pieces of painted canvas.

    This image shows a painted canvas background. At the top of the frame you can see gray and white vinyl rolls on a motorized support system.

    Background stand / support – Any support system designed to hold a background in place. These can be mounted free-standing or mounted on the wall.

    to clamp – Clamps and other fasteners come in all shapes. You can (and should) use this to hold all kinds of things in place. Backgrounds, flags, reflectors, gels and many, many other things must be kept in place. For example, bulldog clamps are indispensable to hold up canvas backgrounds, while two-headed clamps can be attached to a table and hold a flag or reflector.

    This image shows a selection of clips and clips that you can always use in the studio. The double-headed clamp holds a piece of black foam core for use as a flag.

    rails – In larger studios, you may see lights attached to fittings on the walls and ceiling. With these rails you can move your light around a room relatively freely without the hassle of a light tripod.

    They also help to keep cables out of the way for you and your subjects.


    Quality of the light – In this case, quality refers to the physical characteristics of light. These include shape, intensity and color.

    Lighting pattern – A light pattern is a specific technique in which a light is placed in a prescribed manner for predictable and recorded results. Examples of this are butterfly lights, Rembrandt lighting and shared lighting.

    PC Sync Socket / cable – PC synchronization is a way to connect your camera to a flash via a cable. You can use this option instead of triggers.

    triggers – Triggers are devices that allow a camera to communicate with your lights and ensure that your flashes are activated while the shutter is open. These range from very basic models with only one function to complex devices that allow full control over the settings of several lamps.

    Triggers ensure that your camera can communicate with your flash so that they work in sync with each other.

    Slave mode – In slave mode, a flash detects the light from another flash via a sensor and fire. This is great in situations where you have multiple lights, but only one standard trigger.

    mountain – A coupling is the means by which a modifier is linked to a flash. Many lighting manufacturers have their own brand mounts in connection with their systems (Bowens, Profoto, Elinchrom, etc.). So you have to make sure that every change you buy fits the system that you own.

    This is the shape of the everyday Bowens S mount.

    Modeling light – Many flash units are supplied with two lamps. One is a flash lamp, where your strobe light comes from, and the other is a modeling lamp that lights when the flash is not flashing. This makes it easy for you to see what the light is doing with your subject. As a bonus, if you have already switched off the ambient light (as you should in a studio environment), modeling lights give you the ability to see.

    That's a start

    Although this list is not a complete list of studio lighting equipment and can never be, it should serve as a good introduction to get you started in the world of studio photography. If you think I've missed something important, add it in the comments below.

    The post Your guide to studio lighting equipment first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by John McIntire.

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