Studio equipment. Types of light sources

Updated October, 2020

Photography has advanced quite considerably over the last decade with the rise of digital technology. And whilst it has made our lives easier, it has also had the reverse effect and made our lives more complex.

We at Pics.io make the life of photographers easier and work on the management of their business and digital assets. At the same time, we do not forget about the useful recommendations and tips for photographers worldwide. Hand in hand with the leading industry experts, we help you to get the best instruments available on the market and use them in the most efficient way.

This article will shed light on the different types of light sources and studio equipment. Studio equipment generally falls into one of two categories: strobe and continuous lighting.

Those light sources are used in both studio and outdoor photography. Also, sometimes photographers use a combined setup when strobe and continuous light complement each other.

Strobe and continious light

Additionally, set the source of continuous light (pilot light) on a strobe device. Pilot lamp is used to illuminate the subject, improve focusing, pre-assessment of light casting and shadows.

One of the biggest advantages of a pilot light is that you have constant visual representation of the picture before you even touch a shutter button. Strobe light is beneficial because it has a very bright high energy beam and isn't hungry on electric power.

1. Lighting equipment

There are two kinds of stroboscopic lamps:

Monolights

Monolights are strobe lights in which the flash and all the controls are consolidated inside one device. They are extremely easy to carry around, relatively compact and powered by AC or internal battery.

Generators

Generators consist of two components: a generator (control unit) and a lamp block. A generator can be set on the floor and mounted on a tripod. The advantages of generator pair with compromises in compactness and lightness.

2. Characteristics of strobe lights. Camera setup based on the characteristics of lighting devices

Lighting devices have a number of characteristics that should be taken into account when organizing the shooting process. I’ll outline some of them:

Color temperature (measured in degrees by the Kelvin system) typically ranges from 5500–5600 K. Color temperature is directly connected to a term White Balance (WB). You should choose one of the modes for white balance setting up your camera.

  • flash
  • using white sheet
  • daylight
  • 5600 K

You should take into account that the lighting scene with both powerful continuous and strobe light can result in some weird color overlapping due to the difference in temperatures. Pilot light has 3200 K temperature, and strobe has 5600 K. That’s why some of the devices turn off pilot light when the flash fires.

White balance

Strobe energy. Usually measured in Joules (J). In small photo studios, it usually varies between 100 and 1000 Joules. You can find out the exact number checking marking of the device. For example, Hensel Expert D 1000 has strobe energy of 1000 Joules.

The presence/absence of continuous light (pilot) from 60 to 1000 W depending on the power of the lighting unit.

Flash duration. You should be able to find that parameter in the technical characteristics of the flash. Typically, the flash duration is around 1/800 per second. To “freeze,” an object usually uses the strobe with a flash duration of 1/2500 and less. The higher the energy of the light, the longer should be the flash duration.

Cooldown time. Take it into account when shooting dynamic scenes.

Bayonet. This is a place to attach mounting accessories. There are standardized bayonets (Bowens, Hensel, etc.). You should choose lighting modifiers according to the bayonet of your lighting equipment.

3. Mounting accessories for lighting devices

A wide variety of additional lighting modifiers extends the creative horizons of using continuous and strobe light. Depending on the type of the accessory, you can get soft light, really hard one, diffused, directional, etc. The right set of lighting accessories will help you achieve the result you’re looking for.

Here’s the list of the most commonly used mounting accessories that will allow to get diffused and directional soft lighting:

Softbox is the most widespread lighting modifier of square and rectangular forms. Basically, it’s a frame made of tubes covered with a special material. The front of a softbox is covered with the cloth that diffuses the light to make it soft.

Softbox

The inner surface of the softbox is reflective. Commonly, the inner surface is coated with metallized silvering material or a white cloth, while the outer part is usually black.

Oktobox is a circular octagonal modifier. Very similar to a softbox. Produces diffused soft light. It is often used by fashion photographers for its uniform illumination across the entire scene and very slight shadows.

Oktobox

Stripbox is a soft directed source of light. Resembles design of a softbox, but with more stretched proportions (30–40 cm wide). It is commonly used for the production of full body portraits.

Stripbox

Umbrellas are accessories used for soft light distribution. Very slight shadows. Umbrellas come in two types: the reflected umbrella and the optical white shoot-through umbrella.

Shoot-through umbrellas have small reflectivity due to the semi-transparency of the fabric and are used to reduce the intensiveness of a strobe light, creating a nice fill light.

Umbrella

Reflected umbrellas have dense surface that is highly reflective. They are the most easy-to-use type of a lighting modifier. Probably, the only demerit is inability to create an intense focused beam of light.

4. Accessories with hard light beams

Also, there are light accessories with hard light beams of directed and scattered character. Their main advantage is that they may be used either solely or in combination with other modifiers (with umbrellas, filters, etc.). Those kinds of accessories produce hard direct light.

Here are a few examples:

“Beauty Dish”. Due to its design, the resulting light is both focused and soft. This is one of the most popular accessories during fashion style shootings.

Beauty Dish

Background reflectors. They have a special design that puts diffused light on the background and eliminates any unwanted light from leaking to a camera’s lens.

Background reflectors

Snoot. It is a tunnel for the light to go through that restricts it in all directions except for the exact direction the strobe is pointed. Snoots are used to embrace the details of the subject or background. Snoots are sometimes used together with honeycombs, which produces almost parallel beams of light.

Snoot

Barn doors. This modifier is used to adjust the light beam and consist of 4 moving leaves (two larger and widening on the outside, two smaller and getting narrower towards the outside). Barn doors are used for backlighting control and in background lighting setups.

Barndoors

Additional items and accessories:

Color filters

It’s simple. They change the color of the light beam. Unlike lens filters that change the look of the entire scene, color filters mounted on individual light sources allow you to control scene more accurately.

Color filters

Triggering devices

They allow you to trigger flash when the camera shoots. There are several types of triggers: radio and infrared, sync cords. When you are shooting in a studio, and you don’t have any triggering device, you can sync with an external flash (turn on “M” mode on it).

Triggering devices

Radio triggers are the most convenient to operate and, therefore, the most popular. They use radio waves to transfer controlling signals.

Infrared triggers carry out synchronization using infrared channels, which results in a very low effective range.

Sync cords handle synchronization using a cable. The problem is that not many cameras have an appropriate port to plug it in.

5. Photo lights

Now when we know what equipment we need, we can talk about the types of photography lighting. Because lighting is of the highest importance in this sphere (and plus, one of a few factors you can control), our Pics.io team encourages you to experiment & get new colors, shades, and renditions thanks to the lighting.

Here’s the list of most common photo lights, mixed with the newest & creative ones:

Flat lighting

This is the type of lighting usually associated with a portraiture genre. With flat lighting, the subject and/or scene is well-lit, with light directed straight upfront to the person or landscape.

Why portraiture? Easily! Flat lighting is intense enough to mask any imperfections in your subject’s face and body like wrinkles in seniors or skin problems in teens. See how perfect it looks:

Image by Jurica Koletić from Unsplash
Image by Jurica Koletić from Unsplash

Butterfly lighting

Another type of lighting that is used in portrait photography. This technique was named after a distinctive shadow that appears under the subject’s nose (similar to a butterfly).

Image by Michael Dam from Unsplash
Image by Michael Dam from Unsplash

The light is good to use if you aim at making an accent on the person’s cheekbones. (This is actually why many women adore butterfly lighting and use it in selfies). On the contrary, the light may distort the face if the subject has deeply set eyes.

Split lighting

As a type of side lighting, split light will allow you to add more shadow into the scene and so play more with shades and colors. Split light is easy to recognize in the image. This is when half of your subject is lit, and half stays in shadow.

Use this type of lighting when you want to achieve firmness and rigor on camera like here:

Image by Jared Brashier from Unsplash
Image by Jared Brashier from Unsplash

Broad vs. short light

Two more types of side lighting. In both cases, your subject’s face is at an angle. By using broad light, the shadow must fall on the backside of the face. Vice versa, in short light, the same part is well-lit, while the shadow falls on the part closest to the camera.

Broad light example. Image by eberhard grossgasteiger from Unsplash
Broad light example. Image by eberhard grossgasteiger from Unsplash
Short light example. Image by Caique Silva from Unsplash
Short light example. Image by Caique Silva from Unsplash

Both lights will make your photos look more lively and mysterious. Shadows will hide imperfections but may also emphasize a subject’s special feature like freckles, for example.

Loop light

A good way to experiment is to try loop lighting. In this case, the light comes in front and from the above. And so there appears a nose shadow that “loops” down on the cheeks. The subject looks more lively and cheerful with this light.

Image by Aiony Haust from Unsplash
Image by Aiony Haust from Unsplash

Backlight

As the name suggests, backlight is when the light comes from behind. For example, your subject may stand right in front of the sun or a window. This adds softness and tenderness to the photo.

Image by Jen Theodore from Unsplash
Image by Jen Theodore from Unsplash

6. Best cloud storage for photographers

With our accurate advice, you should have packed a bag with studio equipment and could even take a couple of great photos. But there is one more thing you should consider before going into photography…

Where will you store all your photos? I have no doubt the answer will be “in the cloud.” And such giants as Google Drive or Amazon S3 seem to fit all your highest expectations for photo storage: lots of space, security, functionality, ease of use, etc., etc.

But any digital photography storage device usually comes with a number of inconveniences too... Like what are you going to do when you have 1000+ images, and the client asks you to find the photo you took a year ago? Or how to organize all your digital assets if you have photoshoots a few times a week? Or how to show your portfolio to prospects in the most presentable way?

Pics.io DAM

In all these cases, this is a Digital Asset Management solution that will help you flourish! Pics.io DAM is an advanced tool assisting you in storing, organizing, and distributing your assets. With DAM, you will:

  • Organize your assets in collections with distinct hierarchies;
  • Access your photos easily and quickly by keywords, locations, ranks, content, etc.;
  • Keep all your photos in one place & in order;
  • Impress your clients with customizable, shareable websites where you could place your portfolio and send a link to the website to them (they can even leave comments there!);
  • Collaborate with your colleagues right under your photos in case you work in a team;
  • And many more like keeping track of changes in your media library with on-site notifications or checking statistics on assets with Pics.io analytics.

And the best part: our DAM tool works on top of modern cloud storage like Google Drive and Amazon S3. So you don’t have to choose between DAM and storage or move your assets anywhere.


This article was developed in close cooperation with fashion photographer from Kyiv Oleg Kosinyuk. Our company is grateful for his expert help and believe that Pics.io will help not only Oleg, but other photographers and creative professionals worldwide to organize and share various media files.

Pics.io helps you properly manage your assets into a common online library & provide managed access to it. You & your teammates can always find the files you need and be sure that you’re using the latest version. Pics.io supports all types of photos and RAW images, videos, and other media files.

If you do not have an account yet, please feel free to join our community by clicking here. Share this article with your creative friends, if you find it valuable for their work.

Pics.io Team
Welcome to Pics.io blog, where you'll get useful tips, resources & best practices on how digital asset management can help your business to manage & distribute digital content on top of cloud storage.
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