Studio Lighting Like A Pro

One of the most daunting tasks for any photographer is studio lighting. It is a critical skill set to master to become a Professional Photographer. There are six basic lighting setups that every professional must memorize.

Clamshell, Fitness, Headshot, Medium, Rembrandt, and Split lighting setups. These top six will ensure the best quality images for all of the studio work that you will create. Of course, there are many variations of those six and many other choices available. But with anything that requires learning the basics is a good place to start.

Complexity is not necessary to get the final image that you are looking to create. Practice, practice and more practice is the best position to take when learning these lighting setups. As a general rule of thumb find friends or family to practice on before working with clients to perfect a lighting setup. Take a picture of the entire scene to show the full lighting setup, for remembering purposes. Creating a flash catalog or database will assist with the recreation of lighting setups later on. 

Clamshell Lighting

Clamshell lighting used for headshots, beauty, and fashion images. Clamshell lighting consisted of a reflector or softbox placed below the camera level and angled up towards the subject.  And an overhead beauty dish with a grid if necessary angled down towards the subject. The beauty dish should be slightly above the camera level. This setup creates a clamshell look that envelopes the subject with balanced lighting. It also creates a beautiful catchlight in the eyes. The best lens choice would be Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 or Canon EF 85mm f/1.8.

Clamshell lighting is created with two lights angled like an open clamshell to envelope the subject in beautiful light.

Clamshell lighting is created with two lights angled like an open clamshell to envelope the subject in beautiful light.

Fitness Lighting

Fitness lighting created when two rim lights, with a grid, are placed at 45-degree angles to back of the subject on both the left and right side. The fill or the main light located in front of the subject at a 45-degree angle just overhead. The camera placed below eye level to exaggerate the body size of the model. In combination with the right lens, the subject will appear larger or full. The best lens choice would be Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens.

Fitness lighting is created using a three light setup, one beauty dish and two softboxe's with grids. The edges on each side of the model are lit, along with the main light in the front to add dimension and complexity.

Fitness lighting is created using a three light setup, one beauty dish and two softboxe's with grids. The edges on each side of the model are lit, along with the main light in the front to add dimension and complexity.

Headshot Lighting

Headshot lighting created with a single softbox placed parallel to the subject where just the rim of the light is raking across. The camera should remain before the direction of light to remove lens flair. It is a simple one light setup with a dramatic quality of light. Can be on the left or right side of the subject, to illuminate the subject's best features. The best lens choice would be Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 or Canon EF 85mm f/1.8.

Headshot lighting is achieved with a single softbox or octabox positioned parallel to the model. The rim of the light just catching the subject.

Headshot lighting is achieved with a single softbox or octabox positioned parallel to the model. The rim of the light just catching the subject.

Medium Lighting

Medium lighting creates depth to the final image and is a more complicated setup. This lighting uses four lights, two bare strobes, and two softboxes. The two bare strobes placed behind the subject one angled towards the background about level with the subject's height. The second bare strobe angled at the side of the subjects head. The main softbox placed at a 45-degree angle to the subject and the second softbox is parallel to the subject's side. Additionally, the photographer can incorporate colored gels to the bare strobe for added effect. The best lens choice would be Canon EF 28mm-135mm f/5.6 IS.

Medium lighting setup uses four lights to achieve the effect. Two softboxe's and two bare strobe lights, additionally color gels may be added.

Medium lighting setup uses four lights to achieve the effect. Two softboxe's and two bare strobe lights, additionally color gels may be added.

Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt lighting is highly impactful setup that creates a hard shadow effect. There are two ways to perform this lighting setup. One way is placing a bare strobe at a 45-degree angle just above the head of the subject. It creates a triangle on the opposite side of the face and keeps the rest of the face darker. For a less harsh effect incorporate a white reflector on the opposite side of the subject. The reflector will bounce some fill light back onto the subject. This lighting setup is a classic and impactful approach to classic lighting setups. The best lens choice would be Canon EF 28mm-135mm f/5.6 IS or Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 or Canon EF 85mm f/1.8.

Rembrandt lighting is created in two different ways. With and without a reflector, and the main light at a 45-degree angle just above the subjects eye level. The lighting creates a triangle of light just below the subject's eye, on the side opposite of the light.

Rembrandt lighting is created in two different ways. With and without a reflector, and the main light at a 45-degree angle just above the subjects eye level. The lighting creates a triangle of light just below the subject's eye, on the side opposite of the light.

Split Lighting

Split lighting created by a two-light setup with a boom stand and reflector. A strobe with a softbox placed on a boom stand and angled overhead of the subject. The light touches the crown of the subject's head, considered a hair light. A second softbox placed parallel to the subject's side. A white reflector or bounce card is placed on the opposite side parallel to the subject. The subject separated from the background from the hair light in the back. This lighting setup creates depth and dimension to the overall image. The best lens choice would be Canon EF 28mm-135mm f/5.6 IS or Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 or Canon EF 85mm f/1.8.

Split lighting is created using two lights, and a reflector or bounce card. A boom stand is necessary for this setup to create a dimensional effect. The strobe light on the boom hits the back of the subject's head as a hair light.

Split lighting is created using two lights, and a reflector or bounce card. A boom stand is necessary for this setup to create a dimensional effect. The strobe light on the boom hits the back of the subject's head as a hair light.

Mastering these essential lighting setups is key for any Professional Photographer to be successful. Memorize these top six layouts and then venture into the unknown to create your own. Additionally colored gelsbarn doors, and snoots can be added to manipulate the lighting further.