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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Basic Portrait with Two OctoDomes

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The basics of portrait photography could fill volumes. We have chosen to concentrate on the application of two three-foot OctoDome nxts for this basic two-light portrait. We will also introduce the grid accessories to our lights to gain total directional control of the light.

To take a simple but dramatic portrait, you could use a main light and a reflector as a fill light. However, since the reflector must be positioned to catch light from the main in order to bounce light into the shadows, you are restricted in how you can position it. Having a second light as the fill eliminates this restriction and frees you up to put the fill anywhere you want in order to light your subject. We will demonstrate this concept in this lesson.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     Positioning the Key Light
  •     Using Grids for Directional Control of Light
  •     Introducing a Fill Reflector
  •     Introducing a Fill Light
  •     Expanding the Two-Light Setup
  •     Taking the Two-Light Setup to the Next Level

Positioning the Key Light

The 3-foot OctoDome nxt is the best choice for our lesson. This portrait-specific light modifier creates soft wrapping light that makes any subject look great. The three-foot boxes are ideal for portraits from headshots to 3/4-length.

To get started on our lighting solution, we set up two OctoDomes with Octoconnectors, then attached our Starlites. This assembly was placed on Photoflex 2218 LiteStands and the first one, which would be our key light, was set at roughly 30˚ camera left.

For illustrated assembly instructions, click the product link in the equipment used section, then find the "instructions" link.

To power the Starlites, simply plug them in and turn them on.

With the camera and tripod assembly set, we positioned our model about three feet away from the background so we could control the light on our subject and background separately. We then posed her and checked the light pattern.

Common setup problems include setting up the main light too far from the model and setting the main light too low. If you set up the main light too far from the model [figure 1], the soft, wrapping quality of the OctoDome will be progressively diminished the farther away from the model it is set. The resulting images will have higher contrast and harder shadows. [figure 2]

Figure 1

Figure 2

If the main light is set too low [figure 3], the shadow cast by the nose will fall high on the cheek, creating a distorted representation of your model.

Also, when only using two lights, it is important to properly light the hair. Setting the light too low will not allow the hair to be properly highlighted. [figure 4]

Figure 3

Figure 4

A combination of these small oversights can make a considerable change in the result.

Here with our main light centered at eye level of the model, we positioned the light as close as possible without entering the frame. The light was placed at an angle of about 45-degrees camera left. [figure 5] The result showcases a soft, wrapping quality of the light, minimizing shadows, and also adding a little highlight to the hair. [figure 6]

Figure 5

Figure 6

This lighting progression can be more easily understood in the comparison below. The left result show the light too far away; the center result shows the light set up too low; the right result is the light positioned at the correct distance and height for this lesson. [figure 7]

Figure 7

Using Grids for Directional Control of Light

We installed grids to the front of our OctoDome nxt main light in order to control the light on the background. The OctoDome nxt has a wide light coverage angle, and the purpose of the grids is to narrow that angle down, to keep the light just on the subject, and not let it hit the background. The grids attach to the OctoDome with the sewn-on Velcro® that lines the perimeter of the grids. The soft box has the receiving Velcro strip sewn-on the inner rim.

To attach the grids, line up one corner of the grids with one corner of the soft box, then press into place along rim of the box. [figure 8]

Figure 8

For illustrated instructions, click the product link in the equipment used section, and look for the "instructions" link.

Here is our set-up without the grids on the main light [figure 9] and the set-up with the grids, which reduced the light spread of the main light. [figure 10]

Figure 9

Figure 10

With just the OctoDome lighting the model, you can easily see the difference. [figure 11 and 12]

Notice that due to the narrower light spread, the background has gone dark, and the shadows on the face have slightly increased. [figure 12]

Figure 11

Figure 12

Introducing a Fill Reflector

While demonstrating our two-light kits, we are often asked why we don't just use a reflector as our fill.

Reflectors need to be positioned in such a way that they reflect the main light back at the subject as fill light. If there is not enough light from the main for the reflector to catch, the light needed to fill in your shadows on the subject won't be there. This can restrict your shots if you want to try a wider variety of lighting set-ups.

To illustrate this point, we set up a 42" white/soft gold LiteDisc reflector on a LiteDisc Holder, in the normal main light, fill light position.

In this basic setup, the OctoDome nxt main doesn't have any grids attached, and we are using the white side of the LiteDisc to get a natural fill reflection from the main. [figure 13]

Figure 13

We positioned the reflector to bounce the light from the main into the left side of our model's face to fill in the shadows and make the portrait look more naturally lit.

To maximize the LiteDisc's output, we moved the reflector in as close as possible to the model without being able to see it in the camera frame.

Here’s the terrific result of our main and reflector fill set-up.

Figure 14

However, we would like to make the portrait more dramatic. Taking the light off the background and adding grids will help us reach our desired effect.

We again added the grids to our OctoDome and left the reflector in the same position as the previous set-up. As you can see, due to the grids, the narrower angle of the light coming from the OctoDome prevents much of the light from hitting the LiteDisc. [figure 15]

Figure 15

The reflector is no longer effective in producing the fill light that we want for our portrait. [figure 16]

Figure 16

In this set-up, we moved the reflector farther back, until it was in a position to catch more light from the main and bounce it into our subject. [figure 17]

Figure 17

While the result is improved, we still don't have the light in the shadows on the face that we were looking for. [figure 18]

Figure 18

The results of the lighting set-up progression will show you how adding the grids to the OctoDome has made using reflectors for fill lighting more difficult and restricting. [figure 19] We would like to be able to control which shadows we fill, and we want to determine the brightness of our fill light.

Lastly, we would like to be able to control the light hitting the background.

Figure 19

Introducing a Fill Light

Now, we are going to set up a lighting progression that demonstrates the capabilities of using two light sources. We can set up these sources independently from each other and change the brightness, angle, and put the grids on or off if we want. This gives us a lot more freedom and variety to our options.

We'll begin by setting up an OctoDome nxt without grids as our main light. [figure 20]

Figure 20

As a reminder, a properly set up main light should be centered at eye level with the model, as close as you can get it without it being in the frame, and at an angle of about 45o off the camera from the model. [figures 21 and 22] The results will maximize the soft, wrapping quality of the light, minimizing shadows, and should also add a little highlight to the hair.

Figure 21

Figure 22

We then added a second OctoDome nxt as our fill light. [figure 23]

Figure 23

The second light immediately gave back most of the control we had lost when using a LiteDisc. This result shows what you can expect from just an OctoDome fill light. [figure 24]

Figure 24

With our fill light on the set, we posed our model, fine-tuned the fill light's position and shot our next result image.

The following two shots are a comparison between the first stage with only the OctoDome as the main light [figure 25], and the second stage, in which we added a fill light [figure 26], both without grids.

Figure 25

Figure 26

Our results [figure 26] show the light ratio under control. We have detail on the shadow side of the subject and a greater sense of three dimensions. We have also gained brightness in the eyes we were lacking in the first results image. [figure 25]

We could easily stop at this point and have a classic portrait any one would love. Yet by gaining more separation between the model and the background, we could do even better.

To take this shot to the next level and add unmatched control to our lighting, we began by adding grids to our main light. [figures 27 and 28]

Figure 27

Figure 28

By adding the grids to only the main light, we got results [figure 29] that were a middle ground between the basic setup without grids, and the same setup with grids on both lights.

Figure 29

Our results had mild shadows and still retained good highlights in the hair and eyes, and the background was only darkened slightly.

Once we had experimented with having grids on only the main light, we added grids to the fill light as well. [figure 30]

Figure 30

Here are the results without grids and with grids on both lights. [figures 31 and 32]

Figure 31

Figure 32

Here is a shot progression from no grids on either of the lights, then grids on the main light only, then grids on both lights. [figure 33]

Figure 33

With all the elements in place, we gave the model the freedom to mix up her poses and we shot until we got what we wanted. The following figures are a selection of the final shots. [figures 34 - 37]

Figure 34

Figure 35

Figure 36

Figure 37

Notice how the darker background has provided a very nice separation from our well-lit model. The combination of a large soft box for soft lighting and grids for directional light control has resulted in a very flattering portrait light.

This lighting solution used only two powered lights and still achieved great results.

Expanding the Two-Light Setup

Now, we are going to set up a lighting progression that demonstrates even more of the capabilities of using two light sources. We can set up these sources independently from each other and change the brightness, angle, and put the grids on or off if we want. This gives us a lot more freedom and variety to our options.

We'll begin by, once again, setting up an OctoDome nxt without grids as our main light. [figure 38]

Figure 38

As a reminder, a properly set up main light should be centered at eye level with the model, as close as you can get it without entering the frame, and at an angle of about 45degrees off the camera from the model. [figures 38 and 39]

The results will maximize the soft, wrapping quality of the light, minimizing shadows, and should also add a little highlight to the hair. [figure 40]

Figure 39

Figure 40

Next we moved the second OctoDome higher up and behind the model. [figure 41]

Figure 41

Again, here’s our result with just the main light, without grids compared to a result with both the main and fill light in the new position, both without grids. [figure 42 and 43]

The addition of the fill light positioned above and slightly behind the model means the fill light acts as more of a hair or separation light, which gives us nice highlights on the hair and shoulder.

Figure 42

Figure 43

We then added grids to the main light. [figure 44] This gave us a high contrast shot with a slightly darkened background. [figure 45]

Figure 44

Figure 45

We then completed the set up by adding grids to the fill light as well. [figure 46]

We were very happy with this result, as we had finally achieved a dramatic shot with a dark background cleanly separated from the highlighted model. [figure 47]

Figure 46

Figure 47

Once we had our lighting system set up how we wanted we shot a few more pictures, some of which are shown below. [figures 48 and 49]

Figure 48

Figure 49

Figures 50 and 51 show a shot progression of all our setups:

  •     Main light only (no grids)
  •     Main light (no grids) and reflector fill
  •     Main light (no grids) and fill light (no grids)
  •     Main light (with grids) and fill light (with grids)
  •     Main light (no grids) and repositioned fill/hair light (no grids)
  •     Main light (with grids) and repositioned fill/hair light (with grids)

Figure 50

Figure 51

This OctoDome nxt two-light portrait combination provides quality and versatility that would be welcome in any studio. The OctoDome soft boxes provide a beautifully soft, wrapping light that is perfect for lighting portraits. The grids offer a directional control of light output and ease of use that any photographer would be happy to have.

Taking the Two Light Setup to the Next Level

Although this OctoDome nxt Kit does not come with a couple of the necessary parts for this next lighting solution, as you will see, the extra LiteStand and Boom will really extend the potential of this kit.

The next lighting solution we tried is the classic "clamshell" portrait. The idea behind the clamshell is to set up the lights, one over the other, so that the subject is enveloped with light from both below and above. [figure 52]

Figure 52

Using the same two OctoDome nxts and Starlites from the previous assembly, we simply mounted one of the OctoDomes to a Boom and Heavy Duty Boom Stand, and the other to a background light stand, the low profile 2200 LiteStand.

The Boom will allow us to hang the main light right in position above and in front of the model, while the 2200 LiteStand will allow us to mount the fill light below and in front of the model low enough so that it will not be in the way.

We set up and mounted the fill light first, as there are a few simple guidelines to follow that will help you get the best results.

Firstly, this light is often set too low. [figure 53] When the light is set too low, the soft wrapping quality of the OctoDome is diminished. Good highlights in the eyes are almost impossible to get when the OctoDome is set too low, because you must compensate for the lowness by angling the light more vertically, and the more vertically the light is set, the more the light will be obstructed by the cheek bones, and less light will be caught and reflected in the eyes. [figure 54]

Figure 53

Figure 54

When using the 2200 LiteStand, you can attach the included short extension piece, or simply place the stand on a box or stack of books, whatever you decide.

When the fill light is correctly mounted [figure 55], the resulting image [figure 56], should have strong highlights and the light should fill over the cheekbones, illuminating the shadow areas below the eyes and above the nose.

Figure 55

Figure 56

Properly adjusting the angle of the fill light can also improve your final results. With the light at a proper height, rotate the angle of the soft box so that the projected light illuminates the shadow areas above the cheekbones and nose. [figure 57]

Figure 57

Your angle will probably be around 30-35 degrees towards the model. Make sure you don't angle the OctoDome so far that you can see it in the camera frame.

The next step is obviously adding the main light. The same types of guidelines apply to the setting and positioning the main light as the fill. Set it up on a Heavy Duty Boom, and position it in front and above the model, as low as you can get it without it being in the camera frame, and angled towards the model about 30˚. [figure 58]

Figure 58

When the main light is set correctly, shadows under the eyebrows should be minimal, with only slight shadows under the nose, and strong highlights in the hair and eyes should be noticeable. [figure 59] The shadow from the chin should not fall below the collar bone.

Figure 59

When the main and fill lights are combined, all the shadow areas will be canceled out, giving a mellow cross-illuminated result.

Below are the results from the fill only, the main only, and both together. [figure 60]

Figure 60

As a further experiment, we added grids to the clamshell setup.

For this setup, we need to angle both lights in towards the model to maintain the highlights in the eyes.

Here are the final results without grids and with grids. [figure 61 and 62]

Figure 61

Figure 62

The results were not that different, but we zoomed in on the face of our model for the shot with grids, and noticed the lighting around the neck and forehead was slightly dimmed.

Like we mentioned, these two lights provide many possibilities, and we have shown you a bit of what's possible. To finish the lesson, we challenge you to go and find your own variations you can call your own.

Lighting Equipment

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