The key to any good photo is light. Specifically, the kind of light you have to work with, how much light is present and how you manipulate the light to get a great shot. Rob and I primarily shoot our photos indoors and we are always looking to the weather forecast to determine what kind of lighting is in store for us. Natural lighting is our best friend so we always hope for clear, sunny days for ideal indoor photos. As often as possible, we position ourselves near a window and we shoot in manual mode to control the lighting and the creativity of our photos.
Sometimes, however, natural lighting isn’t good enough and neither is our external flash. We finally took the plunge and invested in an affordable studio lighting kit that we found on Amazon. We are so excited to take you behind the scenes to show you how we set up the lighting kit and how it enhanced our photos when natural light just wasn’t cooperating.
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Why We Need Studio Lighting
We value natural light in all of our photos, but my Stitch Fix photos thrive on good lighting. When I receive a shipment notification from Stitch Fix, I immediately begin to stalk the weather report for the week ahead and plan for the best possible day to shoot those photos. I can only keep the clothes for 3 days before I have to check out and the short winter days in Michigan have been very gloomy lately, which does not leave a very wide window of opportunity for me to shoot. I often have to make do with less-than-stellar lighting conditions when the weather is overcast.
Below you can see two recent Stitch Fix photos. The image on the left was taken on a gorgeous sunny day in early October while our office was filled with natural light. The photo on the right was taken in mid-November while the afternoon light was dwindling. Both photos share the clothes that came in my recent Stitch Fix box, but you can see why I prefer to shoot my photos on a clear day with plenty of natural light.
Sometimes, when the lighting conditions aren’t ideal, Rob and I use an external flash to boost the ambient light. The flash has helped to turn many a dark and shadowy image into something bright and beautiful. While the flash has proven to be a pretty helpful tool, it won’t do anything to help my Stitch Fix photos since they are all mirror selfies. The reflection of the flash on the mirror would be out of control. With the short, dark days of Michigan winter upon us, Rob and I took to the internet in search for an affordable studio lighting system that could effectively add brightness to my Stitch Fix photos without breaking the bank.
We discovered the 500-Watt Thrifty Photoflood Kit from Smith-Victor on Amazon. It was the best-priced kit that we could find and it had some good reviews so we decided to give it a try.
The complete kit included two complete lighting units with stands, bulbs, clamps and umbrellas to diffuse the light. Rob assembled the lighting units for me and, while it’s worth noting that a few of the knobs don’t tighten completely, the set is good enough to meet our needs. (It is a self-named thrifty set after all and you get what you pay for, so we are not complaining).
I set up my full-length mirror in its usual position and placed one assembled lighting unit on each side of the mirror.
There was only one way to determine how effective our new studio lighting would be. I had to test it. So I waited until late afternoon when the room began to darken. Then I grabbed my camera and started shooting.
Natural Lighting on a Cloudy Day
Before I dive into how the lighting set performs, let’s begin with a baseline. Both of the photos below were taken with the studio lights turned off. The image on the left is unedited straight from my camera. The photo on the right was edited in Adobe Lightroom to adjust the shadows and brightness. The edited version is pretty good, but it has a couple problems. There are more shadows in the back of the image than I would prefer and you can’t see many details of my blouse because that area became a little blown out during the editing process.
Studio Lights and Auto White Balance
This lighting kit came with incandescent light bulbs. They were very bright and the room was lit beautifully with the lights turned on, but incandescent bulbs cast a yellowish tone. Cameras have a white balance feature, which is the camera’s way of trying to see what a human sees. The human eye sees a white wall, even when the light gives it a somewhat yellow cast, but the camera’s light sensor sees it as yellow. Simply put, it’s just a difference between the way our eyes work and the way a camera’s light sensor works.
I usually just leave my Canon’s white balance set to auto, but it came with consequences this time around. I was able to adjust the color in Lightroom and you can see the resulting photo below on the right side. The image is consistently brighter than just relying on dwindling light from the window and my blouse and sweater are not washed out like the were above.
Studio Lights and Tungsten White Balance
If you don’t want your images to be intensely yellow when you shoot them, there’s an easy fix. You can adjust your camera’s white balance to the tungsten setting before shooting. Doing so replaces the yellow tones with shades of blue and pink. The result is a slightly purplish effect, which an also be removed with some light editing. It’s still a little work to edit, but it’s doable.
Using Studio Lights at Night
All of the above photos were taken in the daytime with the blinds to our office open. The way your camera senses light is a pretty complicated task and things start getting messy when there is more than one type of lighting source. I decided to take our new studio lights on the ultimate test drive and shoot our Stitch Fix photos at night. I turned off our office lamps and closed the door to keep any extraneous light from the living room from sneaking into my photos. It was just me, the mirror, and my studio lights.
Here is one image that I took at night with the help of my studio lights and then edited in Lightroom.
Pretty amazing, right?
The rest of my fix will be shared in a blog post right after the 1st of the year and I can’t wait to show you everything else that arrived.
I know this photo is not as crisply bright as a photo taken in the office on a clear bright day. Natural light will always be my preferred lighting source. But if I don’t have a brightly lit afternoon that will align with my photography schedule, it’s great to know that I have options! This is pretty earth-shaking news for all of my blogging friends that are busy moms and only have time to work after they put their kids to bed.
My next step will be to experiment with other ways to adjust the white balance to reduce the amount of work I have to put into post-processing. Rob and I found this handy little gadget on Amazon that Amy and Jordan swear by for a perfectly-adjusted white balance every time. It’s definitely on our list of things to try and we will be sure to let you know how it goes.
Never in my life did I ever think I would become photographer, yet here I am sharing another insight on Crazy for Photography series. If you are a novice photographer and are trying desperately to make sense of how all this stuff works, we are here to help you! Click on any of the images below to get started.