Setting Up a Studio for You

With the new Nikon D7100 digital camera, you would expect to be able to turn your hand to almost anything. This versatile and flexible camera is designed to excel in all areas of photography. So, once it is out of the box, many new owners will be rushing to take portraits and still-life images in studio conditions. Obviously, if you can, you should always try to shoot in natural light – particularly if you are shooting portraits. If that is not feasible, the pop up flash can usually provide the necessary fill-in, or you could use you flash gun, carefully placed and fired remotely. In most circumstances these tools will help you to get a decent result. But a time will come when you decide you need more control and at that point you will want a studio set up.

If you are setting up your studio at home, the ideal scenario is to have a room specifically put aside for your photography. It should have plenty of space, a high ceiling and be at least 5 meters long. Paint the walls a color that does not reflect too much – black is ideal, but if you have to share the room, then gray would be OK. Cover the windows with blackout material to ensure that the light can not get in and also cover the doors to prevent further contamination. Ideally you only want to have the light that is under your control to be effecting your images. You will also need a good supply of electrical sockets.

Having closed out all external light sources, you can decide what lighting you want to have in your studio. Lighting falls into two categories – continuous or strobe. Continuous also has two options, either tungsten or fluorescent. Tungsten is very popular for portraititure because it gives good skin tones. It is naturally a ‘warm’ light, both in light and temperature (this can be a problem, if you make your subject sit under them for a long time). You would also want to use tungstens if you were shooting video.

Fluorescent lights have a more sterile white light with a blueish hue. They are often used for stock shots ad still-live photography, because it is felt that the colors are more accurate. Of course, it is up to the photographer to choose which he prefers. White balance, in the D7100′s settings will be able to rectify most light settings, but, as you are in charge of your lighting, it would be better to set the lights so that the subject appears as you want to see it. Relying on in-camera correctives is just another think to try to remember and sooner or later you will be cursing your memory and catching up in Photoshop.

The one great advantage of continuous lighting is that you can actually see how the subject will appear in the picture in real-time. This means that you get the lighting right and can then confidently address other variables like content and composition. With the strobe, you are sometimes not sure if the flash fired or not. In many ways continuous lighting is a lot easier, and I would recommend that you start with this. However, when you need to photograph something or someone and give the impression of movement, or freeze them in action, you will have to use strobe lighting.

Although strokes are more difficult to set up, they give the photographer bit more flexibility. The power of the flash can be increased or reduced to suit the photographer’s needs. This means that the photographer can design his lighting around his shutter speed requirement. Obviously, if the subject is moving and you do not want blur, you will need a fairly fast shutter speed. Once mastered, strobe lights are a great way to get the images you want. However, because they operate on a burst, they sometimes take a while to recharge.

If you start off with a couple of lights, the easiest way to set them up is with the soft box at the front and the spot at the back. The soft box emits a softer more even light that is easier to meter against. The soft box should be 6 feet away from the subject, near the camera. The other light should be at least 3 feet away from the back drop so that it gives an even background. I would advise getting some barn doors for the back light, so that the light does not spread where it is not wanted. Always set your trigger up to the front light and ensure that both lights fire at the same time. Most lighting systems have slaves built into them these days.

I usually begin a shoot on a standard 1/125 at f8 with an ISO set at 200. This gives me enough flexibility to change things around gradually if I need to. Most studio lenses operate comfortably at f8 and the shutter speed will catch most fluid movement. If you find the lighting a bit flat, move the soft box out wide to get some more definition and shadow, but always be aware that more shadow can be very unflattering, particularly if the subject has an angular face or large nose. I always start by getting the standard shots done – the full length, half-length and then move in tighter for head and shoulders or portrait. By the time you want to try something more interesting your model will have relaxed and you will have become more confident in the equipment and you abilities.