Stepping into the studio for the first time can be a bit overwhelming for even the most seasoned on-location photographer. The studio has all sorts of mystique about it. It’s a bit like a hi-tech laboratory for photographs. Everything is supposed to be sanitary and perfect. Nothing in the studio is left to chance; photography becomes methodical and perfect in the studio.
What sets the studio apart from being on location? It all comes down to light. On location you are dealing with the atmospheric light that is present. In the studio, light is an additive concept. In a good studio, you start out with nothing, and you build a perfect lighting setup from that. On location, you have at least some concept of light, and you adjust it to fit your needs. The studio is not as forgiving. You are responsible for every photon striking your cameras film or sensor. Did I mention the studio can be daunting?
On the most basic level, there are two types of studio lights, strobe lights and continuous, or “hot” lights. Strobe lights are the ones that flash like an on board camera flash, or a strobe light. Continuous or “hot” lights are ones that are constantly on, like a lamp in your living room. The advantage of strobe lights is that they can be programmed to flash at a given power level, and don’t have to be constantly on. Because they flash for a very short period of time, they also freeze action. Continuous lights are useful in photography, and are also the type of lights that are used in motion picture movies. These lights have various wattages and levels of brightness.
Both sets of lights are more often then not modified. This is because the light from a bare bulb from a light has a tendency to have a look that is not always flattering to most subject matter, unless you are specifically looking for a very harsh type of light. This is why studio photographers use large soft boxes, octoboxes, grids and reflectors among many other types of modifiers, to achieve exactly the type of light they are looking for.
There’s really no way to learn studio lighting except spending time in the studio. The best way to learn about light is to be an observer. We take light for granted. If you really want to learn about it, make it a daily habit. Look at every photograph and TV commercial and ask yourself, what did they do to achieve that look? Where are the highlights? Where are the shadows? The best designers are often the keenest observers.