Film Photography with Strobe Lighting

Lesson 10/26 - Create A Natural Light Look


Film Photography with Strobe Lighting


Lesson Info

Create A Natural Light Look

So what we're gonna talk about right now is how you create that natural light look with strobes. And when I first started with strobes this was my goal. Like I had said in the intro, I was really worried about losing that look that I loved in my photos, and wasn't quite sure how to make sure that I could still do that with strobes. And so what I did in the beginning was I sat down for awhile and I started looking at my natural light photos, and really studying them. What is it about it that I like? What are the qualities that I love that I get with window light that I want to recreate with strobes? And I started noticing a few things. First of all, I love the softness of natural light. That was something. That beautiful diffuse window light that we can get is my favorite, and it's just pretty and I wanted that. And I would see it, I'd start to notice I was doing the same thing in all my photos, really studying them. And I wanted that softness, that quality that I get with natural light...

in my work. I also noticed the subtle direction that I liked. I found that in my work I would, I used window light kind of one of two ways all the time. And I was always going for this kind of direction where I had light coming in here, I was getting highlights here, and I was getting these really soft shadows here. So this is something I would do. I'm gonna go back to, whose pacing it here? (laughter) But so this one too. See how I get this directional and this little bit of shadow. I loved that with window light. And I saw myself doing that when I went back and looked at all my work as I was studying this, I saw myself doing that all the time. I also noticed that when I was using window light, I would get these beautiful, big chunky catch lights. I love window light catch lights. They were always there, and if you can look again back at this one, there they are again. That beautiful, rectangle giant catch light. So those were qualities that I loved about natural light. And so when I started to play around with strobes, my goal was to recreate that and do that. This is one of the images that I studied all the time because here it's a baby, I don't have catch lights, baby's sleeping, but again it was that same kind of qualities in natural light that I loved. And I loved just the softness of this. This was natural light f/2.8 with window light and like this beautiful, just this kind of like, I don't even know how to say it, I'm just going to mime it. (laughter) But you know that beautiful way that natural light just kind of comes in and falls on a subject that's so pretty with a little bit of that shadow. I really really wanted to recreate that. And so that's what I set out to do. And I figured out that there's a couple of ways to just recreate that softness of natural light with your work. So that's what we're going to get into right now. So how do you do that with strobe? So that is strobe. It has that same feeling to me that that other image did that we just looked at which was natural light. My goal again when I'm using strobes is that people don't know it's strobes. I want people to be surprised when they hear that I'm using studio lighting with my work. And so creating that softness was really really important to me. And I learned to do that by controlling the power of my strobes. So one thing that people do wrong when they first get started with studio lighting, is that they turn the power up too high. So when you're shopping for strobe units, people will talk about, "Oh they have so much power. "You can turn those things up "and they can light a room." And it's always talking about that power on the high end and how much a strobe can do. When I am shopping for strobes, I'm looking for the opposite. What is the power on the low end? Cause I want to turn that bad boy down so I can create that real soft, natural light look again with strobes. And this again is important for film photographers. Because like I said at the beginning, when we are shooting with a digital camera, we can shoot at an ISO 100 for example, but there's only one film stock that I use that is an ISO 100. I use the ACROS 100. There's a 50, the Pan F, Ilford Pan F is a 50 ISO, but most of the films I'm using are considered faster films. They're 400 speed or higher, so that limits us when we can't bring down that ISO anymore. So one way we can control, and get that beautiful softness that looks like natural light is just controlling the power. So when I am working with strobes, I'm always working at a low power. And when I used to teach lighting, back in the day when I was just working with my little Alien Bee, I used to get in and I would tell people, "O.K. Frances this is what you need to know. "Turn your strobe on and turn it "to the lowest power you can possibly put it on." Because I was using Alien Bees and some old Bowens and they just didn't have the capability to go down. And then I started working with the Profotos and I was like, "Woah," because these you can really control the power on these. You can turn em all the way down and sometimes it's not even enough, but I have now with my Profoto lights worked with Ilford Delta 3200. I've rated it at 3200, shot it at 1/60 of a second at f/2.8, which is crazy right? But it is just gorgeous what you can do with that. And I wouldn't have been able to do that if I was working with these. So that is kind of the benefit of the more expensive lights is that you do have more power control. And again for me, when I'm shopping for lights, I'm looking for power control on the low end. I want to be able to turn those down and really create that beautiful, soft natural light. So now I don't tell people just to come in and turn your light all the way down. It's a little more nuanced than that. I'll show you where I like to get my lights to when we start talking about metering, but what I want you to know is that you can control the quality of your light with the power of your light. You never just want to come in and blast somebody like a cannon. With a strobe it's not gonna look pretty, it's not gonna look like this. Another way that you can control the look of your light, that softness of your light, is with the distance of your light relative to your subject. So this is something we all know just from using our eyeballs and looking at the world. If you're working with a window, the closer you are to the window, the brighter that light's gonna be on your face. Right? And the farther away you are from the window, the dimmer that light's gonna be. It's actually, I've come to learn inverse square law stuff, (laughter) but like I said, it's also eyeball stuff. We know this. Closer to the light, the brighter it is. Farther away from the light, the dimmer it is. But what I didn't know intuitively, or instinctively, but I have learned is that the closer to the light the brighter it is, right? So that's a good way, another reason why you want to turn that light down and be able to adjust that power, but the closer to your light, the softer it is. So you're gonna have softer light. You're gonna have softer shadows. And the farther away from your light, it's gonna be dimmer, so you're going to have to turn that up, but it's also going to be a little harder. You're going to have harder shadows. So in some ways it feels a little bit backwards, but when you really think about it I guess it makes sense. Cause you're close, it's gonna kind of wrap around. Right? So distance of your light is important. So when I'm working with my subjects, I'm always trying to recreate those beautiful natural light photos that I get. I'm wanting my light to be my big portable window. So those are two things that I keep in mind. And when you see me work, you'll see it in a little bit on video, I'm gonna demo some here. In studio you'll notice that I have my light really close to my people. I always, I have my lights right there. So with this image, she's here at the end of the bed, and that light is just maybe a foot or two away from her. It's really close because I want those really beautiful, soft shadows, that soft light that I get with window light. And same thing here. So this is in my studio room where I've blocked out all the windows, so it's just all controlled with strobe light, and again that light, it's turned low, it's soft, and its right up, right there close to her, so that we get that really pretty soft light, and we get those soft shadows. I mean if you look at this portrait it looks very similar to those natural light portraits that I showed you. That direction of light, that softness to it.

Class Description

To get the best portrait straight out of camera you need to control your light. Family and Newborn Photographer, Sandra Coan, walks through how easy it is to use lights with your film camera for the most control over how your image ultimately looks. In this course, Sandra will talk about how to approach your photo shoot by thinking about not only your subject but also the film and the light you want to create.

You’ll learn:

  • How to sync the flash with your film camera
  • How to meter for your subject and the light you’re adding to the image
  • How to choose the best film based off what you’d like the final image to look like

Throughout history, photographers have been using flash with film cameras. In this course, Sandra will cover everything to give you the knowledge to start taking portraits with your camera and strobes.


a Creativelive Student

Wow! with a lot of online stuff out there one can become rather overcome with too much information, however, the way Sandra presents her courses is just perfect! Her honest and simple and easy to understand approach was just what I needed. Not once did I think she was just going through the motions, she really loves what she does and it shows. To be able to rewatch and rewatch was also a key for me. Since I have dyslexia I have to take things one half step at a. time. After completion of the class I had a new found confidence when using strobes. A must have.

Micah Hewett Images

Out of all the classes I own on Creative Live, Strobe Lighting with Sandra is my FAVORITE! She is an incredibly kind and gifted teacher. She explains everything on a simple level and then gradually build to more complex issues. I am 100% happy with this course. Thank you Sandra!!

Gabby de Janasz

Sandra Coan is a lighting genius! I loved watching her high-energy and super informative class. I learned way more about studio lighting than I ever thought was possible. I'd definitely recommend this class to literally any person in photography, not just studio photographers. Thanks Sandra!!