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Studio Lighting Basics

Lesson 4 of 14

Understanding Light Direction

Tony Corbell

Studio Lighting Basics

Tony Corbell

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Lesson Info

4. Understanding Light Direction

Lesson Info

Understanding Light Direction

Let's talk a little about light direction like direction and and the way light direction works is pretty fun let's just look at this lovely custom portrait okay to stock picture um but at this point right there, the lights at about a forty five that there's a little further away from the camera right there it's a little further away from the camera so right here at this point that light furthest away from the camera is at nine degrees to the camera. All right, let's just think about this if this makes sense so if that light travels from here to here to here and I measure it with my hand held meter and I'm measuring it reads f ate let's say for example, I take a reading flash reads f eight okay, good now and we moved over there let's measure it again flash reads f eight perfect let's check that one flash reads effect okay, it reads the same and exposure will look the same more shadow, more direction but the exposure's going to be fine and I suppose you're going to be the same from there...

all the way around now then let's, move forward one click now we're going to take a reading here and I think you're reading anything is going to read right except that now it looks like about half eight and a half and now I'm going to go a little bit further away I measure it again and it reads that fate but now starts looking like eleven and now let's take another reading let's put move it one more time fire that guy right there now it looks like eleven and a half because as light is beyond ninety degrees to the camera's position it starts becoming more efficient light it gets brighter the further it goes away from ninety ninety degrees that's the point the efficiency of the brightness of the light increases and you've all seen this everybody in this room scene everybody watching this has seen this and that is when you're late in the day and you're driving down that black up asphalt lonely road and the sun hits the highlight on the street on the road in front of you you know when you have to grab for your sunglasses right? Because that highlight is pretty bright and then you just glance up in your rear view mirror and what do you see perfect exposure behind you beautiful deep blue sky and you see the front end of the ford pickup behind you but when you're going back this way it's bright it's really really bribed the same brightness it's just more efficient because now in this scenario I'm driving into the sun over there driving on my road this way that light is so much brighter coming back to me makes sense. I got I've gotta compensate for that. Guys, I can't it's why it's? Why I'm explain something? I had a problem when you and I couldn't figure out what was going on in the world of film and shooting profiles of high school seniors when I would turn my high school senior to a profile position, I would take my light source and move it way back here, and I would like my profile from behind a little bit to get the great dramatic drama light on this high school senior space, and I didn't change my exposure at all, and every time my prints came back from the lab, my background was a stop and a half darker. My subject looks fine, but my backgrounds were dark and I couldn't for what's happening with my backgrounds warm, our backgrounds going dark, they weren't my subject was going light. My lab was putting the subject down, and when the subject comes down, so does the background with it. That was my problem. It took me two years to figure that out, or, um ashley and I were recently at my studio partner and I were we recently working out images for print competition and we were meeting she was meeting her kicker lights perfectly, and yet they were always the highlights. The kicker highlights in the back were always too right I was driving her nuts, trying to figure out why I'm meeting it. It says this it took us forever that so what I found is that most of those kicker lights coming forward for me, this is different than one of my friends who will shall remain nameless, your grimes, joel, joel and I have a great understanding where our craft you'll lack some snappy and hot I like him with a little detail and if I want my highlights, my kicker lights, tohave detail, they've got us. I've got to start about a minus one and a half from whatever I'm shooting it so whatever the aperture is on my camera minus one and a half will get me detail in those highlights does that compute? Okay, maybe explain that one again. Yeah, yeah, please. So so if I'm shooting let's, see if I can do this this way I know that if I'm if my with my background that's some muslim background, you can tell the muslim right, okay, so, uh there's my subject here's my camera cameras always have three legs, so, um if I'm shooting here and this is giving me f ate as my main light on my subject then I put my accent like back in the back coming forward and it's right back here let's say it's a strip light I need to make sure that that if I'm shooting at eight and I want that to be minus one and a half I've gotta walk back there behind my subject's head aim my meter at that light source and it's got a read halfway down between well think about this if I go minus one is going to give me five six minus another one would give me four so it's gotta be about four and a half at four and a half would give me minus one and a half it's telling me tony shoot at four and a half and I'll give you a great exposure and I'm going at four and a half it's going to be too bright I'm gonna close down and stop and a half and it's going ok then I'll give you some detail I have these stupid conversations with I'm here all the time but I don't miss and again it's really critical for me and especially if any of you are going to make any ancient prints it's real important to hold the detail those highlights because where you have no detail if that history graham on the right side of that history ram whatever your history and might look like for whatever it is that you're shooting if that history graham stops like that, meaning I've got information outside of that history ram, that means I've clipped those highlights, and that means anyplace where that exists and appears in my image no ink will lay down on that paper it's just going to paper, white that's, an issue and that's why I've gotta have that gap on the right. I'm asking so many questions feel that, but so you're saying, when you, if you're meeting that kicker at for you would be actually shooting at us? So because it's it's reading to your camera as brighter than what it's me tearing at because it's more efficient, exactly mondo that's exactly the answer now a lot of people and, you know, my friend richard started on texas. Richard his kicker lights. He likes them to be good and punchy, but mostly because he's doing tons and tons and tons of extractions he's dropping he's, dropping those people out and put them in other backgrounds and put them in stadiums and and the air and doing fun, fun, compositing, great great compositing work so he wants a good clean edge that's, easier to extract. So once it goes past ninety does it then kind of follow a curve like it because it gets brighter as it goes past sandy so you're I've noticed that this happens and I've been kind of doing it by feel but now it's like okay so there's a there's an exact you know it's a third of a stop and a half of the stop and that's about a half a about to stop one more is about to stop and a half well I was worth the price of admission right there you go no extra charge yes ma'am turning can I follow up with that? It was from richard rossi because I think what you saw that's pretty really eye opening teo get your head around but this says I use a psychotic meter my image looks great on the back my camera however, when I bring the photos into light room there seems to be a one stop plus or minus difference in my exposure not a fine presets is there some kind of calibration thing calibration? The issue is that his cameras not calibrated to his computer and that is something you can investigate that certainly there's a there's a there's a tons of little products available out there extra it's got a great way of doing that you can you can put in and uh and recalibrate your camera toe where you shoot a target and frame one right and then it'll make a lot like it'll make a d n g for you that becomes the profile for that camera and then you apply that one with one click and it brings it backto work supposed to be it is an issue and a lot of people will have their brightness turned up really really bright on the back of their cameras some haven't turned down really really low so you can't judge your exposure by looking at the back of the camera uh richard was his name richard process richard rossi richard richard you might you might want to consider instead of looking at the image on the back of the camera look closer to the history graham and spend a lot more time learning your history graham so that you followed that because this graham will always tell you the truth the image on the lcd might not but the instagram will tell you the truth because it does read the full range of detail in the image so but but but the the small preview on the back your camera that's a small jape eh preview anyway so it doesn't show you the whole skinny what's going on with your file. Well richard richard says thank you very much and I just want to make sure that everybody is getting this point tony because we had a couple people say that it's from a bl marge or a bee image isn't that opening up and not stopping down so explain again the new members so whatever they were so whatever let's hate john can you flip open my camera bag with him that yeah you got it done johnny on the spot john john cornyn cello the mind me mind reader so let's think about this way so I'm gonna walk upto my girl we call her happy hz happy girl so I'm walking up to head the girl I'm taking a reading to my main light right there famine it reads f eleven reads f eleven okay so I'm going to shoot it f eleven that's my exposure I'm shooting it at eleven now let's set up what who's our gal that we're talking to now abey davy um it's okay so so imagine my accent back here behind her lets in fact that's moving even further back maybe one more click over here so I'll take a reading there if that says eleven it's going to be too bright so I want to take my hand back there in power that light down down down until it reads lower and lower and lower from what I'm shooting it I'm shooting at eleven that's got to read about five six and a half in order to get me detail in my highlight maybe even f ate you could get away with minus one stop on some tone al it ease light subjects light hair blonde hair white sweaters I could get away with a minus one on dark haired subjects black cars dark skin I can get away with minus one and a half even minus two and still get a great highlights but it's got lots of detail in it so think about it this way think about what the meter is trying to tell me if I measure back there and it says five six and a half my meter's saying if you shoot at five six and a half I'm gonna give you a reality what we just had discussion reality is gonna be too bright but I have no problem cause I'm shooting in eleven that's one and a half closed down from five six and a half did that make sense to it does make sense thank you for joining in on that louis and I love your little strobe pop sound we'll have a lot of sound effects when you open up a temperature it goes like that when you close an aperture goes like that and when the flash fires yeah that's the way flash forget good okay good well I'm glad that all makes sense um let's keep going let's keep one here's a perfect example when I move that light around tow light this profile the meter read faith but I shot at eleven and a half toe hold the detail in her face I would have lost it that's the illustrative point okay, that saves me so much time it's my job, ma'am. Okay, now let's, talk a little bit about that we're gonna come back and talk more and illustrate a bunch more points about this after we get sort of on a roll here I'm doing I'm writing a lot of blood posting stuff about these types of topics. Just go to tony for belle dot com and click on follow the block if you want and you'll see a lot of stuff that we're doing. What what I've come to find out you guys, honestly is if I have, uh, when I have questions on my mind, I've got to get in the studio and I've got to do some testing, and I think that there's not enough people that go in and do enough testing, I think that you, especially in a small business, you you're so busy trying to market and try to get the phone to ring and try to get some people come in the door, but you have to find a way at some point along the path you have to find a way that, uh, you see, how can I put it? You want to make sure that you're not practicing on your clients, you want to practice before the clients walk in the door and so get your kids get your neighbor's kids get higher a model hire an assistant that looks great thatyou contest do something and worked with white clothing work with black clothing and you've got to get in there and start testing this stuff you really do because it's the only way that you can then with confidence move forward when the clients on session there's nothing worse than than me photograph and pam and I'm shooting and I'm shooting bam bam this is great whoa, what happened? Hoops do you think that's gonna instill in much confidence in me from her all of a sudden she's going what happened? You know it's the same it's the same concept as think about think about the connection and why a client hired you for a job. The clients hired you guys for a job not because you're the best photographer in town there's fifty photographers and sailors one hundred photographers in saddle three hundred here probably they're hiring you because of you they want you they want whatever you have right there's a first whatever reason there is a connection to you and with you and maybe you photograph this woman's best friend and maybe you made her look great and maybe that's what they're coming after you for here, right? So if they're coming to you for this connection and you've sat down and you had a clothing conference with him and talked about what they're gonna wear and you've talked about you with me you get this great connection here is the worst thing that you can do okay, this is good pam don't move don't move don't move okay just second yeah let's do this again okay, here we go pam don't move don't move bam and you keep disconnecting don't disconnect she's only here for the connection keep the connection alive you gotta you gotta I just need her energy for three minutes okay, this is good set up good and top bring your head around you you don't move oh, this is great. Your hair looks great band pam pam good, good good did you do your make up or did you hire somebody bam, bam bam and I'm just doing anything I can to keep her eyes with me and keep her energy with me for three minutes I don't care if we book off a half a day I need three minutes of her energy and then I got it and I'm probably having on frame two or three and you guys know how that works right? Most of what you're shooting is put on a show for your client you know when you've got it am I right? But you can't after five or six minutes you know you can't say ok, we're done because they just paid you the money for a session so you gotta put on a little bit of a show but you have to connect with him and you can't disconnect and keep going back and say, wait a minute, let me just just a second, let me just technically figure out what I'm doing here because this isn't looking right maybe that light's too bright does anybody know what this land would be? So, brackett, what is that going out with more confidence in that makes sense? Let's? Take a few questions, tony, and if you have any, please raise your hand, let me know follow up to what you were just talking about in terms of engaging with your subject n g said, what is the best distance in terms of engaging with your subject and maybe it's sort of is their self physical distance physical distance? Or is there something where you're too far away? What do you do in terms of that making that connected first first off, the first decision is what local clans were shooting with and how far away are you? Teo do the portrait, but I will say that the that the distance and how close you get with your client in that kind of a thing, it really does depend on your personality, I'm a pretty outgoing guy, I'm kind of a knucklehead and, you know, I have no problem getting in there and being kind of goofy with my clients. Some people are not some people are a little bit more introverted and a little bit quieter and that's okay there's nothing wrong with that at all but you kind of know who you are I try not to be too touchy feely, but I do but I do engage a lot and I do talk a lot and I chatter a little bit and I do the chattering for only one reason that is just to keep the energy level up you know if I can keep them energetic then I'm I'm pretty good to go I just question about backlighting and how you manage that in terms of controlling the highlights so if you're intentionally want to blow up the background, how do you I still maintain some sort of information they're without losing too much? Uh when you talk about blowing out the background you're talking about like a high key portrait like a white background totally different thing uh it's interesting always always found it interesting when I first started two or three of my early on instructors say when you want to see the high key portrait you have to put twice as much four times as much light in the background is on the subject and I thought ok and so I did it for years and I hated my high key and here's the problem the problem wass it's already white background papers white if I've got a meter that is a reality meter and will always give me you know if I if I have my my handheld meter and I aim it and I've got it pam's chin and it's aimed at my life source right here and I fired off she's gonna look like she looks well so will a white piece of paper it's already why why do we have to put four times more likely to put four times more light on it? So there's two options if you are using a reflective meter that reads flash not very many people have a reflective meter reads flash this that meter of mine does because you can flip it over to reading spot attackman and I can fire off strokes and read reflective values it's reading eighteen percent gray off of that background that's why then I do need to put on four times like but on lee in the reflecting its value if I use it as an incident meter and I walk back to the background and take a reading of that back wall that's white and I'm shooting appeared eleven on my subject lets you that's a uh they have power that up another half ok a little bit more that's it good hold it ok good let's measure this corner ok good let's measure this corner as long as I'm reading eleven or maybe it let's give it let's give it the benefit that make it really really white this is make it eleven a third I don't know I got white it can't do anything except be white because it was why does start with how you make a white piece of paper go black don't put the light on it right if it reads think about that scale that I had with all those numbers if I take a reading of you and your reading let's say you read f sixteen damn shooting it f sixteen now let's go take a reflective reading off the background and in the reflective ringing in the background this is just for discussion sake and I don't mean to get us too far down this rabbit hole but if I take a reading in the background of backgrounds reading eleven let's say if I go down three stops darker reflectively from whatever I'm shooting at with the mitre incident meter that white piece of paper goes black I could make a white piece of gold black white piece of paper go black all day long just don't put light on it well how do you know when it goes by when it's three stops below that middle great because remember the scale I know howto make it black because I know how to make it eighteen percent if I can make it if I can make everything that great wall that black letter and that white wall if I could make all of those read eighteen percent great, then I make it, I can make all them white, or I could call them black, because I know how to make him that one thing in the middle, right? So I know two and a third above or two hundred below will give me white four black all day long, so to get that high key look, just go a little bit above whatever you're shooting it, and you're gonna have a white background if you go brighter than that here's the problem, that white piece of paper then becomes another secondary light source, coming straight into your limbs. It eats all the small fibers and hairs and your subjects hairs, and it gives you a less contrast. E look by flattening out your picture because it's, giving a little bit of flair that you might not even recognize and that's the problem. I did it for years. You didn't even know why I was getting that flurry softie kind of be weird look, because I was putting too much light in the background, okay? Makes sense. Yeah, I was back to the engagement when I've I'm look enough to have seen you shoot a couple of times because I'm tony groupie and I go to your class, but I have noticed that you shoot all almost exclusively on your tripod and there's a lot of reasons to do that or not do that but now I'm thinking part of it might is that also for the ability to engage you're not talking to your client behind the camera makes sense that and and the secondary is that my hands were always free my hand's royce free so I could walk up I could move the light I can talk to my client can fix a stray hair if I hand hold I can't do any of that stuff so hand holding a little bit of an issue for me although we'll say one of shooting kind of a fashion look I'll take the first three frames with it on the tripod then I take it off my butt kicked the tripod out of the way because that out of my way I'm busy here, you know? But you've already made the deal already made yeah I'm donald in with my client at that point, okay let's take a couple more questions if we have time for that final question actually and this is from christina because I think it kind of leads into where we're going right next what is the first light that I should purchase from my home studio with limited a space? Oh wei don't have enough time to answer this right now this is what this is, what the next this is what this three days is going to be all about. We're going to talk about this a lot. I don't want to dodge the question, but I do want to say we're going to talk about several different options of different types of life different kinds of different price ranges on. Then as we go throughout the rest of the week, you'll see us shooting with these different lights and talking about the benefits and the drawbacks of each one, and there are so many different things you can do. If you have speed life, you can start working in the studio right now, you don't have to have you don't have to buy anything different. There are reasons why you might want to, but you don't have to. Uh, this idea of this class is not to make you all go out and spend a lot more money on more gear. Uh, there are some tools that will make life easier for you if you have those tools, but you don't have to have you can work without him.

Class Description

Lighting equipment doesn’t come cheap, so it is crucial you get your money’s worth. Learn how to make the most of your investments in Studio Lighting Basics with Tony Corbell.

Tony is a celebrated photographer, educator, and author. In this class, he’ll help you get more out of basic studio gear. 

You’ll learn:

  • How to use off-camera speedlights
  • The basics of studio lights including; mono lights and pack lights 
  • Combining studio lighting with natural light
  • The properties of light 
  • How to position lights for varied results and styles
You’ll learn practical ways to work with strobes and light shaping tools and get tips on creating the exact look you’re aiming for. Tony will also help you overcome any hesitations you have about purchasing and setting up your own lighting equipment.

If you want to get more looks out of your existing gear or want to know which gear you should invest in, don’t miss Studio Lighting Basics with Tony Corbell.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Essential Home Studio Gear Guide.pdf

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Catherine Stevens

Excellent class. Tony does a great job of highlighting different ways to work with light without being prescriptive. He's also a great speaker - very clear and easy to listen to. I would love it if this class came with a gear list and some basic guidance on the different lights as a starting point - I think the class does assume a certain amount of pre-existing lighting knowledge. Still worth every cent though!


I love watching Tony Corbell. He is such a wealth of knowledge. He is one of the Great Masters. Tony is an excellent teacher and he both freely and honestly shares his immense experience. It is truly a delight listen and watch to Tony teach.