How to Light Portraits in Photography – Part II

This is part II of a larger article. If missed the first part, click here to read it.

How to Light Portraits in Photography

Lighting in Photography: Studio Lighting for Portraits

This is a part where those of you who cannot afford / do not own a strobe package should pay attention.
If you want to include exterior light with a homemade lighting system, you will have a massive disparity between the exterior and interior color temperatures. You’re probably intimately aware of this if you’ve tried to get your interior lighting setups to include exterior light.

In a “million-dollar-a-year” studio system, you’d balance to the sun with your already perfectly temp accurate broncolor strobe system and use a specific gel to match the strobe to your metered readings of the ambient light, but usually we don’t have that luxury. So first, let’s talk about mixing source light on the cheap.

If you want to mix daylight and your incandescent household light bulb system, you can purchase CTB photofloods for about $3 USD a piece from any online photo store.

The downside is that they only last for about three hours at their rated color temperature, and then they begin to shift severely (change their color) or just die completely. These won’t give you a perfect match, but they’ll get you in the ball park. The filaments are also very weak and fracture easily. But at three dollars a piece, they’re tough to pass up. You’d need to buy a lot of photofloods before you’d get close to the cost of a single strobe head, let alone a full system.

In order to get us a little closer to the “blue” of the exterior sunlight, we’ll need some gels. Most of us live near a city, at least within driving range on a monthly basis. Get out your phone directory and find all of the printing shops in your nearest city. Call those shops and ask if they have “used acetate approval sheets” and tell them that you’ll take them before they throw them out, for free!

The most common type is the Kodak Color Approval System. In the printing process, four sheets of acetate with each color dyed on its own sheet are used to make color proofs for the client. After a single usage, they’re discarded, leaving LOTS of color left on the acetate.

All of the colors can be used creatively (and the Cyan is often pretty close to CTB) but beware, they are not fire/melt proof… use them too close to your lights for too long and you’ll have a goopy mess on your hands.

Another note about saving money with gels. Instead of buying 1/4, 1/2 and Full CTB gels, just buy four sheets of “Full CTB” and cut them into strips of varying widths. This way you can mix the natural temperature of the light source (be it incandescent or otherwise) with some of the gel. You’ll find that you save money this way, and end up with a more accurate color in the end. I rarely ever use a full gel sheet, unless it’s for creative purposes.

When it comes to color temp matching, using three, four, five strips of a Full CTB gel often works better than using a full sheet of 1/2 CTB. The same holds true for CTO, etc.

Regarding Fluorescent lighting:
avoid it like the plague. Gas lights bring forth a myriad of color problems. Personally, I enjoy lighting with fluorescents, but do so only with a color-accurate flicker free systems, like the Kino-flo.

If you HAVE to shoot in a situation with fluorescents, like in a warehouse, or a corporate location where the lights cannot be switched off, purchase some plus-green or minus-green gels from your photo store and use them over your own lights to match to the fluorescents.

If you must show the fluorescent lighting in the frame, I would also recommend you keep your shutter open longer than 1/125 (in the US) or 1/90 (in the UK) as this will allow all the bulbs to complete one cycle (60/50 Hz) during exposure.

By Laura

I started photography as a hobby in 2005, during college. My passion slowly became a more important part of my life since 2008. Because of using a combination of my photographic knowledge, with those of internet marketing, I like to call myself a "photomarketer".

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