Introduction to Studio Lighting


To accompany our Let There Be Light project we had a workshop introducing us to studio lighting. This workshop was held by the universities photographic service unit (University of Brighton Photographic Service Unit) which offers services such as equipment loans, bookable photographic studios and working in the photography darkroom.

Initially we began at looking at how to correctly use a camera, specifically looking at the exposure triangle. The triangle consists of ISO (how sensitive the light sensor is to light), shutter speed (how long the shutter remains open), and aperture (the size of the hole in the lens). Each three of these components affects each other and can be controlled to produce different effects. Shutter speed can be used to capture motion blur or a freeze frame of a moving object, and aperture can be used to control the depth of field.

There are settings on digital cameras which can be used to make controlling these components easier, the A/AV setting gives manual control of the aperture whilst automatically adjusting the shutter speed and ISO, and the S/TV setting gives manual control of the shutter speed whilst automatically adjusting the aperture and ISO. Another setting that can be useful is white balance, this helps to control the colour tone of the lighting in the image. Other ways of modifying the light is through hardware like soft boxes (soft diffused light for portraiture and fashion shoots), umbrellas (shoot through for diffused light or reflective to softly bounce away light), barn doors (use the flaps to direct the light), snoots (direct light) and coloured reflectors (control the tonal colour of the light).

Once we had covered the basics of photography we put what we had learnt into practice and began experimenting with different studio lighting set ups and the DSLR cameras. The first set up was a one light setup and the second was a basic lighting setup. The one light setup has a light facing the model at about a 45 degree angle, with a reflector acting as a fill light to soften the shadows, this is good for portraiture.

One Light Setup

The basic lighting setup is also good as a basic starting point for portraiture but also for still life. There is a background, main light and a fill light.

Basic Lighting Setup

During the workshop I experimented with using the a DSLR camera and one light setup to photography my calm jar, the object I choose initally for my Let There Be Light project. A calm jar is a jar filled with glitter, glitter glue and food colouring, and when the jar is shaken the glitter becomes animated and swirls around the jar before slowly settling. Due to the kinetic aspect of this object I spent a lot of time experimenting with capturing the motion by altering the shutter speed, with the help of the technician. Capturing moving objects and lights is a running theme throughout my Let There Be Light project therefore this feedback and advice was extremely valuable. I also experimented with using reflectors and adjusting the intensity of the light source in order to soften the shadows. Below are some of the photographs taken from my workshop, although they are not polished images they are recordings of my experimentation with studio lighting.


Let There Be Light

25/10/2016 – 14/11/2016

Brief: To select an object individually and as a group experiment with photography, exploring the effect of different lighting set ups upon the range of objects and documenting our exploration. Following on from this we should conduct further explorations, investigations and experimentations with light individually and within our groups. As a group we should produce an A3 contact sheet displaying our 12 most successful images, with the 2 most successful images blown up to A3, and as individuals we should also present an A3 contact sheet displaying our 12 most successful images taken by ourselves.

As a group we worked extremely well together from the beginning therefore we did a lot of exploration together as a group, therefore my individual and group work is closely linked due to the thorough nature of our group exploration.

Individually we did our own contextual research before meeting as a group for the first time to being our primary research, this was to help give us an idea of what we wanted to achieve in the limited time we spent together as a group. I looked at 23 Envelope, a graphic design partnership between Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson, who produced many record sleeves for the music label 4aD. I also looked at Davy Evans and Thomas Saraceno, all of these artists / designers play with experimental photography or light in their work.

Heaven or Las Vegas Cocteau Twins Cover by 23 Envelope, 1990

Untitled by Davy Evans

Poetic Cosmos of the Breath by Tomas Saraceno

From my individual research I concluded that I was interested in the use of colour within experimental photography; 23 Envelope did this through long exposure photography of coloured lights, Davy Evans used a mixture of oil and other house hold chemicals to produce iridescent mixtures, and Tomas Saraceno used iridescent materials which moved in the sunlight.

Through group discussions we shared our own personal interests and concluded that we initially wanted to begin our exploration by looking at making an installation incorporating all of our objects due to the interesting array of objects brought in such as a found vintage mirror, magic lantern slides, a colourful moving disco ball, fairy lights, a series of glass vessels and my glitter jar. We played with using a lamp to project the magic lantern slides, refracting light through the slides and glass vessels, assembling the glass vessels and magic lantern slides on a light box. Whilst playing with the light box we noticed a strange visual glitch that it would cause on our phones and low end cameras whilst recording the lightbox, I go into further detail about this glitch here.

During this photoshoot we also photographed the colourful disco ball whilst it was moving as well as photographing the disco ball through other glass objects, this was of particular interest to me due to the variety of colours it produced. In my photographs of this object I played with altering the focus as well long exposure. A video of my experimentation with the disco ball can be seen here.


Projecting magic lantern slides and glass vessels with a hard light


Magic lantern slides on the lightbox


Moving disco ball, playing with focus


Moving disco ball, playing with long exposure and moving the camera

Whilst cooking in my own time I accidentally got some grease onto my phone screen and noticed the iridescent colours that would appear as the screen light reflected through the grease. Inspired by this and following my interest of colour in experimental photography I covered my phone screen in a thin layer of oily cream and photographed the effects.


Cream on a phone screen

The next time our group was together was for our studio lighting induction. During the presentation we received a presentation informing us on how to correctly utilise all of the features on a dslr camera, then we put our knowledge to use by photographing our objects on one of the two studio lighting set ups. As the induction was very informative I produced a separate blog post going into further detail on what I learnt which can be found here.

After our studio lighting induction as a group we visited the pier, this played a very important part in my individual and group exploration due to the large amount of coloured artificial lights on the arcade machines, which relates to my interest in coloured light. Furthermore many of the lights were kinetic which meant I could continue playing with focus and long exposure, techniques I started using with the coloured moving disco ball previously.


Pier arcade light, playing with long exposure and moving the camera


Pier arcade lights, playing with long exposure and moving the camera


Pier arcade lights, long exposure

The third time our group met up one of our group members brought it a new object, a box of gems and stones that she had collected over the years. Although not kinetic they were very colourful. Using a light box, natural light and torch lights I photographed the illuminated textures coloured gems and stones. With the more transparent stones I photographed the reflections produced on surfaces from shining a strong torch light through the stones. Another of our group members brought in a series of clip on lenses for iPhone cameras which included a macro lens, you can see my photographs using this lens here.


Stone on the lightbox


Stone with natural lighting


Torchlight reflection of a stone on the lightbox

As a group and individually we had produced thousands of images therefore to narrow our selection down we individually selected and cropped our own strongest images. Then as a group we collated our images and discussed which 12 we wanted to see included within our group A3 contact sheet, we also went on discuss our two favourite group images that we wanted blown up to A2 prints. When discussing what images to choose we wanted to show the breadth of our research as we felt we explored a large variety of techniques, however we also wanted a level of consistency throughout the whole contact sheet so we choose images that were all colourful and followed a similar colour pallete. Here you can see the 12 images that we selected.

Following on from our group discussions I took the feedback given by my group members on my own photography and selected my own 12 images for my contact sheet which can be seen here. For my contact sheet I still wanted to show the breadth of my exploration however I also wanted to display my experimentation and interest in colour and movement. My images focused on coloured artificial light or illuminated coloured objects. To show movement I included many of my photos taken using long exposure, either of moving objects or still objects but the camera was moved when the picture was being taken.


Both of my contact sheets were presented during the group critique for this project and during this critique we received mixed feedback, Our work was praised for the breadth of our exploration which as a group we really focused on, we made sure to investigate all of the techniques and skills listed on the brief, for example hard light, soft light, studio lighting, natural light, indoors, etc. However we were also told out exploration was too broad and we should have focused on one aspect and developed that further, however this goes against what was required of us on the brief. During the briefing we were also told that the project was all about experimenting and a concept was not necessary however during the critique we were advised to have used a concept. Through out our exploration we had a common theme of colour and movement as the focus of our work causing our work to have a direction which seemed appropriate for an experimental and technical brief. Considering the amount of exploration required on the brief, although the tutors said our exploration was too broad, incorporating a concept into the work as well would have been too time consuming, especially as were developing group and individual projects simultaneously. During a separate tutorial with my personal tutor she disagreed with the feedback I had been given on our groups work, therefore I felt the initial negative feedback didn’t mean this project was unsuccessful but that the tutors all interpreted the brief differently and were looking for different things in the work. In the future I will aim to include a concept or a strong running theme along with my experimental and technical briefs to help direct my work and offer guidance however I don’t feel that going back to this project and adding a concept is necessary and would be extremely time consuming.

Let There Be Light – Phone Glitch


During our group exploration for Let There Be Light we noticed an issue some people were having with their low end cameras or mobile phones, and this was that when they tried to film or photograph any of the objects on the light box a series of orange bars would flash on their phone screen as seen above. This wasn’t just a optical glitch as when they actually photographed or filmed the objects the orange bars would be included in the saved file. Although this discovery was not included within my Let There Be Light work as it was not relevant to my development I did find it interesting and it may be a glitch I choose to embrace in future projects. Below are some still images of the orange bars.


Let There Be Light – Disco Lights


Above is a video from my photo shoot based on the disco lights, I played with photographing the lights in and out of focus as well as using long exposure to capture their movement, or moving the camera itself whilst taking a long exposure photograph. The video above is the lights in motion whilst the camera is out of focus, creating animated flashing geometric shapes. This video ties in with my interest in colour and motion, documents my research into altering the focus in photographs, and is a very visually appealing piece.

From the above video I saw the potential to turn a section of the video into a gif. I had no previous experience making gifs therefore I also saw this as an opportunity to develop new skills which I can utilise in future projects. I used the website GIPHY to produce my gif, which can be viewed online here. This website makes it quick and easy to make gifs, in the future if I do choose to make more polished gifs within my work I would choose to create them in a piece of video editing software however to offer more tools and freedom over my gif.