Experience the Experience

During the last three weeks of interdisciplinary, I have been studying commercial photography.

During these sessions, the first session was looking at how to use a camera. As I did A Level photography, I knew most of what we were doing.

There are no fixed rules in photography, however there are guidelines which can often enhance the quality of the image. These three elements work together to give us both creative control and exposure control for our photos – ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed.



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In traditional photography ISO was the indication of how sensitive a film was to light. It was measured in numbers. The lower the number the lower the sensitivity of the film and the finer the grain in the shots you’re taking.

In digital photography ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and finer the grain.


Shutter Speed:

Every camera has a physical shutter, like a curtain, that opens and closes to expose the sensor to the light coming through your lens when you press the shutter button. The length time that this shutter is open is called the shutter speed and also sometimes refer to as ‘exposure time’.

We can select a fast shutter speed that freezes any action in a photo, or we can select a slow shutter speed that introduces ‘motion blur’ to any moving objects with our image.

A camer’a shutter speed is measured as a fraction of a second for all speeds that are under a second. For example, 1/250 means one two hundred and fiftieth of a second, or 1/8 means one eighth of a second. The shutter speeds that are available to choose from might vary depending on the type of camera you are using, but typically a DSLR will go from 1/4000 all the way to 30 seconds.

Some pro level DSLR’s will allow even faster speeds than 1/8000 and many will have ‘BULB’ mode for shooting at longer than 30 seconds. This mode keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold down the shutter button.

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An aperture is simply defined as an opening, hole or gap. In photographic terms, we use it to describe the hole in the middle of the lens that allows light to pass from the front of the lens, through the barrel and onto the camera’s sensor.

Varying the size of this aperture has a dramatic effect on the look of your photo and long shutter speed and ISO, is the concluding element to our Exposure Triangle. Not only does the aperture affect the brightness of our photos, but it also controls how blurry our background is.

Aperture settings are referred to as f-numbers and individual settings are f-stops. The larger the f-number, the smaller the aperture is. For example, an f-stop of f/32 would be considered a very small aperture, whereas an f-stop of f/1.4 would be considered a very large aperture. Different lenses have different maximum and minimum f-stops.

Depth of field (DOF) describes the amount of an image that is in focus. When first starting to learn more about photography, we’re often drawn to those images with blurry backgrounds. Images like this are referred to as having a shallow depth of field. One part of the image is distinctly in focus, while the rest of it drops off to a blur.

Depth of field can be controlled in a few distinct ways, but by far the most common way is by varying the f-stop of the lens.

The smaller your aperture the greater the depth of field. So an f-stop of f/32 has a greater depth of field where little, or maybe even none of it, is out of focus. On the contrary, a wider aperture, like f/2.8, would have only a small portion of the image in focus.

Sometimes its beneficial to have a greater depth of field, photographing landscapes for example, when we want to include a huge scene with many objects in an image stretching to the horizon. Sometimes we just want to isolate one particular aspect, like with a portrait for example, and this is where we can use a shallow depth of filed to make that subject pop out from their surroundings and backdrop.

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White Balance:

When thinking about the camera settings that affect the look of an image, most people naturally think of the Exposure Triangle. And whilst Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed certainly affect the exposure of our image, there is one more setting that’s often overlooked and just as important; white balance.

White balance often flies under the radar because it doesn’t affect the exposure of the photo, but it does affect the colour accuracy and this can have dramatic effects to your final photo. If you’ve ever taken a photo of someone indoors and thought that their skin looks a bit orange, then you’ve come across the situation of an incorrect with balance.

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The term composition applies not only to visual arts, but to music, dance, literature and virtually any other kind of art. In certain contexts, such as writing, this term many not be as widely used, but is just as valid nonetheless. In general, the term composition has two distinctive, yet related meanings.

Composing an image means arranging elements within it in a way that suits the core idea or goal of your work best. Arranging elements can be done by actually moving the objects or subjects.

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1. The broader the light source, the softer the light.

The narrower the source, the harder the light. A broad light source lessens shadows, reduces contrast, suppresses texture.

A narrow light source does the opposite. This is because, with a broad source, light rays hit your subject from more directions, which tends to fill in shadows and give more even illumination to the scene.

2. The closer the light source, the softer the light.

The farther the source, the harder the light. This stands to reason: Move a light closer, and you make it bigger—that is, broader—in relation to your subject. Move it farther away, and you make it relatively smaller, and therefore more narrow.

Think about the sun, which is something like 109 times the diameter of the earth—pretty broad! But, at 93 million miles away, it takes up a very small portion of the sky and hence casts very hard light when falling directly on a subject.

3. Diffusion scatters light, essentially making the light source broader and therefore softer.

When clouds drift in front of the sun, shadows get less distinct. Add fog, and the shadows disappear. Clouds, overcast skies, and fog act as diffusion—something that scatters the light in many directions. On overcast or foggy days, the entire sky, in effect, becomes a single very broad light source—nature’s softbox.

4. Bouncing light acts as diffusion.

Aim a narrow light source at a broad, matte surface—such as a wall, ceiling, or matte refiector—and it not only refiects the light but also diffuses it by scattering it over a wider area.

Use a shiny refiector, though, and the light will stay fairly narrow on the bounce. The most extreme type of shiny refiector—a mirror—will keep the light focused pretty much as narrowly in the refiection.

5. The farther the light source, the more it falls off— gets dimmer on your subject.

The rule says that light falls off as the square of the distance. That sounds complicated, but isn’t really. If you move a light twice as far from your subject, you end up with only one-quarter of the light on the subject.

In other words, light gets dim fast when you move it away— something to keep in mind if you’re moving your lights or your subject to change the quality of the light.

Also remember that bouncing light—even into a shiny reflector that keeps light directional— adds to the distance it travels.

6. Light falloff can be used to vary the relationship between the light on your subject and your background.

If you place a light close to your subject, the falloff from the subject to the background will be more pronounced. Move the light farther from your subject, and the background will be relatively brighter.

The same holds true for sidelighting: With a light close to the side of your subject, the falloff of light across the frame will be more pronounced than if the light is farther away.

7. Frontlighting de-emphasizes texture; lighting from the side, above, or below emphasizes it.

A portraitist may want to keep the light source close to the axis of the lens to suppress skin wrinkles, while a landscapist may want sidelighting to emphasize the texture of rocks, sand, and foliage. Generally, the greater the angle at which the light is positioned to the subject, the more texture is revealed.

8. Shadows create volume.

That’s how photographers describe threedimensionality, the sense of seeing an image as an object in space, not projected on a flat surface.

Again, lighting from the side, above, or below, by casting deeper and longer shadows, creates the sense of volume. Still-life, product, and landscape photographers use angular lighting for this reason.

9. Backlight can be used as highly diffused lighting.

Very few subjects are totally backlit, that is, in pure silhouette, with no light at all falling from the front. A person with his back to a bright window will have light reflected from an opposite wall falling on him. Someone standing outside with her back to bright sunlight will have light falling on her from the open sky in front of her. In either case, you’ll need to increase exposure to record the light falling on the subject—and this light will deemphasize facial texture and dimensionality.

10. Light has color, even when it looks “white.”

This is called color temperature, and our eye/brain computer is very adept at adjusting our perception so that we hardly notice it. Digital sensors and film, though, may record color casts where our eyes didn’t see them.

The color of early morning and late afternoon sunlight is warm in tone, while open shade at midday can be quite bluish. Tungsten light bulbs cast very yellow light. And any surface that light bounces off can add its color.

With digital cameras, you can use the white-balance control to neutralize color casts or to emphasize them—for example, to add a warmer tone to a landscape or portrait. With slide film, you had to choose the right film for the light you’d be shooting in, or compensate with filters.



Whether you want to get more serious about professional studio photography or you want to expand your current lighting setup, this tutorial is meant to give you an introduction to the different types of basic lighting equipment. Hopefully you’ll come away with enough knowledge to aid you when shopping for new gear.

Lighting equipment can fall into one of three major categories: the light sources themselves, modifiers that control the spread of light, and grips or stands that support the lights.

Light sources:

Professional studio light sources generally fall into one of two categories: you can get a kit with a flash head and a power pack, or you can get a monolight kit.

A head and power pack kit consists of the flash head and a small power pack that acts as the generator that supplies energy to the flash head. The flash head contains flash tubes that emit light once supplied with high voltages.

There are two kinds of power packs: symmetric power packs and assymetric power packs. Symmetric power packs split power equally between multiple flash heads. Assymetric power packs allow the user to vary the power supply to different flash heads.

Monolights, on the other hand, are compact substitutes for a power pack/flash head combinations. Their size limits their power, but they are often desired for their portability.

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Having all the controls on the power pack makes it easier to change the settings of multiple flash heads in one place quickly. Monolights come with the controls built directly into the light itself. So if you have multiple monolights, you’ll need to control and adjust the settings of each one separately. Head/power pack kits also offer faster flash durations than monolights, which can really come in handy when you want to freeze action during fast motion. They also have faster recycle times.

If you’re shooting outdoors or with complicated modifier setups, you are going to need a lot of power to overcome the sun or the light loss caused by the modifiers. Head/pack systems have a big advantage in the power department. Whereas, if you’re shooting indoors or inside your studio, monolights will probably be more than enough for regular work.

With each option, you can find equipment prices that vary widely. Be sure to also check out used gear,  as you can often find good deals on lighting kits that can serve you well. Whichever your choose, keep in mind that the most durable equipment is made mainly of metal rather than plastic.

Most lights, regardless of the brand or model, provide heads that come in the form of a strobe surrounded by a reflector. Some, like the Profoto Acute/D4 flash heads, come with a zoom reflector which slides and locks at your chosen position allowing you to further control the spread of light. Their zoom reflector, like many others, provides the ability to attach a honeycomb grid for an even more focused spread, or other kinds of light modifiers used for different effects.

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If your flash head does not come with a zoom reflector, you can find many types of wide or narrow reflectors sold as accessories. Wide reflectors produce a larger pool of light and a softer light quality, narrow reflectors produce smaller pools of light and a harsher light quality.

Most strobe lights allow you to completely remove the reflector and attach different kinds of light modifiers.


Light modifiers:

The most common types of light modifers are umbrellas and softboxes.

Reflecting umbrellas produce a diffused and soft light due to the larger size of the reflecting surface. They are mounted in such a way that the strobe light is actually facing away from the subject or model. Light flies from the strobe head hitting the inside of the umbrella and then bounces back towards the subject.

There are silver-lined, white, and gold tinted umbrellas. Silver-lined umbrellas are the most efficient and can focus light more  narrowly than the other types. White umbrellas offer a wider spread of reflected light, and gold umbrellas produce a warm tone.

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Softboxes on the other hand are usually square or rectangular. They are lightweight boxes that come with a reflective inside and a translucent front. Softboxes come in different shapes and sizes and are attached to the front the strobe over the light source. Light emitted from the strobe head gets reflected inside the walls of the softbox and diffused through the box’s translucent front creating a soft, but more focused light source illuminating the model or scene.

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The difference between reflecting umbrellas and softboxes is that the spread of light with a softbox is more contained. With an umbrella on the other hand, light can spill beyond the boundaries of the reflective surface affecting the amount of light getting back to the subject. Spilled light can also hit walls and ceilings indoors causing it to reflect and bounce all over the place. An umbrella simply isn’t as controllable as a softbox.

Some other tools that control and modify the quality of light are barn doors, snoots, and honeycomb grids. These are attached directly to your strobe head by mounting to the reflector that comes with (or is bought for) your strobe, as discussed above.

Snoots are conical shaped tools that narrow the distribution of light. These can be used to produce a very focused, harsh light. They are often used like a spot light or to light the background. They are also very handy as a rim or hair light to illuminate the model from the back.

Barn doors are flaps surrounding a strobe that can be opened or closed to control the light and prevent it from spilling. They don’t produce a concentrated and direct light like snoots, but they can come in handy depending on your needs.

Honeycomb grids, as the name suggests, are basically honeycomb shaped metallic grids that direct the light for a more focused spread. These come in different degrees. The smaller the grid cells the tighter the holes through which the light travels, and in turn the more focused the light becomes.

Flags are another type of light modifiers. A flag is any kind of opaque object placed in the way of light to better direct it, to prevent lens flare or to prevent it from spilling. A semi-translucent flag is called a scrim and is used to cut down on light spill.

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Grips and Stands:

Stands and grips are used to support your light sources, strobes, and even light modifiers or backdrops.

There are two main types of light stands: lightweight stands and C-stands which are more heavy duty. Both types come in varying sizes, lengths, and prices. Heights can usually be adjusted. Sandbags can also be attached to weight the stand and better stabilize your lights.

When you shop for a lightweight stand, the ones with an air-shock are superior. The extra few bucks you pay will go a long way in protecting your expensive lights when you accidentally loosen a knob. The air-shock will soften the fall of your light, minimizing or even eliminating any damage. Also, make sure you get one with a wide footprint (meaning the legs of the stand spread far apart) so that your setup is stable and doesn’t fall over.

C-stands are very good, but they comes at a price. They are heavy duty and very stable. C-stands typically don’t have air-shocks, so you need to pay attention while loosening your knobs so you don’t harm your gear.

C-stands are frequently used in the video industry due to their durability and stability. They can come with a number of attachments like boom arms that can be mounted onto the stand. These arms allow you to add reflectors, scrims, flags and other modifier and rotate them to any angle you wish.

The c-stand is strong enough to hold backgrounds and seemless white paper in addition to lights. They are also very useful when you’re shooting outdoors in windy conditions because their weight adds to their stability. You can get a c-stand with an attachments kit for less than 200 bucks, sometimes far less.

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Photo shoot:

This day, we had to set up a studio shoot, ours based on fashion.


One side of the room was to create a film noir shoot, using a grey back drop and also blinds are they are most commonly used in the genre. And on the other side we used a yellow back drop, which was bright and suited the fashion genre. We brought as props balloons, glasses and fathers for other people to use if they wanted to join in with the shoot.


This shoot was developed by one of our team members, with myself and a friend using the props we brought to create this fashion shoot. We used soft boxes for lighting, and with the camera we used a fast shutter speed and used a wide aperture to just capture the main subject of the photograph.

Photographs I took:



This overall experience was fun to do, as it felt like I was back at college doing my A Level photography again. Going through the process of how to use a camera and the equipment made all my knowledge of photography came back and I found it easy to go through the sessions and felt comfortable doing the photo shoot.


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