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Studio by Exposure Photography

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While you can shoot portraits in almost any location, having your own home photo studio can makes it easier to control the lighting, background and style of your images.

The thought of setting up a home studio with lights can seem a scary prospect though. But relax, studio flash is no black art, just a combination of basic lighting principles and camera skills, while the kit you need has got much cheaper and easier to use. And it’s entirely up to you what kit you buy and how much you spend. You can get away with using a large polystyrene board as a reflector, or fork out for an almost life-size softbox, professional companies use different equipment depending of the needs of the clients, but for a home studio, some basic equipment could have good results.

Presuming you’re eager to save money, the best place to start is with a home studio flash kit. A kit like this offer a range of benefits. First, it gives you control over the exposure. The high flash power means that you can use lower ISOs and consequently produce images with less noise.

Second, a studio flash kit effectively gives you control over depth of field, as increasing or decreasing the power lets you open or close your aperture.

The biggest advantage, however, is the control that studio flash gives you over the quality of light. You can choose whether it’s diffuse or harsh, spread wide or in a narrow beam, and you can choose to have it emitting from any angle.

Studio essentials
It’s great news that there’s so much studio kit available for use in the home at an affordable price. The only downside is that it can be difficult to figure out which bit does what. Here are some common studio items, with an explanation of what they do…

1. Flash head
Also known as a strobe, flash heads normally come as a pair when you buy a home studio flash kit. Flash heads usually feature a built-in modelling light that is constantly on, so you can see where the shadows fall. Most have a switchable ‘slave’, enabling one flash to be triggered by another, so you only need to have your camera connected to one of the heads.

2. Light stands
Studio flash is all about positioning the light source away from the camera, so stands are crucial. They support the flash heads, which means they can be positioned at the right distance and angle to the subject.

3. Softbox
This is a huge diffuser that mounts directly onto the flash head. It’s sealed with internal reflective surfaces so that the light can only exit through the diffused panel at the front, which spreads and softens the light falling on the subject.

4. Snoot and honeycomb
A snoot does the opposite of a softbox, concentrating and reducing the spread of light falling on a subject. It mounts onto the flash head like a reflector/spill kill, but has a very narrow opening for light to escape through, creating a spotlight effect. A honeycomb fits into a snoot or reflector/spill kill and narrows the light beam further.

5. Reflector
Bounces diffused light back towards the shadow areas on a model. Use a plain white one to avoid color casts. Also consider one with a light absorber (black!) on the back, to help achieve a high-contrast look.

6. Backdrop
Most backdrops come in the form of a roll of paper. They’re available in a variety of sizes and colors. You’ll need support stands and a pole to keep the backdrop in place. If you don’t have one, try a large sheet or piece of fabric. Black velvet is a great choice, it has light-absorbing qualities and gives a nice rich black.

7. A model
If you don’t have a friend or family member you want to photograph you can often find willing models via networking websites such as Model Mayhem and PurplePort. New models are keen to build their portfolios and increase their experience and so you can usually come to mutually agreeable arrangements – for a small fee or trading their time in exchange for use of your photos.

How do I fire the flash?
Traditionally, flash heads are fired by connecting a cable, called a PC cord, between the flash and the camera. When the shutter release is pressed, a signal travels from the camera to the flash and fires it. The modern method uses a wireless or infrared transmitter mounted on the hotshoe, with a receiver plugged into the flash head. The signal travels between camera and flash without cables. This is a much better way of working as there’s no cable to trip over of restrict your movement. Some home studio flash kits come complete with their own flash trigger.

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