A friend posted this, a virtual light studio. A really useful tool to try out and learn some of those lighting layouts, although obviously nothing replaces real studio time.
I put in my usual lighting rig as I used for the shots of Kirk and others, and got some quite nice results:
Although I tended to quite often in my earlier portraits use a softbox of at a 45 degree angle to the side and a reflector on the other, I found it more controllable and reliable to use two lights of differing power, sometimes with a snoot (although I never really got good results with one of those, or barn doors…practice I guess). The fun (ie hard part) of lighting is to accent the modelling of the face without getting shadows under the nose or eyes – unless you are going for that moody/Halloween look. As I was taught sculpture and drawing and learnt about light and modelling through that, I think I approach it in sculptural terms, light and shadow, chiaroscuro.
What I find in a lot of commercial shoots is they pour a lot of light at the subject, mostly directly on, equally balanced power. It tends to lead to a flat high-key look, which can in the right hands look quite cool (always fond of that ring-flash look, or the use of silver or gold reflectors, overused but can be really striking!) but most often than not looks boring. It’s good for catalogue or some fashion/supermarket magazine photography, but the lighting of a portrait subject should say as much about the subject – or at least show off their features – as the choice of pose or lens or location. Those ‘flat’ studio shots to me look as if the person is treating the subject as a still life, static and on some kind of conveyor belt. Also truly good high-key photography is hard, since throwing a lot of light at a subject is actually rarely flattering unless you bounce the light, and as I’ve found that’s quite hard to control. Unless major studios have a lot of dwarves with last-o-lites scattered around the set out of shot. I wouldn’t be surprised…;-)
It’s why I was taught to only use one light and reflectors at first, it’s a really good training in economy in lighting, You can get perfectly good shots with a single tungsten light, or a strobe flash, and a white board or wall. Harder to control the reflection, especially the angle of reflected light since it scatters as it bounces but certainly it teaches you how much you can change mood by swinging the light around by a few degrees, and how much light can be bounced back onto subject (or not if you want very moody/introspective shots) and how that changes the feel of the portrait. As with all things, experimentation is the key.