Replicating natural light in a photography studio

Last night, the challenge was to shoot a new headshot. I really enjoy shooting headshots and I’ve often thought about doing them commercially. This was where we got to in the end – not bad for about 15 minutes of work.

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One of the reasons Adam and I rented the house that we live in was the first floor front room with the beautiful bay window. It produces the most wonderful light for portraits and still life images, as seen in this image of Steve shot a few months ago.

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I mean, there’s a few differences. Simon’s headshot is much more natural whereas Steve’s is a little more casual. Steve’s is daytime window light and Simon’s is studio lights at night…

Yeah, so one of the things I’m always really pleased at is that I can make studio lights look like window light. I seem to have a knack for it which does come in quite handy. I never really realised I was much good at this until I shot this picture of a model a few years back. I was pretty pleased with it, so I did what any aspiring commercial photographer would do; I got it printed up at 11×14 and popped it in my portfolio (in black and white, if I remember rightly). And then I went for an interview.

Well, they loved it at pretty much every interview I went for. Except the London College of Communication, they hated it. But the London College of Fashion interviewers fawned over it and so did the commercial product photography company interviewers – where I ended up working full time. I hadn’t realised until then that shooting ‘daylight’ in the studio was actually quite hard. I thought everyone could do it.

For the record, the below shot was done with a large, rectangular softbox with a grid on it. I really should buy one, it belonged to my ex and I actually really liked shooting with it.

But anyway, last night Simon came round after all the good light had gone from the house. The best light in my studio is pre-midday and early afternoon. So instead we had to work with what we had.

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Yeah you know, the beauty dish one is fine. It’s just a bit ‘actors headshot’ and glamoury for a business headshot. It’s not really the style that they’re being shot in at the moment, and when you have friends with digital cameras (and time on their hands), there’s really no excuse not to keep your headshot up to date.

The beauty dish shot was a large Elinchrom dish with the silver baffle and white sock – about 45 degrees and above the subject to the right. Dead simple.

But there’s a trick. One that I was taught by a top commercial photographer.

Don’t have window light? Make window light!

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This is what my studio looked like when I took a picture of it this morning, still set up. It was all a bit crammed in because on the left I’ve got my product table setup where I was shooting stock last week.

Just in case you’re not clear how this works, I drew you a picture of Simon having his photo taken. Doesn’t he look happy and carefree?

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So yeah. Basically I bounced the very soft but directional light produced by the beauty dish (with sock) off of the window glass and a small amount of ceiling. Most of the light does travel through the glass, but a small amount reflects back in a way that looks very natural. It spreads the light in a way that it would spread the sun’s light which helps make it convincing. I also popped a reflector under his chin.

I got window the idea from a trick I was shown in the studio. If you want something that looks like window light – bounce a light off of a sheet of glass in exactly this way. Put some black or dark grey a few meters behind it to absorb the excess and you’re golden.

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