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Setting Up

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If you followed part 1 of this tutorial you'll know the basic equipment you'll need for a home portrait studio. In this part we'll talk about setting up that equipment and use it to shoot some simple portrait lighting arrangements.

For most of these techniques we'll be using two flash heads and a simple plain background. As we discussed last time, you'll need a fair amount of space for this kind of setup, enough for the lights and their stands, and enough to put some distance between the camera and the subject, so that you can use a short telephoto lens, the best focal length for portrait shots. For most of the setups you will have one light either side of the subject, and for a couple of them you will also need enough space to put a light between the subject and the background, about a metre or so. If you've got a space about 5m x 4m, about a third of that space will be taken up with the background, the lights and the position in which the subject will be standing or sitting.
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Studio photography is all about lighting control, so in order to give yourself the best possible control over the lighting you need to cut out as much ambient light as possible. Block any light coming in through windows by closing the curtains or blinds, or better yet shoot at night. Turn out any large room lights, just leave enough light so that you can see what you're doing. The modelling lights from the flash units will provide plenty of light for the model.

Most portrait lighting techniques use diffused light, so you'll be using some sort of diffuser with your flash units. The best option is to use softboxes, which provide a nice soft even light, but reflector or shoot-through brollies are better than nothing. Avoid using direct flash for facial lighting, because is is very harsh and shows up every tiny wrinkle and blemish. It also causes harsh hard-edged shadows. A diffused light source casts soft-edged shadows and provides a much more flattering light. For some of the techniques we will also be using a reflector. If you have a free-standing reflector this isn't a problem, but if you have a hand-held one you may need someone to help you to hold the reflector in the correct position.
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As for the camera, it's largely a matter of personal choice as to whether or not to use a tripod. As long as you're shooting with flash light you don't really need a tripod, and there are advantages to shooting hand-held. If you have the freedom to move the camera you can frame the subject much more quickly, which makes for a faster pace and saves a lot of time. Also your subject will feel more relaxed if you're not constantly asking them to freeze while you adjust the position of the tripod. Using a short telephoto lens you can crop the picture in quite tightly, so any movement may take your subject out of the frame.

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