Why Lighting Matters

I’ve been in photography for many years now and in the last five years, I’ve focused more on the photo booth side of the business. Photo booths have always been a fun addition to any event especially at weddings. I’ve been asked many time how my lighting is set up so I figured I might as well create a post that describes my process.

We’ve all been there. You set up the booth, take your test shots and notice that the lighting isn’t consistent. For me, lighting is everything. You can have the best equipment out there but if your lighting is subpar, it doesn’t really matter in the end.

First and foremost, ensure that your WB is set on Manual. While everyday photography might be okay with AWB, photo booths as with any paid photography gig needs to be better tuned to the environment. So you better be prepared to make the adjustments. If not, then your photos will vary from shot to shot. This will result in very unhappy clients. How many of us have seen this happen and we wonder why it did?

I use the Alien Bees Flash Units as my main source of light. I have two AB800 units that we bring to every event. You can purchase each for about $280, direct from Paul C. Buff. These units were my flash units when I did traditional portrait sittings a number of years ago. They are small, robust flash units that will last you a very long time. I use one on top of my T11 and the other one as backup.

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The larger the light source, the softer the light. The softer the light, the more flattering your portraits will be. With that said, I bounce the lights with translucent umbrellas. I have two sizes ( 33″ and 43″) in my bag that I can interchange based on the venue and the space constraints. However, if space allows for it, I always try to use the 43″ version.

So what’s the difference between the white translucent, silver, and gold lined bounce umbrellas? A gold-lined umbrella will help warm skin tones and give people a healthier look, but may also affect the color of the whites which could be a problem when shooting a wedding. Silver-lined umbrellas will help intensify the quality of light with little or no color cast. White is the most neutral of all but compared to the metallic-lined umbrellas, tends to diffuse a bit more and reflect a bit less.

Once again, it’s all about the size that gives the most flattering lighting. One last thing about the umbrella, maybe it’s just me but I like the line of the umbrella to be parallel to the top pf my booth. I’m just a little OCD like that.

I don’t have too many pull back shots so I’ll include what I have here. As you can see, the AB800s fire into the umbrella and the umbrella in turn bounces the light back into my subjects. The umbrella is perpendicular to the light which is set at a 45 degree angle from the line of the camera’s lens.

Here are some examples of lighting where skin tone, backdrop, and venue were all taken into consideration.

The angle of the strobe in this shot was pretty steep due to the custom backdrop that the client provided. They used glossy vinyl stickies which was totally reflective when shot at the normal 45 degree angle. The solution? Increase the angle and make it steeper to minimize the angle of incidence. The final photo is seen below.

Other lighting options for photo booths:

1. Beauty dish – A beauty dish is simply a shallow parabolic disk that attaches to a light source. There is a plate covering the flash head – this causes the light to reflect back into and out to the sides of the main dish. Most of the light is aimed forward at the subject because of the size and curvature of the dish. There are dishes that range in sizes from 12″ in diameter to 36″ in diameter.

2. Ringlight Flash – A ringlight flash is simply a flash that creates a ring where the center is usually left open for the camera’s lens to peek thru. This type of flash has a very unique result because it creates a shadow free photo and is incredibly flattering for portraits. I’ve used a ringlight flash before and have noticed that when the groups get larger, the lighting tends to fall off the sides. This means that the area immediately adjacent from the center of the light tends to appear darker. A ringlight flash also creates a halo effect so if you’re using a ringlight flash, make sure that you have enough separation between the subject and the background.

3. Constant LED lighting – A constant light simply means, always on. When I first experimented with photo booths, I tried using my F&V R300 but soon realized that constant lighting was not for me. Having to use constant lighting meant that I had to increase my ISO and suffer the dreaded blur in cases where people started moving as the shutter opened to take the photo. And we all know from experience that people always tend to move.

4. Ringlight – This light is similar to number two above but with the exception that it doesn’t actually fire like a flash. Think of it as a hybrid between a ringlight flash and a constant LED light source. This type of lighting is most commonly seen in iPad booths.

5. Speedlites – This is the most overlooked light source but maybe for good reason. Speedlites , while portable, is simply not a large light source enough and most often requires bulky soft boxes to help spread the light power output.

Quick tip: If you are using a black backdrop, please use an additional flash or strobe as a hairlight to separate the subject from the backdrop. Just remember that with a hairlight, you get a bit of a glow around the head that serves to separate the model from the backdrop.

This is by far not the end all, be all for lighting. There are a few other options out there and this is by no means the best one. This list and the products that I’ve mentioned that I use are the ones that work best for me and for what I would like my images to look like. As the saying goes, to each his own.

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Happy boothing! Ciao!

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