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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Portrait lighting setup

One of my great heroes of portrait lighting (and photography) is Peter Hurley. He has a very distinctive lighting style by using kinoflo constant light sources which are usually used for movie lighting.


Peter prefers constant light over flash in taking headshot portraits because he feels that triggering a flash somehow gets people distracted every time and they become too aware of the fact that they are being photographed.. leading to strange facial movements and your client basically not looking as relaxed and natural as they could look. This is of course especially true for clients that are not professional models and used to working with flash like in corporate portraits, senior portraits etc.

Here is a great video by Peter describing his basic process. You also get to see a little glimpse of what his studio looks like.


So I set out to see if I could replicate this lighting style on a budget with items available at a department store. Judging from Peter Hurley's videos on youtube and from what the highlights in the eyes of his portraits look like I assumed he had a lamp to the left an right of his subject and possible one above. I assumed that he might have a reflector below the subject as well but I could not see one.
Therefore I set out to buy two long neon lamps left and right of the head and one smaller lamp for the top. This is what I bought:

2 x neon lamps 30W, length 120cm

1 x neon lamps 18W, length 60cm

I made sure all neon tubes were of the same type on order to avoid the white-balance being too far off natural light so I tried to get lamps that had a light temperature close to 5500Kelvin (in my case 5000K).

Mounting the lamps provided a bit of a challenge. In the end I constructed a makeshift frame to attach them to with wire and held them up with two lightstands. Ideally I would probably build a more permanent and stable solution by getting a couple of more supplies from the department store. Here is what it looks like:



After some testing I did however run into one particular problem: the neon tubes I was using had a flicker to them that became apparent at certain shutter speed and led to green banding across the images on some instances.

shutter speed 1/1250

I figured out the solution to this issue was to use a shutterspeed of slower than 1/150. It's not a perfect solution since this is of course somewhat limiting especially when using longer lenses where faster speeds would be of benefit. Also, every now and then, there is still a slight but noticeable color cast over the whole image which can, however, be corrected easily by adjusting white balance.

shutter speed 1/125

So, finally I tried the lamps out under a couple of real-life portrait conditions. It seems to work quite well actually. If I would change one thing it would be to use more powerful lights and maybe try a couple of different tubes to see if the green cast issue can be totally resolved.

Here are some portraits taken with this setup:




Have fun in case you decide to build one as well and let me know how it worked out for you.

Take care and happy home-depot shopping!



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