Our second tutorial on lighting is studio flash baby photography.

The most important aspect of your baby photography and as mentioned in our first lighting tutorial is LIGHT! You can have the perfectly posed baby and fantastic props but if you dont get the lighting right the end result wont be great. So any aspiring photographer needs to look at how to improve their lighting skills and how to understand and see light.

In this introductory tutorial we are going to look at using flash or strobe heads to light our newborn or baby and hopefully dispell the myth that lighting with flash in the studio environment is complicated. Studio flash is controlled, consistent and if used correctly gives a high quality of light.

Components of studio lighting

Light source - flash head, we use Bowens lighting equipment so we will be using the Bowens Gemini 400rx
Light modifier - typically a softbox, many different types of soft boxes are available and these vary in quality and cost.
Light trigger -  your camera will have a trigger attached to the hot shoe and the Bowens Gemini 400rx has a built in trigger, simple!

There are many different companies and types of flash heads available for the studio. Basic heads will have limited power settings and your control of the output will perhaps be limited compared to a quality flash heads such as the Bowens Gemini range. A typical flash head will have a flash bulb, a modeling lamp, a power unit and user interface to control the power output and triggering. The modelling light is a constant lamp which will be on prior to the flash being triggered and allows you to see how the light is interacting with the subject and also to allow you to focus properly. By adjusting the power setting, usually in percentage of stops (simply a stop is a unit of amount of light) increments, the modeling light will increase or decrease in power.

With studio lighting you need to control the light emitted from the flash unit. There are many light modifiers on the market umbrella's, reflectors and soft boxes are the most common available. One of the best light modifiers for baby photography is the softbox. A good soft box gives a focused directional light but is lovely and soft with a gentle wrap around quality of light. There are many types and sizes of soft box but a small-medium sized soft box as included in our starter lighting package is a great product to start with. The softbox connects directly to the front of your flash head via the manufactuer specific adaptors - please beware you may not be able to use different softboxes and other attachments across manufacturers.

Once set up you need a way for your camera to activate or trigger the flash unit. The Gemini 400rx usefully has an inbuilt Radio Trigger and is triggered by a remote Radio trigger which is connected to your camera via the flash hotshoe. When you press your shutter on the camera the triggers communicate with each other and trigger the flash creating your exposure.

A typical studio set up with the light source positioned side and up from the shooting area.

Your flash head will have a range of power settings which can be adjusted, so before we start shooting we need to measure the light on the subject and set our cameras for this reading. There are a couple of ways we can do this. The correct way is to use a light meter and measure the light by triggering the flash using the test button on the trigger. You then adjust the power setting on the flash head until you have the desired shooting settings. One of the great advantages of using flash is it can emit a large amount of light energy in a very short space of time which means we can shoot at lower ISO's at a good shutter speed. The alternative cheating way to set up your lights is to set the flash at mid power and set your camera at the correct sync speed, typically 1/125 sec and choose say an aperture of f/4 and take a test shot of the subject area. Once you have a shot check the histogram of your camera and adjust the power on the flash head until you are happy. 

Once the power has been set up you know you light is going to be consistent every time leaving you able to concentrate on photographing the baby in front of you. Another great advantage flash has over daylight is the light temperature willalso be consistent, not cool skin tones just beautiful warmth throughout!

So now we understand the kit involved we now need to use the flash to create gorgeous baby photographs!

As you can see from the image above you dont necessarily need alot of space to use studio flash for baby photography. Newborn babies dont move about so your lighting position can be pretty much static. Your light should never be straight on to the subject, it is unflattering and gives lifeless images unless used creatively. We want to create gorgeous subtle shadows with the light creating definition across the head, body and limbs of the little bundle.

Practise makes perfect, try positioning the light to the side and above the head of the baby, take note of the shadows before shooting, learn to use the modelling light to see how the final image will come out. If shooting the baby lying on its back in a basket for example, try position the light to the side and shoot back towards the light or from directly abobe.

A general rule is the closer the light source the softer the light on the subject so bear this in mind when positioning your softbox and light unit. The closer the light source to the subject means less power is needed also.

Take a look at these three images below all taken with studio flash. In particular look at which direction the light is coming from. You will over time as a photographer learn to see light on your subject and this will change the way you photograph for the better!

So in conclusion as you can see from the three photographs above studio flash is not black magic and is in fact very accessible and easy to use. If you are looking to improve your baby photography and want to improve your consistency then the Bowens Starter Kit is the perfect step up into studio flash photography and icludes everything you need to get started!

If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch.
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