A Basic Photoshoot in a small space with Alejandra Martinez — in Huntington Beach, CA

I am often asked, by newer photographers, how to setup and light a small space, and still achieve studio results. Years ago, when I owned an advertising agency, I had lots of space. When I closed the agency, I had to make do with a 4-bedroom house, and an enclosed backyard. Now, I am in a 2-bedroom apartment. While that does limit my options, I think that, if you have about 10 feet of space (even if it is dual use space), you can have a studio. My ‘studio’ space doubles as a living room, after 5PM — either that or my wife imposes a penalty in the form of how many times I have to wash dishes, that week.

I have studio strobes, speedlights, reflectors, and umbrellas. For many years — since meeting Gary Fong (inventor of the Lightsphere) — I have believed that with 2-3-4 small flashes, equipped with light modifiers, like the Lightsphere diffuser — there are many light modifiers available, but Gary’s where among the first, and, I believe, still about the best — I could achieve studio-like results, especially in a small space.

With the advent of high quality, low light capable sensors, I have been experimenting with low-wattage, daylight balanced florescent bulbs. To diffuse the light, I have been using small, inexpensive umbrellas. By cranking up the sensitivity (ISO), I have been shooting with only two 45-watt bulbs, through the umbrellas, with the ISO at 3200-6400, on a Nikon D700. In a few cases, I supplement the light with a Nikon SB-900, and a Fong diffuser. Various reflectors help fill-in, where needed.

Generally, the umbrellas where at 45 degrees from the subject, face high, to camera left and right, while the speedlight was about center (or near the camera position). This created relatively flat lighting. In some cases, you can see an umbrella in the catch lights, but mostly, they do not show.

The first couple of images show a dark gray background, while the others show a very black background. If you want to achieve the gray background, without lighting the background, separately, you can drag the shutter, allowing more of the ambient light to fall on the background. BTW, it’s grAy in America, and grEy in England. All others, take your pick 🙂 Of course, in a small space, the power of the lights (actual power, or effective power, as determined by distance)can create spill onto the backdrop, and lighten it, a bit.

This is a link to a galley of images that I captured with Alejandra Martinez.


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