Shooting with 4 lights
If you really want to learn lighting, you really need to start with one light. Learn how all your modifiers work with one light. To the point that you can imagine what that light is doing on a subject you’ve never shot. Learn how to light both the background and the subject with one light. Learn how to control the balance between them. Then add a second light and go through the process again. And so on. When you get to know your lights, it becomes easy to imagine how a setup will work in advance.
I pictured this image in advance, long before I actually shot it. For my key light, I used the Elinchrom Mini Deep Octa on a BX400 set at half power, metered to give f8.0 on the face. It’s a little off being parallel to the ground, rather than being face on. I actually used only the inner diffuser on this, as I wanted to retain some contrast in the light. The Mini Deep Octa can be used a number of ways, making it a really versatile softbox. First is the standard setup with both the inner and other diffusion layers. Next you can use, just the inner diffusion for a soft look, but retaining contrast. Alternatively you could just use the outer diffusion, which is less contrasty, but still with a slight hotspot. Being brave, you could go without any diffuser, making a larger relflector. Not as efficient as a Maxispot or a Maxilite, but still very useful. Finally you can use the translucent deflector to give a beauty dish look, or any of the available deflectors, like gold, silver, or frosted. I think you get the picture about how useful it is!
My next light in the setup is the background light. It’s another BX400, with a standard grid and reflector, set to visual taste. As it happens, it’s also set to 4.0 (i.e. Half Power). I didn’t meter this. The gird keeps the light tight, and allows a lighter circle in the middle, which graduates out to the natural grey of the paper roll (the texture was added in post). These 2 lights are actually more than enough to work with. You can do excellent portraits, headshots and fashion work with just them. Still I wanted more for this particular shoot.
The next two lights are older Portaflash 336VM’s that I started shooting with many years ago. I used these with barndoors and cinefoil (also called Black Wrap) to flag the bare heads from both the camera and the background. I literally wanted a sliver of light to hit each side from behind. I would like to do this with 2 striplights, but I don’t currently have a matched pair! These are 100 W/s lights, equivalent to 3.0 on the BX 400s, and are set to full power, again by visual taste. I often heard it said that bare lights from behind appear much brighter, because they are specular reflections on the skin. I find this to be true in practice. The ‘Kickers’ or rimlights serve to peel the subject off the background. It’s a more athletic look, but I’m a fan it here. Another thing I like about the 336′s is that they’re a slightly different colour to the BX400′s and that mix helps give a unique look to the images.
Here’s the lighting diagram for it.