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Recreating a Professional Studio Lighting Effect

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Read Time: 6 min
This post is part of a series called Studio Portrait Lighting.
Rules for Perfect Lighting: Understanding The Inverse-Square Law

There is little doubt that studio photography is very popular - it's just a shame that it is such an expensive hobby! Despite the high costs of a full studio setup, it's relatively easy to achieve a similar effect if you know how to. In this tutorial we're going through a few steps that can allow you to achieve a studio-standard lighting effect for very little cost.

Step 1

In this tutorial I will show you what you need to add a studio look to your photography. We will take a look at the tools you need, the setup for this effect, camera and speedlight settings as well as the post processing in Adobe Photoshop.

You can use this effect for several reasons. As said before, studio photography is very popular but expensive - this is a simple way to experiment cheaply. But you could also use this effect when you're not near a studio and quickly want to take a few more shots of your model.

Here are the tools you'll need for this effect:

  • A Digital SLR. Preferably a SLR that supports triggering an external speedlight like the Nikon creative lighting system. In most Canon cases you'll have to buy an external transmitter.
  • An external speedlight. You'll need a stand for your speedlight to make sure it doesn't fall off your tripod.
  • A tripod. Any tripod will do, since you're photographing inside.
  • And of course you'll need a model to stand in front of your camera. You could use this technique on more of your photography, and I will show some examples in the last step of this tutorial.

Step 2

Now it's time to set up the scene. It's important to make sure that there is no light pointed towards the model from the front. You should use at least one light source from the side, which will be the speedlight in our case.
In this tutorial we'll use one light entering from the right, leaving a very interesting fading effect in the final image. Although this effect can be achieved in a very bright area, you should not place your model close to the background.

Here is a top view of my setup:

Setup top viewSetup top viewSetup top view

Step 3

Notice: In this step you should not use your speedlight, yet!

This technique shows a way of creating an image in a bright room. So we have to find a perfect balance between our shutter speed, ISO and aperture. First let's take a look at the aperture. Since we're creating a photo were the model stands out from a completely black background, we don't have to use a low aperture to create a low depth of field. In my case, I used an aperture of f4.8.

I recommend always to use the lowest ISO value as possible to prevent as much noise as you can. So we'll use ISO 100, or 200 if that's the lowest ISO value on your camera. With the aperture and ISO chosen let's find the shutter speed that's going to leave your picture completely black. Depending on the brightness of the room you're standing in, it can vary from 1/2500 to 1/4000.

Now we've set up the stage and have our camera settings perfected, it's time to activate the speedlight. Usually an external flash is used for extra light in photographs. But this time the external flash is used for the only light that is being captured by the camera. Now connect your camera to your external speedlight and take photos!

If you don't know how to connect your camera to a speedlight, go on with Step 4, otherwise go to Step 5. This is my result straight from the camera:

First resultFirst resultFirst result

Step 4

This step will show how to wirelessly connect your speedlight to your camera. The principles with Nikon and Canon SLR's are pretty much the same - you have to make sure that the speedlight and camera are on the same channel (in most cases 1,2,3 or 4).


Most Nikon models come with the Nikon creative lighting system which is very powerful. You won't have to buy extra gadgets to wirelessly connect a speedlight. To connect a Nikon to a speedlight go to the Menu -> Custom settings menu -> Built-in flash. In this menu select the commander mode.

Now it's time to select what flash lights you want to use, the built in flash, group A or/and group B. If you are using one external flash set group A to TTL and leave the built-in flash and group B unchecked. The channel doesn't matter as long you set the same channel on your speedlight.


I'm not a Canon photographer, but I'll do my best. The new Canon 7D is the first Canon camera that has the feature to trigger a flash directly from it's body. So for all the other models, you're going to need a wireless transmitter or a extra speedlight which can be used as master.

Once you have the transmitter attached, go to Menu -> External speedlight controls -> Flash func. settings -> Wireless -> Enable wireless and set the speedlights to the right channel.

Nikon settingsNikon settingsNikon settings

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings

Step 5

Let's take a look at the post-processing in Adobe Photoshop. Import your photo in Camera RAW, and we're going to take a look at correcting the exposure. First of all, adjust the exposure as you wish in Camera RAW. In my case I had to set the exposure to 1.30 to make it right. I also used a clarity of 20 to give the skin a little more structure.

Setup top viewSetup top viewSetup top view

Step 6

I'm not completely happy with the detail in the photograph, so we're going to take a look at sharpening. Let's duplicate the photo (Ctrl + J) -> Go to Filter -> Other -> High Pass, enter a value of 4 and press ok. Now set the blending mode to hard light.

Setup top viewSetup top viewSetup top view

Step 7

For the color correction we'll first apply a curve as an adjustment layer. With the RGB curve selected draw a S shaped curve to create more contrast. See the first image below. Hit Ctrl+A to select everything -> Go to Edit -> Copy Merged and hit Ctrl+V to paste.

This way we have all of our layers in one new layer. Now take the dodge tool, select the right brush size, and paint over the blue areas. Make sure you have highlights selected for the range, as in the second image below.

The third image below is our final result so far.

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings

Step 8

It takes one more step to complete this image. This is to take the "rule of thirds" into account, and improve the composition of the image. The rule of thirds essentially involves a grid, and the process of connecting the points of the grid with specific points in your photo to make it align better You can find more about the rule of thirds here. Here is my image with the composition slightly adjusted:

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings


You can use this technique on a huge range of different subject - both stationary, and at high speed. Try it all out, and have fun!

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings

Canon settingsCanon settingsCanon settings
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