We first profiled Sean Armenta in 2010. This Los Angeles photographer creates portraiture of the highest quality. His beauty and lifestyle work also shows serious talent and vision. Whether he is shooting for a magazine or teaching photographers how to create a one light beauty setup, Armenta is dedicated to producing professional results. On a personal note, I love his work so much I have an original print of his hanging in my loft. A recent gallery show my wife and I attended in Los Angeles was filled to capacity. Don’t miss an exhibit of his if you have a chance to see one. He will be teaching his approach to lighting at this Prep to Post event on April 28-29.
Armenta recently took time to write out a contribution to our Five Photography Tips series. He wished to share with our readers the following five photography tips for better studio lighting in his own words. Thanks, Sean!
The last thing you want is to endanger yourself, your crew, your subject, your client and your equipment, so first things first. Make your shooting space safe to work in. This is where a little pre-visualization works wonders. Before you even start laying down any equipment onto the set, take a moment to picture in your head where everything will be. Where will the subject and the camera be positioned? From what direction will the light or lights be coming? Where will you need to place C-stands or other grip equipment? Where will you be routing cables and cords? By taking the time to figure all this out before you start moving things around, you will not only build a safer set, but save yourself a lot of unnecessary time and effort in having to reposition equipment.
Once you have placed everything accordingly, take it a step further and think about the flow of traffic through your set. The number one cause of accidents on set is people tripping over something, whether it be a cable, a sandbag, or a C-stand leg. Keep walkways clear and tape down any cords and cables. Sandbag everything, so even if someone kicks a stand or knocks into it, the extra weight will keep it from falling over and causing damage to expensive camera, computer, or lighting equipment. You can take the extra step and use gaffer’s tape to tape down loose cables lying across walkways.
Keep it Simple
We have all heard the saying KISS, or Keep it simple, stupid. This saying rings true especially in photography. Too often we try to prove how creative we really are as photographers and this results in overcomplicating the situation. The best solution to any problem is usually the simplest one. I’ve found that 90% of studio photography is troubleshooting. Don’t let your imagination get the best of you and try to think in practical terms.
Use a Light Meter
Studio lighting is an impossibility without the use of a light meter like the Sekonic L-358. Doing a shoot-it-and-chimp routine to get your lighting and exposures down is not only inefficient but gives the impression you are unsure of what you are doing. With the L-358, you are able to not only perform ambient and strobe light readings, but also trigger PocketWizard units by installing an optional module. I shoot tethered in the studio, meaning the images from the camera are transmitted directly to a laptop or desktop for everyone to see. Personally, I want to make sure the very first shot coming up on that monitor is right on the money because that will help set the tone of the entire shoot. Getting your lighting and exposure down before you even shoot does two things. First, it gives the client and your crew confidence in your abilities, and second, it makes you look pretty darn good, which translates into getting hired for future projects.
Less is More
In any lighting situation, I always start with just one light source. Using one light gives so many possibilities depending on how that light source is modified. From there I try to use reflection or subtraction to fine tune my lighting design before deciding to add multiple light sources to the set. There should never be any reason to use four lights when you only need two.
Light for Shadows
If we lived in a world without shadows, meaning everything was evenly lit, it would be a pretty boring world. Shadows are what gives things shape and form, it is what gives a photograph mood and drama. I light for the shadows, meaning I pay close attention to where my shadows fall. The quality of my lighting depends greatly on whether or not I want the resulting shadows to be hard or soft and whether I want a lot of contrast or not. I like to strive for a three dimensional look in my work because I feel this makes the photograph more tactile and alive.