[Lessons Learned] Studio Photography

Random Observation/Comment #423: It’s important to explore the breadth and depth of your hobbies. You’d be surprised at how many different styles there are of doing things and how much creativity can come from something that looks mundane.

see lemons photo

Studio photography has always been too rich for my blood and just way too staged for my liking. I like the idea that the best camera is the one that you have on hand and candid smiles make the best profile pictures. However, I will always take advantage of an opportunity where opportunity arises.  With a $500 budget, a lot of Googling, and pretty much no prior experience, our corporate photography club put together an in-house studio setup.


  • 2x Monolights Studio Flash student kit ($139.95) – These kits came with the light, umbrella, and stand. They are actually surprisingly bright and have a dial to adjust the intensity.
  • 2x Reflector ($21.95) – These are always good to fill in light from any nose shadow. Use the silver side instead of the gold for better reflection.
  • 2x Transceiver ($79.95) – I really like the Cactus ones because they’re exchangeable and work on both Canon and Nikon. We were able to set them up on the same channel and have two cameras taking photos.
  • Stool – One without a back works best so people sit with their back straight and the backing doesn’t show in the photo.
  • Camera/Lens – D5300 with a 17-55mm f/2.8. I think a longer lens would have been better. Next time, we will use a 55-200mm. The F/2.8 isn’t necessary since we shot around F/5.6.
  • Tripod – I actually didn’t even use this, but it was good to have as a make-shift reflector stand.


see lemons setup

This was an ever-evolving process of trial and error. Originally we had 2 separate booths using one light and reflector each, but then we combined them together to get a better-lit subject with lights on both sides.

  • Do your homework and Ask for help. The site that helped the most showed different lighting set-ups and resulting photos to see where the shadows fell and which style we liked most.
  • Make your own room tweaks. Just because we had some diagrams, doesn’t mean we could get the same photos. We really needed to spend at least 15 minutes moving some lights around. It’s a good idea to have a test subject that doesn’t mind getting blinded by flash.
    • Put a reflector under the chin. It worked really well when we put a reflector facing upwards to fill in the chin area.
    • Remove all the ambient light from the room. Close the shades and turn off any bright tungsten overhead lights. This could ruin your white balance. You don’t want to be competing with any overhead light or light from outside.
    • If using two lights, make one side slightly brighter and take photos of the subject’s body facing the light. Our first set-up had two lights next to each other set high up and it made people’s eye reflection look like they have alien eyes. For our second set-up, we put one light higher and brighter, while the other one was lower and on the lowest setting so the eye reflection would look more like anime eye drawings.
  • Tweak Camera settings. We started in manual mode with ISO 100, 1/200 F/5.6. We learned that anything faster than 1/200 actually started getting faster than the flash. We set on F/7 at the end and increased the power intensity settings of the lights 2 notches.
    • Set White Balance. Unfortunately, we did not do this for our first shoot, so we needed to fix it in post, but it’s always a good idea to adjust your white balance manually once.
  • Take multiple shots. Everyone has their better angle and your job is to find it within a short amount of time. We were only doing headshots so we didn’t have too many things to change. The person’s face is usually straight on and they’ll most likely angle their shoulders slightly towards the light, but try to get them to smile with teeth, without teeth, smile more with the eyes, etc.
    • Take standing shots. Some ladies will have bunched up clothes when they sit down, so ask them to stand.
    • Take shots from a higher angle. I usually tell people to keep their chin down slightly, but it really depends on your subject. It helps when the photographer is taller and can get a more flattering angle from the top.
  • Disarm your subject. People don’t really like posing for photos. They need a lot of direction and will always say “I don’t like this photo.. there’s something about my face and the hair” etc. The best thing you can do is act like you know what you’re doing and tell them how to pose. Move their chin around and say a few jokes to make them pretend the camera isn’t there. Being a good photographer for posed subjects requires a lot of interpersonal communication and light banter. The best smiles come from candid ones and you’ll need to position your subjects especially if they don’t know how to normally pose.

I still personally like candid photos better, but studio photography is certainly an interesting new realm to explore. It’s always nice to try new things.

~See Lemons Like Studio Photography