If you’re new to studio lighting, it is easy to get intimidated by the amount of stuff you have to learn. The jargon alone is enough to make your head spin. Fortunately, none of the things you need to be successful in the studio are particularly complicated, there is just a lot of it. The purpose of this article is to serve as a primer to introduce you to some of the most basic studio lighting equipment, and terms you will need to navigate a photography studio.
This is not a comprehensive list, and with new tools and techniques being invented all the time, it could never be.
A little warning: Some of these terms are used differently by different photographers. Others get interchanged with one another. While it can be confusing at times, it’s not necessarily wrong. However, it is useful to know about when you hear someone refer to a flag as a gobo or refer to ambient light as continuous light.
Types of light Strobe – A studio strobe is a dedicated flash unit. They can sometimes be referred to as a monobloc or monolight. Usually mains powered, more battery-powered offerings are being brought onto the market all the time. Power output between models can vary greatly, with cheaper strobes offering as much power as a cheap third-party flashgun.
Continuous light/Hotlight – Continuous lights serve the same lighting functions as strobes, but they don’t flash. Instead, they are high-powered lamps that can usually be fitted with modifiers in the same way as strobes. While mostly associated with video, continuous lights still have their place in stills photography. There are a lot of LED lights coming onto the market at the moment, and many of them are viable options.
The hotlight moniker comes from the fact that they tend to get very hot. Be careful with modifiers that sit close to the bulb as they present a fire hazard. This does not apply to LED lights.
Flashgun/speedlight – Flashguns are any small light with a hot shoe mount for placing on top of your camera. They are highly portable, and some come with reasonably high power outputs. Although their versatility is ultimately limited to their size and power output, they are still an extremely useful tool for any photographer interested in off-camera lighting.
Light functions Key light – Your key light is the main light with which you are shaping your subject. This will usually be the brightest and most prominent light in your scene.
Fill Light – A fill light reduces the intensity of shadows created by your key light, thereby decreasing the overall contrast in your scene.
Rim light/backlight – Rim lights light your subject from behind to help separate them from the background. Often, rim lights are positioned so that only a sliver of light is visible on the sides of your subject.