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Every Photographer Should Try Studio Lighting

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
photo & video

studio lighting

Photo: Felix Kunze

Perfect natural lighting is the photographer’s holy grail — it’s usually the most flattering, requires the least re-touching, and is generally preferred, especially in portraiture. Unfortunately, the golden hour usually lasts less than a full 60 minutes, and on top of that, if you’re always waiting for perfect natural lighting, there’s a good chance your photo shoots may last days, when they could be wrapped up in hours.

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Felix Kunze has had massive commercial success as a photographer and, he says, a large part of that is because he’s able to shoot at times of day when natural-only photographers just can’t. Additionally, he says, if you’re shoot products, or need quite a few images that are very similar, mastering studio lighting is essential.

“Sometimes it takes me hours to set up,” Felix admits, “but say I’m shooting jewelry. And I have 10 different looks. I need every single one of those to look the same. Anything you do for web, retail, and kind of campaign — you need to control that light. And that’s where this is really important.”

studio lighting vs natural lighting

Natural vs Studio lighting. Image via Sue Bryce

Creative control is the biggest benefit to studio lighting, says Felix, because it eliminates much of the doubt or potential pitfalls of a photo shoot.

“Remember, lighting is also to give photographers flexibility. If you’re shooting so much, you can’t worry about a thunderstorm going outside. You’ll have to revert to using studio light.”

Learning studio lighting can seem like an arduous undertaking — even for experienced professionals. Sue Bryce has built an extremely successful portraiture career without the help of studio lighting — largely because, she said, she just didn’t want to have to learn a new skill.

“The problem with lighting workshops is that I don’t understand them!” she explained, “I don’t get it, I don’t enjoy it, and I’m just really stubborn.” But eventually, Sue said, she realized that the ability to create beautiful light when there was none could help her expand her business, and give her more creative freedom, even if she had to be a little vulnerable in the learning process.

“I said to Felix, ‘If you’re going to teach me, you have to teach me how to do it. So I’m going to be standing there asking you dumb questions.’”

But, Sue admitted, the learning process, though difficult and a little scary, was totally worth it.

“When you realize your own insecurity, and you embrace it, it’s such an incredible self-realization, and it’s such an incredible journey,” she explained. “I’ve learned so much. I’m going to buy a strobe.”

Sue’s is, Felix says, the biggest challenge to studio lighting. Not that it’s hard or even that it’s expensive to buy the necessary gear — plenty of the lighting tools that Felix uses are actually relatively affordable and can be found used or at very low rates, not to mention the fact that they pay for themselves with the flexibility to shoot more hours in the day — but rather, that it’s intimidating or that it seems confusing. But, he assures, it really isn’t.

“This is so simple. Anyone can do it,” he says.

Learn more about the benefits of natural vs studio lighting, and how to light a shoot like Felix in his course with Sue Bryce, The Lighting Challenge: Natural vs Studio.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.