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Indoor/Outdoor Light Setup

Lesson 36 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

Indoor/Outdoor Light Setup

Lesson 36 from: Environmental Portrait Photography

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

36. Indoor/Outdoor Light Setup

Work with outdoor and semi-outdoor locations by tackling the lighting. After scouting and settling on a narrative, work with studio lighting tools to create dramatic effects. Go behind-the-scenes for the three light set-up using artificial lighting.


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Introduction to The Environmental Portrait


Environmental Portrait Purpose


Personal Work


Find Your Process




Purpose For Action Editorial


Prepare for Shoot


Lesson Info

Indoor/Outdoor Light Setup

Let's get into the process of our indoor/outdoor location lighting. Within that process, first thing is scouting the location. Again, it's the same as the art studio, it's the same as any shoot. I always make time, whether it's a minute or a day to walk around the location, and really figure out what the frame's gonna be and what my lighting needs are. Set those narratives, whether they're actual, you know, letting the painter paint and do her thing and it's totally authentic, or giving your guy a wrench and acting like he needs to defend his shop, or having my brother and his wife sit in a car, and who knows what they're chatting about. There's always some sort of storyline there and it could be just someone staring at the camera but I like to kinda push something that, it's almost directing more so than posing. It's giving the subject something to do so it's not awkward. A lot of times people like going through those stories or they even suggest them, and that helps me as a photograp...

her because then I don't have to think so hard. Next, selecting the lighting. Again, whether it was the guy in the garage knowing, alright I have this obvious light, which is the open garage door. Well that's not really doing it for me, it was really flat. How do I add some direction? I add a second light, but without putting a grid on it it was filling up the room with light. Okay, I need a grid. It's working through these step by step, getting that kicker light in the backend. And then, having it all come together, and then working with the subject. So, the lighting's really important to help tell that story. And then, shoot more than you need. I shot him in his office originally, and I photographed him working on a car, but the car was just really distracting. So, getting to that point where you're comfortable pushing and if you feel like you have the shot, I know my friend Victoria, well she always has a quote, I don't know where she got it, but she says, as soon as you get the shot that you need, that's when the shoot's just beginning to start. Because, now you can relax, you have that safe shot. Anything you do after this, is a bonus, so take advantage of that and don't just pack up and leave right then. There's so much more, if the person's giving you the time or you have the time to shoot, then keep shooting, because that's where the happy accidents come and that's where the shots happen that, when the pressure's off you can think freely and get more work. Let's start off by seeing how we setup this outdoor lighting, inside the garage, at the Moto Shed. We'll we working with Richie, he's one of the mechanics and owners of the Moto Shed, and he'll be working on a motorcycle and we'll kinda set the scene there. Okay, so what we have here, we're shooting out in the garage. We have Ritchie, and a motorcycle, a lot of tools, pretty cool setup, so what we wanna do is, we've already kinda established the scene, I always start off with a wider scene, where we encapsulate kinda the whole garage to tell the full story, just within one photo. He's put a bike up on the lift here. I'm gonna have you come over here and just sit, right here. I kinda want you to talk me through, let's say you were working on something in this vicinity, just maybe what tools would be realistic, so when you're lookin' at the photo later it's somewhat realistic. It's obviously gonna be staged a little bit, but at the same time, I wanna put you doing something, there's something in here you can adjust or change that's natural to you, so that way you're not just sitting there awkward for a photo. We'll kinda make it realistic like that, so whatever tools, 'cause generally speaking I'm gonna have you sitting like this, either working on here, or looking up like someone's walking in the door. Those two angles, we're not gonna do too much direct interaction with the camera. I'm gonna do some light tests, but whatever tools you might need here that you can set, however you would normally do it. I just kinda wanna keep it natural for you. And then, for lighting, what we have is, we're gonna end up doing three lights here. Our main light is a gridded Profoto Beauty Dish. It's gridded because you'll see within this garage there's a lot of chrome, there's a lot of shiny stuff. I want the move to be a little more dark and gritty. Having this grid will really control the light. It'll keep it just on our subject here. And then, on top of that we're gonna have a fill light, which is a Profoto Medium Deep Silver Umbrella. Silver because I want that specularity to come through so it's a little harsh. And then, our third light, which I haven't setup yet is way back here, it's gonna be kind of a kicker, because he's wearing all black, we need to get a little bit of light on him to bring him away from the background so he doesn't just blend in with the shadowy background here. So, we're gonna use this, we're gonna put it up really high, but I like to test the lights and get 'em setup one at a time. So that way I know what each light's doing independently, before I start adding additional lights. Once he's ready and has the tools out, we'll have him sit in for a test shot and then from there we'll just kinda roll with it. I think generally, it might not be the most natural thing, but I'll have you, just because the lights coming from here, I'll have you kinda, yeah right in there. And then, like you're messing with stuff in here and whatever you would normally do but a little more photo friendly as far as angles and stuff. I've already metered for the light. We're going to be shooting at, 1/125 of a second, at F8, 'cause I wanna have a lot of sharpness here. And then, we're gonna be at ISO 100 to start. And our variable that we can move up or down will be the ISO depending on how much ambient we wanna let in. As you can see, the tools are being lit by the florescence and things like that. I do wanna little of that to bleed in, but we have to work with distrobes and everything to get there. Alright, so we'll do one test shot before you start working. Almost like you're sittin' right there, lookin' towards the garage door like someone walked in and you might be greeting them or just looking up 'cause you heard somethin'. I'll do a couple test shots. These do not count for anything, this is just with one light so I can see how the light's affecting the shot. Alright, I already like where this is goin'. Let me do a little adjust, I shoot, again tethered, just so I can see everything on the fly, see what all the lights are doin'. I really wanna get this dialed in before we get too far that way I don't have to do it again. Alright, now we're gonna fire on our fill light here. So we have the main already dialed in, I already metered so I knew it was at the correct power for F8. Now we're just gonna, fill light is definitely to taste, so I'm gonna start off with it pretty low. You can just stay right there, keep doin' whatever you're doin', I'm just seein' how the fill light affects all the shadows in the background. So, I do like that, I'm gonna turn it down just a half a stop. And lastly, our kicker light. I need to put that thing up in the air. That's gonna be what makes it really stand apart, because that's gonna bring a lot a light back here and look kinda cool, like it's an overhead shop light. So, we'll turn that guy on and hoist it into the air. I wanna get it high enough that it doesn't hit all these tools and cause more reflection, so we're kinda using this ledge here as a natural flag to keep the light off of that. It's only really going to be hitting Ritchie and the motorcycle, because that's what we want. We don't need extra lights going everywhere. And this is just a Profoto B1 head, with a seven inch reflector. Pretty standard setup there. I need to re-aim it just a little bit. Perfect, alright, and we'll see how this is power wise, we might need to adjust. Hopefully, we're pretty close. As far as shooting, I love creating depth, so I actually am leaving these tires right in front of me. I may even shoot, like frame and shoo in there with a little bit of this tread so we can get that depth and that texture. So we'll do one test shot here. Almost look towards that garage door again real quick for me Ritchie. Yep, right there, that's perfect. Okay. So what I need to do, just lookin' at the other shots, is for one, okay everything's firing so we're good there. We have good balance with ambient and the strobe, but the only thing I really need to do, is turn up that back light just a little bit, so we can see a little more separation. Unfortunately, they're all on the same channel so I gotta bring it down quick. And then, we should be good to go. So, we should be ready to shoot. I'll have you come back up to that peg when you're done right there. And again, just kinda do your thing. Occasionally, I'll have you look up towards the garage door just for that. I'm just gonna keep shooting and changing up my angle. And if I see anything that needs changed, or see you do something, I might have you do it again. Things like that. So, I'll just shoot. (camera clicks) Look over towards the door once for me. (camera clicks) Yep, perfect. Alright, keep doing your thing there. I'm just gonna keep movin' around gettin' alternate angles, of basically the same thing over and over. Just watching the framing, so I make sure not to cut off his shoes or anything like that, watching for real distracting things or things in the background that affect the composition, positively or negatively. (camera clicks) Alright, once you get to a good point there, look over towards the door again. Yep, perfect. (camera clicks) Okay. I'm gonna shoot some verticals now. I'm gonna move just a little bit this way, 'cause when I go vertical, this scene was setup more horizontal with the motorcycle taking up two thirds of the frame, now to get the motorcycle and shoot vertical, I need to move over. We have our lights all set up so they work relatively well for the shoot either way. (camera clicks) Alright, I'll have you look over this way one more time. Just like right over the camera, yeah. And even, once you get done with, yeah that's exactly what I was gonna say somethin' with lowering your left arm. Now even glance back that way, as if someone said you're name over there. Yep. One more of those. Perfect, you can keep workin' on whatever you're workin' on there. Oh yeah, that's great. Looks really good. I'm gonna change one thing with my tether here, there we go. And now, we got the wide shot, so now I'm just gonna kinda play around with zooming in and changing up my composition a little bit, just so we can cover different angles. Alright, when you get to another stopping point, I'll basically have you do the same thing, yep. Lookin' straight at the garage door. (camera clicks) More vertical from over here. (camera clicks) Look right at the camera once. One more of those lookin' right here. (camera clicks) Perfect. I'm pretty good with all that, so I think we can kinda wrap that up. You can finish up what you're doin' there and then we'll move on to the next shot. Alright, so what you could see there is totally different lighting setup from what we did previously. What you were seeing on the screen was the pure raw, so I was allowing all that shadow detail to kinda get lost in the lighting, but knowing it's all still there when we're gonna bring it back through Capture One. And so, you'll see the final shots have a lot more detail than what you were seeing there. Also, I know that his face was in total darkness when he was workin' on that bike, I didn't care about that, because the shot that I was going for was when he looked backed towards the garage door, so giving him something to do, workin' on the motorcycle, made it more natural. But then, the only shots I was really counting on were the ones where he glanced back up towards the door, because you saw where the Beauty Dish was placed, it was actually behind him. I couldn't put it on the other side, because the motorcycle was so tall on that lift, it would of blocked all the light and I didn't wanna put up a light high aiming down, 'cause we would have lost all catch light. There wasn't really a clear answer to that. I wanted the frame with the tools, with the motorcycle, with the whole scene, but the only way to get the shot, the way I wanted, was to have him working and then naturally glancing up because that's where the front door of the shop was. It is where he would be looking had somebody walked in. Again, it's kinda figuring out, I know what I want the frame to look like, here's what the lighting has to be, now how do we get the shot that looks good. So, bringing it all together there. After seeing that setup, totally different, you saw, he was a lot less, there was a lot less interaction between me and the subject there, than there was with Alecia, so it's just a matter of me basically talking to myself a whole bunch there, and working through the problems that happened. But with that said, any questions now that we've seen two shoots with totally different subject matter? I have a question, it's more about before with the picture with the two kids, so for me, and I know for a lot of people, it's hard to go see people you don't know and ask them to take their pictures. How do you get the confidence to do it? Yeah, I didn't know those kids, I didn't know that family at all. I drove by and saw that situation and I thought ooh this might make for a good photo. So, for me, one of the things I do, is I printed off some promo cards at one point, that I hand out for potential clients that are five by sevens, they have four photos on them. They have my website, my phone number, my email address, they kinda show that I'm a professional photographer, and legit, and hopefully know what I'm doing. I'm like here's a couple samples of my work, I see this scene, I would love to photograph this for my portfolio, I'll give you guys some prints as well. I know this might be your house, so it is private, and it's something you see everyday so you might not have the same eye as I do when I'm looking at this, but I do think there's potential to make a cool photo, would you mind if I go get my gear and come back and do that? Or else I'll even bring my iPad, 'cause then I'm like here's my website you can swipe through it to get an idea of what I do. If you can picture your kids in this type of setting or yourself. I always try and build that trust by showing my work, because I am confident in the work I create and I know if I see something and I believe that there's a good photo there, I'm just doing a disservice to myself to be like oh they'll probably say no, I'll just keep driving, 'cause then I'm gonna be like, ah man I wish I would have done that. The worst thing that can happen is if they say no. And that's the same thing that'll happen if you don't try it at all. What's it really matter, and they don't know me, if they say no and they think I'm a weirdo that's fine. But at the same time, if they say yes, then all of a sudden your opportunity to create photos there, so it's kind of getting out of your own way, having something to help you, rather than just say, hey I wanna photograph your kids. That's probably never gonna go over well. But, being able to show them some of my work, assuring them that hey let me get your information, here's mine, email me and I'll send you some of these photos. And then obviously, the model release part two of are these gonna go anywhere commercially, or anything like that, or even being able to display them publicly, of getting that as well, and letting them know this is just how it has to work legally, so I can be able to do this. I approach anybody. I used to be scared to do that, but it came to a point, where the regret of missing out was so much worse than the fear of approaching them. And it's the same thing later on when we're talking about marketing, even emailing potential people to get work, I've been rejected many times in emails to photographers, or art buyers, or magazines, and at some point, it's whatever it's part of the deal. It's not personal, it's just get out there and do it 'cause otherwise you won't get the work you want. We do have a question from Mira Slava, who is in Slovakia, thank you for joining us, who says she loves your style of teaching, straightforward structure, to very practical. Thank you for those comments. Question is, do you ever use a tripod out in these types of situations or in studio? Yeah, that's a great question. And the answer is no. I don't even know where my tripod is. I like to move around a lot, as you see. I like to step on step ladders, I like to sit on apple boxes on the ground. I move around too much for a tripod. The only time I ever use a tripod is occasionally I'll do some photos where we let a longer exposure happen and we fire the flash a few times to create almost multiple exposures or extended exposures. That's more just for fun in the studio so I will use a tripod for that. I haven't even done that in awhile. I think I actually taught something like that in a previous Creative Live class. But for the most part, 99.9% of the time, no tripod.

Ratings and Reviews

Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience for this class and absolutely loved it. Watching Dan create amazing images from start to finish in front of us was so inspiring. I've learned so much from this class. It actually gave me the confidence to start playing with lights in my studio. It was really useful to see how he sets his lights and how he can easily mix ambient light with artificial. I also love how he focuses on getting the image right in the camera to only do light edits after. I recommend this class to anyone wanting to learn more about lighting, shooting tethered and editing efficiently!

a Creativelive Student

I love this guy! I so appreciate his honesty while he is explaining his thought process, admitting that his “shoulda/coulda/woulda’s” - which I experience ALL the time. I am now going to dust off my light meter and start using it on location as I’m convinced that it works now that I’ve seen Dan’s class. I enjoyed the detailed way he sets up each light individually, checking to make sure it adds the amount and quality of light he wants. Definitely recommend this class - especially for those people who have experience using studio lights and want to see how they can be used to get specific results. Dan’s clear, simple explanations, his unabashed humility, and his sense of humor made this a truly enjoyable way to spend my time learning his methods.

a Creativelive Student

Dan is an excellent instructor! He's completely transparent with his thought processes, from technical to creative. He doesn't waste time horsing around or getting off topic, but is structured and sticks to his outline. Every minute watched is on topic, and is understandable. He's sincere and likable. The course is great for anyone interested in this genre!

Student Work