Studio Photography

How to set up the Studio Kit

This tutorial is intended to help you use the Society’s studio flash equipment, which is stored in the darkroom in a locked cupboard. This equipment can only be used by arrangement with the darkroom manager, and any damage will have to be paid for – so treat it gently! It’s best to arrange a room in the Union to use for your shoot – you can either book a room using the studio bookings form, or (perhaps the easiest) you could ask to borrow ICTV’s studio (nearly opposite the darkroom) for a few hours!

Once you’ve got the kit and found a room, you’re ready to begin setting up.


  1. The background

    Photosoc has a selection of backgounds that you can use for your shoot. The paper backgrounds are stored behind the door of the darkroom. There are two large ones – one white, one black – and a small bright blue one. In the cupboard with the rest of the studio equipment, there is a brown cloth background in a blue bag. You also need the frame on which to hang the background: this is in a black cloth bag in the cupboard. Setting up the background is simple, but easier with two people – the large backgrounds can be rather unwieldy!

    1. Find the two supports and spread their feet until they are both stable (have a look at the support in picture A), then tighten the clamp.
    2. Find and extend the telescopic central pole. It extends easily, but mind your hands – the edges of the tubing can cause a lot of damage if they slip back over your fingers.
    3. Place the central pole on to one of the supports, then slide your chosen background along the pole as shown in picture A. In the case of the paper backgrounds, make sure they roll out from behind as shown.
      Setting up the background
    4. Once the background is secure and the central pole is located on both the supports, extend the supports as shown in B. You’ll need someone to stand back and tell you whether it is level.
      Setting up the background
    5. Unroll the background until at least 2 m of it lies on the floor (more if you intend to take pictures that require foreground). Be careful while doing this – the large paper backgrounds are torn in places, and they also need to be taped securely in place (at the top – picture C) to make sure that they do not unroll completely and fall off the central spool.
      Setting up the background
    6. Now the background is set up, you’ll need some lights.
  2. Setting up and using the flash heads.

    There are three flash heads in the kit, two in the plastic case (picture D) and one in the large cloth-covered one (picture E). There are also three flash stands, split between the large cloth-covered case and a long black bag, similar to the one that contained the background stand. Set up as many stands as you want flash heads – they stand and extend like the supports for the background.

    Two flash heads
    Flash head

    To mount the heads on their stands, move the side arm into position (picture F) and make sure it is firm. Then simply place the coupling at the end of the side arm on to the bush at the top of the stand, and secure in place using the screw clamp as shown in picture G.

    Mounting the heads on their stands
    Mounting the heads on their stands

    The controls for the two kinds of flash heads are shown below:

    Flash head controls

    1 – Power lead socket2 – Power on/off

    3 – Modelling light on/off

    4 – Power control: this flash head has fully variable power, which makes it very versatile

    5 – Slave: this head and one of the others has a slave. This means that when another flash fires they are triggered automatically, without the need for multiple sync leads

    Flash head controls

    1 – Power on/off

    2 – Power lead socket

    3 – Sync lead socket

    4 – Modelling light on/off

    5 – Full/half power – this type of head has only two power settings

    6 – Test fire

    So the flash heads are set up and you know how to use them. Unadulterated flash is a bit harsh though – it’s time for the extra bits.

  3. Using the accessories

    There is a selection of accessories for use with the flash heads contained in the Photosoc kit. Each flash head has a reflector, there are two white brollies, two softboxes (one small, one large), a snoot, some barndoors and a Fresnel attachment. They mostly connect to the flash heads in the same way, except the umbrellas which require the use of a reflector:

    Attaching the reflector
    Securing the umbrella

    a) Reflector – remove the flash head protector and find one of the reflectors. Push back the small metal lever on the side of the flash head (circled, picture J), then align the lugs on the reflector with the spaces on the front of the flash. Twist the reflector until it clicks securely into place.

    This is as basic as attachments get, and gives a slight evening out of the light.

    b) Umbrella – unfurl the brolly and insert its stem into the clamp on the side of the reflector. Secure with the screw (circled, picture K).

    You can either spread the light out by reflecting the light from the brolly (i.e. point the flash head away from the subject) or you can shoot the flash through the brolly and let it act as a diffuser.

    c) Softboxes – the small softbox is already assembled and is simply attached to the flash in the same way as the reflector. The large softbox is in two boxes and needs assembling. It includes instructions, but the sequence is illustrated below.

    Cardboard boxes
    The boxes containing the large softbox – take everything out.
    Setting up the softbox
    Place the spokes with the black corner pieces into the holes in the metal backplate.
    Setting up the softbox
    Put the crosspieces into the black corner connectors.
    Setting up the softbox
    Unfold the reflector and place the metal backplate into the hole in the back, aligning the spokes with the corners.
    Setting up the softbox
    Secure the reflector by affixing the velcro flaps over the crosspieces.
    Setting up the softbox
    Unfold the diffusing material and velcro it into place. Voila, one large softbox.

    This softbox attaches as for the reflector. Be careful when attaching it as it can make the light overbalance. As it needs a lot of light, its probably best to use it on the variable power head (the most powerful) and put this on the Manfrotto flash stand, which is the most sturdy.

    These attachments are very useful for producing an evenly diffused light, ideal for portraiture. The large softbox may seem like a lot of hassle, but it does give a far more widely diffused light which is very flattering.

    d) Snoot – this is a black, conical accessory which attaches in the usual way. It concentrates the flash into a spotlight, and is useful for producing controllable highlights (e.g. a hairlight
    – see later).

    e) Barndoors – this accessory looks rather like a cliche of cinema. It has four flaps which you can adjust to precisely direct the flash to a certain area of your subject. It attaches to the flash head like the reflector etc.

    f) Fresnel – This is a large accessory in its own box. It is a large black cylinder with lots of ventilation mesh and a lever on one side. It attaches as usual, and is an adjustable spotlight – move the lever on the side to vary the size of the spot produced. This accessory can produce some very dramatic lighting effects. If used on a flash head raised high up, be careful as it is quite heavy. It could be a good idea to weigh down the base of the flash stand, especially if it isn’t the Manfrotto.

  4. Set up your picture

    Choose accessories you can use to create the look you want in your picture. Flattering diffused lighting? Dramatic side lighting? Your choice. Below are a couple of example setups you can try – but the main thing to remember is that you should start with one key light, then add other lights as necessary to fill in shadows or soften an effect.

    Portrait setup
    This is a portrait setup against a black background. The key light is in front of the subject on their right, diffused through an umbrella – this light is on full power. The large softbox is used on the left to give fill-in for the shadows, flash set to half power. The light behind is used with a snoot and pointed at the subjects hair. This technique is called a ‘hair light’ and is especially useful to differentiate dark-haired subjects from a black background.
    Fashion setup
    This is more of a fashion setup, though for full length shots you would need to be careful about the placement of the reflector. Here, the background is lit with two flash heads with umbrellas, both on full power. The key light with the large softbox is used to give a flattering light, with the reflector for filling in shadows. When metering this setup, you need to meter both the subject and the background – the background should be two stops brighter to keep it white and shadow-free.

    You can try almost anything – only limited by your imagination. Just remember: make sure the light without the slave (i.e. the one without what looks like a little red light on top) is close enough to you that you can plug your camera into it via the sync lead.

  5. Final technical touches

    1. Make sure the flash heads are plugged in – the leads are in the large cloth-covered flash case.
    2. If your camera doesn’t have a PC socket (ask a committee member or look in your manual), you’ll need to use a hotshoe adapter. This is a small black thing with a PC socket in one side and flash contacts on the bottom – there’s one in the large flash case. Plug the sync lead into the side of the adapter and then into the flash, and away you go.

    Finally, you need to know what settings to use on your camera. Look in the manual to find your minimum flash sync speed, or if you don’t have the manual, set the shutter speed to 1/60th of a second (you can try longer shutter speeds for various effects, but shorter shutter speeds will leave you with blacked out portions on your pictures). Now use the lightmeter to measure the amount of light falling on your subject:

    Lightmeter controls

    1 – Power on/off

    2 – Diffuser. Move right or left for incident or reflected readings.

    3 – Take a reading

    4 – Use to adjust the ISO (film speed) before taking a reading, or to scroll through different shutter speed/aperture combinations after a reading

    5 – Plug the camera end of the flash sync lead in here

    6 – Press this button to check or adjust the ISO (adjust using 4)

    7 – Switch between flash and ambient modes

    To take a reading, plug the sync lead into the meter, hold the meter up in front of the part of the subject you want to expose exactly, and press the button marked as 3 above. Set one of the shutter speed/aperture combinations on your camera, making sure the shutter speed is longer than your minimum sync speed, and you are finally ready.

  6. Take some pictures

    Serving suggestion

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