Grids are probably amongst the best pieces of equipment a photographer using flash can own. Alas, they are often either underrated or misunderstood. On one of my recent shoots, I decided to create a lighting setup with grids on every single strobe. My goal was to create a somewhat complex setup, that once broken down step by step would be easy to recreate by any photographer starting out in studio photography.
Let’s begin with a simple white beauty dish. The light of a white beauty dish is crispy, yet not as hard as a simple reflector or contrasty as a silver beauty dish. To soften it slightly, I added a sock. Note that a deep octa with a deflector could have done the trick as well, but later on I’ll add a grid, and it’s something I, unfortunately, do not own for my deep octas.
For a first shot, with a single light, it looks quite decent. Depending on the look we are going for, this could work just as it is. However, I found the model’s iris to be a tad too dark, and the shadow in the neck could use a bit of fill. A fill light will also reduce the visibility of any skin’s imperfections, making my work in postproduction much easier and faster.
For the fill light, we have multiple solutions. An additional strobe could be placed below the key light, in a clamshell fashion. I didn’t choose this option because I wanted to keep all catch lights round. So a circular reflector could be the answer if its placement wasn’t limited by the main light’s angle. Also, when adding a grid on my beauty dish later on, this option wouldn’t work anymore. So I added another flash unit right next to the main source, and pointed it down towards a circular reflector. It will do the same as placing a reflector and using my main’s spill, but I’ll have a lot more control over it. For the fill light, I used a grid tight enough to limit the spill of light to just the size of the reflector — in this case, a 20-degree grid.
The lighting is much more flattering on our model’s face. However, I feel like we achieved something anyone could have done in a pinch. It lacks depth and looks like any studio shot out there. To give more depth to the model’s face and the image, a hair light would be great. Just like the fill light, I used an 18 cm reflector with a 20-degree grid to give my model some room to move but avoid any flare.
Our lighting is getting better, but the background is not adding anything to our image. A simple background light, again, with a grid to control the spill, would make it just that much more interesting.
Now, we are getting somewhere. And because I love drama, I want my background to be darker. To make that possible, a simple grid on the beauty dish will cut any spill.
And because I'm sure a few of you would love to see a lighting diagram of the final image, here it is:
When starting studio photography, flashes, grids, and light shapers can be intimidating. But truthfully, they are not. All you have to do is add one light at a time. Place the first one and see what’s working and what’s not. Add a second one if needed and repeat the process until you find the perfect lighting setup for the look you are shooting.
If you want to learn more about grids, visit Elinchrom’s website where you’ll find the same setup as above along with another one, and a full article showing the differences between different grid degrees.
I’d love to hear your opinions on grids and multiple light setups. Do you guys often rely on grids when shooting with flash? Is it something you don’t own, but wish you could try? When shooting in studio, do you limit yourself to one light or do you go crazy from time to time?