How to build up a complex lighting setup indoors | Profoto

How to build up a complex lighting setup indoors

20 August, 2014

Written by: Jared Platt

On August 27, Profoto and photographer Jared Platt will host a free webinar on how to build up a complex lighting setup indoors . To get you in the mood for the webinar, Jared has written an article on the topic. Enjoy!

In the past few blog posts, I have discussed lighting outdoors, on location. Each time I arrive in a location, I am imediately looking for the existing light to set the mood of the shot, which means I am always scouting out the best locations and choosing the optimal time for the perfect direction and quality of light. While the process changes a bit on an indoor shoot (where I am manufacturing all of the light), the basic concepts don’t change all that much.

In our next webinar, we will discuss a shoot that occurred in a boxing ring in a hip old warehouse/gym/bar in Phoenix, Az, called The Duce. We chose this location for the shoot because it would require us to manufacture the light for the entire scene. While this required more lights and more set up, the principles of lighting the scene are no different than if we we’re outside. Instead of arriving on location and looking for the existing light, I arrived on location to a poorly lit warehouse and imagined the existing light in my mind and then reproduced it with one B1 off-camera flash and the appropriate Light Shaping Tools.

This first light sets the mood for the photograph, just like the sun’s existing light sets the mood and lighting direction on an outdoor shoot, only now we completely control our “sun.” Once the mood is set by our first light, we begin to build in the other lights one at a time to achieve the final finished image.

On this shoot, we are using four Profoto B1 off-camera flashes in manual mode.

0 Lights

Upon entering the warehouse, we set our frame for the shot and determined the placement of our models within the frame. But the exposure itself ( ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f8 ) would be completely dark, so we began adding our lights.


1 Light

The ultimate mood setting light comes from the right hand side of the frame as though it is from a door, a window or some kind of a spot light.

We set our B1 head toward the back right corner of the boxing ring, modified with a Magnum Reflector.  The Magnum Reflector magnifies the light, which was helpful in producing the strongest light possible to fill the darkness of the room at quite a distance. The head was then pointed across the ring and slightly toward camera, which produces the flair you see in the image.

A simple flag on the right side of the lens could remove this flare, but the shot feels very different without it, so no flag was used.  The flair stays in the shot.

2 Lights

Without a second light on the background, the boxing ring floats in darkness, so a second light was placed right next to light 1 and very close to the back wall, but rather than firing across the ring and toward the camera, it rakes across the back wall.

To create a stronger dirrection of light and avoid the light spreading too wide on or beyond the wall, we added a 10° grid and a Zoom Reflector to the light. This is the recepie for the moody shadows and the enhanced textures on the back wall.  Because light 2 is coming from the same direction as light 1, the feels as though it is all one main light source providing the drama in the shot.


3 Lights

Our two back lights (light 1 and 2) also serve to separate the boxer in the ring from the background, but without the addition of a fourth light, he is lost in a silhouette as well. We were not interested in having him lit with the same brightness of our main model, but we did want to see his face.

This was accomplished with another B1 sporting a Beauty Dish with a grid (which has the effect of focusing the light fairly well but maintaining a softer quality ) which we placed just out of frame on the left. The light was placed high above the boxer to maintain a dirrection of light that feels like it is coming from above where one might expect to find a flood light in a building. This allows us to see his face, but still keep him shrouded in slight mystery. Furthermore, our primary focus is always on the female model, which is right where we want it.

4 Lights

Enter the Model. Adding our female model requires an additional light. The powerful Magnum Reflector pushes light all the way across the frame and adds a rim light to our model, but her face and body are in silhouette without the addition of a third light.

On this light we have a Softbox RFi 4×6 RFi for maximum soft light. The size of the softbox creates a very pleasing soft light, but the softbox is modified further with a grid to keep the light from spilling across the rest of the scene. It is also important to notice that the softbox is coming from the same direction as our original mood light, which keeps our lighting scenario looking consistent and natural.

And to soften the drama a little and complete the shot, a large white reflector was added just out of frame on the left. This reflector fills the darker shadows on the left of our model’s body and face using the passing light from our fourth light.

Whether I am walking into a pre-lit outdoor scene or a darkened warehouse, the key is to find or create the mood with one light and then augment, fill and shape with additional lights.  If that original mood light is existing light, great.  If I need to dream up a window, a sky light or a spotlight, that works for me as well.  Then I will simply follow the natural cues (or rules) from that light as I build the lighting into the scene.  Everything starts with that first light, the mood setter.

On this photo shoot, all of our B1 flashes are running in manual mode, no TTL.  In a complex lighting senario, the TTL will change too much as we reframe and move lights. Manual control is simple from the Air Remote and gives us maximum control over each individual group of flashes.

To learn more about building a complex lighting setup indoors, sign up for the free webinar that I will host together with Profoto on August 27 at 7PM CET (August 27 at 10AM Los Angeles, 1PM New York, 6PM London, 7PM Paris // August 28 at 1AM Beijing, 2AM Tokyo, 3AM Sydney)!

Until then!

Written by: Jared Platt