The Best Way to Learn Studio Lighting is by Doing It

by | Oct 30, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

One question that I’m often asked is where did I learn my studio lighting techniques? Over the past years I have attended many PPA conventions and listened to many program presenters who have inspired me and taught me a few things as well. This is especially true of lighting experts such as the late Dean Collins and Leon Kennamer. I also have attended some private photography workshops as well, but my experience with them has not proven to be as useful. But the one thing that has proven successful in advancing my learning experience is that I have shot many thousands of portraits in my home studios and well as those belonging to friends like Jack Dean. If you haven’t already figured it out from the title of this post, I’ll repeat it— I believe that the best way to learn studio lighting is by doing it.

That is not to sell short the various program speakers who present their studio lighting techniques to rapt audiences at conventions when they had such events in the pre-pandemic world. During these twisted times, I’ve found some on-line sessions to be worthwhile, even if they only create a desire to improve you lighting techniques. In general, I think these kinds of presentations can really be valuable at two points along your lighting learning curve:

  • They are especially useful in the beginning of your photographic development, although truth be told it’s a never-ending process. My own lighting style has changed radically over the past ten years from using extremely simple available light techniques to working with as many lights as I have available. (Right now that’s three Paul C Buff DigiBee and AlienBee monolights.) When the pandemic is behind us or at least under control, I plan to again offer 1-on-1 workshops to help you get started in your studio lighting explorations.
  • It’s also helpful on the other end of the learning curve, when you can learn some of the smaller, more subtle techniques that will let you refine the portrait making skills that you’ve actively been practicing. In between, it’s learning by doing. The best way to get to Carnegie Hall, as the story goes is practice, practice and practice some more.

How I made this shot: For this portrait of Pam Simpson dressed in white and silver, two Elinchrom D-Lite RX’s with a 26-inch square softbox lightbank were placed at approximately 45 degrees from one another. The output of each monolight was adjusted via my laptop computer to be approximately one-quarter power. The backdrop is a 5×7-foot Photo Gray Savage Infinity vinyl background hanging from my even-then falling apart JTL background stands. Camera used was a Canon EOS 60D with  EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM (at 57mm) and an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/14 and ISO 200. At that exposure, the image was slightly underexposed and was rescued using a technique explained in my post Correcting Underexposed Portraits. Noise from the underexposure was mitigated somewhat by using Dfine.

Practicing portrait lighting isn’t easy because in addition to camera and lightning equipment, you’ll need a subject to practice with. For years Mary was my subject but her work schedule does not always permit her helping out with these kinds of projects. These days finding new models have been a challenge because there’s no budget for it as in the past when Shutterbug magazine provided when I wrote lighting equipment reviews for them. I do give each model a CD of every image that we make together to take home with her on the day of the shoot.

Special Note: Recently I’ve had several photographic companies offer to lend me camera and lighting equipment but I was unable to find a model within their loan period to shoot their gear and share the results with you on this blog. I’m asking Colorado readers if they could refer any models, potential models or just people who like to give it a try and who want to be photographed for this blog. Just click the Contact page and let me know. And, in case you have any concerns, we’ll maintain social distancing and wear a mask. And since this health crisis started, we have had our home and studio professionally cleaned and sanitized five different times so we’re ready to photograph you when you’re ready to be photographed.


If you’re interested in learning how I shoot portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio and on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere which is available new from with for $5.58 and used for the giveaway price starting at $2.23, as I write this. The Kindle version is $5.32 for those people preferring a digital format.