How to: Lighting a staircase with multiple speedlights
This is our first post in what we hope will become a regular how-to feature. We will be covering items such as composition, equipment and weather. Our first post however, is on the field or lighting, specifically added light.
Lighting is one of the most important things when it comes to interior photography. It doesn’t matter how great the space is, if the light isn’t good then neither will the photograph be. Generally speaking light in a typical interior comes from two sources. Natural – the daylight coming in through the windows, skylights and doors and artificial light – the light from ceiling lights and table lamps etc. As a photographer we have a few options for controlling these light sources. Time of day plays a major role in regards to natural light. As does the weather. Wherever possible will try to take our photographs in the most suitable weather at the best time of day, whatever that might be for that particular room. We can’t however control how the light enters the room, we can control how much enters by additional tricks such as scrimming windows but the natural light will always come from a fixed direction. We are also able to control artificial lighting in a number of ways, from simply turning lights on or off to using dimmers or lower wattage bulbs. In order to do this, working with an electrician is the best way to get good bulbs and lights in the places that look good. By visiting websites such as https://kalahari-electrical.com/ and many more electrical company pages, you can gain advice on lighting from professionals.
Even on the rare occasion where we are shooting at the best time of day with the ideal weather and fully controllable interior lighting, more often than not the light still isn’t good enough. This is where added light plays a key role. With our own added light we can choose the directionality, brightness, colour and harshness of the light source to create the kind of light that shows off the space best. This light will almost always be in addition to the existing natural and artificial light provided by the space. Our intention with our added light isn’t to create a false looking artificially lit interior but one that looks natural, well balanced and pleasing to the eye.
The example I have below is a relatively straightforward hallway and stairs that required a little added light to make it look bright and welcoming. These type of spaces offer very little space for positioning flash units and this is where portable speedlight’s or strobes come in to their own. With a very small footprint they can be placed on dado rails, behind banisters and round corners and they throw off more than enough light for a small space like this one.
This plan shows the camera and final flash positions (except for flash two which was up the stairs)
Image 1 shows the space as the natural light rendered it. The hallway is a bit dark and gloomy and lengthening the exposure would result in the lead and stained glass detail being lost from the doorway.
The first light is positioned to the right of the front door. It’s sitting snugly on top of the dado rail pointing straight up with the bounce card pulled up to prevent any direct flash from getting to the scene. Ideally this light would be further away from the wall to soften the bounced light but space constraints didn’t allow for this.
You can see how the effect this light has on the scene
Flash two was placed on the landing upstairs and is positioned to bounce light off the ceiling and bathe the stairs in nice soft light. Putting a flash at the top of the stairs is a great way to entice a viewer up the steps.
Flash 3 is positioned behind the stairs on the floor to bounce light off the back side of the lower steps; this helps show of the beautiful panelling and floor.
Flash 4 is not strictly necessary but just provides a bit of added interest to the stair turn and roughly mimics the natural light you would expect from the window here. The flash is positioned on the windowsill bouncing off the left hand wall that runs next to the staircase.
On the final image I decided to frame a more central composition with the doorframe. This is a handy trick if you need to deliver a landscape shot in a space that really warrants a portrait shot!