Studio Lighting Series – Basic Five Point Lighting

The basic five point lighting setup adds two kickers at 45 degree angles to the subject

This is another installment of a long series of articles shot and composed with the help of professional photographer Karl Leopold at in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl is one of the top photographers in the area and president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association and graciously opened his studio up to us and lent his expertise for this series.

So far in this series we’ve covered basic three point lighting, lighting ratios, and lighting styles. Today it’s time to look at a basic five point lighting setup.

Just to review the equipment we used in this series:

The camera was a Canon 7D with a 28-135mm zoom set at my best approximation to 85mm.

We used 1/125th of a second throughout and either f/11 with a dark background or f/13 with the light background.

Our key is an Alien Bees 800 in a Fomex rectangular softbox.

Our fill is an identical Alien Bees 800 in an Octodome.

Our hair light is an Ultra 1800.

the kickers
These are the kickers set to light the white background

This time we’re going to two Alien Bees 400’s in homemade softboxes with diffusion gratings as “kickers”. We’ll have the kickers set out of frame at 45 degree angles to the subject with the power set at -2 stops from the fill, roughly the same as the hair light. The kickers and hair light were set in slave mode, only the key and fill were on PocketWizard radio triggers.

We’ll use the kickers two different ways: One to help separate the subject from the background by providing some extra back light around the shoulders. The other way we’ll use them is we turn the kickers around, away from the subject, to blow out a white background.

In the two photos the difference the kickers make is readily apparent. The hair really pops with uniform highlights and the back shoulder achieves better separation from the background. We also got a little blow back from the white jacket, which shows up in the light areas of the background pattern. It’s a subtle but significant difference. I like the photo with the kickers much better.

before and after
The kickers make a big difference separating the subject from the background

Finally we turned the kickers around and used them to blow out a white background. In the last picture it’s obvious we could have bumped the power even more, there’s still some gray in the background. Next time I’d go +2 full stops on the kickers and raise them up a little higher to really swat the background and prevent the gradient effect that’s still visible. We also lost the hair highlights, but they would have been largely lost on white background anyway.

five point lighting
This was taken with the kickers turned toward the background