Using modeling lights for a cinematic look

Using modeling lights for a cinematic look

Just because you own studio strobes doesn’t mean you can’t use constant light. I have started using the modeling lights on my Godox AD400 (and even the AD200) in the studio to capture some fabulous cinematic portraits.

Why use modeling lights?

Studio strobes will often override any other light source, window light, room lights, etc. And normally that’s a good thing. But on a recent Film Noir shoot, I found the studio lights overpowered an old vintage lamp I had plugged in, and I REALLY wanted the light from that in my image. So I switched to the modeling lights only. It gives a much darker and moodier effect to your scene.

The catch with using the modeling lights only is you often have to bump up the ISO. I found that ISO640 is ample with my lights and not particularly grainy. I also found it was easier to set the hair lights and focus on background details with a softer light that wasn’t overpowered. In the images below, the subject is well-lit. The lamp looks like it’s turned off. The shadows are quite strong and you can’t see the hair light particularly well. Turn the strobes off and use the modeling light only and it’s a very different look.

What light modifiers to use

Well, that really depends on the look you are after. With Cinematic Film Noir, harsh light is often the way to go. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, a fresnel head was typically used. I don’t actually have one, so I used a basic round reflector on my main light, a snoot and some barn doors. I have also used a strip light as a hair light. Weird? True but it works okay in a pinch. Snoots are terrific for spot-picking background or foreground subjects away from the main light. Meanwhile, barn doors (or strip boxes) are great for hair lights.

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Studio light setup

The setup

As you can see in the above image, we have used three lights (1 x Godox AD400, 2 x MS300). The back camera’s right light is up quite high on a boom arm with a strip box, which is giving the hair and rim light on the model’s shoulders. Camera left is another light with a snoot, aimed behind the model (over her shoulder) and creates the spot circle of light on the gray backdrop. Lastly, on the camera’s right front is the last light with a basic round silver reflector on it to light the model’s face and torso. These modeling lights were turned up at full power. The light from the AD200 modeling light cannot really be adjusted, but the AD400 and MS300 can, which is a real benefit.

I suggest setting up one light at a time. Set your background spotlight, then set your hair lights and then finally the main light on your subject’s face. For camera settings I used a 50mm lens set to f/2.8, ISO640 and shutter speed 1/100 second. That’s more than enough to compensate for any camera shake, and the poses were fairly static, not too much movement involved.

So next time you are looking for that dramatic and cinematic look, why not try just the modeling light? It can help you create some truly wonderful portraits.

Models: Emily Reinhard and Holly Mackenna