Studio Lighting for Portraits ~ with Stina Sanders

Aug 6, 2011 | Studio | 18 comments

Stina Sanders is a bad ballerina

1. One of the last images of the day was this ballerina with attitude shot. I can hear the screams now “Balerinas don’t wear nail varnish” Luke my picture editor decided to have fun with the split toning facility in Lightroom and I love the results.

I’ve been shooting regularly in my studio for about three years now and I’m finding the restrictions it puts on me to be very useful in defining my repetoir and house style. If I had a big studio I could easily get lost in the multitude of options open to me. Too much choice limits the creative process. Sketching at home with charcoal and chalks is strangely satisfying. I’d hate to but let loose in an artists shop with the instruction ‘use anything you want to create your piece of art’. No matter what I produced I’d be left feeling that I had not made the most of the opportunity I was given. It would be an inevitable dissapointment. When I hear the words, ‘I wish I had one of those lights’ or ‘I wish my studio was bigger’ I say to myself ‘are you sure? Have you really thought it through? The appeal of limitations is bourn out in camera phone apps like Hipstomatic and Shake it Photo. Something from nothing always impresses us. Perhaps that’s why it’s easy to be impressed with pictures from a Fujifilm X100 compact camera. The same shot taken on a £20,000 Leica S2 camera wouldn’t be significantly better. It’s not the kit that matters it’s what you do with it.

In picture 1 above I lit Stina from the front and above with a 40cm beauty dish fitted with a honecomb grid that I bought on Ebay. I used a 15cm reflector with a narrow grid as a back light / kicker and a further 15cm grid to put a pool of light on my paper background. Three lights, all of them are fairly hard sources at the distance that I rigged them.

Stina Sanders beauty photography by Damien Lovegrove

2. A very basic beauty lighting set up was fine tuned with a coloured gel from the Lovegrove collection. The background is a grey wall.

Stina Sanders

3. All these pictures were taken on a studio lighting training session. I teach all these techniques and capture shots like these on every studio lighting workshop that I run. At 6m x 7m my studio is big enough for 3 deligates or perfect for 1:1 sessions.

4. Black and white beauty.

5. This next sequence of 6 shots shows the variety of looks that can make up a multi frame or striking album layout. (Lovegrove studio collection gel 20)

6. (Lovegrove studio collection gel 18)

7.  (Lovegrove studio collection gel 2)


8. I love black and white for expression shots.


10. Strike a pose – Vogue

11. One softbox and one reflector was all I used for this simple shot.

12. I teach use of controlled flare and controlled contrast in the studio environment. I love to use extremes of exposure too from f/16 @ 1/125 100 ISO down to f/2.8 @ 1/13 ISO 1600

13. Lit with a Lupo as a key light. Crisp hard shadows reveal cheakbones and jawlines. The kick/ backlight was from an open door.

14. Subtle tones and simple two point lighting. I used a soft key light and a hard kick light for this shot of Stina.

15. I used just one main soft light rigged intimately close and a bit of contrast control for this portrait.

16. One Lupo and a splash of modeling light from a studio head fitted with a tight grid.

17. A slash of light from my Lupo 1200

18. A Lupo 1200 and my Venetian blind provided the lighting here.





23. Lit with a Lupo bounced off my magic silver reflector.


25. I love to have fun with smoke. This is spray can smoke and has quite a big particle size that can be clearly seen at 100%

26.Even when it’s a bit over done it can produce interesting results.

27.Two grided 15cm reflectors were used to light this simple ballet portrait.

28. The fine control of key light and back light is important to get right at the moment of exposure.


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Please feel free to ask questions or comment on the pictures.





  1. Max


    I have been just admiring your photos on your landing page. Is it possible to purchase prints/copies of a couple of these so i can frame and hang them ? They are really nice.

    Ballerina wit attitude – sitting in black Stina Sander studio 1


    no.27 ballerina in black again – simple ballet photo


    • damien

      Thanks Max,

      I’ve sorted your request directly but it’s worth noting I will be selling prints of my work online later this summer.

      Kindest regards,


  2. Fabio

    Wow, nice pictures. Love it.

    What is this magic silver reflector your writing?


    • damien

      Hi Fabio,

      Thank you for your kind words. I have a surface silvered plastic sheet that I use to create patterns. This is the product. I offer it to those delegates who have attended my workshops and seen how I use it because it doesn’t come ready to use. It needs supporting and the surface needs conditioning to generate the pattern effect. I used to sell it to non delegates but I had to deal with too many issues with customers expecting it to work straight from the roll.

      Kindest regards,


  3. Thomas Roberts

    Exquisit! such a pleasurable set of pictures, a very very gorgeous girl xxx

    • damien

      Thank you Thomas,

      Stina is such a great model and teacher of poses etc. So much so that I’ve joined forces with her to run this posing workshop for photographers who want to learn how to shoot inexperienced models and for models who want to lear how to pose. Stina also feature quite a lot on my latest Studio Lighting DVD due out in mid December.

      Thank you for your compliments about my work. Kindest regards,


  4. Romana

    As a student at this 1on1 workshop I must say that Damien is the best photography teacher you can dream of. He provides great feedback, leads you and explains everything about the lighting and posing in a simple and understandable way. I learnt a lot and definitely want to learn more from him. It was a fantastic experience!

    • damien

      Romana, that is very kind of you to say. Thank you, your feedback is loved.


  5. Helen

    11 and 27 are my favourites.On the back of these images and the various lighting DVDs a question often occurs and is not answered. That is how do you choose the point to meter. Using manual settings and Matrix metering on D700, where and what would you meter for in a scene that contrasts lighting so much to ensure an evenness of metering without flattening the lighting. Sorry if it sounds basic but there is never an explanation of what is being metered, and do you meter all your light sources or add some light after metering.
    Thanks Helen.

    • damien

      Hi Helen.

      Thanks for your kind words. My answer to your question re metering is simple. I don’t use a meter. If the picture on the back of the camera is too dark or light I adjust the settings accordingly. I am very careful to ensure I understand exactly what my screen is showing me. I never use histograms either. I start with an educated guess of the exposure then I adjust it as necessary. I then leave my settings alone so that I can concentrate on my subject. (I use Manual setting in camera). I use my eyes to adjust the contrast in the scene using lights. I hope this helps.

      Kindest regards,


  6. Simon Shakespeare

    beautiful Images as ever Damien, loving no’s 14 & 16, every time I visit this blog I am inspired to take my focus away from clients & make a start on at least one of the many personal projects I have planned.

    • damien

      Thanks Simon,

      Personal projects are definitely the way to focus your photographic style. They feed the soul too :)) I hope you are well, catch up soon, in Florida maybe!

      Cheers, Damien.

  7. Murray

    I think like me you spent several years working in TV studios at the BBC, what I miss is the flats, room sets, space to move, things that are prohibitively expensive unless your client has a decent budget.

    I’m not sure a larger space would stifle your creativity, you would, like most people, still work in your favourite corner. Look at how people with large living rooms cluster in one corner around the TV. I’ll tell you a true story about someone famous and their living room one day over a beer. For me a large space would offer the chance to store props, flats and furniture.

    This is another great series of beautifully lit images. The stand out image for me is 11, but I’m a sucker for a silhouette. The one that would sell is undoubtedly 27, 1 is also very good followed by 3. I prefer 3 to 4 not because of the colour v B&W issue, I prefer the angle and the shape of her face.

    Right now I would probably kill for a 6 x 7m space, this week I’ll be shooting a model in a ‘modest sized’ hotel bedroom and on the streets until I get the dozen or so shots my client wants. Weather permitting.

    Having shot in poky theatre foyers with 20+ other press togs and one celeb, or on a pleasure boat for a new drink launch (drunken press togs) and covered a riot (scared togs) your cosy 6 x 7 space sounds like paradise.

    • damien

      Thanks Murray. A small space is what suits me at the moment. Like my Fuji X100 the restrictions it imposes force a style that I find fab to work with.

      Best regards, Damien.

  8. Simon

    Absolutely beautiful images, reminds me of our day in the studio. I learnt so much, it was incredible that we got so much out of smallish studio.

    Well worth “Housemaids Knee”!

    Love your work

    • damien

      Haha, thanks Simon. The knee is 95% better now and I’m back to full shooting strength. I’ve more studio techniques to share with you once you get a studio of your own ;) Thanks for your kind words. Cheers, Damien.

  9. Menno Bausch

    Again a great serie of pictures. A pleasure to look at it!

    • damien

      Thank you Menno :)


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