The usage of studio lights is a complex craft that requires to choose among many variables. Those are for instance the direction, distance, softness, ratios, shapes, colors and numbers of light sources. Because there are many parameters and the possibilities are endless, it takes time to learn the craft.
One of the most efficient way to learn it is to practice with a mannequin. In this article I give you some advice and show you a concrete example of what I have learned thanks to a mannequin.
Why would you use a mannequin to practice lighting ?
The basics of lighting can be understood from a theoretical point of view through videos, books, or dedicated websites like http://strobox.com/, and the theory is an essential foundation to start with. Still, it is not enough to become proficient and experimenting is necessary to become familiar with the equipment, and to learn the subtle nuances between all the possible lighting scenarios.
I do not like to experiment light setup with clients, I do not want them to see me hesitating, nor to waste their time. Therefore I use my studio and mannequin to experiment with lighting when I do not have any clients, and to prepare myself for the next shoots.
What are the benefits of using a mannequin ?
- Obviously, it is always ready for a photoshoot.
- It does not move and always keep the same pose and expression, so it makes it easy to accurately compare lighting setups.
- Its cost (mine did costs 125e second hand) is reasonable compared to other educational products (DVD, workshops).
What are the drawbacks of using a mannequin ?
- Mannequin do not have skin texture.
- A mannequin typically has a slim face, well defined jaw line and a small nose, not like every client or model. A light pattern that looks good on the mannequin may look unflattering to your model.
- It does not move and always keep the same boring pose and expression.
- Some people may think you are a weirdo, just pay little attention and keep learning…
My advice on choosing a mannequin
Here are my advice on how to choose a mannequin :
- Avoid glossy surface, and prefer a hue and brightness closer to real skin.
- Avoid mannequins with unrealistic features, such has too flat nose.
- Get a wig too, to also practice hair lighting.
A concrete example of using the mannequin to compare lighting setups
Because it does not move and always keep the same pose, the mannequin is perfect to compare various lighting settings. I have in my studio a silver octabox of 110cm, on which I can put an inner baffle and an outer diffusion layer, and I wanted to understand the difference that it makes. So I put my camera on a tripod, and did 3 test shoots. Here is what I have learned from this experiment with the mannequin that I would not have learn on any discussion forum :
- The color temperature is warmer with the diffusion layers.
- There is more fill-light with the diffusion layers, because the light is spilling and bouncing more in the room.
- The shadow projected on the background is completely different in the 3 configurations.
- The light is softer with the diffusion layers, actually the silver octabox without diffusion layer is a very hard source of light, despite its size.
The mannequin is a great educational tool to get to know your lighting equipment, and I can only recommend you to get one if you want to become proficient at lighting. I am using mine on regular basis so you can expect more posts about lighting that will feature it.