Using Strobes for Studio Photography

Strobes are large external flashes that can be specifically placed and angled towards the subject for soft, realistic lighting.

profoto studio strobe light

They provide more flexibility than built-in flashes, which will always go off from the same direction that the lens is pointed, often resulting in harsh shadows and flat, unrealistic lighting. Strobes are generally more powerful than other types of off-camera flashes and are very popular in studio photography. (We include Profoto flash heads with our studio rentals.)

You’ll have your strobe (or light head) attached to a light stand and a type of diffuser, such as a softbox or umbrella. The strobe is plugged into a power source and is triggered by a transmitter, which may be wireless or hooked up directly to the camera. (Fairway uses the wireless PocketWizard Transmitter, which allows you to move freely throughout the studio.)

You’ll want to adjust your camera’s aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings so that they work well with the additional lighting from the strobe. Start with an aperture setting between f8 and f12, a shutter speed of about 1/200 second, and your ISO set between 100 and 400. In terms of positioning, try placing your light about 6 feet away from the camera. You can start within these guidelines and then experiment to see the different results you get.

Preparing for Your Studio Rental

Booking your first photoshoot at a studio can be intimidating, but there’s no need to worry. Not only can your first studio shoot be a lot of fun — it’s also a great way to gain experience working with models, lighting, and professional photography equipment. Before you go out and purchase expensive lighting equipment of your own, you can try it out for a fraction of the price by renting a studio. Many include equipment with their bookings, or they offer it to rent for an additional cost. (Click here to see what equipment we have at Fairway.)

The more prepared you are, the more smoothly the day will go. See below for some tips on preparing before the day of your shoot so that you get the most out of your studio rental.

Find your subject

  • A professional model can help, but it's not necessary. If you're new and just hoping to get comfortable in the studio and acquainted with the equipment, you may even want to consider using a friend as your model so that you're more relaxed. Make sure that they can take direction and convey emotion.
  • Communicate with your model before the day of the shoot. Get them involved with the process, and ask if they have any requests. Be sure to let them know what to expect and about any plans, goals, or ideas you have. Tell them what the process will be like.

Have a plan

  • Think about how you'll use lighting, and have a few different setups planned out. (There are plenty of online resources and tutorials with setups.) This way, on the day of the shoot, you'll spend less time making decisions and more time getting the shots you need.
  • If you have multiple outfits, looks, or models to shoot, have a game plan — decide on the order beforehand.
  • Write your plans down, as well as any tips or important information you'd like to remember. Even if you don't refer to this sheet, it'll provide an added level of comfort.

Do your research

  • Find out what equipment is provided by the studio. If there's anything you're unfamiliar with, or anything you're not sure how to use, do your research. Of course you won't need all the equipment, but it's helpful to know what your photos might benefit from.
  • If there's any equipment you'd like to rent, check in the studio before the day of your rental. Confirm in advance that the equipment you'll need will be available.

Other considerations

  • Think about anything that might come up. Will you need parking, or a service elevator?
  • When booking, factor in time for setup and for anything that might slow down your shoot.
  • Get familiar with the studio's terms. Find out their cancellation and rescheduling policies. (You can find ours here.)

How to Use an Umbrella

An umbrella is a type of modifier that diffuses soft lighting. It’s one of the most affordable and versatile types of light modifier. The main difference between umbrellas and softboxes is that while softboxes produce directional lighting, umbrellas create what’s called “inefficient lighting,” meaning it’s spread in many different directions.


Using a flash without a modifier such as an umbrella will likely result in hard lighting, which means you’ll get dark shadows. With soft light, shadows are very light or non-existent.


A common way to use an umbrella is as a “shoot thru.” The umbrella is placed in front of the flash, and the flash shoots the light through the umbrella and onto the subject. This will create even lighting across the subject. You can also use it as a reflector by pointing the flash at the inside of the umbrella and aiming both away from your subject.

You can experiment with shadows and different lighting effects by moving your umbrella around and placing it at different angles. The “classic” position is 45 degrees up and over to one side. If you’re new to light modifiers, you may want to start here and then try experimenting with new positions. Generally, the larger the umbrella is and the closer it’s placed to the subject, the softer the lighting will be.

Further reading and examples of umbrellas in action: 

Lighting 101: Using Umbrella — Strobist
What Umbrellas Do — Scantips

What is a Softbox?

A softbox is a type of light modifier that’s used to produce soft, even lighting. The lightweight box is made of translucent cloth, wrapped around a wire frame and attached to a light source (usually a studio strobe or speed light) on a stand. 

Profoto Softbox

The interior cloth is white or silver, while the exterior black cloth prevents light from spilling out. The light bounces around and scatters in all directions inside the box, and is then directed outward through a layer of diffusion material. The result is evenly distributed directional lighting that’s easy to control.

The effect is similar to window lighting, and it can help reduce harsh shadows. Softboxes are often used for portraits but are also great for shooting subjects such as products, food, and fashion.

They come in a variety of sizes. The light becomes softer as the size of the box increases and as it’s placed closer to the subject. Soft light can help reduce contrast, soften shadow edges, and conceal imperfections.

You can move the box around — to the side, up or down, closer or further — to experiment with shadows, hardness of lighting, and other effects. If your images look flat, you can try placing the light at an angle. If you’re getting uneven or harsh lighting, try moving the box in front of the subject.

Further reading and examples of softboxes in action: 

10 Different Lighting Effects Using Just One Softbox — Picture Correct
Using a Softbox - studio lighting beginners' guide — ePhoto Zine
5 Tips For Using a Studio Octagon Softbox — Seamless