Studio portrait photography is a really great skill to grasp when expanding a photographer asset base. I remember when I first started out as a photographer almost all portrait photography was done in the studio. It is now quite popular to shoot outside portraits but there is still a place for really crisp high key images and moody studies.
1. Lighting setup. Over the years I have had a selection of different types of lights and they have all had their benefits. However my favourite is the one I am going to mention. I have one really powerful light with a high quality soft box on the front of it. This light will light up a room and go right down to shoot a little baby. I love it. I use this light in the studio with a selection of smaller lights. Some are shot through accessories like a snout, honeycombs or shoot into brollies. Depending on what I am shooting depends on how I use them but I will as a basic set up use the main light 20 degrees off the camera and a smaller fill light 45 degrees off camera on the other side. The smaller light is set at 1-2 stops less than the main light, depending on how much shadow I want on one side of the face.
2. High Key. The most popular family type shooting I do in the studio is a high key look, which is basically shooting onto a white background. I have a shoot through Lastolite background that stands 6 foot tall and use this because it gives a really great clean white finish. The secret to getting this right is to set the light inside the background to 2 stops more than the subject. Any more it will flare. I love to put people on the floor in these high key shoots and we always have an informal time and lots of fun. All the rules from other articles I have written apply when posing.
3. Low Key. This is the opposite of high key and I love to use this type of lighting for couples. It brings in an intimacy and softness that other setups do not achieve. Although it is not absolutely necessary to shoot in the dark it helps, because you can use the modelling lights to see the effect of the lights. Remember light spills and bounces really well so if low key is the choice then you have to be disciplined with directional lights. Harder lights are also better for this type of shots. The same basic lighting setup as in high key though. Just have the fill light at 2-3 stops less than the main light.
4. Black & White. As much as colour is great, I believe black and white works really well in high and low key images. There is something about the contrast that is drawn out of the images when shot in Black and White. If you have never shot Black and White I would encourage you to try and experiment with studio lights and see how the addition of contrast can transform the look and feel of an image.
5. Make it welcoming. I have been into many studios in my time and I have been shocked at the mess and gear lying around, I have also been surprised how cold some studios can be. People love to feel at home when they are being photographed and to have a warm friendly environment will help your subject to relax and respond to the photography session positively.
Studio photography is rewarding artistically because you have complete control of your lighting. It is the place to play and learn how light effects the way things look. I enjoy shooting in the studio, I would encourage you to get some lights and have a go, it really is not that expensive these days if you buy second hand gear. I have never brought a new light because the good brands go on forever. Happy days!