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Adding a Hair Light

Thinking of adding a second light to your studio? It should probably be a hair light. This is just another strobe, but it’s generally aimed directly at your subject’s hair (did I even have to say that?), which helps to separate your subject from the background and give your portraits a more professional look all around. For lighting hair these days, we generally use a strip bank, which helps keep the light more directional (and lights just the hair and/or shoulders, instead of spilling over everywhere). Mine is 12x36". Also, I usually set my strobe’s power for the hair light so it’s around one stop brighter than my front light, so the light from my front light doesn’t overpower it. A trick for checking the position of your hair light, to make sure none of the light from it is spilling onto your subject’s face, is to turn off your main strobe (your front light), so nothing but the hair light is turned on. Your subject should be in complete silhouette, with no light on their nose, cheeks, or face whatsoever. If you see any light now, you’ll need to reposition your hair light (maybe move it back a little bit, or to the side), until you only see light on their head and shoulders—none on the face. By doing a test shot with just one light on at a time, you’ll see exactly what each one is doing. If you turn them all on from the beginning, the lighting won’t look good, but you won’t have any idea why. So, always start with just one light (I always do any back lights first), and then add another light, one at a time. If something doesn’t look right when you add another light, turn the other lights off, adjust the one that didn’t look right, then turn them on again, one at a time. Probably the most popular accessory for hair lights is an egg crate grid. This is a fabric grid that Velcros (or slips, depending on the brand) over the front of your strip bank. It narrowly focuses the light from your hair light so it doesn’t spill out the sides, and it really does a wonderful job of focusing your light just where you want it. They come in different sizes, and there’s one to match the exact size and shape of your strip light.

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