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How do I compose the shot and focus on the subject when using a blackout studio?


Hi. I did a shoot at a blackout studio and I had a lot of problems focusing on the subject. On the one hand, if I exposed the shot to see and focus on the subject (dancer) then the background features like pipes, outlets, etc became visible. On the other hand if I exposed for everything to be black and let the studio strobe light the subject then I couldn't compose the shot the ensure all the dancer was in the frame. Before the flash fired the subject was too dark to see and for the focus to engage. 

Can anyone advise on what settings I can use to be able to see and focus on the subject but still achieve a solid back background. I use a Canon R6 with L series lenses (f2.8 24-70mm & 70-200mm).




Not sure of the whole context within which you are trying to work.  It's quite difficult to gauge the context without some idea of the dimensions involved - how far to the subject etc.  Can you provide some photos of the studio setting - lit, of course, to give us some context, please?

Conventional wisdom suggests you expose for the highlights: in this case the faces etc. of your dancers when there is light - I don't mean strobes, but a continuous light.  

Why do you have to shoot the images in this location specifically?
Can you use black curtaining to hide the infrastructure of the studio so you can use lights, and then (as required) darken the background in PP?

Not only that, but health and safety might take a dim view of you making dancers work in darkness  - a high risk of injuries...

cheers, TREVOR

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"All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow", Leo Tolstoy;
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Thank you very much for your feedback. This is a link to the studio and you can see examples of the black walls, ceiling, floor plus strip lights. As you can see it's a big space. Hopefully it provides a bit more context for you.

The client has chosen this location. I tried to persuade him to use another one but he really likes it for the neon light are and he doesn't want to change at this point.

Yes, theoretically I can fix background issue in PP but I there will be a lot of images and I'd like to avoid days of work fixing things.

Dancers are accustomed to working in low light conditions. A lot of their stage work is done this way. Plus, it's not pitch black so they can see ok. My issue is that when I look through the viewfinder or on the screen I'm looking at a black scene and the camera struggles to focus.

Thanks again Trevor



You probably need a *really* strong flash so that you can have dim light in the area, but still have non-flash exposed areas be black.

The strobes are strong and can be set to maximum but I'm not sure how to see/focus on the subject when the scene is black on the camera screen and through the viewfinder.


Actually, I believe the late, great Speedliter's Handbook by Syl Arena goes into this.


Can't fight the laws of physics. The exposure of the background is a function of the distance between the subject and the background and the light source.

Screenshot 2022-04-19 105852.jpg

As Trevor suggested, maybe you can hang a backdrop.

Increase distance between subject and background.

Mask the subject and then reduce exposure of background in post in your editing software.

John Hoffman
Conway, NH

1D X Mark III, Many lenses, Pixma PRO-100, Pixma TR8620a, LR Classic

Thanks a lot John. I will try moving the subject further away from the background. Honestly, I'd prefer to not have to mask thousands of images and fix issues in post if there's a relatively simple setup I can use on location.




My point is that you set the exposure of the camera such that the ambient is black, even if there is a little light on the subject which can allow you to see a bit.Here is where a standard viewfinder might actually work better.

HSS,  I think is also the key here.

I'm not sure I follow. If the ambient is black then what light do you suggest for the subject so that I can compose and focus? - modeling light?

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