I would say that about 90% of my knowledge of photography comes from content I find scattered on the web. There is just so much out there to learn from. So many great photographers willing to share their knowledge and experiences through blogs, websites, videos, podcasts, etc... The best part is that most of it is completely free! All you have to do is be willing to look for it and dive in and absorb it all.
You can go on line at any time, in any part of the world and be inspired by the likes of Joe McNally, a respected National Geographic photographer, or David Zeizer, a successful and talented wedding photographer whose blog is updated on a daily basis with priceless information about everything from the business side of photography to how to train your assistants. David's website is so thorough and full of content that I don't know when he finds time to shoot his weddings! Respected fashion photographer Melissa Rodwell has a fantastic blog with several behind the scenes videos where you can follow her thought process through a high end fashion shoot - see all the people who make a fashion shoot happen: models, stylist, hair, makeup, assistants, art directors just to name a few (warning: Melissa's site is not always safe for work).
The point is that these days all you need to improve yourself is the desire to do so ( and a broadband connection).
I spend some time each day hitting a carefully selected set of links to tap into the experiences of these masters of the trade. One of my daily stops is the Joe McNally blog. On Aug 23, 2010 Joe posted about a lighting setup that really inspired me. What he calls the V-Flats setup is a surprisingly simple and yet very effective way to get big light out of a small flash.
You can go read his blog for all the details, but basically he bounces some speedlights into a V shaped reflector which in turn reflects into a white wall. The wall becomes your light source and just bathes your subject in very soft light. Here is a diagram of the setup.
As soon as i read the post, I just had to give this a try. I am fortunate enough to have a local meetup group which meets weekly in a studio to try out different lighting setups and see what happens. I went in to one of the meetings and was able to try out this setup. We had 2 "v-flats" made from home depot bifold doors painted black on one side and white on the other. I used those against the studio's white wall and we set up a background stand with a black velvet cloth on the other side. The image at the top of this post is a result from this setup.
Here is another:
The only problem with this particular setup was that the black velvet background was too small for a full length shot. Had I had a full length background, this setup would have provided the model with a lot of freedom of movement since the light comes from everywhere. She can turn in any direction as still be bathed in beautiful soft light.
The Bonus Shot
There was actually enough time to do 2 setups. I had also seen a setup that I wanted to try from the blog of photographer Travis Harris. Travis posted a behind the scenes video of a headshot session with 3 lights and a reflector which I thought interesting. He used one medium softbox overhead and 2 strip lights to the right and left of the model. Underneath at about chest level he had a large reflector. He also used a single bare light from behind as a hair light.
I reproduced his setup, but instead of using the hair light, I threw a gelled light into the background for separation. Our model had dark hair and shot against black, her head was disappearing into the darkness. I used a yellow gel to get the following result.
I'm not too sure I like the yellow. Others in the group switched the gel to blue and got some very nice shots too, but the lighting worked well. I liked the results.
So what can you take away from this experience I just shared? Well, the message I'd like to get across is that there is a ton of information out there. With just a few clicks of the mouse you can find enough know-how to get you on your way to mastering this fine art. Just remember: take what learn and then change it up. Experiment. Have fun!