Austin, Texas | Photography Tutorial | How to Build Light to Create An Outrun Style Photograph

I was recently inspired by the Subreddit, /r/Outrun.  For those of you that are not familiar with it, the community describes itself as "a general community dedicated to the synthwave music scene, a revisionist 80s music style of synthesizers and pulsing beats, and the retrofuturist 80s aesthetic of fast cars, neon lights and chrome."  I put together a few projects using this bright theme and I have had so much feedback on them that I thought it was about time to put together a tutorial on how I achieved this look.  When working with artificial light, we use a method of "light building" and I am going to do my best to teach you the best way to achieve this look.  Perfect for portraits, pets, and shiny objects. :) I will have a list of all products used at the end of the post.  So if you're interested in creating your own you can see everything I used! Be sure to tag us in your creations if you use this to make a work of your own.  This will be a more advanced tutorial, using DSLR equipment. If you're interested in a more beginner tutorial, let us know! If we get feedback we'd love to make a beginner version of this tutorial.  

Most importantly, have fun creating! :)

The very first step in light building is to set your ambient light.  What this means, is, typically your background.  For these images I wanted a really dark background with just the light on Joshua as the focus.  Our settings are ISO 50, f/4 and 1/160 sec.  I am using the Nikon D750 and a 50mm f1/4 lens in a room with an 8' ceiling at about 8'x10' (aka, my office). If you're shooting on a crop-sensor, you'll probably want a 35mm (or less) lens for this size of room. (or, a bigger room).  Also, I would like to note that it is best to shoot in a room where you have as little outside light as possible.  So close the curtains, turn off all indoor lights, and shoot in the dark like a weirdo. :)

Once you get your ambient settings where you like them, you'll start adding your first light.  For me, this was the green light at Joshua's back right (my back left).  Below is what this setup looked like (the blue line at the bottom being the curtain behind Joshua).  At this point you should not be adjusting your camera settings anymore.  Just your light! So if it's too bright, turn the light down, if it's too dark, turn it up. Move it, put it closer, further away, etc, but do not change your camera settings!  Get this where you like it.  For me it was making it bright enough it showed the detail on Joshua's face, but was not blowing out as white. I also took special care to make sure my light was catching on the curtain behind him as little as possible.

Green Setup.jpg

You'll probably be messing with the light quite a bit for each of these steps.  Further from your subject gives you a softer light, but it will spill out on to your surroundings a bit more (the curtain).  Closer to your subject keeps your light more direct, but you'll have a much harsher shadow).  You'll get better at finding a place for your light, the more you practice.  But once you get a green that you like, you'll be ready to move on to the blue!  The second step is very similar.  This light will be placed at the front of Joshua, so some spilling onto the background is going to be kind of inevitable. But don't worry about too many shadows, because the last layer is going to help smooth them out quite a bit.  Just focus on keeping your green green, and your blue blue.  Try not to blow anything out into white. This gives you a very funny looking little blueberry husband. :)  But thankfully he's a good sport and lets you post funny blueberry photos of him on  your blog. (wives, dogs, cats, cars, and other shiny objects are a good substitute if you do not have a patient husband available! ;) 

Blue Setup.jpg
Outrun Lighting-2.jpg

Your biggest struggle here is going to be making sure you don't lose your green in all that blue.  But you can do it.  I believe in you. ;)  Don't worry about  making really harsh shadows just yet, as a lot of that is going to be fixed in this next step.  Speaking of step three... This is probably the easiest step so far.  You're almost there! Woo hoo!  Your last light is going to be a nice big soft diffused light.  You're welcome to get out that fancy softbox or umbrella and get all official-looking.  But I like to use what I've already got out and there is this handy-dandy wall right in front of Joshua just hoping to be utilized.  So if you also have a wall ready and waiting, feel free to just bounce your final (color free) bare light off the wall and watch your portrait suddenly look super awesome! 

Final Setup.jpg
Outrun Lighting-5.jpg

Again, you'll just be adjusting the power of this final light.  Since it is bouncing and flying around all over the place (and is probably a little bit close to your subject) you will probably have to tone it down a little bit.  But you will be rewarded with buttery-soft skin and super snazzy looking catchlights in your subjects' eyes! And there you have it! 

"BUT WHAT IF I LIKE PINK?" You say, into your phone screen.  Well, don't worry. We tried that, too.  We replaced the last bare light with a pink light and got this multi-colored rainbow dream portrait. 

Pink.jpg
Outrun Lighting-8.jpg

Hopefully by now you've learned something good that you can use in your next creative photo session!  Let me know your thoughts and whether or not you're interested in seeing more tutorials! I'd love to put more together for you.  

Thanks for stopping by the blog! 


Here's the list of equipment used: 

Camera Body: Nikon D750

Camera Lens: Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

Light #1: Nikon SB700 

Trigger for light: Yongnuo Triggers

Lights #2 and #3: Cowboy Studio (These are AWESOME intro studio lights!) 

Gels: Ziplock bags with Sharpie on them (Home made. With LOVE. DON'T YOU JUDGE ME. Yes, you can buy nice ones, which I do own for my speedlights. But for the Cowboy studio lights I don't have any and this was the easiest solution. And it worked well, didn't it??) 

Model: Out of Stock. Sorry, he was a limited edition. ;)