Home studio set up advice needed

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by rema, Aug 14, 2008.

  1. rema macrumors regular

    Sep 16, 2006
    Hi guys trying to set up a small photo studio to do basic portrait shots on a white/ black background, pretty new to this as I’m a design student, just wanted to ask what are the basics I’ll need apart from a camera and what set up do you guys have pic’s would be great

    What sort of lights and background would you recommend?

    Any help or advice would be great
    I live in the uk by the way

    Thanks Rema.
  2. super_kev macrumors 6502


    Jan 12, 2005
    Check out Fred Miranda and DPReview. That's not to say that those of us who are photographers here won't help you, but you'll find a lot more information on a dedicated camera forum. :)
  3. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    Alien Bee AB-400's should be fine, you may want AB-800's if you also intend to use them outside the studio. If your camera doesn't have a PC-Synch cord terminal, then you'll want a hotshoe one, they're cheap. Background-wise, a background stand kit and a black and white muslin will work- muslin size depends on your space and the type of shots you want to take. Light stands can be cheap ones, as long as you're not clumsy raising and lowering the lights. 2 reflective silver umbrellas and either a white shoot-through or softobx, and a grid so you can use one of the lights as a hair light. Some black and white foam core for flags/reflectors, and a bunch of clamps. Don't forget a posing stool- that should about do it.
  4. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    Any light will do. The best are real studio lights. These will have a modeling light (a 100W light bulb or the like) inside and a big flash tube. But even work lights from Home Depot will work. I used to use a few old Vivitar 283 speedlights. This is still the least expansive option. Now I use a Norman power pack system that I bought from a studio that was closing down. In a pinch I used an old slide projector to bounce light off an old projection screen. Makes for a nice soft bounced light that is very bright with good color. You don't have to spend a lot. But real studio equipment will save you lots of time. To a pro "time is money" but if you are a student maybe it's different?

    Then you will need some "light modifiers", things like softboxes ubbreelas and so on. These are as important as the lights themselves. The comercial made stuff is good but you can improvise, white bed sheets duct taped to PVC pipe frames and white foam borad reflectors. What to get depends on budget.

    I have a hand held flash meter. It makes setting up lights easy. But if you have a digital camera you can do a test shot firing one light at a time and use the histogram display to measure the relative power. So to set up a two to one lighting ratio use the camera as a meter.

    Just remember the softness depends on the physical size of the light (measured in degrees of arc) from the subject's location. Bigger is softer, so closer is softer too but brighter. So you need to control the brightness of the lights as you move them.

    My power pack system places all the controls for all four lamp heads right under the tripod. If you can find a used system like this for $600 to $800 pick it up. (new systems start is about 3X that price) But those Vivitar units sell for about $40 to $45 each and have enough power for your needs. Don't forget about light stands. You will need about six of them.

    Buy a book on portrait lighting. Libraraies have them too. Don't worry about how old the book is. This stuff has not changed in 40 years. Also look through a book of Old Maser paintings (Rembrandt) How to use light has not changes in 400 years.
  5. osin macrumors 6502

    Jun 8, 2008
    New Jersey
  6. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    There are three basic light type options, hot lights, flash guns and studio strobes.

    Hot lights are cheap, but often not well color-balanced, hot and continuous. The only advantage they have other than price is that what you see is what you get. The heat can be a fire hazard, injury hazard and their continuous nature will give you smaller pupils on your subjects- that can be a major disadvantage in portraiture. It's difficult to modify the light because of the heat. More importantly, you can generally only use distance to vary intensity- not a great thing because if you want softer light you have to go closer so your light doesn't become a point source, but if you want less and softer light you're pretty-much stuck. I'd go with full spectrum florescents and deal with white balance issues before I'd go to shop-type hot lights.

    Flash guns are relatively cheap, but will require triggers for multiple lights, and don't have modeling lights- for me, the lack of modeling lights is the biggest problem, as you can't see where reflections are, and you can't get a great idea of where the lights will center. You can get small modifiers for flash guns, but not larger ones- that may be an issue for some subjects or lighting situations, but their portability is excellent.

    Studio strobes come in two types, pack-and-head systems, and monolights. Pack and head systems have a central AC power pack all the lights plug into, and monolights have their own power source, so each head needs to plug in. I have one of each type. My pack and head system is way too powerful for a small studio, as it's only got three power settings. My monolights are very adjustable, giving me much more control over the light. Both of my systems have modeling lights that track the power settings, so you can get an idea of the overall lighting ratio- I'd always advise against purchasing strobes that don't have modeling lights- you can always turn them off- but you can't use what's not there. You can have good pupil sizes by shooting with the modeling lights on, or ultra-large pupils by shooting with them off.
    Monolights are heavier than the heads on pack and head systems, so you have to be more careful with your stands, but these days I'd only take the pack system somewhere if I really needed the extra power, but wasn't getting enough to purchase a couple of AB1600's.

    I was doing a product shoot yesterday, and using the modeling lights to get the same overall lighting position for the product in a large warehouse environment meant that I was able to match the previous product shots lighting direction and intensity in seconds with enough power to light up the back of the warehouse and give some good subject separation. With just three AB-800s I was able to nail what would have taken at least six flash guns. Getting the light intensity right with hot lights would have been difficult given the ambient light, but the AB-800's overpowered the shadows from air ducts and loading dock doors enough that they didn't effect the outcome at all. I did use a Vagabond II battery pack with my backlight so that I didn't have to run yet another extension cord from the far side of the section of warehouse I was using for the shoot. The only disadvantage of the Vagabond is that you can't really use the modeling lamps, as they drain the battery too quickly.

    For location work, you have to do one extra trip from the vehicle for strobes vs. flash guns, but the extra light power and ability to use larger modifiers make that well worth it for the types of things I do, and it's not really a deal killer for on-location portraits either (If I did more in terms of packaging, I'm sure I could cut out the extra trip.)

    I highly recommend getting a copy of Light: Science and Magic as well.

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