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Thread: Question on "small lighting

  1. #1

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    Question on "small lighting

    OK, I understand and appreciate the importance of "good", better yet "controlled" lighting for portraiture.
    But for me the cost of obtaining the good/controlled lighting seems just excessive. And I am not even talking about the price of the equipment. I am talking about the SIZE of it. When deployed - it is HUGE! Right?
    Hence - intimidating for the model, intrusive for the people around, requires big room, etc...

    So... (and this maybe heresy to ask) the question is this:
    When indoors (say, in a small room, or in a corner of a bigger room) is there a way to get around those issues, and still get good, professional looking results? Using walls, ceilings, off-camera/on camera flash (or two).
    Is there hope?
    Or should I stop trying?

    P.S. I hit something on my keyboard, which made it submit before it was ready, hence weird looking title. Woops...

  2. #2

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    I've read many an article on making professional pics in a 6'x6' (2m x 2m for those metrics out there) room.

    1. You can get great results with light from a window. Stay away from direct sunlight or put a white sheet over the window. Position model as appropriate.
    2. Single flash on camera. Bounce off walls/ceilings etc. Practice so you know the difference in the looks.
    3. Single flash with a modifier (e.g. an umbrella). use a VAL (person) or a tripod or stand. Closer to the model, the softer the light.
    4. Further modify the light using reflectors (cheaper than second flash unit). Different surfaces give different effects (white, silver, gold for example).

    5. Then start looking at other kit and caboodle if necessary.

    Lots of great portraiturists out there who only use natural light or one light and reflectors. And many greats who use tonnes of equipment.

    As to models response - show them the results and they will be happier. Plus, with the more professional looking kit comes a more professional response. If you act like you know what you are doing (keep a straight face and say 'looks great, darling, give me more' a lot) they will assume you know your part.

    I 'work' (misnomer, more like play) in a home studio. I have to move most of the furniture in the living room to get not nearly enough space. You can always make it work within the limitations.
    Graham

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Take a look at some of my portraits in this smugmug gallery...

    http://rpcrowe.smugmug.com/Portraits...44320241_7kTXJ

    These were shot with a single flash. More information regarding shooting is provided in the smugmug gallery.

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Totally agree with Graham.

    Personally, I like to use flash to augment natural light (allows me to get better depth of field without compromising shutterspeeds), but even that doesn't have to be overly complex. Wonderful stuff can be done with windows light and a reflector -- but one cannot necessarily guarantee that on the day (or the shoot might be at night); so if one is tied to shooting at a particular time and thus needs guaranteed results - then a couple of flashes firing into a couple of shoot-through umbrellas (on cheap light stands) is all that's needed to make a start (assuming that the photographer has a way of triggering them).

    At the other end of the spectum, the more lights means more zones of light that one can control -- sometimes in the studio I'll be using up to 5 lights and 2 reflectors (key, fill, hair, something to throw some light under the chin, background (x2), snoot to get some light under a hat rim etc (allowing a wider variety of shots).

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamH View Post
    If you act like you know what you are doing (keep a straight face and say 'looks great, darling, give me more' a lot) they will assume you know your part.
    Ah! That's another problem. So much of a problem - I almost mentioned it in the initial post. I am kinda shy, I can't act, and I don't know what I am doing! And that's yet another motivation to keep my "footprint" small.

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamH View Post
    I have to move most of the furniture in the living room to get not nearly enough space. You can always make it work within the limitations.
    I know exactly what you mean. If I cleaned my leaving room of the furniture - I'd have enough space. That sounds like too much trouble, though.

    And the problem with windows... I have some nice big windows in my house... The problem with them is that when my model is nicely lit from the window - there is always atrocious background behind her - a kitchen, or distracting furniture... or some open (or closed, doesn't matter) doors... never something I'd like in my frame... Which brings a question of an "artificial" background, which is even larger than the lighting...

  6. #6

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    http://strobist.blogspot.com
    Generally considered as the source of all knowledge for off camera flash

    I really need to read this site more, I forgot all about it, so thanks for the reminder.

    BTW, I started off terrified of portrait photography. I was incredibly nervous of the lighting. I eventually learned that basic lighting (single umbrella wioth off camera flash) put me way ahead of the average photographer. Most people don't go even that far. Once I realised that I calmed down and realised that my pics were pretty goood (compared to what I expected) and that the 'models' were VERY happy with them (wow did that ever surpirse me).

    Then I got concerned over posing. Leaving the lighting as basic I was able to focus more on composition. Suddenly the 'models' were much more impressed.
    I was taking pics as a promotion at various dance halls (my main hobby - ballroom). It was interesting to note that many people loved some of the more unusual poses, but the model wasn't always in agreement with that assessment (so make sure you get the money shot first before going further). Create tear sheets of poses you like as show and tell are much more effective than trying to explain. Tell the model 'And if it feels weird, wait until you see the result, you may like it'.

    In summary, use what light you have available (be it natural or created) and find poses to compliment it.

    Graham
    (now working on accessories and staging - still feel lost)

  7. #7

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    Take a look at some of my portraits in this smugmug gallery...

    http://rpcrowe.smugmug.com/Portraits...44320241_7kTXJ

    These were shot with a single flash. More information regarding shooting is provided in the smugmug gallery.
    Love your gallery, Richard!
    I was thinking about the bracket... Maybe I should get one...
    That makes the camera look 4x the size it is... Again - I better know what I am doing (or at least look like I do) with that thing in my hands...

  8. #8
    PRSearls's Avatar
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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Window light can be very soft and beautiful. I've seen beautiful images shot in the open doorway of a garage. An ordinary sheet makes a very nice backdrop. I use a black, king-size sheet. Depending how I light it, it is black, gray or a color when I fire a strobe at it with a color gel. Experiment with whatever you have at hand. White foam-core makes a very nice and inexpensive reflector. Firing a strobe off a white wall will give nice soft light like a window. Make sure you do a white balance so that skin tones will be accurate under what ever lighting you use.

    - Paul -

  9. #9

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Quote Originally Posted by vladimir View Post
    Ah! That's another problem. So much of a problem - I almost mentioned it in the initial post. I am kinda shy, I can't act, and I don't know what I am doing! And that's yet another motivation to keep my "footprint" small.

    Not the way to go I am afraid. You have to take control to be able to get your model to do what you want. Develop another persona, then it's not the real you. The image you press the shutter on is going to be ascribed to you. Don't let your model spoil it for you if you know better (or want to learn how to pose them). So take ownership of YOUR image. And I am very shy too. Hence forcing myself to do stuff I felt uncomfortable in. Xmas is coming, promotional photography is easier to arrange at this time of year. If it's free you get experience and they get the good will from their customers (charity, hobby, whatever).

    I know exactly what you mean. If I cleaned my leaving room of the furniture - I'd have enough space. That sounds like too much trouble, though.
    No pain, no gain. Push stuff to the sides and on top of one another. Takes about 10 minutes to clean and 5 minutes to put back. Is 15 minutes too much investment for your imagery? Not for me (at least once in a while )
    And the problem with windows... I have some nice big windows in my house... The problem with them is that when my model is nicely lit from the window - there is always atrocious background behind her - a kitchen, or distracting furniture... or some open (or closed, doesn't matter) doors... never something I'd like in my frame... Which brings a question of an "artificial" background, which is even larger than the lighting... :
    I went to the local fabric store and bought 9m of white sheet (amongst other material), had it cut into three sections, stitched together (for a few dollars). I use it as a generic backdrop all the time. Easy to pack and transport. Stick to the wall (across a window) with painters tape (non-marking). Crumple it up so you don't have obvious straight fold lines. Now you have a clean backdrop anytime you want it.(
    Here's one I did at a local dance hall. Mirror and signs are behind the sheet. The lady is lying on a rather ugly bench so the sheet went over that as well (1). I also used a couple of accessories (mirrors) (2) and had people posing differently (3) to the police wanted poster (although I have also done that and presented it to them along with number and crime sheet so it can work as well). I literally had seconds to work with so nothing fancy wrt to lighting. A single flash and brolly (or softbox) to camera right, fairly close to camera (less than 45 degrees).

    And I consider myself a beginner, nowhere near the standard of Colin (but has unrealistic aspirations)
    Graham
    (learning as he goes)
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  10. #10

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Many thanks for the great advice, everybody!

    Pretty dance hall girls there, Graham! And all those fathers and masks! Wow!

    "Developing another persona, so it's not the real me" per your suggestion, would seem like attractive idea to me about 30 years ago Now, I suspect, it's too late
    But I'll seriously consider augmenting my "persona" with an umbrella and a reflector. Those are the things, that seem too large to me. Maybe if I start using them I'll change my mind.

    And maybe I actually will know what I am doing one day (I can find a couple of 'models' around the house for practice ), and then I don't have to pretend that I do...

    strobist.com is a great resource, I knew that place. I should visit them more often.

  11. #11
    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamH View Post
    Create tear sheets of poses you like as show and tell are much more effective than trying to explain.
    Good advice, especially for a n00b like me
    This would have helped immensely when trying to take pictures of a friend's high school daughter.

  12. #12

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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    I found an umbrella! And a reflector!..
    They were standing in my backyard since forever.
    It's a "normal" yard umbrella on a pole, which goes through the hole in a table underneath.
    Both the umbrella and the table are off white.
    Now, if I put a flash on a table, and point it to the umbrella and away from my "model", and trigger it wirelessly (recently got a Cowboy trigger as a birthday present), then the table becomes a reflector,.. and my whole "setup" is just a flash standing on a table. That's small enough!

    I tried that the other night, and here is a couple of results. My daughter's friends...
    Comments are most welcome, of course.

    Question on "small lighting

    Question on "small lighting

    P.S. Maybe I should mention:
    Pentax K-5, ISO500, 1/125,
    Lens - Pentax 18-250, first shot - 58mm @ 6.3, second 78mm @ 7.1
    No post-processing to speak of. Some crop and maybe exposure adjustment in Lightroom.
    Last edited by vladimir; 19th December 2011 at 11:24 PM. Reason: Added P.S.

  13. #13
    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    That's pretty cool! A good reminder that you can bounce off of all sorts of things to get softer light

  14. #14
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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    very nice shots Vlad!

  15. #15
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Question on "small lighting

    Hi Vladimir,

    I'm no expert, but the lighting looks pretty good to me

    The area I would have spent a little time on was the backgrounds; there are some distracting elements there and even 2 minutes in PP would have improved things considerably. I am suggesting cloning out a few of the background blotches in the first, for example;

    Question on "small lighting

    In the second, I'd remove the blue coloured lamps and just leave the natural yellowy ones.

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