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Thread: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

  1. #1
    allenlennon's Avatar
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    starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Hi, im just wondering what is the best starters kit, im looking at umbrellas. Ill be making brackets to fit either flash units and bulbs for continues lighting. In my mind here is the list i came up with:

    2 for controlled lighting
    1 for fill(Although i think i can also use flash on my camera with a diffuser)
    1 for hair light(Although any light will do as long as the colour temp is the same)
    A few reflectors.

    What do you guys think? I know i will have to practice with what position & hight to get the ideal setup for the best photo and the way i like. And i will be buying the umbrellas and making my own stands & brackets.

    And what type of umbrellas should i get, should i get shootthrough, reflective ones? And what im also thinking is buying the shootthrough umbrellas and make a black cover to go over the back of the umbrella to convert it into reflective when i want.

    Also flash triggers, 1) how do they exactly work 2) what types should i get, im looking at getting where i can connect up to 2 flash units plus a flash unit on the camera.

    Any help be great
    Last edited by allenlennon; 29th November 2011 at 12:55 PM.

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    Re: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Hi Allen,

    I think that what you're proposing by way of lights will work, but how well it'll work is the big question. If you're going to all the trouble of making the lights (you'll need about 5 per unit to give you the equivalent of 500 to 600 watts each) then you may as well construct a softbox instead of an umbrella so that you can control the light spillage and not contaminate other areas (like backdrops).

    Your main lights need to be different strength; you can do that my moving the light away, but that tends to spray light everywhere -- another option is to take 2 or 3 of the bulbs out.

    Hair lighting might be a challenge - again, controlling it is the key; a grid is often handy, and usually you'll want it up to twice as bright as your key light.

    Reflectors (on boom arms / stands) are always essential.

    If you're going to use umbrellas then shoot-through is best as it allows you to get closer to the subject which gives greater control and a greater effective light source so the light is softer. For whatever it's worth, I virtually never use reflective umbrellas.

    Flash triggers come in a variety of shapes and sizes - the best are based on a radio system; ones that work on infra-red, near infra-red (Canon ST-E2), and visible light (Canon 550EX, 580EX) generally have issues when receivers are buried inside softboxes or behind umbrellas. Flashes come in 2 basic types - studio strobes/heads which are more powerful (typically in the range of 250 watt/seconds for entry-level units up to about 1200 or 2400 watt seconds for more powerful units) (I use 5x 1200 watt/second units). The second type are portable flashes that typically run off 4x AA batteries and typically have a total power output of around 50 to 75 watt seconds.

    Using on-camera flash generally isn't an option for fill; it's a cardinal sin to mix hard light with soft light, and there's really no such thing as an on-camera diffuser; most don't work because they don't increase the effective size of the light source in any meaningful way.

    Hope this helps

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    allenlennon's Avatar
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    Re: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Thanks mate. Just to recap I need five bulbs for them or equal to 500-600 v? I was thinking bout 2-3 per unit, the energy saver ones that saves energy but produces the same amount of light in 5500k. I saw blogs and videos of DIY softboxes and lights for umbrellas with 1-3 light bulbs per unit, and they seem to work alright. And i am convinced about shootthrough umbrellas. And what would you recomend for beginners in the lighting department, and if you can give some details into it, such as what light for what and so on.
    Last edited by allenlennon; 29th November 2011 at 09:19 PM.

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    Re: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    To be honest Allen, I think you're about to embark on a fun project, but I have some doubts as to how well it's going to work. For best results you need serious lighting, and the light levels you'll get from just 2 or 3 I don't think will make life particularly easy for you. I've got a shot I took of my daughter with TWO x 500W tungsten lights on EITHER side of her (so 2000 watts of power) and I still only got 1/160th sec at F4 @ ISO 200 (which with a 70-200mm lens isn't particularly ideal) - and even with 5 lights you're going to have less power than I had.

    So personally, I wouldn't even consider 2 or 3. Westcott make a professional model light on the same principle - and they use 5 lights (1 in the middle, and the other 4 around the outside) (as well as other combinations) - point your browser here and take a look - you might get some ideas ...

    http://www.fjwestcott.com/products/a...lites&head=td5

    In terms of how to use the lights, there are many ways! Sometimes I'm working up to 6 or more zones of light on a shoot. Fundamentally though, you need a key light - you'll need fill lighting, but that can come from a reflector (an 8 x 4' polystyrene sheet make a good reflector). A hair light is an added bonus, and of course if you're trying to have a white background, then that needs to be lit seperately too. I use 5 Elinchrom 1200RX heads and a variety of reflectors - and sometimes not even that is enough for my liking.

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    allenlennon's Avatar
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    Re: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Well I'm convinced. I'll give it a shot

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    Re: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    IMO, the problem with continuous lighting is not only that it is hot (flourescent cool-lights can take care of that) but that it is very bright because you need a lot of light to allow a decent f/stop and shutter speed. The bright light is fairly uncomfortable for subjects and reduces the size of their pupils akin to those of druggies on a trip! Additionally, when using strobes for lighting your portraits, you only have to worry about f/stops. Shutter speed (as long as it is within your sync range) has no bearing on your lighting.

    Th use of flash is far more efficient and more comfortable for your subjects. I personally favor studio type strobes and think that they generally (even the el-cheapo models) do a beter job in portraiture than hotshoe flashes modified as pseudo studio strobes.

    This is especially true for beginning portrait photographers. Experienced photographers like our Colin and Joe McNalley can do a very good job using modified hotshoe flash units. However, IMO, it is a lot more difficult for a newbie to learn lighting when shooting virtually blind with hotshoe flash units. Studio strobes, on the other hand, are equipped with modeling lights to provide WYSIWYG shooting. Being able to actually SEE what your lighting looks like BEFORE tripping the shutter, and being able to make adjustments predicated on what your lighting LOOKS like is IMO paramount and the best way to learn lighting. BTW: the stoboscopic flashing, said to emulate a modeling light is not efficient in many ways.

    Yes, top line studio strobes are expensive but, the occasional weekend photographer doesn't require top line equipment. He or she is not using that equipment 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week.

    Other advantages of "studio" strobes over modified hotshoes are:

    1. Constant recycle time - a/c power rather than puny AA batteries
    2. Built-in light stand receptacles and the ablity to use other modifiers without extra accessories
    3. Far more power - even the smallest studio type strobe is more powerful than hotshoe flashes
    4. Built-in optical slaves allowing you the choice of using radio control or infra-red triggers
    5. Much larger reflectors - often studio strobes have reflectors which can be removed making them great for soft boxes

    PRICE: Unless you are shooting with used Vivitar 283 or 285 units, or Yungnuo strobes, you can purchase (at least here in the USA) real studio strobes (not top-line but, adequate for the non-professional) less expensively than Canon or Nikon dedicated units

    Now, I have nothing against hotshoe type strobes for a portable lighting system and for event photography; I cartainly use them in a lot of venues. However, just as I would not use a wrench to hammer a nail, I don't use modified hotshoe flashes unless I need the portability which is their greatest asset!
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 1st December 2011 at 03:33 PM.

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    Re: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    IMO, the problem with continuous lighting [...]
    Frankly Richard, posts like this annoy me.

    ... I read through them and then get annoyed at myself that I didn't mention these things!

    Seriously, I couldn't agree more (well perhaps not so sure about the using me and Joe McNally in the same sentence, but apart from that!).

    FWIW, the 580EX II is generally regarded as a pretty powerful portable flash. I use FOUR of them - at once - firing into a 30" softbox when location shooting. All 4 flashes - firing at MAXIMUM output is around 1/4 the power of just ONE of my studio heads ... and I have 5 of those. I say this to highlight the disparity in power between portable flashes and studio heads. Having just said that, portable flashes will have a lot more power than what Allen is thinking of building. So power-wise, I really think he's going to struggle.

    Thinking about this some more, I think the biggest difference is that in a studio, the studio heads are doing ALL of the illumination, whereas outside, portable flashes work well because they're generally only used in a supplimentary light role. Same goes for compact flourescent bulbs.

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    allenlennon's Avatar
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    Re: starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Thank you all for your adivce. I do understand where you are coming from Colin. So basicly i need to get a few flash triggers, and a few flash units, asuming i remember you suggested five per unit?(correct me if im wrong) but hte main reason for this is to save me money(and money is the big issue) and is i dont use it much or at all i wont feel bad, instead its gonna cost (estimation)bout the same as getting mid range products, so i think ill save up for a year and get low range products, i think ill hold of for now. Concentrate on other types of photography for now. And maybe get back to portraits later on down the track.

    Once again thank you for your advice and time, you guys are great

  9. #9
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Prices...

    Allen:

    It is difficult writing from this side of the big pond to get a handle on prices down in OZ...

    That said, instead of trying to build a lighting set all at once, perhaps getting a single light, shoot through umbrella (or softbox) and stand for starters might be a way to go. Back this up with a reflector or perhaps even use window light for your main light and the strobe as fill light...

    There are a LOT of studio type accessories which can be fabricated with simple hand tools at a very low price. PVC irrigation piping, available from home improvement stores, is a great material to work with. Background stands are just one thing that can be built easily and cheaply from PVC. Do a Google search using the search parameters: "PVC photography" and you will get a lot of hits on informative sites.

    This site is one which has quite a few free short videos which may be useful to you:

    http://www.prophotolife.com/video-library/

    As far as background material, a solid color wall can do the job or you can haunt fabric and upholstry shops for remnants. I really don't like muslin backgrounds because they often look like unmade beds. Canvas backgrounds are great but are expensive and cannot be stored easily. Vellux blankets often make a nice background material. They don't crease and are available in lots of colors. I use a black Vellux blanket when I shoot dogs...

    starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Velvet or velure fabric can also make a nice background. My wife often gets coupons for 40% or even 50% off at her local fabric shop.

    Much is said about triggering flash units. If you are shooting with studio strobes, you can trigger them with this type of infrared trigger which is sometimes available at a low cost.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-remote-i...item4cfc22ca8a

    These are dirt cheap and work flawlessly. I have been using one for many years and just bought a second for a backup. You need line of sight between the trigger and your flash optical slave (on a studio strobe). That is sometimes a bit difficutt when using umbrellas whict you shoot into because the rear of the strobe is shielded from the trigger by the umbrella. However, working with shoot through umbrellas allows the rear of the strobe to face the camera. You only need to trigger one strobe. The light from the strobe will trigger all the other units you are using.

    Finally, you can often get used studio strobes at quite a decent price. I like shooting dogs with a set of really old White Lightning WL-5000 units. I have more sophisticated lights but, somehow the quality of the light from these old strobes is great for my dogs portraits since I normally shoot white Maltese...

    starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    I bought the WL-5000 units used twenty years ago for fifty U.S. dollars each. Pro-rated costs for these units are $2.50 per year or about twenty cents a month. You can't really go any cheaper than that. I also bought a really nice German-made Multiblitz three monolight set with accessories such as barn doors, snoot, scrim, filter holder with three colored glass filters. They all fit into a suitcase sized travel case which makes location work easy. The total cost for the set was two hundred U.S. dollars. A bit more expensive than my WL-5000 units but, still relatively inexpensive as lights go.

    Finally, all that said, you can do some fairly nice portraits with a single hotshoe flash. I bounced an old 550EX strobe off the ceiling modified with a Joe Demb Flash Diffuser Pro for these shots. I mounted the flash on a Stroboframe camera flip bracket and triggered the flash with a Canon off-camera sync cord.

    starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    Joe Demb has also linked to some of my portraits on his website: www.dembflashproducts.com

  10. #10
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    Re: Prices...

    Allen, as a hobbyist, and not a pro, my recommendation would be to look into the Strobist. David Hobby's blog is about off-camera lighting with speedlights for small, portable, cheap setups. It won't do what a professional studio setups with studio strobes can do (speedlights (aka hotshoe flashes powered by AAs) are underpowered compared to studio strobes), but they can still do a lot.

    You don't need five lights right off the bat. You'll want them. And you can always use them. But when you're starting out, as Richard suggests, fewer lights is like fewer lenses: easier to thoroughly master and less confusing than having a welter of gear. I'd recommend a maximum of three lights (key, fill, rim), but starting out with one (key) or two (key, fill) is probably best. It took me roughly three years of playing around with flash photography to progress to the point where I needed more than three, and I still mostly use three or fewer. The following image was done with a plastic Ikea recycling bin, a pillowcase, and two speedlights.

    starters portrait lighting kit ideas

    The typical Strobist set up is to use all-manual equipment. TTL is great and the features are really handy, but they're not necessary for this type of shooting, and learning to do everything in manual can help you think through the light more thoroughly, and give you more control. But mostly, TTL features are expensive. An SB-900 or 580EXII can cost more than a studio strobe.

    Here in the U.S., an all-manual speedlight, like a Lumopro LP160 costs about $160. I went cheaper than that. I went for a Yongnuo YN-560 ($70 on Amazon, soon to be replaced by a Mark II model with lcd). I can use it off-camera with my Powershot S90 as well as my dSLRs. It's got about the same amount of power output as a 430EX II. And it has two features for off-camera flash the 430EX II doesn't have: an optical slave sensor, and a PC sync port. Both are very handy. The optical slaves, in particular, can help fire the lights remotely, assuming you have line of sight and aren't too far away. so that you can stage purchasing triggers for a while.

    Trigger-wise, I also went low-end. The Yongnuo RF-602s. (This year, though, the Cactus V5s are probably a better buy, feature-wise for the price). With this ultra-cheap all-manual gear, you could set yourself up with three lights, triggers, stands, swivels, and umbrellas for roughly $500. That's less than the price of one top of the line OEM flash.

    The best part of having a Strobist set up, is that you can pretty much stuff an entire two-light setup into a small tripod bag and be ready to roll.

    Yes. This is limited. Yes, it's not the best setup you can go for as a professional. Yes, it's underpowered. But take a look at the Flickr Strobist pool, and see what those folks are using (it's one of the group rules that you post up the lighting information with the image). You might be surprised.

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