Saturday, 1 December 2012

Lighting Options for your studio

Lights are probably the most complicated and costly piece of the studio puzzle.

For me there are essentially three primary choices for studio lighting: natural lighting, constant (continuous) lighting or flash.

Natural light speaks for itself and comes as ambient lighting direct from the sun, or off of reflectors.

You don't need a big budget to get high-quality light for your portraits. By using the sun to help you, you can create stunning portraits on a tiny budget.  But for indoor applications, its not going to be that effective. The only time I ever use natural lighting is for shooting moody boudoir imagery.

My advice, “All photographers should begin by understanding natural light and shadows. If you learn how to control the light and shadows from natural light, it will be much easier to transition into using studio lighting that I will address later in this blog post.

Then there is continuous lighting. Continuous lighting has a long association with portrait photography, and for most professional photographers it is no longer their first choice. The main reason for this is because flash is more versatile than continuous lighting. Unlike a flash unit, a photographer has very little control over continuous lights. The least desirable trait of continuous lighting is the amount of heat they generate. That’s why they are referred to as “hot lights.”  Not only are you and your model going to be suffering in the heat, but the high temperatures will tend to dry out and crack your light modifiers in time.

Now that I basically said, “no” to continuous lighting, this lighting source does have advantages…  It has a “what you see is what you get” appeal… or “sneak peak” before the shutter is clicked.  Unlike flash lighting, which generally requires trial exposures to see how the lighting looks, when you’re using a continuous light source, the effect of any light can be seen “live” on the subject. For this reason, continuous lights are great for those starting out in portrait photography who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of flash. The low purchase price of incandescent photo lights also means you don’t have to commit yourself to spending a lot of money if you simply want to give it a go.

But you are also able to achieve this “sneak peak” when using strobes and flashes but you will need to attach a small clip-on light to the light stand and shine it upon the subject. It will not be sufficient to light your subject, but it will give you an idea of how the light will fall.

Flash photography can come from your speedlites or strobe lights. They each offer increased quality of light and give you a much wider range in possibilities. Strobes give you a brighter burst of light to freeze action... Strobes come in intensity of 150 watts all the way up to 600+ watts of power... the later ideal for wedding receptions and large areas that you are trying to photograph. For a home studio though, a 150watt strobe is plenty of light.

So… Are strobes better than off-camera flash? Here are some pros and cons of each… with my personal opinion on at the end.

Off Camera Flash: Advantages

· They are lightweight and you can mount them on your camera’s hot shoe

· They are battery powered, so you don’t have to have access to an electrical plug to make them work

· The transmitter and receiver to be wireless are already built in (in most cases) so you don’t have to buy them separately.

· A good off-camera flash is usually cheaper than a good Studio Strobe.

· These were made for location shoots. Although Photoflex carries the Triton flash with a remote battery pack.

· You can place these anywhere which gives you incredible flexibility about where you place your light.

Off Camera Flash: Disadvantages

· They’re not generally nearly as powerful as a studio strobe

· There is no modeling light in most cases, so they don’t help with seeing your subject, auto focus, or getting a preview of how your lighting will look.

· They need fresh batteries.

· A strobe will recycle faster that an off-camera flash.

· You need a special adapter to put one of these on a light stand.

· You need to have an accessory of some sort to soften and diffuse the light. Gary Fong sells a great series of diffusers.

Studio Strobes: Advantages

· They definitely will throw a lot more light when you need it.

· They were made to have softboxes attached, so you don’t have to have special adapters, specially made softboxes, etc.

· More times than not they come with continuous modeling-lights built-in. These help you see your subject, they help your camera’s auto-focus lock on and they give you a preview of how the shadows are going to fall on your subject.

· Since they plug into the wall, they recycle very quickly and you can fire off lots of consecutive shots without waiting for the flash to recycle.

· They will not cost you a small fortune in batteries.

Studio Strobes: Disadvantages

· The cost of bulbs

· These require a wireless transmitter and receiver to fire them wirelessly. Most come with it, but it does increase the price.

· They’re too big to just throw them in a camera bag. You need separate protective cases to go outside your studio.

· You have to take a certain amount of care not to break the flash bulb, especially if you’re shipping it for a location shoot.

· Good strobes are fairly expensive

So which lighting set up should you use in your studio?

We discussed natural light, continuous lighting, professional, strobes and speedlites...
My suggestion is to start out with a combination of a few off-camera flashes and purchase a studio strobe that plugs right into the wall. You can now get a really good strobe almost the cost of an off-camera flash. But I would also buy a professional constant light as well. This will give you some versatility and you can decide from there which way you want to go.
Here is a link to constant lighting options for your home studio from Photoflex.

Here you will find a link to a good speedlite kit with a softbox and umbrealla that can be used with your flashes

Tomorrow we will look at working with a model and model releases