Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday - Setting Up a Home Studio (Part 2)



Lighting for your Home Studio
Books and books have been written about the type, number and kind of lights you need for indoor photography.  Since all this information is readily available on the internet, I won't try to compete.  My goal for this post will be to help you understand the difference between different lighting sources and pass along some useful information I have picked up that might help you decide what's right for you, or what you can afford at the present.
First some definitions:

Strobes or Flash:  Technically, these terms are interchangeable, but usually the word strobe is used for a large studio light, usually halogen, that sits on a stand and when triggered, releases a burst of light.  Flash is usually referring to the smaller light built into your camera, or a dedicated flash that is removable and slides into the hotshoe on top of your camera.
Continuous lights or hot lights:  These terms can refer to any number of lights, and can be tungsten, quartz or halogen, that stay on all the time, and usually produce a large amount of heat.  The advantage is you can see your lighting before you take the picture, but a disadvantage is they heat up your room.
Cool lights:  These lights usually are florescent and produce less light, but are becoming more popular as they are continuous and not hot, although they have some limitations because of lower wattage.

Now some bullet points:
  • Big Point Here:  Yes, one can spend thousands of dollars on studio lighting, but you don't have to!!!  A determined photographer who really wants to shoot indoors and is willing to shop around, and use a little ingenuity and elbow grease, can create lighting solutions that will produce almost the same quality of light as expensive studio lights  (more on this later).  
  • All types of light sources are possible options to help you create the lighting 'look' you are after.  This includes, natural light from windows or skylights, table lamps, flash units that normally fit on the hotshoe of your camera but should be used off camera, standard studio lights, continuous lights, spot lights, candle light, even flash lights or utility lights, and Christmas lights.  You already have many light sources around your house!
  • Even though it would be nice to have a 4 light set-up, beautiful images are possible with just one light source.  To shoot indoors, one does not need to start with lots of lights.
    • All lighting can be manipulated or modified with soft boxes, umbrellas, grids, colored gel sheets, diffusers, or an endless array of creative ways, again, with the goal of creating a specific lighting color or 'look'.  You probably have many materials around your house that you can adapt to modify light.  (more on this later.) 
    • Most standard brands of professional studio lights will be dependable and produce all the light you need.  You don't need to invest in the most expensive, and you don't need a huge amount of wattage to get the job done. Between the 4 light set up shown at the recent workshop I attended, I think the total wattage was less than 600.  Even if you start with one studio light, 300W should be all you need.
    • Other than price, some additional considerations to think about when purchasing a studio light include:
      • If you are considering strobe lighting, does it have a good modeling light.? (This is a low continuous light that allows you to see how the light and shadows will fall on your subject before you take the shot.)
      • Does it use ordinary light bulbs for the modeling light to save on money?
      • Does the front of the light have a way to attach modifiers?  (So you can easily attach an umbrella or soft box.)
      • Is there a store that will service this brand of light locally?
      • Remember, if you have a small room, continuous hot lights will produce a lot of heat so you might want to choose a strobe or cool light system.
    • Other than actual light, something else to consider is using one or more reflectors.  This can be any surface that will reflect the light back onto your subject.  You can choose from a variety of reflectors at your local camera store, or use something you already have, like a white square of foamboard or posterboard, or anything light, bright and/or shiny.
    • Accessories you need in addition to your lights will include:
      • Stands to hold the lights and reflectors.  Stands should be sturdy and adjustable.
      • If you use strobes, you will need a cord to attach the light to your camera, or some kind of cordless transmitters (Pocket Wizards), in order to sync your flash to your camera
      • Various items (either bought or made) to modify the light
    •  
    • When you are ready to purchase your first light, remember you may not have to buy brand new.  Check your local camera stores, camera clubs, local photography studios and other resources for used equipment.  (I was able to buy my first studio strobe light at the workshop I attended several weeks ago.  The instructor was selling both new and used equipment.  I felt comfortable relying on his expertise since he is a master studio/portrait photographer and is well known in our community, country and other countries.  I purchased a basic Rime Lite made by Hyundae.  It has a maximum wattage of 300 and can be set in increments from full power to 1/64 power.  It has a nice modeling light and is simple to understand and use.  The best part, it cost me $200.)

    Remember, the most important advantage of studio photography, is that the photographer can control the light.  He/she can control it's shape, it's color, it's intensity.  Light is used to create a mood or a feeling.  It can be romantic or dramatic.  The placement of lights can change the shape of your subject, and can either flatter or detract.  So learning about lighting is the single most important thing for studio photographers.  Somewhere I read that studio photographers don't fiddle with their camera settings, they fiddle with their light settings.  This is where the real creativity begins.  In Part 4 of this little mini series I'll discuss a 4 light system (main or key light, fill light, background light, hair light).

    Your assignment this week is to get on the internet, and start educating yourself on the various types of lights and lighting kits available.  You will find that prices vary dramatically.  As you read about various types of studio lights, what seems confusing at first will start to make sense, and soon you will get a feel about what will be right for you depending on your personal circumstances. 

    'On a Shoestring' Tip:

    What great timing!  This week in one of the regular emails I get from various photography websites, I received an announcement for a new ebook titled "Home Studio Photography".  For $14.95 I immediately purchased it and was not disappointed.  If you are a photographer determined to turn a corner of your home into a photography nook, but have very limited funds, and are willing to put in some time and work, this is the book for you.  It has a ton of do it yourself projects including, building your own soft boxes, your own light stands, reflector screens, diffusers, a mount to put your camera flash on a stand, a beauty dish, backdrops and props.  Some common materials used are, PVC pipe, foamboard, foil, disposable turkey pan, cardboard box, even beer cans!  If you are willing to put in the time, or have a handyman/woman close by who will do it for you, it's amazing what you can create for almost no money.  It is well worth the money, and here's the link:  http://www.diyphotography.net/ebook-your-complete-guide-to-building-a-photography-studio-at-home

    Next week I'll discuss props, backdrops and everything else you may need.  (P.S.  I've decided to hold off posting photos of my friend's studio until the end when I can pull this all together and show you how her studio is set up and organized.)

            5 comments:

            Encarna said...

            Your are a very good person, helping each other is the best thing we can do, of course isn't always possible, but at leat trying it is fair! Have a goog day and I hope they were more people like U!!! Encarna from Spain

            From the Kitchen said...

            Karen: I can't wait to have the time to sit down and "digest" all of your good lighting information!

            In the latest issue of Chicago Magazine, there's an article on some discovered photographs of an amateur street photographer in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. She was employed as a nanny. Here is the blog of the man who found boxes of her photographs. I think they are wonderful! www.vivianmaier.blogspot.com

            Actually, the photographers name is Vivian Maier.

            Best,
            Bonnie

            darlin said...

            Karen, I'm going to be back to read your entire blog, right from when you first began your Tuesday talks. I'd love to learn more and you have an awesome way of making this all make sense. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with all of us. You're a gem!

            Hope said...

            Hi Karen,
            thank you for doing all of this.. am going to download this so I can read and absorb it all later..

            Tanna at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

            Thank you again and again, Karen. I will be back to study this one!!