Lighting for home studio portraits

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by ymc226, Jan 6, 2011.

  1. ymc226

    ymc226 Member

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    I'm interested in taking portraits of my children, nothing professional.

    Looking at the B&H website regarding Smith-Victor lighting kits (they seem reasonably priced), I am uncertain what types of kit I should consider.

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=Smith-Victor%20Kits&ci=15293&N=4291216824+4294205295

    There are tungsten, quartz, lights with umbrella reflectors . . . so many choices to boggle the mind.

    Just how many lights do I need and what type?
     
  2. marco.taje

    marco.taje Member

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    I bought a Dlite-4 kit by Elinchrom a while ago, with a similar attitude. They GREATLY outpower my skills in both quality AND number (2)..
     
  3. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    How about one of your windows at home?

    Seriously, that is what soft boxes are designed to mimic and the effect is easy to see before you shoot.

    Studio lighting is fun, and I don't want to discourage your experimentation, but there is a significant learning curve and a lot of ways to do it as evidenced by the tools (lights and meters) available.
     
  4. ymc226

    ymc226 Member

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    I have tried using windows but usually I work all day and get home after dark. I am willing to experiment with whatever lighting system I eventually get.

    How about this system: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/250330-REG/Smith_Victor_401440_K78_Professional_Portrait_Three.html

     
  5. Paul Green

    Paul Green Member

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    If they are only for home portraits have you considered using off camera flashes?
     
  6. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I'm not a pro but I've done this a few times.

    A basic studio lighting involves two lights. A key light and a fill light. A key light sits (usually) in front of the subject and gives broad lighting. A fill light sits to the side at 45 degrees or so and lights one side of subject's face to give more directional dimension. Often, key light is a box and fill light is an umbrella. (but doesn't have to be)

    From there, you could add hair light or back light to separate the subject from background.

    When you start doing this kind of stuff, you can no longer use camera's metering to set the exposure. You'll need a light meter as well so that you can expose correctly and set the ratio of key to fill correctly. (and know how to use it) Then, you need either a long cord or a remote to trigger the light if the kit is a flash, not a continuous light.

    It would be a lot simpler if you just use a flash (regular flash) and bounce the light on walls or a ceiling. You could even buy a cord so that you can place your flash away from your camera. I'm not sure studio lighting equipment is a way to go for you.
     
  7. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    I second the off-camera flash option. You can upgrade that by getting umbrellas and softboxes which let you put a speedlite in them. Then you just use either PC cords or cheap flash triggers. Powerful studio lights you don't really need unless you need to work from range, larger groups, etc. and they aren't very portable, need power either from the wall or a big battery.

    I like having two lights. One always seems rather harsh unless you bounce it off the ceiling but that limits your options to bounced diffuse light or deer in the headlights direct light. With the second light you can put a softbox from the other direction to soften the shadows which I find is quite pleasing.

    You can add a third light later if you like and 3 is generally the most you'll ever need.
     
  8. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    Ymc, I recently went through a similar process. APUG was very helpful and you'll find tons of threads that touch on this. A lot of the discussion around this stuff ends up weighing the benefits of continuous light vs. strobe, monolights vs powerpacks, how much power do you need, what formats do you shoot and how much area are you lighting. Based on my limited experience and assuming that you're going to shoot medium format single-person or very small group portraits, I'd say the most flexible kit you could get is a three light strobe set (one 800w/s, two 400 w/s). It's plenty of power for a small space, assuming you're not shooting large-format. Three lights is very flexible (two will suffice if funding requires). Monolights have less of a learning curve than powerpacks in terms of adjusting settings. You'll need a good flash meter. Accessories are another discussion.

    Unfortunately, this stuff costs significantly more than continuous lighting. If you are patient you can find used gear at a reasonable price, but it will not likely be in the range you're looking at. I'm not saying you can't achieve everything you want and more with continuous lighting; I just know I was steered away from it in my research. Others may have more helpful information for you in that regard.

    All the best,
    Leo
     
  9. ymc226

    ymc226 Member

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    Thanks for all of your suggestions. I will need to get and study books on studio lighting and investigate further. The flash option is more intimidating as I can't pre-visualize how the flash is going to affect the picture.

    One question: if the studio lights are on the subject, why can't you no longer use camera's metering to set the exposure? Isn't the in camera meter measuring light reflected off the subject still?
     
  10. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    With flashes they only fire for a moment. Your camera's meter only meters continuously, not for a momentary flash. Flash meters meter flashes.

    With continuous lighting you can use your camera's meter but continuous lights usually consist of one or more 40-100w light bulbs which are completely useless and are a waste of money. You might as well set up a few of your lamps, assuming they're of the right temperature for your film.

    Some strobes have "beauty lights/modelling lights" which are always on so you can see where shadows fall but they still won't give you the actual flash power. You need a flash meter for the actual power.

    Cheaper than flash meters, some automatic flashes have sensors on them so you can dial the desired power and the returned flash will be used to turn off the flash so it doesn't blow out your subject. You can test flash these flashes to make sure they are getting a return, otherwise they will fire at full power.

    Even with flash meters it can be hard to tell what you're going to get. A Polaroid back is good for advanced users on jobs so they can check for sure that the lighting setup is going to work. For your kids in the basement if the shot doesn't turn out you can just do it over again.
     
  11. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    Strobe lights flash incredibly quickly, so you measure the lighting off of the subject with a flash meter (which measures the peak lighting it is subjected to during the strobe flash). Continuous lights are always on, so you are correct you can use your in-camera meter with that. Search APUG for posts on continuous lighting vs strobe lighting and you will discover an entire world of arguments on the benefits of one vs the other.
     
  12. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    An off camera flash could work too, as long as you use an umbrella or softbox with it and don't mind waiting for it to recharge and don't need a modeling light. The smith-victor hot-lights are fine, but not action stopping, and you have to let them cool afterwards, watch out for fire hazards, etc... The appeal is that the wysiwyg factor and low cost.

    I bought a pair of used white lightning strobe monolights. The old can ones model 10000 and 5000. The newer ones tend to be a little more $, but can get you more steps of power variability and can put out a little more light, which isn't necessary unless you are doing big group photos or for some reason need to be at f32. I mostly use them for home use. I have used them for group photos for weddings and such, but mostly use them for home use. One has a good sized umbrella which provides the main light. I like to keep this close to the subject. A white transparent umbrella is softer than a a reflector umbrella. I can shoot through the umbrella too (softbox style) instead of only use it as a reflector if I want. The second flash I setup bare aimed up about 10' away to light up the room and lighten up the shadows a little. For a head and shoulders portrait I would call it optional.

    You see the main flash in the background here; the other flash provides tames the shadows by being set for a lower power and not as close to the subject. This first shot is shown not as a portrait, but to document the scene.

    [​IMG]

    This is the lighting I was going for:

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    If you use one flash/umbrella, and not another to light up the room, you get something like this. All the thoughtfulness in regular photography (and shooting sports) of understanding behind what you're shooting fully applies, especially so with artificial lighting. Here I wanted to separate the child from the background more with the light and dark.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 6, 2011
  13. ymc226

    ymc226 Member

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    Is this correct logic? With impatient kids who think they're doing me a favor by posing, I don't think flash metering (set up, metering) will work very precisely and quickly enough. With continuous lighting, once I get the lighting set up, I just meter via the in camera meter and shoot (I've set up my Hasselblad with a winder F so I can bracket 3-5 shots very quickly).
     
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  15. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    You CAN. I'm sorry - when I said that, I was thinking of STROBE/FLASH type studio lights, which are most common. If you are talking about HOT LIGHTS - which are the type that is continuous, yes, you can use your in camera metering.
     
  16. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Well, I got interrupted three times in composing an answer so some of this will be redundant with the intervening 6 posts or so. I used to work freelancing in a dozen or so studios doing product and model photography in studio and on location.

    Hot lights (continuous tungsten sources) are great for seeing exactly how your lighting is working, but they are often underpowered for use with slower portrait films, and if you get hot lights that are bright enough to stop motion and use middle apertures, it often becomes painfully hot and bright for the subject. You can give models a 'sunburn' pretty easily with a quartz light and no scrim or diffusion. You might find that you quickly outgrow a beginner's SV three light starter kit unless you keep your project small and only shoot one person with lights pretty close in to the subject.

    Studio flash and hot shoe flash often don't give a very good sense of the lighting balance with multiple heads in use, and their modeling lights sometimes don't track with your adjustments to the flash intensity. Hot shoe units give you no modeling lights at all. Studios that used flash with film went through polaroid materials by the case to check lighting.

    Starting out with three light kits can become confusing and complex for someone new to lighting. Search the web for 'one light portraits' for a lot of ideas. Learning to use one light and fill with reflectors is both a great way to learn, and a good way to guard against unnatural looking 'overlighting'. Home made scrims (rip-stop white nylon), diffusers, foam core, aluminum foil, silvered car windshield reflectors, and many other methods are documented online. Reflectors can often substitute for a second, third, or multiple light sources if you use them properly. The Strobist blog and DIYphotography websites (and others) are good for ideas, and the hardware, fabric store, and craft store are good sources of materials. If you start with just one light, you can afford a more powerful unit on the same budget and fill with inexpensive reflectors.

    As with cameras, lighting hardware is not a substitute for understanding and ingenuity.

    I'd also very highly recommend any edition of the book Light, Science, and Magic by Hunter and Fuqua (and Biver in later editions). If you read it, you'll be well on your way to understanding working with light, and know more about what you'll need for your purposes. A used one from Amazon for about $18 would do perfectly well. The behavior and physics of light hasn't changed much in the last couple of years.

    I wouldn't make any specific recommendations though, unless I could sit down and ask you a lot of questions. There are just too many variables involved to answer such a generic question. How old are your kids? Will they sit still to pose? Do you want to spend a good deal of money on multiple lights up front, or are you willing to get one good brighter light source and build a larger kit as you need it?

    ... and many more

    Lee
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 6, 2011
  17. 36cm2

    36cm2 Member

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    Forget everything I wrote and listen to Lee. :wink: That's good advice.
     
  18. ymc226

    ymc226 Member

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    Thanks Lee, I just ordered that book and also Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers by Chris Grey from Amazon.

    Currently, my children are 17, 13 and 7. The 7 year old, if you can believe it, is the most amenable to posing but I can also bribe her with candy. They will sit grudgingly for portraits but I don't think they would tolerate flashes.

    My "studio" is my library where I have a white couch that is just under a set of downward pointing spotlights.

    I would prefer to get several lights initially as a kit and learn to work with them slowly, initially one light and then adding another as I learn more.
     
  19. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Chris Grey's book is good too. Lots of comparison shots of light sources and placement, and it's good on building off the key light without overdoing it.

    I have 19 and 16 year olds, so I know about getting older kids to pose. You may find that hot lights are less well tolerated than strobes, especially if the strobe light is modified with a reflector or softbox, which it often is for portraits, or if the hot light is bare. Toning down hot lights with a softbox, scrim, or reflector might get you to borderline shutter speeds. That depends on distance and specific output. I haven't used the SV multiple light kits, only quartz studio hot lights in 650W or more, and they can sometimes be a bit underpowered when diffused or reflected for portraits, especially with slower films and apertures smaller than f:4 or so.

    Lee
     
  20. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    I must say I often work with two cameras with my kids, one with flash to use until they're sick of flash and then another one loaded with Delta 3200 so I can capture more candid moments and just work with available light. The flashes get to them though bounced off the ceiling I find they don't mind it as much while even through an umbrella or softbox it bothers them after a while.

    Good luck and have fun, that is the main thing. Hopefully you get a few keepers along the way which will improve with time and experience.
     
  21. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    With tungsten film in short supply these days, does this sort of kit even apply to film anymore? With digital you can just dial the white balance to tungsten but I can't find any 160T portrait film these days. Using a blue filter to try and correct it makes the lights seem even dimmer.
     
  22. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    I'm not trying to be alarmist here, but I just looked more closely at the specific light kit mentioned. A word of warning, that kilowatt main light should never be pointed open-faced at anyone, nor should the 600W units. Always use a protective wire mesh screen over them. I can't tell of one is provided from the photos. The last thing you want is hot shards of glass exploding into your kids' eyes, and these quartz lamps do sometimes explode. But even if that's a rare occurrence, you don't want to take that risk.

    A kilowatt of quartz light in the face from a few feet will definitely bring on the squints from your subjects and give them a sunburn in a few minutes. It's like a tanning booth, especially at just a few feet. Bounce it or scrim it. Quartz halogen is about 3.5% efficient, so as much light as it's putting out, it's putting out more than 25 times that much heat and other energy, including IR and UV.

    Also never touch the bulbs bare-handed. The oils from your skin will stick to the glass, and can sometimes cause differential heat build up in the glass where the oils are that causes the bulb to explode. Use gloves or a lintless cloth or the plastic wrap that the bulb comes in to handle the bulb.

    The upside of quartz is that the lamps have a sort of self-cleaning action that prevents tungsten build up on the interior glass of the lamp. The cheaper tungsten photofloods have this problem, and a resulting usable life of only a few hours before going off in color balance.

    Lee
     
  23. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Good point. That's one of the questions I'd ask. B&W, or color? You can shoot color under tungsten light and balance in printing, but it's not recommended for good color, with film. I've even seen some recommendations to use color balancing filters with digital, but that's definitely not my area. An 80A filter that loses about 1.25 stops is needed to correct the 3200K of these lights to 5500K daylight color film. Or Rosco or Lee gels with a similar light loss and a designation of full CTB (color temperature blue) placed over the lights would work for daylight color film.

    B&W isn't a problem with tungsten, and that's what I was assuming.

    Lee
     
  24. ymc226

    ymc226 Member

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    Good points Lee,

    I will have to double check on the main light. I am concerned about the heat these tungsten lights generate. Being I use only B&W film, currently Neopan 400 in MF and eventually Acros, is florescent lighting or other non high heat generating light sources options? I would prefer continuous lighting rather than flash or strobe. Being portable is not important as I would just keep in in the house.
     
  25. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    If you intend to use incandescent continuous lights, you can purchase "daylight" bulbs for better colours.

    If it were me, I would look more toward this kit as a starting point:

    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/250312-REG/Smith_Victor_401515_FL_130_3_Light_Studio.html

    I prefer flash to continuous, especially if the lights (like these) have modelling lights.

    The kit I've linked to is, however, very low powered! I'd definitely be looking to use 400 ISO film with it. And if you find you want to do more of this work, you probably will soon be looking to upgrading it.

    That being said, I still use a set of 40+ year old Bowens monolights for similar purposes.

    One point of clarification. All of these sorts of flashes tend to be described using Watt/Second ratings. Those ratings only give a rough, relative indication of light output (which is highly dependant on reflectors).

    Have fun.
     
  26. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    there are ways to make portraits with a simple flash, nothing fancy.
    i used to work for a newspaper and was sent on assignment all the time ..
    with only a camera and a flash ... it is a matter of knowing how to bounce the flash
    whether it is on the camera or off with a pc cord.
    you can use reflectors ( they are cheap ! ) or foam core ( cheaper ) ...
    i used a lumedyne 244 flash for all that sort of work at first, then later on
    when i started to use a more "electronic" camera i began to just use a on camera
    flash ( nikon speed flash i think it is called ) ...

    sometimes less is more and a lot easier than trying to figure out how to set up 3 or 4 lights
    ( hot or flash ) ...

    most of the portraits i do nowadays are using a pair of 30 + year old softboxes and the modeling light
    on my monoblocks,
     
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