Small Light Kit for Still Life?

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by brian steinberger, Feb 3, 2013.

  1. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,561
    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2007
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    I'm looking for recommendations on lighting for still life setups. Maybe one light and a reflector? I just don't know much about lighting. I know I'd like continuous lighting, and not something that is hot (tungsten). I'm interested in LED, HMI, and Fluorescent lighting, but not sure of the small differences between them and which would best suit my needs. I'm going to be shooting only black and white and static subjects and would like to diffuse the light source as well.

    Thanks for any recommendations!
     
  2. FM2N

    FM2N Member

    Messages:
    844
    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2006
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Look, search on web for "the visual science lab". He Nick Tuck has some great stuff on using LED as well as new blog post about cowboy boots that he shot and shows pics of how they are lit. A wealth of lighting info on his blog.
     
  3. polyglot

    polyglot Member

    Messages:
    3,472
    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2009
    Location:
    South Austra
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Check out strobist.com - it's (obviously) not continuous lighting, but the focus is on hacking together high quality light from small cheap strobes and homemade modifiers.

    If you want continuous for the visualisation aid but strobes for other purposes (cool, powerful, compact), try using a digital camera as a polaroid to check where your shadows etc are falling.
     
  4. adelorenzo

    adelorenzo Subscriber

    Messages:
    784
    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2012
    Location:
    Whitehorse, Yukon
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    If you are doing still life you don't need a lot of light as you can always do longer exposures. And if you are shooting black and white you don't need to worry about colour temperature. Which means you can pretty well use any lights you can lay your hands on. Plenty of stuff to experiment with, likely even in your own house or the local hardware store.

    When it comes to diffusing or shaping the light, again, you can improvise just about anything. A few of the 5-in-1 reflectors you can buy at photo stores would be pretty handy though, if you take the covers off they can be used as large diffusers.
     
  5. ParkerSmithPhoto

    ParkerSmithPhoto Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,320
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2010
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Get a bunch of compact fluorescent bulbs with fixtures, and shoot them through a thin white bed sheet. I periodically do this with strobes and it makes a huge light source, like a window as big as the sheet. Super smooth.
     
  6. jp498

    jp498 Member

    Messages:
    1,467
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Owls Head ME
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    For super-diffused, there are white tents made for photographing items to put on ebay/clist. It's a whole new genre of photography. They work well for smaller objects. Otherwise, nothing wrong with improvised as already mentioned.
     
  7. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,862
    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2006
    Location:
    SE Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    "A small setup" is sort of like eating just one potato chip. :laugh:

    I am strictly a hobbyist; no commercial aspirations, and years ago I needed to photograph some paintings. After looking at the "official" stuff, I happened to be walking through one of the big box home centers and saw 500 W halogen worklights -- with folding stands -- for something ridiculous like $14.99 apiece, so I bought two. They seem pretty close to actual photoflood color temperature, but OY! you can fry yourself working around them. I also used to feel a bit worried and maybe even guilty about sticking one KW worth of load into an unknown receptacle in some third party's gallery space.

    Later I found a guy on ePrey who had a kit with two softboxes using compact fluorescents, and stands to go with, for just a little over $100. I bought that kit. Then, since I photo the winners in shows my local art club puts on and that sometimes involves 3-D stuff as in sculpture, I bought a small Manfrotto boom fixture (and stand) into which I installed a daylight CFL.
    (Crude setup seen here.)

    A year or two later, since some paintings are pretty big, I acquired a second pair of the softboxes. Then to reduce the amount of crap I carry out to the show venues, I got a pair of heavier lightstands and some Manfrotto "Super Clamps" and most recently some 8 inch arms to allow a nice flexible arrangement of two softboxes on one light stand. I am sure I now have more money in the Manfrotto 'adult Tinkertoy' items than the actual lights, but it works pretty well.
    (Sculpture setup)
    (Painting setup)

    I also dabble in the ceramic arts and like to photograph my own stuff. That prodded me into acquiring one of the tents mentioned upthread. It is free standing, designed to twist and fold and store in a compact bag. But it never goes back in that bag as easily as it comes out! It's about a 30 inch cube, and I find for pottery it isn't really big enough; it would probably be OK for jewelry.

    If I ever get the one end of my basement cleaned out, I think I'll put some sort of shallow closet with double doors that can be opened for an "instant studio." I suspect for many of my activities, some sort of curtain rod to suspend a huge white cloth to create a sort of indoor open sky effect might be in my future. So far it looks like an eternal work in progress.

    The comment upthread about still life not necessarily needing lots of light is an excellent point, and for just B&W, color balance is not especially important. I do shoot color, more "other" than film, but both work with my daylight CFLs.

    There are ePrey vendors with all manner of fascinating gizmos -- reflectors with sockets to hold as many as five CFLs -- little table top single bulb reflector units -- background stands that could be used with cloth for diffusers ---- ARGH! Quick -- hide my wallet!
     
  8. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,561
    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2007
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    Thanks guys, these are fantastic recommendations! So far I've been shooting with available light, either through a window on an overcast day or outside on my closed in back porch on an overcast day. Maybe I will take a look on ebay for one light and a large softbox. Then I can just reflect light as needed otherwise. That may get me started for now???
     
  9. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    9,314
    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    You can even get a CFL fixture and a couple sheets of white foamcore to do the trick. And you can vary the look by crinkling and re-smoothing aluminum foil and taping it to one side of the foamcore to use as a specular fill as opposed to a soft fill with the white side. Those little mirrors you can get at the dollar store are also good as fill lights for really small subjects. I know they're not cheap and they're not cool running, but it would also be good to get something like a Lowel id Light - http://www.lowel.com/ilight/. They're 55-100 watts (so not too super-hot to handle), and more importantly they're focusable from broad beam to spot. You can soften them with diffusion (bedsheet or reflector) or use them as a point light source if you want. If you ever want harder, contrastier light and you're using CFL bulbs, you can't really do it because they're a soft light source. Sure you can pull the light back further but then you're running into inverse square falloff issues.
     
  10. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,862
    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2006
    Location:
    SE Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Some of the possibilities could also depend on your level of patience. There are "portable" lights at the home centers that have spun aluminum shades and some sort of spring clamp that can allow mounting them on {something} perhaps an overhead ceiling joist or a stepladder! They are in the $10 ballpark. You could put CFLs in them to stay cool, or even some of the PAR reflector bulbs for more concentrated light. In essence, the larger the light, the softer the lighting. Scott's ideas for foamcore reflectors are good too.

    Sometimes in my efforts to save money, I end up evolving and purchasing new stuff until I've blown off enough money to have bought something really good in the first place. But then if I wasn't sure what I wanted, going to a really "good" thing up front could be wasted money anyway. I consider my trail of idle cheapies to be tuition in the game of life. :whistling:
     
  11. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,561
    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2007
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    CFL = Fluorescents?
     
  12. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    9,314
    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Yes, CFL technically stands for compact fluorescent or coiled fluorescent. You know, the fluorescent bulbs that are shaped like an ersatz 60w incandescent using an Edison screw-base instead of a bi-pin connector.
     
  13. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,872
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2009
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  14. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,574
    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2004
    Location:
    DFW, Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm at a similar point. I have all these "visualizations" of macro and still lifes (for lack of a better category) but I am approaching lighting as a trial and error process. I've read the books. Hey, a couple of thousands of dollars of lighting gear and you, too, can make these photographs. :blink:

    Over the decades I have accumulated stands and umbrellas, small and medium strobes, and not a small number of "clamp-on" light fixtures. I'm starting out with the cfl bulbs, myself. (Black and white film, of course) The experimentation will come in diffusion and reflectors. My wife, the graphic artist, has suggested tracing paper for diffusion. Cheap and readily available. I'll also try thin fabric, and some white, translucent cutting boards (for the kitchen, of all things). For reflectors, I have stocked in some white foamcore. Also cheap and readily available.

    To further cut costs, I'm going to use that "other" technology for initial experimentation, and then burn film when I'm starting to see something usable. :whistling:

    I mean really, isn't playing around part of the fun of all this? Cheers, and good luck!
     
  15. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    9,314
    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    This is just a personal opinion/preference so take it for what it's worth. I don't like fluorescents. I realize they've gotten much better as time has moved forward, but I still don't like them as a light source because of the color cast they produce. I know the cast is irrelevant to a great degree when working in black-and-white. But I'm still perceiving the world in color before I render it b/w on film, and part of wanting to take a photograph is being able to aesthetically appreciate the scene before I click the shutter. A blue/green, minus-red lighting scheme that you get from fluorescents just doesn't get my juices flowing readily. For still life I'd prefer hot lights, for portraits I'd prefer strobes.
     
  16. brian steinberger

    brian steinberger Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,561
    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2007
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Med. Format RF
    LEDs?
     
  17. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,574
    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2004
    Location:
    DFW, Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Eventually. I don't disagree with Scott about the CFLs but I can live with the drawbacks. My biggest knock on them is waiting for them to warm up. But, I get over it. I view (as do others) CFLs as a transitional technology. Eventually, LEDs will replace both tungsten and CFLs, but the price is going to have to come down for this use (for me). I have invested in LED's in certain parts of my house, and I really believe this is the future.

    Sorry, a bit off topic ... :pouty:
     
  18. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,862
    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2006
    Location:
    SE Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Yes, CFL purports to be Compact Fluorescent Lamp, but like many things in our consumerist society, 'compact' can be a bit of a stretch:

    _apG0495_Softbox_CFL.jpg

    That's a 12 inch/30 cm scale!

    These are supposed to be 5500º K, 135 watt input, 600 watt equivalent light output. I believe they come out of greenhouse grow light territory and are not cheap -- like maybe $40. (Well, if you're growing the right herbs you can afford it. :D)

    The softboxes I have are about 16x23 inches at the front, an aluminized fabric contraption held out by springy wire stays that plug into holes in the bulb socket assembly (and are a PITA to set up/take down, which is why I keep a pair set up most of the time).

    There is a cloth diffuser panel behind the front panel, presumably to decrease hot spots. Front diffuser partially peeled open:

    _apG0498_SoftboxInterior.jpg

    These appear to be nylon, which is OK with the CFLs, but to use hot lights, the softbox materials have be special heat-resistant stuff to withstand scary temperatures and are priced accordingly.
     
  19. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    9,314
    Joined:
    May 24, 2005
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    LEDs are much better than CFLs, but they're still not where we'd want them to be in terms of color accuracy. They're also not full-spectrum - they're peaky in the blue end of the spectrum (I noticed how white/cool things look with them in my house, as opposed to warm when using traditional incandescent bulbs). I think the reason we're seeing the push to alternative bulb sources is that an incandescent can be made for only a few pennies more that will last 10+ years, like the LEDs are supposed to. They may not be as energy efficient as LEDs, but they're very cheap to buy. Instead of making more efficient incandescents, they've gone to CFLS and LEDs because you can charge $4/ea for the CFLs and $25 ea for the LEDs. So the manufacturers are pushing for LED because the long-term reduced turnover is compensated for by the massive increase in short-term profit gains. LEDs still need to get lighter, brighter, steadier AND more color accurate if they're going to truly replace incandescents. I got some LED floods to put in the recessed lights in my hall. They were marketed as being dimmable (which some are not). They still flicker sometimes even when on full power. They got better after I had them installed for a week or so, but in the beginning I was about ready to take them back because of it.