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  1. #1
    brian steinberger's Avatar
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    Small Light Kit for Still Life?

    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. #2

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    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. #3
    polyglot's Avatar
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    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. #4
    adelorenzo's Avatar
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    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. #5
    ParkerSmithPhoto's Avatar
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    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.
    Parker Smith Photography, Inc.
    Atlanta, GA

    Commercial & Fine Art Photography
    Portrait Photography

  6. #6
    jp498's Avatar
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    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. #7
    DWThomas's Avatar
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    "A small setup" is sort of like eating just one potato chip.

    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. #8
    brian steinberger's Avatar
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    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. #9
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    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. #10
    DWThomas's Avatar
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    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.

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