I am interested in setting up a small studio for MF portait sessions. Can you offer any pointers to a total beginner?
So far I've thought of a three flash kit (with all the extras, umbrellas, softboxes and the like), a battery and a background holding system.
Plus I need some information on lighting and technique as I don't have a formal photography education.
Maybe someone else can point it out cuz I can't find it, but Blansky did a really nice explanation of lighting a while back. It helped me understand things much better. Good luck. I was going to go down this road until I realized I hated taking pictures of people.
I guess my suggestions would be:
1. With respect to lighting, pick a line of strobes that you can grow with and add to, so accessories will work with all the lights. Buying quality units, instead of "economy" models, will usually save you money in the long term. Woodworkers can never have too many clamps, and studio photographers can never have too many lights. ;)
2. Never under-estimate your local hardware store and fabric store as sources of studio accessories. Often, conventional items can be easily adapted to photo use at great savings over similar items sold for photogaphic use.
3. A top-quality multi-purpose meter (reflected spot, incident, flash & ambient), and learning how to use it well in the studio, is one of the best investments that can be made.
4. There are numerous books available that show typical portrait lighting arrangements. Each of the "good" ones will usually have a few pearls of wisdom that other authors may have forgotten. One of the best general lighting books I've seen is Hunter and Fuqua's "Light - Science and Magic" from Focal Press. Ultimately, lighting - whether for portraiture or commercial work - depends on understanding the nature of light, how different surfaces respond, and paying attention to highlights and shadows.
A quick and silly exercise which helped me a lot - I had to photograph some dolls recently (don't ask!). It was for a web site so it is was digital, but we wanted a nice studio/fashion look, and it turned out to be really good practise:
It turns out that when you scale down to doll size, a 100 Watt lightbulb is very like a strobe/unbrella setup at human scales (100W 6 inces away is 3.6KW 3 feet away). I was able to just use a bare bulb in an old table lamp, and wave it around quickly and easily to find a good keylight. Tin-foil wrapped around cardboard made a reflector which again could be rapidly positioned to create a fill.
The smaller scales meant I could use "hotlights" rather than strobes and move them around instantly rather than moving real lighting stands around. Plus of course the model didn't get bored!
I've not done much REAL studio lighting, but half an hour with this setup, and I feel I learnt a lot to take with me next time I do.