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DPChallenge Forums >> Tips, Tricks, and Q&A >> Setting up a Beginner In-Home Studio.
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11/26/2004 11:11:12 AM · #1
What kind of suggestions would you make for an in-home studio for a beginner with a limited budget and limited space?
* What size should the room be if used for still photography, or if used for portrait and still?
* Where should the camera be setup for most shots? closer or further away from the subject?
* If you only had two lenses, would you use the 28-70 lens most of the time for indoor or might you use a more powerful lens?
* If you can't afford a professional umbrella lighting system, what options can you start with?
* How much light is sufficient to get good results and how many angles should you be able to cover?
* Link one book at Amazon, buy.com or another location that you would recommend for a beginner to read that may answer all/most of these questions.

Thanx ahead of time for your guidance. )

Message edited by author 2004-11-26 11:11:30.
11/26/2004 12:41:22 PM · #2
Do you want flash or constant lighting?

For most portrait work a small tele is best (100mm or so)

Cheapest: go to sears and get some halogen worklights - $25 or so, 250,500,750,1000 watt on a stand that goes 6' or so.(2 lights, with 2 power setings each, and can come off to be ste on floor, are aimable) $25-30, can be had on sale at times for $19.95. Get 3. (left high in front, right low in front, and one for backlighting or fill)

you'll need backdrops and a way to hang them - if yo ucan get them 4-8' behind the subject, that is best. put the camera 4 to 10' in front.

the room must be able to be cut off form all outside light.

the lights are cheap, can be used for other things (like working arond the house!). drawback is heat - these suckers get hot. you can rig up barndoors and using reflectors (bought ones or white foamcore board). if the ceiling is white you can bounce the light for a nice soft effect.

Message edited by author 2004-11-26 12:42:11.
11/26/2004 01:38:35 PM · #3
Thanks Chris!

I'm planning constant lighting rather than flash for now and may have enough room in the basement to get the space needed to do backdrops and position the camera far enough away for portraits.

I know halogen is hotter and longer lasting typically than regular 'white bulbs', but does Halogen create a different color cast than what would be normal for most studios or is this the expected light source?
11/27/2004 01:29:24 PM · #4
If doing digital, you can do a custom white balance with almost all cameras - using an 18% gray card optimally or a sheet of paper if that is all you have.

I bought the stuff months ago and have not used it (i used the lights once) but plan on taking some shots for upcoming challenges (low tech and lucky7) with my 'studio' so i can let you know and post an image or two (or 10...) in my portfolio for your, umm, review (critique?)

It will be interesting...if i can get my 4 year old to sit still i plan on trying a portrrait - i'd like to get decent enough to avoid the JCPenney /PicturePeople trips we take quarterly now. I am short on backdrops though...and that is usually what gets my wife to go!
11/27/2004 01:34:44 PM · #5
Hmmm, good info, thanks!... off to sears!
11/27/2004 02:18:32 PM · #6
I shot this in my basement, using halogen worklights on the background and my flash as the master. I bought the 107" x 12 yard seamless paper for about $50 from a local photography store (mike's) and rigged a "hanger" for it. I use a ExpoDisc for white balance, so no issues there. Shot was handheld. I'd like to get some "real" lights one day, but my home depot halogens work just fine :)
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11/27/2004 04:11:16 PM · #7
Among the many drawbacks to "halogen worklights" is that they just don't put out enough power (even though they seem like they should be since they are scorching hot, making them quite dangerous, not to mention uncomfortable). If you look at Jeff's picture, you'll see that he shot that at /2.8 at 1/60th second at ISO 200. /2.8 is pretty darn fast (for the vast majority of my lenses, that is as fast as they go), and he is already shooting at 1/60th of a second. Notice how shallow the DOF is. For most studio portraits, you want to be shooting at /8 or even /11 to ensure that everything is within the "range of acceptable sharpness". Jeff can't really decrease his shutter speed, because camera shake and/or movement of your subject will cause the picture to be blurry... the only real solution is "more light".

For comparison, a 1000 Watt-second studio strobe is equivalent to 125,000 Watts (yes, 125 of those 1000W "halogen worklights"!) of incandescent at 1/125 second.

For more info, check out this article entitled Why use strobes? Aren't incandescent lights cheaper and easier?

Also, the problem with mixing a flash and halogen lights is that they are two drastically different color temperatures. That is why the shadows under Jeff's daugter aren't "neutral grays". The "true colors" of your subject are also affected by the mixed color temperatures, even though the results may seem "OK" at first glance. But what is happening in the shadows is happening in the whole picture. The simple fact is that the light from a flash is balanced to "daylight", which is in a much different part of the spectrum compared to halogen lights.

Message edited by author 2004-11-27 16:16:37.
11/27/2004 06:16:08 PM · #8
If you do decide to use mixed lighting, i.e. halogens and strobe, you will not get accurate color unless you do some work to balance the two.

The best way is to use a Rosco Full Sun gel over the flash tubes to shift the color balance to that of the hot lights.

You can also filter the hot lights, but they require heat resistant gels and you are reducing the output of the weakest light source even more, making it just that much harder to get enough light on the subject.

Personally, I'd try to find some low cost strobes. I used to work with hotlights, I think they are awful.


11/27/2004 08:15:53 PM · #9
Originally posted by EddyG:

<Lot's of really useful info>

Thanks for that post Eddy. I'm currently evaluating a strobe and a continuous head. I would need to buy a photoflood for the continuous head just to test it, and after reading the article I don't think I'll bother.
11/27/2004 08:47:05 PM · #10
@EddyG: Ok, I know strobes are best, but what if the camera (like mine) does not have a way to attach them. How do they know when to fire?

David
11/27/2004 08:50:02 PM · #11
Originally posted by EddyG:

Among the many drawbacks to "halogen worklights" is that they just don't put out enough power (even though they seem like they should be since they are scorching hot, making them quite dangerous, not to mention uncomfortable). If you look at Jeff's picture, you'll see that he shot that at /2.8 at 1/60th second at ISO 200. /2.8 is pretty darn fast (for the vast majority of my lenses, that is as fast as they go), and he is already shooting at 1/60th of a second. Notice how shallow the DOF is. For most studio portraits, you want to be shooting at /8 or even /11 to ensure that everything is within the "range of acceptable sharpness". Jeff can't really decrease his shutter speed, because camera shake and/or movement of your subject will cause the picture to be blurry... the only real solution is "more light".

For comparison, a 1000 Watt-second studio strobe is equivalent to 125,000 Watts (yes, 125 of those 1000W "halogen worklights"!) of incandescent at 1/125 second.

For more info, check out this article entitled Why use strobes? Aren't incandescent lights cheaper and easier?

Also, the problem with mixing a flash and halogen lights is that they are two drastically different color temperatures. That is why the shadows under Jeff's daugter aren't "neutral grays". The "true colors" of your subject are also affected by the mixed color temperatures, even though the results may seem "OK" at first glance. But what is happening in the shadows is happening in the whole picture. The simple fact is that the light from a flash is balanced to "daylight", which is in a much different part of the spectrum compared to halogen lights.


Message edited by author 2004-11-27 20:50:44.
11/27/2004 09:18:15 PM · #12
Originally posted by Britannica:

@EddyG: Ok, I know strobes are best, but what if the camera (like mine) does not have a way to attach them. How do they know when to fire?

David


I know I'm not EddyG, but I have some info you might find useful.

You should be able to use an optical slave that senses the light from the on-camera flash and fires the main strobes. If your on-camera flash fires a pre-flash like the Canons do, you will need a "digital" slave than can be setup to ignore that first flash. Any studio style strobe should be able to easily overpower your on-camera flash, but should it be visible, or undesired, you can simply place diffusion material over the flashtube and that should be enough to attenuate the on-camera flash enough to not affect your exposure, but still trigger the strobes. Worst case, you may have to build a scrim to put on the flash that directs the lgiht away from the subject, but towards the slave unit. If you are feeling frisky and are comfortable hacking into your camera, you could add a PC terminal and just connect the strobes that way, but at that point you might be better off to consider a camera upgrade.
11/27/2004 09:36:19 PM · #13
Dan's reply is right on the money. You just need to augment the optical trigger that is built-in to most monlights (like an Alien Bee) with something like a Wein XL8-E Micro Ultra Slave (you may need an adapter from Radio Shack to convert it from the 1/4" phono plug to whatever is on the Alien Bee, but that is pretty straight-forward). These can be set to ignore any metering "pre-flashes" from your built-in flash, so the studio strobes only fire when the shutter is actually open.

Now if you don't have a "Manual" setting on your camera, where you can set the shutter speed and aperture, then things will be tricky. The camera will want to meter off the built-in flash only and select an aperture and/or shutter speed, and then when the shutter actually opens the strobes will fire, most likely resulting in overexposure...
11/27/2004 09:38:46 PM · #14
Thanks, but a few more questions if the OP doesn't mind my hijacking his thread a bit. The detecting of the light sounds like it could take some time; not much of course, but when talking about exposure times in fractions of a second every little delay needs to be considered. Just how fast a shutter could be expected? If I am understanding this right, I could dial down the on-camera flash bias and affix a reflector in front of it to redirect the flash to the ceiling -- with the slave hanging from the ceiling I would still be able to move about. Is that about right?

Also, it sounds like it would be hard to see how the light would look until I took a picture -- are they on continuously (at a low power) to get the light right, and then flash bright for the exposure?

Anybody got a link to a tutorial on this? I've tried the halogen worklights and they just are not enough light -- not to mention the lighting from them is very harsh. I have not been wanting to spend any more on attachments for my current camera, since I am wanting to get enough put aside for a better camera, but this sounds like something I would still be able to use when I did manage to get a new camera.

David

Message edited by author 2004-11-27 21:40:56.
11/27/2004 09:50:40 PM · #15
David...

Even if the shutter is open for 1/60th of a second, the flash is only a very small fraction of that... maybe 1/1000th or 1/5000th of a second. So if it is delayed by a few hundredth's of a second because of "optical triggers", it really won't matter. That's why there isn't much difference between shooting at 1/30th of a second and say 1/200th of a second when using studio strobes -- they discharge so fast, that as long as you're at or below the camera's cross-sync speed (the fastest shutter speed at which the focal-plane shutter is fully open), the flash will be "caught" by the sensor.

The sensors are extremely sensitive -- chances are you wouldn't even need a reflector in front of the camera to redirect the flash or hang the "slave" from the ceiling. Just plug it into the studio strobe and you're likely "good to go".

Higher-end studio strobes will have modeling lights that shows you how the light from the strobe is going to look. In most cases, they can be set to "track" the power of the strobe, so as the strobe is dialed down, you can also dial down the modeling light to see how the main light, hair light, fill light, etc. "mix". These are much less powerful than the strobe, so you'll want to be working in a dark environment so you can see them better. The only time shutter speed really makes a difference is when you need to "mix" the flash with ambient lighting...

The standard Alien Bee modeling light is a typical 100W screw-in lamp. The first thing I recommend doing is ditching it for a 150W (the max it is rated for) halogen bulb that you can get at any home improvement store to boost the modeling light output a bit...

Message edited by author 2004-11-27 21:54:36.
11/27/2004 09:55:54 PM · #16
ok, thanks.

It sounds like I have quite a learning curve ahead of me when I move into better lighting -- perhaps it would be best to be further along on that curve before starting up the one for lenses and such of the more advanced cameras.

David
11/27/2004 10:07:53 PM · #17
Thanx all for the wealth of information. I had some concerns about the heat, cuz I may need to use my media room rather than the basement, now I know the pros and cons.

Brit: Tangents are good things especially when we can all learn from them ;)
11/27/2004 10:21:30 PM · #18
I think the Wein digital slave costs approximately $70 but I think you're money would be better spent buy purchasing a camera that has a PC synch terminal and you could probably use a camera upgrade anyway :).
what I'm thinking of here is for you to get a used Olympus E10 which has the PC synch terminal. YOu can get them on Ebay for about $350-$450 and they have a dynamite fixed lens. It's an ideal camera for studio work and is DSLR like in construction and function, except that it doesn't permit interchangeable lenses.

Originally posted by Britannica:

ok, thanks.

It sounds like I have quite a learning curve ahead of me when I move into better lighting -- perhaps it would be best to be further along on that curve before starting up the one for lenses and such of the more advanced cameras.

David
11/27/2004 11:16:30 PM · #19
this can be easily fixed with a custom white balance. no?
seems to work for me. not arguing halogens are the way to go, but some issues are avoidable.

Originally posted by EddyG:

Also, the problem with mixing a flash and halogen lights is that they are two drastically different color temperatures. That is why the shadows under Jeff's daugter aren't "neutral grays". The "true colors" of your subject are also affected by the mixed color temperatures, even though the results may seem "OK" at first glance. But what is happening in the shadows is happening in the whole picture. The simple fact is that the light from a flash is balanced to "daylight", which is in a much different part of the spectrum compared to halogen lights.

11/27/2004 11:48:37 PM · #20
Originally posted by soup:

this can be easily fixed with a custom white balance. no?
seems to work for me. not arguing halogens are the way to go, but some issues are avoidable.

Originally posted by EddyG:

Also, the problem with mixing a flash and halogen lights is that they are two drastically different color temperatures. That is why the shadows under Jeff's daugter aren't "neutral grays". The "true colors" of your subject are also affected by the mixed color temperatures, even though the results may seem "OK" at first glance. But what is happening in the shadows is happening in the whole picture. The simple fact is that the light from a flash is balanced to "daylight", which is in a much different part of the spectrum compared to halogen lights.

If the the different lights are even across the scene there won't be a problem with a custom WB, but if one is the main light and the other a fill light it will need a different custom WB for different areas of the scene -- not to mention where the two lights merge with one another.

David
11/28/2004 12:09:27 AM · #21
Originally posted by Britannica:

Originally posted by soup:

this can be easily fixed with a custom white balance. no?
seems to work for me. not arguing halogens are the way to go, but some issues are avoidable.

Originally posted by EddyG:

Also, the problem with mixing a flash and halogen lights is that they are two drastically different color temperatures. That is why the shadows under Jeff's daugter aren't "neutral grays". The "true colors" of your subject are also affected by the mixed color temperatures, even though the results may seem "OK" at first glance. But what is happening in the shadows is happening in the whole picture. The simple fact is that the light from a flash is balanced to "daylight", which is in a much different part of the spectrum compared to halogen lights.

If the the different lights are even across the scene there won't be a problem with a custom WB, but if one is the main light and the other a fill light it will need a different custom WB for different areas of the scene -- not to mention where the two lights merge with one another.

David


As I suggested above, you can color correct one source to match the other. If you do nothing, you will get your colors crossed up where some areas are too warm and others are too cool, you can fix one, but that will just make the other worse.
11/28/2004 12:25:35 AM · #22
Originally posted by EddyG:

For comparison, a 1000 Watt-second studio strobe is equivalent to 125,000 Watts (yes, 125 of those 1000W "halogen worklights"!) of incandescent at 1/125 second.

For more info, check out this article entitled Why use strobes? Aren't incandescent lights cheaper and easier?


While I tend to favour strobes as well, the above argument from the article is however not really valid. By the same argument, fluorescent ('cold') lights should then output very little light as they are using only 30 Watt bulbs!

The problem comes in by confusing the terminology: Watt/second is used for output on strobes/flashes. Watt is used for how much current the lights need as input. The fluorescent lights are much more effective in converting the input Watts to available light (about 9 times more effective) than e.g. halogen lights. Strobes are normally 2 to 3 times more effective.

Even your 'gut feel' should tell you that 125 1000W halogen lights are going to give you lots more light than 1 strobe. Just think about the lights in the sports stadiums.

I agree with the rest of the arguments e.g. the differences in the colour of the light, that you might have to keep the lens open slightly longer, that the flowers you want to photograph will wilt quickly under hot lights, or that your model will probably become irritated by the heat.

The one advantage of 'hot' lights for a beginner studio is that you can immediately see where the light will fall. If you are new at it, this can be very helpful while setting up. Most strobes also have built-in modelling lights nowadays for that purpose. The problem is that the 'affordable' strobes only have 100 Watt modelling lights, which are not bright enough if you are shooting e.g. through an umbrella in a brightly lit room.

Enjoy your day!

11/28/2004 12:37:30 AM · #23
You also asked about a book. Have a look at Light - Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

This book will not teach you how to use a specific strobe (that's what the strobe's manual is for), but it will teach you about all types of lighting. Available light, reflected light, shadows, how to recognise the light you are working with, etc. To quote, "The book is based on the behavior of light. These principles will not change until fundamental physics does."

Highly recommended!
11/28/2004 01:05:29 PM · #24
Thanks for the article and book...I have been looking for a lighting 101 type of book, and while the one you recommended is pricey, i found others on Amazon that might work and are mucho cheaper.

I played a bit with my 'studio' this morning, and i am pleased with the results. I need to practice some diffusion techniques, but here is one i put in my portfolio. Check me an about 10 days as I have some challenge entries shot today (one very good, one, well, average)

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This is an N-scale box car (about 3" long) on a table on a black t-shirt. I got some hot spots, but this was my first attempt. I will do better next time!
11/28/2004 01:33:46 PM · #25
I've been there done that and believe me strobes are bettere amnd easier to work with, lots of makes around all very good. Try advertising you could pick up a ste 2nd hand cheaper.To fire them I use a small sunpak on my S7000 and set the camera to manual mode. you will needc a flash meter as well cost about $NZ 150.
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