Studio lighting - need advice please!

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by Sorby, Jan 6, 2005.

  1. Sorby

    Sorby Guest

    I get a lot of requests from family, friends and customers to do high-key
    portraits but have had to turn them down as I've simply not got the set-up
    and equipment to do it.

    So I'd like to get myself sorted and have convinced SWMBO to let me convert
    one of our reception rooms into a studio.

    The room is 10'8" x 9'6" and the ceiling is 8' high.
    Not massive but luckily one of the long walls has a wide archway into
    another room which I can shoot from - adding about 6' to the 9'6" - so my
    'studio' will be effectively 10'8 wide x 15'6 long

    I intend to have a pull-down background (off a roll) mounted on the archless
    10'8" wall.

    I only shoot digitally and therefore can easily compensate for colour
    temperature - so that shouldn't be a restrictive factor.

    I'd like the lighting to be portable (I'll have a separate portable
    background system for mobile use) - but am tempted to have wall-mounted
    heads on positionable arms. Anyone had experience of these?

    So....
    Which manufacturer? Bowens, Elinchrom, another brand?
    What type? - generator or monoblocs?
    2, 3 or 4 heads? Presumably I'd need at least two to blow out the white
    background?
    What power rating should I go for? (Many of my subjects are kids and I'm
    imagining needing to use quite fast shutter speeds to freeze them as they
    leap theatrically about my studio! - so presumably low-powered heads won't
    suffice)
    Are systems designed specifically for digital photography worth looking at?

    I get the impression constant lighting sources aren't as powerful and can
    get too hot for the sitter's comfort.

    I don't want to buy a budget system that I'll outgrow within 6-12 months -
    unless I can add to it rather than replace it.

    My budget is about £2500 - all in. (i.e. all lighting, cables, backgrounds,
    stands, softboxes/umbrellas etc)

    Thanks in anticipation,
     
    Sorby, Jan 6, 2005
    #1
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  2. Sorby

    Tom Nelson Guest

    Small but adequate, except for large groups.
    Lots of choices, including White Lightning, Norman, Speedotron. Look
    for used stuff in good condition. Monoblocs are good for travel but put
    the heat of the modelling light next to all the electronics. I prefer
    head-and-pack style; they give you more choices of how to split the
    power, too.
    Minimum of 3 heads (one behind subject for the b/g, 2 for subject). 4
    is better.
    Surprisingly, no. The lower the power the faster it dumps through the
    flashhead. Most studio strobes have a flash speed of about 1/200 sec,
    which should capture all but flailing arms, etc. But at minimum power
    you may have 1/1000 or so.

    A more serious consideration is depth of field. If children are moving
    around, do you need some extra dof to keep the critters in focus? But
    for exposure reasons you'll need to keep from getting too near/far
    from the lights.

    All that being said, most portrait studios put 50-100 watt-seconds
    (Joules) through each light, giving about f/5.6 or so. With my big
    Normans I'm always struggling to use minimum power when I shoot
    portraits.
    No. Just be sure the trigger voltage across the sync contacts is not
    too high for your camera. Digicams are more fragile that way.
    Yes, they're unsuitable for portraiture, especially in a small room.
    In the US you'd be able to put together a decent 4-light system for
    half that, buying used equipment. You may have fewer choices, thus
    higher prices, in the UK. Remember, if you buy used and don't like it,
    you can probably resell it for close to what you paid.

    Good luck!
    Tom Nelson
    Tom Nelson Photography
     
    Tom Nelson, Jan 6, 2005
    #2
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  3. Sorby

    Sorby Guest

    That's fine. Besides, we don't have enough coffee-mugs in the house for
    large groups! ;-)
    Ok, makes sense, noted.
    Ok. Would the one for the b/g need to be at least as powerful as the main
    head - or does a white b/g not need that much power to blow it out?
    Hmm - Hadn't even thought about DOF! Food for thought.

    Ok - so I should ensure the system I get allows me the smallest possible
    power settings?
    Yup - had heard about that. Will keep this in mind.
    Noted, thanks. It's tempting to go for new kit for peace of mind (i.r.o.
    warranty & lifespan) but spending less means the kit will pay for itself all
    the sooner.
    Thank you Tom! You've been a great help.
     
    Sorby, Jan 6, 2005
    #3
  4. Stay away from Novatron.
     
    Randall Ainsworth, Jan 7, 2005
    #4
  5. Sorby

    Tom Nelson Guest

    Minimum of 3 heads (one behind subject for the b/g, 2 for subject). 4
    To maintain white as pure white, your want the background light a stop
    brighter than the main light. It depends on how you set things up.
    You're probably using a light modifier (umbrellas, soft boxes) for the
    main light, so a direct light on the background can use less power. But
    in order to light the whole background evenly without falloff at the
    edges, you may want to increase the distance between the background
    light and the background. If you use two lights on the background you
    can aim each at an opposite corner and get more evenness without
    having the lights so far away. It all depends.
    You'll pay more for a flash that gives you a wider range of power
    settings. The Norman 2000Ps have about a 5:1 range (full power is 2000
    w/s, minimum with one head is 400 w/s). But you can plug two heads into
    the 400 w/s bank, giving your 200 w/s each. Some strobes (the new
    Norman P404, for instance) will let you dial in a small exposure
    adjustment. You pay for the convenience.

    For the system you're describing, I'd say a total power of 400-800 w/s
    should be just right. To keep your cable runs low, you probably want at
    least 2 power packs, one for the background and one for the subject. So
    that's two 200s or 400s. More power lets you use light more
    inefficiently (bounce it into the ceiling corner for a wall of light).

    It might be a good idea to rent equipment to see if you like the brand.
    BTW I'm not particularly pushing Norman; it's just the brand I use.
    I aim to please ;-)

    Tom Nelson
    Tom Nelson Photography
     
    Tom Nelson, Jan 7, 2005
    #5
  6. High key needs the white background TWO stops brighter than the subject
    which should be lit relatively flat.
     
    Randall Ainsworth, Jan 8, 2005
    #6
  7. Sorby

    Tom Nelson Guest

    Not to start a flame war, with digital I'd expect 1 stop to be all
    you'd need. Depends on the whiteness of the background, of course.
    (Superior Artic White is nice.)
    Tom Nelson
     
    Tom Nelson, Jan 11, 2005
    #7
  8. Sorby

    JPS Guest

    In message <110120051400168045%>,
    That depends on your camera and what mode you're shooting in. You
    really need to experiment.

    I use the Canon 10D and 20D cameras, and they are what I am most
    familiar with. With a majority white scene, brighter than the subject,
    I would shoot at about +1.67 or +2 stops in JPEG, or +2 to +3 stops in
    RAW. Unfortunately, the people at Canon ignorantly decided that -2 to
    +2 is all the range anyone would need for exposure compensation, so +3
    is only achievable in manual mode (possibly using an external meter, but
    that opens up another can of worms, as that will under-optimize a RAW
    exposure by up to 2 stops if you do it like you were shooting film). If
    I were shooting under incandescent or any warm, reddish light, I might
    go even further. The reason is that RAW has about a stop, at least, of
    extra headroom in the three color channels, with the most headroom in
    the red channel, which is ideal for warm light. On the 20D, there 1.87
    stops more headroom in the red channel than in the green.

    The common wisdom that advises to underexpose for dark subjects and such
    is based on deterministic outcome from the original capture. Of course,
    a black wall and a white wall will both come out grey in a slide,
    without compensation, but digital images processed by the photographer
    can map the exposure range captured anywhere they want in the output,
    and the best capture is obtained (exposure-wise) when the full dynamic
    range of the RAW data is utilized, regardless of whether or not the
    subject is dark or bright.

    --
     
    JPS, Jan 11, 2005
    #8
  9. Digital...film...doesn't matter. Just one stop will make the background
    a little gray.
     
    Randall Ainsworth, Jan 12, 2005
    #9
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