Pro Lens Kit

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Photographer’s Studio Lighting

Photographer’s Studio Lighting

R. Dodge Woodson

The right lighting system combined with a camera that offers a fast shutter speed can literally stop a bullet in mid-air. Well, it looks stopped when you see the picture. No, I’m not suggesting that you shoot the lights and watch them explode on impact. I’m referring to capturing the rotating bullet as an image. Studio strobes can be extremely powerful and can stop all sorts of motion without risk of blurred images.

If you plan to convert a spare bedroom, basement, or attic into a studio, you should give serious consideration to buying some studio strobes. This type of lighting is not cheap, but you can get name-brand lights that do a wonderful job for reasonable prices.

My studio lights are made by Novatron®, and I’m very happy with them. This company is known for its excellence in lighting equipment for both serious amateurs and professionals. It is common to find kits offered by Novatron and other quality manufacturers that will give you all the basics of good studio lighting. For less than $600, you can frequently find kits that include at least two flash heads, sometimes three, light stands, umbrellas, a Carrying Case, and other accessories. Anyone with an interest in studio photography can benefit from these semi-pro lighting kits. If you decide to use this type of lighting, invest in a good light meter that takes flash readings. Otherwise, you will suffer trial-and-error exposure ratings that will be very frustrating. Another option is to use the automatic mode on your camera and depend on the camera’s light meter.

Quartz

Quartz-halogen lights are an alternative to flash heads for studio photography. Problems occur with flash photography. One of the most common is finding out after you look at pictures taken that the flash units created unwanted shadows. This doesn’t happen with quartz-halogen lights. These lights are on while you are composing a picture, so you see the exact effect the lighting has on your subject. This is a big advantage for a lot of photographers. An added bonus to this type of lighting is that it’s less expensive than flash units. A good quartz-halogen starter get will cost you about $250. It will include the lights, barndoors (which allow you to angle the lighting), light stands, and a carrying case.

(CAUTION) Quartz-halogen and other photo lamps get extremely hot during use. They can easily inflict serious burns and are capable of starting fires if they come into contact with flammable materials.

I started my studio lighting with quartz-halogen lights and continue to use the same lights today. My flash heads see a lot of use, but so do my steady lights. Both types of lighting have their advantages and disadvantages. One drawback to quartz lights is that they get very hot. This can make a model’s make-up run, present a fire hazard if flammable materials come into contract with them, and there is some risk of serious burns if someone touches the lights.

Another problem with quartz lighting is that it can’t stop motion like a flash unit can. Since quartz lighting produces tungsten lighting, you will have to put a corrective filter on your lens to maintain accurate colors in color photographing. But, this is no big deal. Of course, you can made lighting corrections in your photo editing program in your computer.

Quartz lights allow you to take normal light readings. This can be done with an independent light meter or the one that is in your camera. A flash meter is not required. Since quartz lights are on at all times, you can see shadows and lighting effects before you fire the shutter. This is a big help. If you want big-time lighting on a limited budget, quartz-halogen lights are the way to go.

Ring Lights

Ring lights are a specialty flash. They are used with macro lenses when taking close-up pictures. These units often consist of a sensor that mounts in the hot shoe of a camera, a battery pack, and the flash attachment. The flash mounts on the ring of a lens, in a way similar to a filter. Since the flash elements surround the lens, it gives good, even illumination of your subject. Some models, like the one I have, allow you to disable one-half of the ring for creative photography. Other models fire all at one time. For documentary photography of close-ups, ring lights can’t be beaten.

A ring light would not normally be used for anything other than documentary work. Taking a picture of a human model with a ring light used for flash would result in a bright, well-lit photograph that would probably be boring. Ring lights bring out extensive detail in subjects. This is usually not desirable when photographing people or pets. If you don’t chase after grasshoppers, mushrooms, and wildflowers, you shouldn’t need a ring light. But, if you love to bring nature home on your memory card with you in a film canister, a ring light might be right for you.

Flash In a Box

Some photographers like to take their flash shows on the road. If you are one of these road warriors, look into portable studio flashes that can travel with you. Any studio lighting can be used where electricity is available, but if your take your photos off the beaten track, you may want some battery-powered flashes to go along with you. There are two ways to do this. One is much more expensive than the other.

If you want to take full-power studio strobes out into a meadow to photograph a model, be prepared to spend between $1,000 and $1,500 for the privilege. You might find a portable, battery-powered location kit for less than $1,000, but they are not numerous. It might be cheaper to take your regular studio lights and rent a small electric generator for your location session. For that matter, it might even be cheaper to buy a small generator to run your AC lights. It’s very difficult to justify or afford location strobes. But, don’t get discouraged; I’m going to show you how to beat the system.

Most photography doesn’t require super-powerful studio strobes. If you want to take models on location and get some great shots, you can do it with inexpensive, portable, battery-powered flash units. I’m talking about the same electronic flashes that you might normally mount on your camera. These flashes when put together with either sync cords or slaves and some light stands make a good substitute for expensive location kits. You can still use umbrellas and reflection cards, and you will save a tremendous amount of money. Granted, you won’t have the full power and control you would with a location set, but you probably won’t need it.

To give you an idea of the results you can receive with inexpensive, pocket-size flash equipment, let me share a story from my past with you. When I started doing wedding photography, I couldn’t afford the best equipment, but I needed my work to look good. My second wedding assignment was a tough one.

I was going to have to light a large dance room with electronic flash to meet the demands of my customer. This would have been a good time to own a location set of strobes, but I didn’t. To compensate for my problem, I took several modest flashes, some inflatable umbrellas, and some light stands to the reception area. My assistant and I positioned the lights prior to the crowded arrival of guests. Each electronic flash was equipped with a peanut slave. When I fired my powerful, bracket-mounted camera flash, all of the slaves would trigger the other flashes. This simple, inexpensive set-up allowed me full light coverage of a large room and crowd with minimal cost.

I have never owned a location set of strobes. During all of my years in the field, I’ve always used simple, battery-powered flashes with good results. You can spend a lot of money on flashy pro gear if you want to, but it’s rarely needed.

Other Flash Factors

There are a number of accessories available for photographers who use flash equipment. Whether you’re using a $60 pocket flash or a $1,000 pro setup, you can always enhance your flash photography with accessories. Buying stuff is half of what makes photography so much fun! The accessories available are not mandatory equipment, but many of them can improve your photography and produce nice special effects. You will need a camera with either a hot shoe or a pc sync connection port.

Many photographers advance to a point where they want remote and or multiple flash sources. If you reach this level, you will likely use a sync cord for your remote flash. Slave devices can be used to trigger multiple flashes. There is one problem often encountered with sync cords. They don’t always maintain good connections with the camera body.

You can reduce flash failures by using a sync key, a small device that resizes the connection pieces, to keep your connections tight. This is a very inexpensive accessory that should be kept in your Camera Bag or vest at all times when doing flash photography.

Slaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Peanut slaves are inexpensive and work well under most conditions. This is the type of slave that I use, and I can recommend them highly. Most slave devices are made like a hot shoe. The ones that are not can be coupled with a remote flash by using a sync cord. The cord runs only from the slave to the flash, not from your camera body to the remote devices. Once you get to the point of doing creative things with artificial lighting, you will want multiple flashes and remote firing devices.

Studio strobes of good quality usually have slaves built into them. When you fire one light, they all go off. Before you invest in any studio strobes, make sure that they have adjustable power settings and built-in slaves. When this is the case, you only have to connect one light to your camera body with a sync cord, which is also known as a PC cord.

Filters

Filters are available for most photographic lights and flashes. Using filters with your lighting can produce some outstanding results. Even inexpensive pocket flashes are often sold with an assortment of colored filters. Some models use gel-type filters and others use plastic filters. It is a good idea to make sure that any lighting units you buy will accept filters for future interests in special effects.

Snoots

Snoots and barndoors sound like things you would find down on the farm, but they are accessories for photography lighting. Any reputable studio light will accept these types of accessories.

Barndoors consist of two or four metal flaps that allow you to angle light creatively. Snoots are used to concentrate a beam of light. They are often used to highlight a model’s hair. There are many other types of add-ons available for studio lighting, so make sure the products you are considering will accept them.

Umbrellas

Most people have seen umbrellas used in flash-photography sessions. They are used to bounce light in a soft, shadowless, attractive manner. Most photographers use white umbrellas, but silver umbrellas produce more bounce. You should experiment with both types until you are comfortable with which one to use on various assignments. As good as umbrellas are, the can be cumbersome at times, and they don’t allow a lot of mobility. There is a solution to this dilemma.

Inflatable umbrellas are the answer to higher mobility and better results when using small flash units. These little blow-up umbrellas are only several inches in diameter, but they produce great results. They attach to an electronic flash with elastic bands. Your flash fires into the clear surface of the device and is reflected by the white or silver interior surface. You get bounced lighting from a small, portable, affordable package. I’ve used them to photograph modeling sessions and weddings with wonderful results. This is one accessory any serious flash photographer should own.

Reflector Cards

Reflector cards are often used in photography. They are implemented with natural light and flash photography. A reflector card can be a small, hand-held size, or it can be a large unit that is supported by a stand. The painted walls and ceilings of buildings act as large reflector cards for photographers bouncing flashes. By bouncing flash or natural light with reflector cards, you receive lighting that is not harsh and distasteful.

Lightweight survival blankets fold to pocket-size proportions and are often silver on one side. These inexpensive items make fantastic reflectors.

Meters

Light meters are critical to good photography. Most modern cameras have some type on built-in meter, but these meters can be fooled under certain conditions. The use of multiple flash units is one of these conditions. If you are going to do much flash photography with any type of flash other than a dedicated, automatic, on-camera flash, invest in a decent flash meter. You will save time, frustration, and wasted film many times over. A lot of flash meters double as reflective meters, so that you are getting two meters for the price of one. This is the type that I would recommend. Flash photography and studio lighting can add a new dimension to your hobby, so give it serious consideration. You should enjoy the journey.

About the Author

R. Dodge Woodson is a full-time internationally-known, best-selling author and photographer. Dodge recently entered semi-retirement and created the World Photographers Organization (WPO). Photographers of all skill levels come to WPO to learn, to increase their sales, and to take advantage of the extensive resources offered to the general public and members. He also created an e-commerce site, www.ccionlinesales.com to showcase his brainchild. the Book Buster e-books. The site offers a full selection of Book Busters, e-books, used bound books, new bound books, stock photography, and much more. Having been a pro photographer for more than 30 years and a full-time writer for 17 years, Dodge now feels it is time to share his tricks of the trade with up-and-coming freelancers.

Canon Eos 40D open box w/28- 135mm IS lens kit.

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