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Need advice for a portable studio kit ... cls?

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by Harry Lavo, Aug 2, 2008.

  1. I committed to shooting a portrait of a friend's baby at three months of age....and that date is coming up in about six weeks. Only problem is, I know little about the flash world in general and the Nikon flash world in particular.

    I see Adorama offering a bargain two-stand plus umbrella plus flash kit (with automatic triggering) for $250. I see I can get a two stand and umbrella kit for about $100. I know I can pay $185 each for two SB-600s with approximately the same guide number as the Adorama kit, thus putting together a minimal CLS kit for about $470, or nearly twice as much.

    But I am full of questions:

    * Versus the Adorama, what advantage would a two-light Nikon CLS setup provide? Is it simply controlling power output from the central commander, vs physically setting the level or moving the lights? If not, what other advantage?

    * What advantage would having at least one Nikon strobe be an SB-800 give? Any? Any for this particular use?

    * Can the Nikon system use snoots, barndoors, lightboxes, etc. like regular studio lights/flashes. Are these available custom made for the Nikons, or do they only require a generic stand fitting?

    * Does the auto-light setup really work for a portrait setting, or is a hard-wired sync a better option.

    * What kind of backdrop would you recommend for a baby portrait? Homemade? Commercial?

    I am sure there are other things I need to know and don't know I need to know, but if you can help me with these questions it will help and I'd appreciate it. Then tell me what else I need to know :) .

    Casual portraits I can handle. Candid portraits I can handle. But a studio-type shot is not something I've tried before and I'd like a little time to test it out (anybody got a large size baby doll they'd like to donate?).

    Your help would be greatly appreciated.
  2. GKR1


    Apr 19, 2007
    San Diego
    Hi Harry, personally I would use window light and a reflector for a baby. Flashes make babies very upset, speaking from my past experience.

    To find the answer to your questions and to learn more about the add-ons on Nikon strobes please visit www.strobist.com and start reading. There is a wealth of info on strobist site.

    Nikon strobes are very capable for their intended use. Here are few examples, main light camera left was sb800 snooted with 1/2 CTO, fill light sb-600 camera right 1/4 cto with gobo and third light for backdrop and textuer sb-600 red gel.



  3. Nikon's made it easy for us, Harry. You have CLS built into your d80. All you need now is a Nikon flash (or two) capable of wireless iTTL, and you'll have an extraordinary point & shoot lighting system. Just set the flash(es) to remote mode, put them on stands off to the sides, and let your d80 manage them with signals from the popup flash. Then get out of the way. The camera and remote(s) will conspire to determine the appropriate power level for each flash to properly expose your subject.

    Many of us have started off with the $99 B&H umbrella kit. It's a great value and good quality stuff. It will give you everything you need... except the flashes, of course. And, yes, you'll be able to add different kinds of modifiers to your kit, including softboxes, snoots, and all sorts of fun stuff :biggrin:.

    Now, as for baby pics, I used a pair of speedlights, the B&H kit, and a 35/2 for a session last year.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    View attachment 232967

    View attachment 232968
  4. GKR1


    Apr 19, 2007
    San Diego
    Nice pictures, number 1 is just great, and I love the light in 3.

    I tried few flash shots with my son and he did not like it, perhaps I was biased too.

  5. Thanks, Frank....that is the kind of hands on demo and advice I was hoping for. I guess I'll order today.
  6. Thanks for the advice, Amir. I am going to start with some natural light shots...those I do know how to do. But I did promise them portraits, and I wanted to do at least a few using conventional studio technique.

    I have spent a little time on Strobist, but until I have gear in hand it is hard to learn. I figure a good chunk of the next year I will be bouncing back and froth from reading to doing.
  7. Question for Frank and Amir -

    I take it neither of you ever use fixed studio lights. Would those be better for portrait work with young kids and babies?
  8. For portable lights on location I use SB-28's on stands with umbrellas and Pocket Wizards. They're never to fail yet
  9. GKR1


    Apr 19, 2007
    San Diego
    For me fixed lights are heavy to lug around and they require power outlets or huge battery packs. However, they do give you a lot more flexibility, such as wattage, recycle time, and being able to use big soft-boxes. I think that B&H kit Frank recommended is a great starter kit and you can build from there.
  10. Fixed studio lights are more powerful. That allows you to use larger light modifiers, which can result in "softer" light. It also lets you use tighter aperture settings, which affords more depth of field. Judging from the title of your thread, I thought portability was a key parameter, but if you're thinking of building a studio in your basement and having all of your subjects come to your home, studio lighting is the best approach.

    Small speedlights and small light modifiers can create a studio "look".

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    If that's what they're after, they can find it at a reasonable price at Sears. But what's difficult for Sears is an intimate portrait. It's not cost effective for the mto take the time to relax their clients.... which is difficult to do in their sterile studio environment.... or to explore their personalities.

    View attachment 232970

  11. Thanks, Frank. I will use it in a small studio, but I wanted the studio to be portable as I prefer to do location work when possible. So lights, reflectors, etc but natural backdrops. I just didn't know what the best lighting was, or the most basic lighting fixtures.

    What advantages does this give you, if I may ask? It seems to me that cls offers simplicity and adjustability, but with some tradeoffs. What do you find most compelling about your setup?

    I've been looking hard at it, Amir, thanks. I'll probably go that way for fixtures, plus a reflector (or two). But I'm still a bit puzzled on whether to spend all that money on flashes for the cls system, whether to go studio flash and battery, or whether to go cheap with older flashes and the wizards.
  12. Harry, I had the same

    quandry as yourself with regard to studio vs portable lights. In the end, I opted for the portability of the CLS system. However, after getting all the equipment, I still wondered how the studio set up would have worked. I eventually ordered an Alien Bees B800 and a softbox. After a few test shots, I decided my Nikon system offered a whole lot more flexibility and better suited my shooting style.

    Here is a page dedicated to my results.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 17, 2008
  13. Hi Joe -

    Thanks for sharing your experience...one happy CLS'er I take it. Or did you use pocketwizards or equivalent?

    I couldn't get the page up, BTW, but I did go to your SmugMug site and look at your portrait shots. I see why you desire the flexibility....some nice work there.

  14. Harry, link is now fixed

    I had too many "http"s :smile:

    Here it is again if you don't want to page back.

    I do use CLS, and not pocket wizards, but there are some limitations if one is in a very large room (like an ice rink, for example). As long as there is line of site from the master flash to the remotes you will be fine. Even if there is not a direct line of site, as long as the reflected light reaches the sensore on the remotes, all should be well.

    Harry, the biggest advantage (to me) to the Nikon system is that all the work to compute the correct exposure is done in the camera, and nearly instantly. I tend not to have too much time to set-up and my subjects tend to be fast moving, or the portrait session is sometimes spontaneous. The CLS system gives great flexibility that suits my style.

    Thanks for the comments.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 17, 2008
  15. Thanks Joe. The photos, layouts, equipment list all very helpful. And the final results excellent. When I looked at your smugmug site earlier, at your skating shots, I could see that you had to work fast. Did you use backgrounds for those shots, or was the whilte just rink walls?
  16. Hi Harry.

    Almost all my skating shots (that you can see in my galleries) are under rink lighting and with rink backgrounds. I have done some more "controlled" shots, but those have been done very quickly during practice ice.

    The shots in this gallery were done with seamless white paper hung over the boards. In general, most were taken using rink lights, but a couple (I think) had SB-800s. We worked fast here because hockey players took over even though we had the ice time reserved.

    All of these (minus the one on the bench) were shot with one or two SB-800s into umbrellas (minus the one with the water background, which was an SB800 aimed at the subject).

    This was a single SB-800 shot through a softbox, camera left. The camera was set to manual settings, with a shutter speed that would underexpose the background, while an aperture of f/9 (thought it was f/8) in combination with spot metering allowed the camera to compute the amount of light needed to properly expose the dress.

    This one
    had two SB-800s shot into umbrellas, camera right and left. The background was a home-made died muslin that was fastened to the boards.

    These were shot with multiple SB-800s. In general, I had 2 shot into umbrellas, camera right and left, onto a white seamless paper background. I had one, camera right into a silver/gold umbrella, and a white foamcore reflector camera left. There is much I can do to improve the technical quality, but it was my very first try and the client was pleased, so I am too.
  17. Thanks, Joe. Great illustrations for a beginner at this lighting stuff.
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