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Studio lighting recommendations and experiences?

Discussion in 'Studio Equipment and Lighting' started by ednaz, May 4, 2005.

  1. I'm in the process of trying to put together a budget for buying studio lighting gear. Not for a studio of my own, I'm a renter still, and I'm not patient enough and good enough at portraiture to make a go of that kind of work. I'm looking for lighting that will let me shoot stock images with models - yes, I do know how tough stock is, but I made it through the first couple barriers now and have an opening for some permanent ongoing work.

    I'll be renting studios, or going on location, to shoot. The range of images will be from full body "scenes" to closeups of just fingertips and a raspberry. I've been looking at monolights versus wired lighting. Seems to me that monolights would be wonderful for mobility and flexibility on site, but they seem to be "slow" in flash duration - most wired systems like Alien Bees are near 1/2000 of a second. I also worry if monolights will make it through a 6-8 hour shooting day. Any opinions or experience?

    My second issue is how many lights and power levels. I studied lighting design for theater decades ago, and to me, lighting a scene involves 30 or 40 lights, four or five different gels, and other insane levels of technology that only make sense in a theater. How many is enough?

    Power levels also are a problem for me - huge numbers of lights at 300ws, but that's about the same as my SB80Dx. Doesn't seem enough, at ISO 100 and distances of 8-15 feet. Few, and very expensive, lights at 600-750ws and above. But I have a rule, buy once only and the right stuff only even if it means waiting to accumulate enough $$, don't buy and trade and trade and trade. What's a sensible solution here?

    I already know that I'll be shooting mostly with softboxes, honeycombed backlighting, ring lights, and beauty disks. That seems to be the easiest set of decisions, no choice of gear closes those doors.

    Any and all experiences and advice welcome. I'm kind of a sponge when it comes to making decisions like this.

  2. Well that is a tough one! Ok lets start from the beginning of your post.
    I use only monoblocks and have for 10 years now. I did own some
    speedotron before that. The problems with packs and heads IMO
    are numerous: If the pack decides it is not going to work, then neither
    are you. also you end up having to run all your cords to the pack which
    may mean require head extensions ($) etc......

    My lights run 5 days a week every week and have so for 10 years now.
    I can't tell you about Alien Bees, never used them. All my lights are
    Bowens Prolites from Britain. The same brand of lights are also sold
    under the Calumet label and re-branded as Travellites. My lights range
    from 500ws to 1500ws and I always seem to have too much power. to the
    point that very often I need a ND filter. This was never a problem back
    in the large format days but is now that I shoot most of my work with
    a DSLR.

    As for lighting a scene four letters (KISS) Keep It Simple Stupid
    Remember studio lighting should have direction just like daylight.
    Two or three lights is all that is needed to get you started. One main
    light, one fill (usually opposite main and much less power) and perhaps
    a background or hair light. Don't over light the scene. Remember there
    is only one shadow direction in the outside world, that is how many you
    should have on your subjects to look natural.
  3. Whoa, you gave me a better answer than you may think

    I"ve been looking at the Calumet lights. I've been thinking the 750ws units were good, and the three light packages they offer are pretty well priced. Nice to know they are Bowens, lots of experience behind that name.

    What's the flash speed? I see those eye-popping shots of the woman who shoots dancers, and she's doing 1/1000 or faster. Seems I can't find monolights that are fast flash speed - lots of times they don't even tell you what the flash speed is. Gotta think this through.

    Can you run your monolights off mains power, if you've got a really long heavy duty session? Is the flash duration different if it's plugged in?

    I hear you about the powerpacks being all or nothing, that's exactly what I've worried about. Murphy, of the famous Murphy's Law, lives in my camera bag.

    The digital thing is something I've thought a lot about. I suspected the high watt second lights were all about ISO 50 films, but I still do shoot film - ISO 100 films generally.

    I know I'm over-engineering lighting. My "guru" Jay Maisel says "God does pretty amazing thins with one light, why would I want to screw around with that?" I thought I might be able to do what I want with three lights; you've given me a bit of comfort about that.

    Thanks, Robin.
  4. Flash duration? Well I will have to find the owners manual
    for my heads. I'll get back to you on that one. Although I
    have never had a problem freezing action. Generally speaking
    the lower you have the power on your heads the faster your
    flash duration will be. The Bowens Esprit Gemini 750 has a flash
    duration of 1/2380th of a sec. The Esprit Digital 750 has a flash
    duration ranging from 1/3250 at low power to 1/1700 at full power.
    But this is a top of the line head and costs $1450 per head at

    My studio mono's are only AC powered, some of the newer bowens
    equipment is AC/DC. So I can't comment on this.

    The high watt second lights were designed with large format camera
    in mind. It is not uncommon to shoot at f64 with one of these camera's.
    The camera itself will diminish the amount of light you have as you get
    closer to the subject, and the bellows become longer.



    How much more frozen in time do you need?
  5. man, this nikoncafe place is good

    Got it. Good info. The calumet version of the 750 runs about $400 here, on sale and inspecial packages.

    Robin, you've done a great job of tweaking my brain. THanks.
  6. Be careful, That is not the Esprit Digital or the Esprit Gemini for $400.
    The price I gave you for this head is in US dollars at Calumet and it is
    $1449.99. Check their site. http://www.calumetphoto.com/ctl?PAG...cat.CatTreeSearch.detail=y&type=SPDSEARCH

    As I said this is a top of the line Pro Series Monoblock. I don't know
    what the flash duration of the Calumet Travelites is but I would not
    expect it to be more than 1/750th.

    I guess what you have to determine is how important that super fast
    flash duration is

  7. AndyE


    May 2, 2005
    Vienna, Austria
    YOu might find this link interesting

    A couple of months ago, a thread was started at http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/144181 titled "Show us your studio". lots of inovative solutions, excellent results, whole range of the cost spectrum. ( this thread had over 650 replies)

  8. DanWhite


    Jul 10, 2005
    Lansdale PA

    I think that you will find that depending on your shooting space, 750 W/S Might be a little overkill. I do a lot of portraiture (i.e. families, kids, seniors). I have used many different types of mono lights and pack heads ( I rent also)I originally bought a 600 W/S and found I needed to use a ND filter to get anything acceptable, way to much light even through a large SB (32 X 40). I now shoot with Adorama's flashpoint II 620's (I have 3 of them). They are 300 W/S with a guide number of 200. I have used these for 10 and 12 hour days with out fail. Not saying that there is anything wrong with the calumet lights, there excellent lights, but when I was looking I just could not justify the price point. I'm actually relatively local to you. Shoot me an email if you would like to check them out when I'm working some time.

  9. I ended up getting Elinchroms

    Dan, I ended up getting Elinchroms, two 600ws and one 1200ws. I am working a couple of dance companies to try to get a project going, and I knew I'd need the fast flash duration, which you really can only get with Elinchrom. Have been shooting with them for a bit over a month. In one studio situation, I found I had the 1200 turned way down even with a really soft softbox (the Photek octabox), and the 600 I was using behind the white muslin was also turned down even to blow out a backdrop.

    Then, the studio I shot in two weeks ago, was much larger, and not a completely white box, but instead, a black box, which gave me 100% control of the light. It also meant zero spill, and I was using every ws of light to get the depth of field I wanted. I was also shooting groups of four at full length sometimes, which needs the light. The dancer project, if I can get everyone on board, I'll have to evenly light a big area, since I'll be asking them to jump or fly, and can't count on precision all the time, so I'll end up diffusing the daylights out of the light.
  10. DanWhite


    Jul 10, 2005
    Lansdale PA


    Elinchroms are outstanding lights. The studio I rent is completely black and I generally shoot in a low key style in studio so even at 600 WS I was constantly getting blow highlights when it was turned all the way down and having to use a lot of makeup on my subjects. best of luck with them!!

  11. Ah, I'm a high-key guy

    Even when the models are clothed in black, I'm a high key guy. Gotta say, you can always turn the lights down.

    I'm working hard to try to get the dancer thing tied down, otherwise I shouldn't have gotten the Elinchrom... We'll see.
  12. JCPhoto

    JCPhoto Guest

    You hear a lot about Alien Bee's but they are the cheaper brand produced by Paul Buff. Look into the White Lightnings. They are made by the same company and have a stronger build for more durability. They also have a stronger modeling light. If you can afford a little more money the Calumet lights are the ones to get. Great bang for the buck with fast recycle time. Unless your trying to go high key and have to light the background you can get away with two lights at first and do pretty good with just two. It won't break the bank but you will have some lights that will last and really do the job.
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