Studio Lighting ... backdrops ... need help!!

Discussion in 'Digital Discussion & Q&A' started by ACrossley, Sep 25, 2009.

  1. ACrossley

    ACrossley TPF Noob!

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    Hi friends,
    My next investment really needs to be off-camera lighting. I realize there are many options out there and thus I am coming to you all.

    I shoot with a Canon D40 and 580 EX Flash. Most of my work consists of newborns, children, and family shoots. I take approx. ten weddings per year but am more concerned with using the lighting with traditional sessions.

    I shoot outdoors and in client's homes as I do not own a studio.

    I want to stay between $500-$800 for the total investment at this point. I would also appreciate any recommendations in terms of portable backdrops.

    Any links, brand names, or personal experience would be much appreciated. Please take a look at my site if you need more understanding of how the equipment would be used.
     
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    For off camera lighting, you could add a Canon 'slave' flash (either a 430 or another 580) and use Canon's wireless system. The advantage of this is that you retain E-TTL flash metering for your off-camera unit and can control it's power remotely. The disadvantage is that you still need to keep a master unit on camera....and this system uses light pulses for communication, which doesn't work well outdoors.

    Another option would be to use radio flash triggers. This is a much more reliable connection and you can use just about any flash. The disadvantage is that you have to figure out the flash power required and set it manually.


    HERE
    is a kit with two flashes and a cheap radio trigger kit. It should work well enough, but you may want to use a more reliable (more expensive) radio trigger system. Pocket Wizards are the industry standard, but they run about $180 each, and you need one for the camera and on for each light. Also check out the Cyber Syncs from Paul Buff.

    For portable backdrops, there are many kits available that come with two stands, a cross bar and a carrying bag. I have one from Dynatran, it cost me about $100 (plus shipping). It's OK but I would recommend one that uses a standard 5/8" light stand stud on top. Mine just has a stud and wing nuts, it works fine but I can't use them as light stands in a pinch like you could with a standard light stand.
     
  3. ACrossley

    ACrossley TPF Noob!

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    Thanks Mike!
    Your help is always so precise ... in fact I believe you are the one who made me get off my rear and get a site instead of just a blog ;)

    What about the Alien Bees? I have seen a great deal of discussion on these.
     
  4. Christie Photo

    Christie Photo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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  5. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    For conventional family portraitue and indoor location lighting, I think studio lights that run off of 115 volt AC power work the best, especially when you are getting started. If money is tight, I think you ought to look at these 150 watt-second monolights, at $129 per light/umbrella/10 foot light stand,with free shipping. FP320K Flashpoint II 320A Monolight Kit, 150 Watt Second, One Monolight Kit with Stand and Umbrella.

    I understand the allure of the strobist kits, but it's $429 for basically two, 60-watt-second shoe mount flashes,two stands, a carry case, and two umbrella mounts. I personally think three, 150 watt-second AC monolights would be better for portraiture and location lighting. For studio lighting setups, I prefer studio lights. I made my own "strobist" setup back in 1986,with three 285 HVs and two Quantum batteries, but I also bought Speedotron lights around the same time; the studio lights work better and look more professional and are more versatile too.

    To me, the WYSIWYG of modeling lamps is worth it. The Paul C. Buff Vagabond II or the Innovatronix Explorer 1200 are good pure sine wave/battery portable power solutions that allow you to run your studio lights on-location away from AC current. Just a clarification: if you have a Pocket Wizard transmitter and a receiver, additional 3rd and 4th flash units can be triggered with inexpensive optical slave triggers from Wein or Vivitar or any other maker. FlashZebra has a lot of slaves at fair prices.

    For indoor shooting, a remote triggering system is not absolutely needed; the old reliable PC synch cord will work,and it is an inexpensive item.
     
  6. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Some good points from Derrel.
    Studio lights (whether monolights or a pack/head system) are a good option, and you can run them off of a portable battery when needed....but you could carry that 'strobist' kit just about anywhere with you fairly easily.

    As with anything, there are pros and cons to consider. You really have to weigh your options and how they will work for your specific circumstances.
     
  7. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    The question, "What about Alien Bees?" comes up a lot. I grew up on pack and head systems--Norman, Photogenic Machine Company,Speedotron Brown Line,and then 20 years later Speedotron Black Line, and just a tiny bit with DynaLite. All pack and head systems, all USA-made,all made for professional use. The "Bees" are made offshore, but some assembly is done in the USA. People talk about the great warranty the products have, and I see a lot of stories about the lights having to go back for service--that is the polar opposite of Speedotron and Photogenic gear, which is built to very,very heavy-duty specifications and almost never need servicing even after decades of use.

    What I see in monolights like Alien Bees is clever marketing, and a very targeted, web-friendly marketing of a foreign-made product being passed off as American made, and sold with customer service and a truly friendly web presence. MOST ALL other lighting manufacturers have a very low-key,no-hype type of web presence. Most other lighting mfrs. do almost NO marketing whatsoever,and market on strength of product and a full line of solutions for professionals. Paul C. Buff is one of the FEW lighting companies that actively advertises its products where beginners and enthusiasts will see the advertising. They really,really have marketing down. Kudos to them!

    Myself, I have a lot of used lighting gear,bought over many years. I love a bargain,and take delight in buying used lighting gear at fire sale prices. Currently, used Alien Bees sell for 85% of new prices, while Speedotron sells for 30% of retail on eBay because so many professional shooters have bought Speedotron since the 1980's,and the stuff is like a quantity..it's like 2x4 lumber...it's nation-wide. People buy lighting gear, try it, then never use it,and without hype to drive demand, there is no resale value on plentiful, dependable pack and head systems--unless the name if ProFoto, the only system that really promotes itself,and it has to--it's expensive. Many would say over-priced. Nice, but very expensive,like say Mercedes-Benz.

    Alien Bees is mostly a people photography system,and in terms of watt-seconds per head, monolights are very costly if you need a lot of light through one head. I prefer a 4- or 6- outlet power pack. One wall socket, up to 4 heads, 5 with a splitter added. Or a 6-outlet pack with 2400 watt-seconds splittable multiple ways. Need 2000 watt seconds on one light and 400 on a second head? Price that out on Alien Bees; it's around $1200,and requires four separate monolights. With Speedotron, you could buy a used 2,400 watt second pack for $395-$500,and model 102 fan-cooled lights at $100-$195 each.

    In Alien Bees I see a system geared mostly toward umbrella use and casual, fun, cute-colored, lightweight monolights, with three models and a few accessories. With other brands of pack and head systems, I see an entirely different design philosophy,and an almost complete lack of marketing. Alien Bees have an almost fanatical following these days, and it's hard to discuss them without people who own them coming to the defense of the 'Bees. I think in terms of using five lights much of the time: main,fill,separation,and two for background illumination. To me, the pack and head systems from Speedotron are the better solution than being required to have five or six AC outlets. All adjustments are made at the power pack. No slaves are required. Most Black Line heads are fan-cooled. Speed rings are big and beefy and rotate. Reflectors do not get bent up easily. There are five different sizes of parabolic reflectors to choose from. Grids fit on with no adapter needed. The breadth of the system is staggering, including Fresnel spotlights, and packs from 4,800 down to 400 watt-seconds, in two price lines.

    That is not the way the Alien Bees system is designed. I see the Alien Bees as being consumer portrait and location lighting. Well-marketed and very popular,and affordable especially if you only need one,two,or three lights and are using umbrellas. The marketing of A-B's has allowed them to become very popular,and when they break, the company repairs them very quickly.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2009
  8. ACrossley

    ACrossley TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for all the feedback. It looks like I have some research to do. The equipment does need to be easily portable as I am traveling on location and have to transport all materials.

    I am also fuzzy on how many external flashes/ lights I need. I know there are many angles in terms of lighting the subject, but how many lights do you guys recommend for a balanced look?

    Are any of you on location photographers who travel with equipment to others homes and location choices? What do you use?

    Thanks again!!
     
  9. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    I used to fly with 9 monolights and all their needed accessories. In a way it is a matter of what you are willing to do but also of what the job requires. The right cases and a little organization goes a long way in making life easier.

    Notice I said monolights. Packs and heads may be cheaper but you are limited in distance from the pack. Unless they have invented extension cords for the heads. They work fine in a small (area wise) set up like a portrait studio or in a set up with multi heads in large softboxes.

    My main reason to go with monolights was that there are fewer cords running all over the place and that's that many fewer things for people to trip over. Pro models are used to the studio environment and usually pay attention to where they step. Most other people don't.

    I started with 3 strobes and built from there but you could start with less. It is just a matter of learning to work with what you have.

    Alien Bees are very attractive price wise but they seem to have some color problems. Something worth researching.

    The strobist way is fine to learn light but I really don't think it is a professional way to work. Flashes are not designed to take the abuse that strobes are designed for and they have very little power. It is fine for someone having fun but not imo for someone working their lights day in, day out.

    In a thread someone showed a bracket to hold two Nikon flashes in one umbrella. A quick calculation showed it was cheaper to go with an Alien Bee with more power. Not to mention that I have not seen a softbox designed to work with two flashes so you are limited to umbrellas which are not always the best choice.

    Hope that helps.
     
  10. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    "Unless they have invented extension cords for the heads"

    Yes they HAVE invented extension cords for the heads. Virtually all pack and head manufacturers offer head extension cables. Speedotron Black Line 25 foot light head extension cables cost $98.95. Speedotron Brown Line 20 foot light head extension cables cost $49.50. On Bay these go for about $30 to $60 usually.

    Black Line lights come standard with 25-foot long cords and 25 foot AC cords; Brown Line units come with 20 foot cords and 20 foot AC cords. So you can set the lights up 50 feet away from an AC outlet with Black Line, 40 feet with Brown Line if using the factory-supplied AC cord. Adding a single light head extension cord, will place the lights up to 50 feet away from the power pack and 75 feet away from your required SINGLE AC outlet with Black Line; 40 feet away from the power pack and 60 feet from the AC outlet with Brown Line.

    "Fewer cords running all over the place with monolights?" I do not quite understand that statement. Each monolight requires an AC electrical wall outlet,so six monolights means six AC outlets are needed,and that means there are six cables running along the floor and to the light stands.

    A 6-outlet Speedotron pack requires ONE AC outlet, and then you run six power cables to the heads on light stands. Each system has six cords, but the monolights require six AC outlets, while the power pack needs just one,single AC outlet. Seems like a good trade to me. Adjusting all six head can be done from one central location on a pack system; with monolights you get to walk around and adjust each head, one by one by one. Either system type, monolight or pack and head, delivers more power than speedlights do. There are a LOT of good choices on the market today, with brands and models for every budget. What a person buys depends on their current and future needs; some systems are simply deeper than other systems,with many more accessories, or features.

    Portraiture usually doesn't require a "lot" of power,especially now that ISO 200 and d-slr captures look so doggone good...the ISO 64 days are long gone. Four, 150 watt-second lights ought to be enough for the OP's type of portrait and family work. Monolights tend to be pretty top-heavy on light stands, since they have the flash generator and capacitors inside the head,while pack and head light units are significantly lighter and less top-heavy on the stands. DynaLite has really,really light heads!
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2009
  11. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    For studio shooting, I agree completely. Even for typical fashion, glamor, product...I agree. But for more on-the-go type pros, I wouldn't say that using speedlites is unprofessional.

    I recently read one of Joe McNally's books and he relayed a quote from one of the old pros who he learned from:
    "I use available light...any F-ing light that is available."
     

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