Help with setting up studio lighting for portraits in small space


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Apr 3, 2011
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Toronto, Canada
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I am going to move into a 560 sq ft. (yes that's right) soon and I want to set up studio lighting for basic portraits so that I can learn to use lighting and modifiers all that fun stuff. Being a small space, I am planning to use the living room and just move the sofa and coffee table out of the way. This also means, what I want is something that can be setup and taken away easily.

The ceiling will be 9 feet high. The width of the living room is 10 feet (minus the TV stand because I am not moving that). So this is like Mission Impossible.

Because it's such a small space, I am thinking that I don't need to buy any expensive high power strobes and hugh softboxes. Will two SB-600/700/800/900/910, two small stands and two umbrellas be the only thing I can do? I have the D300s so I can use it as the commander to trigger the two off-camera flashes. I am thinking that the power of the two Nikon flashes will be enough for such a small space.

Any comments?
If it's that small you probably could get away with some interesting results by just bouncing the light of walls and ceiling. I doubt modifiers will be needed unless desired.
You're right...based on size limits, you will NOT need high-power flash units...ya' just will not be able to utilize big POP! flash units.

You could probably use up to five flash units, with some practice and some concepts nailed down. Power ratios on speedlights are handy for mixing and matching and giving nuanced output levels....1/128 or 1/64, plus 1/3 stop variability all the way up to Full power...nice.

Umbrellas are not all you could use. In fact, I would really want to have a small 24x24 softbox with a fabric grid or "egg crate" to help control spill light. In fact, a pair of low-cost e-bay Chinese-made cheap softboxes with grids for each would be nice to have.

Lighting is more about control and nuance than about just blasting the area with light, and umbrellas can tend to flood areas with light more so than other modifiers. SHoot-through umbrellas in 9-foot ceiling, small areas often create both a main lighting direction AND quite a bit of ambient spill light, which means that, in small,low-ceilinged rooms, sometimes a shoot-through umbrella will create a main light, and the bounced light that blasts out the other side of the umbrella will serve as FILL-in light for shadows...

You can also use gobos, which "go between", and reflectors, as well as "black cards", which help with subtractive lighting. A snoot for a flash could be nice to have, as would be some of the Honl brand flash mod tools, like their grid and their wraps or flags.

When you work in a back bedroom or a studio apartment, you need to think more about controlling and modifying the light than about having enough light...because not much is "enough".

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