Need advice on home studio equipment

Barb King

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Hi all,

I would love advice from you all on what to buy for a home portrait studio. I do have some money to spend, but what I don't have is a good natural light source or a lot of space. (I'm in a small, dark, one bedroom apartment.) I have a pro camera set up and have had decent success selling portraits of people and animals I've taken outdoors, but I'd love to be able to create some high quality commercial photos indoors when the sun is down or it's raining out. I'd like your advice on a good set up with lighting and backdrop, which would 1. ) provide what I need to take professional looking photos indoors, 2.) be complete in itself without any natural light and 3.) be somewhat portable, so I could easily put it away when I wasn't using it to save space.

Any ideas? Your advice is much appreciated!

Barb
 

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Hi, Barb

Consider your largest (longest) room to serve as your studio. You absolutely need space between your camera and your subject. You can purchase rolls of seamless paper is a variety of colors for a backdrop. Never mind the holding apparatus, you won't have any room to spare. Hang the paper on the back wall. It comes in various widths, so mount your lens and figure out if you can do single head and shoulder portraits. Purchase the paper wider than what you can get in your frame.

Purchase a couple of studio strobes and modifiers such as white umbrellas or softboxes and stands. You can find kits like that for not a lot of money. Avoid continuous lighting because it is simply not enough light for a reasonable shutter speed.

Of course, you will need a tripod for you camera and a cable shutter release. Also, get a set of radio-frequency (RF) triggers to fire the strobes. Typically, studio strobes have a light sensor and can be fired in "slave mode", so you'll need only one receiver, as the other strobes will fire when the first one does.

That should get you started.
 

smoke665

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First you need to decide what you're going to shoot. There's a lot of difference in space requirements between head shots and full body. Generally you will need at least a 20' room. (Between back drop and lens.) for 1 or 2 subjects at a time, to keep subjects 5-8' off the back ground, and enough distance so a telephoto type portrait lens can be used. If you're doing full body ideally you'll need 12-14' ceilings for proper hair, and back lighting on a standing 6' tall person, and the room needs to be however wide you think you'll need. For small groups 2-6 people, it's best to have at least a 10-15' wide room.

Once you have you have what you plan to shoot and the space required, you can then work on lighting. If you're only doing head shots, you can get acceptable results from one light with a large softbox, and a reflector. If you have white walls/ceiling, they can also be used as giant reflectors.
 

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Define, "Have some money to spend". You could do this for a <$1000 by buying Godox/Flashpoint, or you could spend well north of $10,000 using Profoto or Broncolour. @smoke665 pretty much nailed it with the space requirements. If your apartment is small, I would expect anything more than a single-person headshot to be a bit of challenge, so more detail on what you intend to shoot would help as well.
 
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Barb King

Barb King

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Hi, Barb

Consider your largest (longest) room to serve as your studio. You absolutely need space between your camera and your subject. You can purchase rolls of seamless paper is a variety of colors for a backdrop. Never mind the holding apparatus, you won't have any room to spare. Hang the paper on the back wall. It comes in various widths, so mount your lens and figure out if you can do single head and shoulder portraits. Purchase the paper wider than what you can get in your frame.

Purchase a couple of studio strobes and modifiers such as white umbrellas or softboxes and stands. You can find kits like that for not a lot of money. Avoid continuous lighting because it is simply not enough light for a reasonable shutter speed.

Of course, you will need a tripod for you camera and a cable shutter release. Also, get a set of radio-frequency (RF) triggers to fire the strobes. Typically, studio strobes have a light sensor and can be fired in "slave mode", so you'll need only one receiver, as the other strobes will fire when the first one does.

That should get you started.

This is great info! Thank you so much! I didn't realize the value of a strobe over continuous. Very helpful!
 
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Barb King

Barb King

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First you need to decide what you're going to shoot. There's a lot of difference in space requirements between head shots and full body. Generally you will need at least a 20' room. (Between back drop and lens.) for 1 or 2 subjects at a time, to keep subjects 5-8' off the back ground, and enough distance so a telephoto type portrait lens can be used. If you're doing full body ideally you'll need 12-14' ceilings for proper hair, and back lighting on a standing 6' tall person, and the room needs to be however wide you think you'll need. For small groups 2-6 people, it's best to have at least a 10-15' wide room.

Once you have you have what you plan to shoot and the space required, you can then work on lighting. If you're only doing head shots, you can get acceptable results from one light with a large softbox, and a reflector. If you have white walls/ceiling, they can also be used as giant reflectors.

Excellent advice. I do have a long room I can use. This is very helpful. Thank you!!
 
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Barb King

Barb King

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Define, "Have some money to spend". You could do this for a <$1000 by buying Godox/Flashpoint, or you could spend well north of $10,000 using Profoto or Broncolour. @smoke665 pretty much nailed it with the space requirements. If your apartment is small, I would expect anything more than a single-person headshot to be a bit of challenge, so more detail on what you intend to shoot would help as well.

Ha, I am definitely in the <$1000 space. I will look up Godox/Flashpoint. I am hoping to do head and shoulder portraits, maybe photos of objects... and maybe pictures of my dog wearing a sombrero. :) Thank you for the ideas!
 

smoke665

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Define, "Have some money to spend". You could do this for a <$1000 by buying Godox/Flashpoint, or you could spend well north of $10,000 using Profoto or Broncolour. @smoke665 pretty much nailed it with the space requirements. If your apartment is small, I would expect anything more than a single-person headshot to be a bit of challenge, so more detail on what you intend to shoot would help as well.

Ha, I am definitely in the <$1000 space. I will look up Godox/Flashpoint. I am hoping to do head and shoulder portraits, maybe photos of objects... and maybe pictures of my dog wearing a sombrero. :) Thank you for the ideas!

Based on the above I would suggest starting with one quality light that you can build on. You can do perfectly acceptable one light setups with a reflector. https://petapixel.com/2018/01/23/take-great-portraits-one-studio-light/ Don't fall into the buy cheap upfront trap, only to find it doesn't work for you as your skill level increases. Quality built lights and other equipment will last you a lifetime if taken care of. I use Paul Buff Paul C. Buff, Inc. | Professional Photographic Lighting because they are a local company with excellent customer service, and great equipment. You can also find good deals on used equipment out there. If you stick with the better names it will serve you well.
 

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You also may want to consider light modifiers that can take grids, this is a major advantage to control light spill in small spaces. Softboxes, deep parabolic modifiers and metal reflectors from a number of brands are able to do this, umbrellas not so much. Black flags either made from black foam core or duvetyne are also valuable in cutting spill, you'll need grip equipment to hold these.
 
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Barb King

Barb King

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Define, "Have some money to spend". You could do this for a <$1000 by buying Godox/Flashpoint, or you could spend well north of $10,000 using Profoto or Broncolour. @smoke665 pretty much nailed it with the space requirements. If your apartment is small, I would expect anything more than a single-person headshot to be a bit of challenge, so more detail on what you intend to shoot would help as well.

Ha, I am definitely in the <$1000 space. I will look up Godox/Flashpoint. I am hoping to do head and shoulder portraits, maybe photos of objects... and maybe pictures of my dog wearing a sombrero. :) Thank you for the ideas!

Based on the above I would suggest starting with one quality light that you can build on. You can do perfectly acceptable one light setups with a reflector. https://petapixel.com/2018/01/23/take-great-portraits-one-studio-light/ Don't fall into the buy cheap upfront trap, only to find it doesn't work for you as your skill level increases. Quality built lights and other equipment will last you a lifetime if taken care of. I use Paul Buff Paul C. Buff, Inc. | Professional Photographic Lighting because they are a local company with excellent customer service, and great equipment. You can also find good deals on used equipment out there. If you stick with the better names it will serve you well.

Awesome. Thank you again!
 
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Barb King

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You also may want to consider light modifiers that can take grids, this is a major advantage to control light spill in small spaces. Softboxes, deep parabolic modifiers and metal reflectors from a number of brands are able to do this, umbrellas not so much. Black flags either made from black foam core or duvetyne are also valuable in cutting spill, you'll need grip equipment to hold these.

I will keep this in mind and do some research on it. This is all new info for me. Thank you!
 

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This is a very exciting time in studio oriented electronic flash. On the used market you can buy really inexpensive Speedotron equipment for very little money. I have only bought A handful of new lighting equipment pieces since 1986. I would estimate that the price savings on used Speedotron
equipment knock the cost down about 80% lower than buying new.

These days one does not need a lot of flash power. Digital has allowed us to work at ISO levels as high as 400 or higher with good quality. Back in the 1980s we were shooting 25 and 64 and 100 ISO films to get the same quality as we know can get with 100,200?or 400.

I am a believer in using a 4-light set up much of the time and my preference would be to have four identical100 to 150 Watt-second flashes. For many uses 400 Watt-seconds is too much power and you end up using light dialed down much of the time.

In the last five years there have been some significant advances in affordable monolight design, and in triggering and synchronizing the flashes with the camera shutter.

This is a very wide field, and information is hard to come by. I would suggest reading the Strobist blog for a month or so so that you have a little bit better understanding of what you might actually need. He has a pretty good idea of one kit using portable electronic flashes, as well as a kit based around when he calls "big lights",which are studio strobes.
 
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Derrel

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Many lighting kits are being sold today with three lights, two umbrellas, and three light stands. It is my feeling that this is not reallyall that you need. I feel that in order to do The greatest number of Lighting set ups you need a handful of other accessories. First of all you need lights that use the same accessories, so purchasing lights which are identical means that various accessories will fit on all of the light units.

I think you should have a 10° grid,A 20° grid, and the 35°. You can purchase these most commonly in the 7 inch size meaning you will have lights that I have what are called 7 inch grid reflectors. Speedotron makes clip-on frosted mylar diffusers, and when a grid and a diffuser are combined it makes it very easy to create small pools of accent light, even in very tight quarters.

I personally think that is a good idea to have a barn door set.

I believe that if you add a grid set, and a barn door set that you will be able to achieve many more types of lighting then if you were limited to only basic modifiers like umbrellas and soft boxes.

While many grid reflectors are made in the 7 inch size, there are also larger reflectors available, such as 10 or 11,16, and 20 and 22 inches. I personally like the 11 inch size which is a common Speedotron Size. The very largest sizes like the 20 Inch can be covered with a clear or frosted front diffusing panel and give a very crisp light reminiscent of old Hollywood, with sharp shadows.

There are quite a lot of inexpensive made in China umbrellas and soft boxes available from eBay and Amazon. I personally like 30 inch to 43 inch umbrellas and have a fondness for the 24 in x 24 inch soft boxes which are sold now for as little as $35.

One thing to note with big umbrellas: they throw a large swath of light, and sometimes it is difficult to tell what you are doing. When using smaller umbrellas like 30 inch,I think that it is easier to determine where exactly lights should be positioned.
 
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Derrel

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Back around 2005 and 2006 I was purchasing a lot of secondhand Speedotron gear on eBay by the time I quit buying lighting gear, I had a huge system of both Brown Line and Black Line Power supplies and flash heads.at one time I had 24 total light heads and six or seven power supplies, ranging from 200 W seconds up to 2400 Watt-seconds. I had at least one of each type of brown line flash Head, and three types of black line heads. In brown line the M-11 style flash uses the same accessories as the black line units,and so I would consider it to be the best of the brown line flash heads.

The vast majority of brown line power supplies made over the past 40 years will allow you to use four flash units.

I have been a speedo brown line owner since 1986,and bought my first black Line gear around the year 2000.
Over the past 30 years electronic flash has moved away from the box and cable system and toward the self-contained monolight systems.

The advantage of mono lights is that they are self-contained and you can bring just one if you need just one. The advantage of box and cable system is that the power packs are available in different sizes from basically 400 to 2400 Watt-seconds,and individual light heads are relatively small, light in weight,and affordable. If you would like to have four lights,on the secondhand market you can probably buy a Speedotron Brown line light kit for under 300 bucks. If on the other hand you want new Mono lights it will cost you from $125-$250 each.

The difference is quite significant when it comes to needing powerful lights. For example the Speedotron D604 Power supply sells for around $150 on the used market, and most M 11 let units have a 1000 W second maximum bulb , so for around $250 total you can go out and buy a used D604 power supply in the used M 11 light for very little money. If however you need a 600 W second one the light you're probably looking at 500 bucks or so.

Another advantage of the box and cable system is a need for only one wall outlet to run 4 to 6 lights. This becomes a real issue when you're on location.

More modern flash systems have a whole host of high tech features such as high-speed synchronization 1/10 of a stop light output Control and so on. The real secret is if you need 1/10th of a stop More or less light,then just move the light stand a very short Distance.

In modern monolight flashe,I have been recommending the flashpoint brand sold by Adorama for several years now. In the last five years the Godox brand has become very popular, and there are several people here who have invested in it.

There are positives and negatives to both box and cable systems and to self contained mono lights
 
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If there is anything that I would suggest that you buy it is a 30 inch or so soft box with a recessed face and a fabric egg crate or grid. This is an extremely useful type of light and even the 24 inch size is very useful in close quarters

I used to shoot studio portraiture five days a week in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We used two identical deep dish 16 inch parabolic reflectors with mylar diffuser material on the front;a variable focusing background light ; and ain the custom-designed overhead hair light called "the skylighter".

Today I think I would probably go with two identical 24 inch-square soft boxes, since these adapt well to almost any brand of lights

If you look at manyvideos on YouTube you will see people using 60 and 72 inch light modifiers, but I do not recommend this size for use in apartments: lights of this size are just so big ,and with 8 foot high ceilings, lights bigger than about 43 inches are a royal pain in the butt.

I think that over the last 10 years there has been way too much emphasis is placed upon the size of the light, with many people recommending 60 inch umbrellas as the starting size, and I do not think that that is the way to go. I think you'll find it is much easier to set up and use 30 inch, or 32 inch, or 43 inch umbrellas, and 24 and 30 inch soft boxes. My largest soft box is currently 48" x 60 inches, and it is a huge pain in the ass in many situations. At times yes is worth it, but many times I find myself using a single 43 inch umbrella and a large 42"x 72" white panel reflector.

I remember ordering two 24x24 inch soft boxes from eBay about 12 years ago. I was amazed at how useful they were, even though people had said they were far too small for most portraiture, I was immediately taken by How smal and easy to work with they were. The unit that had the removable fabric egg crate or grid was by far my favorite
 
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