Need advice on home studio equipment

ac12

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I like the "strobist" idea to starting out.
You can do both studio/home or on site work with the same gear, and you are not dependent on an AC outlet.

But, IMHO, for a beginner, not being able to see the shadows as you do your setup makes it harder to learn.
Continuous lighting (CL) also lets you see the shadows.
The problem with CL is the amount of light is comparatively low. Requiring longer exposures, which is OK for still life, but harder for portrature.​
A studio strobe with a modelling light lets you see the shadows.

I agree totally about the BIG umbrella being a PiA to deal with in a small apartment. Not only are they big and clumsy, but they can be difficult for your client to walk into the shooting area. Get a smaller one 33 and/or 43 inches.

I agree about a small soft box. 10 years ago, umbrellas were the defacto standard for a beginner, because softboxes were so expensive. The Chinese manufacturers have made soft boxes sooo much more affordable to a new shooter, than soft boxes were 10 years ago. So a beginner should seriously consider a softbox.

Tip. Look for easy assemble/setup softboxes, which are designed like an umbrella. The older boxes, like what I have, are a PiA to assemble and disassemble, so that almost becomes a reason for NOT using them.​

Power is something that you have to be careful of.
Multiple monolights will pull power at the same time, and could pop the circuit breaker.
Put 3 units that draw 10 amps surge, and you will pop the breaker.
Check the specs of the monolight, to see how much current it draws.
See if you have more than one circuit that you can plug into.​
A pack unit only has a single power draw, so may/will not draw as much current as multiple monolights.

One disadvantage of a pack unit is the cables that run from the pack to the heads.
Do NOT step on them, and be careful not to trip on them.

Another disadvantage of the older packs is that you can't dial them down as much as you can the modern monolights.
I can dial most of my packs down 2 stops, some of the monolights let you dial down 10 stops.

Like @Derrel , I built my studio kit by getting used Speedotrons. If you shop well, you can get a 400ws brownline with 3 heads for less than $300.
 

smoke665

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Speedotrons are like tanks, they just keep going. I saw a complete setup, powerpack, 4 light heads, cables, stands, bag, everything go for $75 at auction last year. That $75 set will likely still be going when I'm gone. However the very things that make them so durable are also the things that are making them obsolete.

I primarily use 1,2,3, and 4 light setups. With moonlights, and a wireless controller half the size of a cigarette pack, I can control all the lights as groups, or individually, adjust power individually or by groups, turn lights on/off, turn modeling lights on off, and save an unlimited number of lighting setups that can be recalled with the touch of a button. All wireless, without leaving my spot behind the camera.

As to power draw I've run up to 6 lights on a 20 amp circuit and never tripped a breaker. Small stand mount power packs are available for most of the major brands if you want to keep the floor totally clean.
 

ac12

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And they also make battery powered monolights, so with the wireless control you can have a cable-free setup, with nothing to trip on. :)

For the AC monolights, yes you need to read the specs to make sure that you can run multiple heads on a circuit.
It would stink to buy a set of lights, then find out multiple lights will pop the breaker.
Although if the high current surge is short enough, even if you exceed the breaker's rating, it won't pop.
 

smoke665

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@ac12 Buff lists the average amp draw for all models at 6 amps, but there's a lot of variables including what power level you're using. I had a long discussion with them on this, because I wanted to use a 2000 watt inverter for outside use. When it was all said and done the actual draw in use was well under 3 amps. I suspect it's actually lower still because with the battery pack they recommend keeping the lights to under 3600 ws total, but say it will support more with a longer recycle time.
 
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tirediron

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Another vote for Speedotron; I've got packs from 200 to 1600 w/s and somewhere in the dozen - dozen-and-a-half heads of various styles. Bought used, this stuff is cheap like Borscht, and it's top quality, all-metal, lasts forever. I've yet to have a flashtube fail other than through damage which was my fault. My favorite thing though (and I know I've said this many times here), if you need parts, have problems, questions, etc, you call the 1-800 number and a REAL PERSON answers the 'phone and helps you!!
 

Derrel

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Speedo's brown line has several very easy to understand lighting ratios that are very easy to use in almost all portrait and wedding situation. I have been using the speedotron System for about 33 years now, but I have experience with other systems such as Norman, Dynalite, Photogenic, and a little bit of white ligtning,and Sunpak MS 4000, and JTL my latest flas acquisition a few years ago was the Elinchrom ELB 400, A new high-tech battery powered high-sync (sic) flash, with incredible digital control and power variability, as well as offering amazing high speed shutter synchronization and bright outdoor light.

Years ago we had the Calumet Photographic company and their amazing catalog,which was a great resource since they sold virtually all the brands of Flash systems. Unfortunately Calumet went out of business a few years ago.



My honest advice would be to go used to buy this specific system :the Speedotron D402 A 400 Watt-second, four outlet power pack with two channels, and offering you symmetrical power distribution or asymmetrical power distribution. Not a whole lot of micro adjustability, but that is not necessary and neither are the ability to recall a whole bunch of power settings. My advice would be to get a used set from eBay that features to him two M11 lights,at least, and two other types of flash heads,so one power generator, and four individual flash heads

I have used power packs from 200 to 2400 Watt-seconds, and I honestly believe that for the majority of portrait situations today the Brown Line D402 is pretty close to ideal and there are thousands of these units that have been made since the early 1970s, and relatively new units that have been made as recently as this year. This is a time-tested and well proven moderate power flash generator. The power output options with one flash, two flashes, three flashes,or fourflashes and five flashes are easily learned, and are based upon well known principles of lighting ratios, and this is an easy power pack for use in front of white, gray,or black backgrounds. The system has multiple types of flash heads including very small and light/heads designed for use inside of umbrellas. Imagine being able to go to eBay and to pick up an MW3U for $30!! this is a medium wattage Flash head(400 W second maximum power limit in its stock configuration) with a permanently attached 5.5 inch diameter metal reflector, and it uses a very bright 100 Watt quartz-halogen modeling lamp so it is easy to focus with, and the U stands for umbrella.

The brown line has an MW3 which Does not have the built-in umbrella mount and which uses a much less bright 25 W night light type incandescent bulb, the kind that looks kind of like a candle.

The brown line also has the M90 light unit, which is a "universal light". It is useful for a lot of things and can be used with umbrellas or as a main light of its own. The M90 Comes with a built-in non-interchangeable 8 1/2 inch reflector, and uses three inexpensive 25 to 35 Watt incandescent bulbs, so it can be aimed directly at people without blinding them.

The nicest and most expensive light for this system is the M11, which uses interchangeable reflectors in 7 inch, 11 inch, 16 inch,or 20 inch. The company makes a full line of accessory modifiers for all of the sizes of reflectors, and there are also 20 and 22 inch so called "beauty dish" metal reflectors. The M 11 light comes stock with a very bright 150 W quartz halogen Modeling lamp. I have recently found some very low power 1950s style heavy duty truck turn signal bulbs which can also be used when you want a very dim modeling light.

There is one accessory that I feel is really useful and that is the "Y cable" or "splitter cable". This cable allows you to add a fifth outlet to a four-outlet pack, and importantly as well it cuts in half the power output of any light connected to it. The D402 and the very tiny (discontinued) D202 two-outlet pack Are my favorites. The addition of the splitter cable gives you an additional outlet! Unlike many newer brands, Speedotron light output is pretty high for each model number. What Speedotron calls400 watt seconds, many newer companies would refer to as 1000 or 1200 in terms of model number. This is pretty common in the flash industry. For example The fairly low priced Flashpoint 320M costs more than $100 less than the Alien Bee 800, and actually Puts out more light than the Alien Bee 400 or 800 models. So you really have to be careful when comparing flashes strictly by their model number.

In my opinion it is nice to have two flashes or three flashes or four flashes, and it is ideal to have 5 to 6.this is where box and cable systems become much less expensive than mama lights sent him on the light contains the electricity storage capacitors in each and every flash head. With the box and cable system. The charging and capacitors are shared and each flash is little more than a flash tube, and a modeling light. Some Monolight flashes weigh as much as 7 pounds each whereas a typical flash head for a box and cable system weighs from 2 pounds to 3 1/2 pounds. Yes, it is rare to need five flashes but there are some situations in which having five units makes things much easier on you, and with a box and cable system extra flash heads typically cost less money than they do for a monolight.

Yes, you can do some nice portraits with just one light and a reflector, but it is really nice to be able to do a fill light and to dispense with a reflector,or to have a second or third light to apply to the background.if I were just starting out I would buy three or four identical lights. You do not need A tremendous amount of flash power these days...100 W seconds Per light is plenty, and 150 W seconds is fine too
 
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Derrel

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It's very easy to get confused in a new area like this. As I mentioned above, I think it would be a very good idea for you to read The Strobist blog for about a month, and possibly do some Internet research into various studio flash options.

I think it is important that you understand the concept of "mount "as it relates to studio flash. It's a lot like lens mount. Each brand has its own Quick connecting reflectors and accessories. If there is anything that is close to a generic it would be the Bowens S type mount. Accessories like grid reflectors, barn door sets, Snoots, and speed ring mounting rings for soft boxes are all Based upon individual mounts.
 

Original katomi

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Early in the thread it was meantioned not to get a stand for your backdrops you may want to look at
J brackets to mount on the wall and a pole to go through the role hang from the j,s then you can hang the backdrop from that . Hope this helps
 

smoke665

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Moving away from the light debate, one thing that hasn't been mentioned much, in a small home studio is the availability of built in reflectors/backdrops. White or light gray walls, ceilings, and floors can be used as giant reflectors to provide soft light for illumination, from either the ambient light from a window or bouncing a strobe off of them. Have a colored wall? Bouncing light off of it will reflect the color onto your subject the same as if you used a gel on your light.

For head and shoulders shots you don't really need a backdrop, any wall will do, so long as you can move the subject away from it. A white wall can be made any shade from solid white to solid black to any shade of gray in between by dropping the reflected light in relation to the reflected light of the subject. A reflected difference of roughly 4 stops will turn a white wall a perfect black. By increasing the reflected light you can turn a black wall white. Add a gel on your light and you can make any hue under the rainbow. Put your subject flat against a white wall, light them from the front, and you have a high key shot, any shadows will be hidden behind them. The nice thing about a wall is you'll never have to steam out the wrinkles. Have some nice drapes? They can also be used.

If head and shoulders is all you'll be doing, and you just have to have a backdrop, you might consider one of these.
Studio Essentials Pop-Up Background Kit (5 x 6.5', Gray) they come in various sizes, aren't overly expensive and can be used on location easily. The downside is that when you collapse them you will get wrinkles that need to be steamed out. Which brings me to another valuable piece of studio equipment, a steamer. If you don't have one, get one. They aren't expensive, and can come in handy for not only backdrops, but a client with wrinkled clothing.
 

JoeW

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You've gotten some fantastic advice on the technology. Let me offer some additional "non-tech" details.
1. Insurance--get some. Or add this to your homeowners insurance. If you do a lot of business, you're advertising to the world "expensive, easy to fence, camera equipment and gear are inside this house."
2. Parking. I assume you're in a suburban neighborhood. Many subjects will show up in 1 car. Others will show up in 4 or 6 (for a family photo all members coming from different locations).
3. Shelving and storage. You'll want to have a number of basic props (champagne flutes, good fake flowers, some lace, some fabric) that you can use as props in a shot or an inexperienced subject can hold (so they have something to do with their hands other than make a fist).
4. Seating. For instance, seating that I've found works well for one person (with say a spouse standing next to them) is a drummer's stool. Adjusts height easily, comfortable to sit on, no back that distracts.
5. Minimize reflective objectives in your shooting space. It's natural to want to hang up examples of your work framed. Or maybe have a range of items (made of metal) up and around the studio. Or some metal chairs. Or metal shelving. The more reflective objects you've got in the studio, the more post-production work you'll have to do cloning out that small bit of light on a cheek or forehead.
6. Also, just my personal preference but I've used stands to hold backdrops or seamless paper. The setup I've found works the best IMO is to suspend your paper form the ceiling. That means that if your wall is a good neutral color and you want to use that instead of the paper, you simply roll up the paper (rather than have to move the stand). Plus you can have 3-4 rolls of paper suspended and quickly move from one to another to create different looks or moods.
7. Wardrobe/changing space. Some of your subjects (say, an actor wanting head shots), will want to change clothes. Or a cosplay shoot with multiple costumes. If you don't have a bathroom with good lighting (no glare) and a makeup mirror and light in there, you'll at least need a changing screen with provisions for people to hang clothes or outfits. So they show up in street clothes and then change in to their tux or evening gown.
 
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Barb King

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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


Derrel - thank you so much for all your detailed thoughts. I am learning a lot. Much appreciated!
 
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Barb King

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Thanks everyone! This is awesome, helpful information. Now I at least know where to start. :)
 

adamhiram

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Depending on how serious you want to take this and how much you want to spend, there is a pretty economical route you can take as well with speed lights. You won't get the same power or cycle time, nor the useful modeling lights, but you can still get a very functional kit that is both budget friendly and extremely portable/storable. I went this route figuring I would upgrade to bigger studio strobes later, but as someone who doesn't make a living with photography, haven't really found the need yet. There are definitely limitations to this approach, but I found it to be an economical way to learn that still works in the real world.

My sample kit:
  • Godox TT-600 / Flashpoint Zoom R2 manual flash: $65 each, pretty reliable, and sufficient power for most small to medium sized modifiers. Uses AA batteries or just pickup some rechargeables.
  • Godox X-Pro / Flashpoint R2 Pro wireless flash trigger: $69 for a wireless remote for all of your flashes, allows you to set flash power remotely for each group, and will also work with their bigger strobes. Just make sure to get the right model for your camera brand.
  • Umbrellas: Very useful for studio work, great for learning, extremely portable, and very inexpensive. I have a few of these 45" convertible umbrellas from Westcott, but you can get Adorama's store brand for half the price, or even cheaper if you shop around.
  • Cheap softboxes: If you plan on sticking with speed lights, these Glow quick softboxes work pretty well and are extremely portable.You'll need an S-type bracket to mount your flash, but they seem to include those in this kit even though it's supposed to be sold separately. They don't control light spill that well, but you can pickup a Godox grid that fits it pretty well, since they are the OEM.
  • Collapsible softboxes: I can't leave my equipment setup while not in use, so portability/storability was a high priority for me. I started using Glow EZ Lock Quick softboxes, and they seem to be built very well, with nice quality of light, and collapse just like umbrellas. They have rectangular ones, octoboxes, and various other shapes and sizes. These will work with any strobes, but just be aware that this is where I started hitting the limits of what I can do with speed lights. I typically raise my ISO to 400 to get 2 extra stops of light when using these. They have a deflector plate and double diffusion, plus include an optional grid - great for soft light and controlling spill, but you lose a lot of light the more layers you use. These come with a Bowens mount, which will fit on the S-type adaptors listed above.
Hopefully this helps fill in recommendations for the lower end of the spectrum and gives you some additional options to consider and a better understanding of the pros and cons of speed lights vs. studio strobes. I wouldn't open a professional studio using speed lights and those ultra-cheap softboxes, but they are very usable and extremely portable for learning or hobbyist use.
 

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Thanks everyone! This is awesome, helpful information. Now I at least know where to start. :)
Now that you have something to think about, why not be more specific about your future choices?

What size is your room? What lighting is there? What color are the walls and ceiling? What lenses do you plan to use? etc.

If you come across any specific deals, please post a link so we can see what you're looking at. We already have your budget, but some items may be more critical than others. For instance; if you can't afford a couple of gridded softboxes right now, you can make or improvise using very inexpensive materials. Many of our members have made reflectors, scrims, diffusers, and similar, using common household materials. Spend your money where it counts, and save money where you can.
 
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Barb King

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Thanks everyone! This is awesome, helpful information. Now I at least know where to start. :)
Now that you have something to think about, why not be more specific about your future choices?

What size is your room? What lighting is there? What color are the walls and ceiling? What lenses do you plan to use? etc.

If you come across any specific deals, please post a link so we can see what you're looking at. We already have your budget, but some items may be more critical than others. For instance; if you can't afford a couple of gridded softboxes right now, you can make or improvise using very inexpensive materials. Many of our members have made reflectors, scrims, diffusers, and similar, using common household materials. Spend your money where it counts, and save money where you can.

Will do! I have a lovely brick wall background and a plain light gray wall. The 12 ft. ceilings are white. The room is very long--easily long enough for this project. But the lighting is only some small decorative lamps, nothing overhead. There is one window, but the only light is from a narrow alley, which is useless, so I'll be using a blackout shade for shoots. I will likely use my Nikon with an 85mm 1.8 or a 50mm 1.4. After I process all this great information and make a purchase, I will update with the gear I chose and some sample shots!
 

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