Need advice on home studio equipment

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Barb King

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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.

Perfect--thank you!
 

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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!
First, an update is always appreciated. People offer opinions or advice and then....silence. Finding out what worked, what you decided to do, what advice bombed--it's always a learning experience for those that post claiming to know best (and maybe finding out that we didn't).

Second, don't blow off that window. Maybe you won't get good natural light. But I've seen some portraits where a shooter used a speed light with a trigger and a gel to create the look of a setting sun coming through the window.

Third, a brick wall is nice as a specific background. But also beware--it will likely create a faint reddish tint on your white backdrop. Test to see how much of a difference this makes--you can correct upfront with white balance. But you want to know this BEFORE you shoot 100 exposures and then discover every fricking one has a light pink tint to that white shirt your executive is wearing.
 
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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!
First, an update is always appreciated. People offer opinions or advice and then....silence. Finding out what worked, what you decided to do, what advice bombed--it's always a learning experience for those that post claiming to know best (and maybe finding out that we didn't).

Second, don't blow off that window. Maybe you won't get good natural light. But I've seen some portraits where a shooter used a speed light with a trigger and a gel to create the look of a setting sun coming through the window.

Third, a brick wall is nice as a specific background. But also beware--it will likely create a faint reddish tint on your white backdrop. Test to see how much of a difference this makes--you can correct upfront with white balance. But you want to know this BEFORE you shoot 100 exposures and then discover every fricking one has a light pink tint to that white shirt your executive is wearing.

Thanks for the tips! I love the idea of using the window for an interesting effect. I will definitely update once I've gotten something in place! :)
 

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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!
If that plain light gray wall is at one end, then I'd say use that. FYI; light gray can be any color you wish, by manipulating your light, and your aperture. You can "gel" your background light with any color you want, and gels are not expensive. And, of course, it can be any value from white to black, just by careful use of light.

The 12-foot white ceiling is very good! You can use that for a nice overall light simply by pointing one or two lights upward to reflect off the ceiling. Same principle as using a nearby white wall.

Having only a few table lamps makes it easy; just turn them off when shooting. At any rate; you don't want to mix lighting colors, as it will create problems in trying to achieve white balance in post. Your studio strobes will (should) have modeling lights that you just sort of leave on during the session. That's enough light to keep people safe walking around the room with the lights off.

If at any time in the future you wish to mimic window light, you can do that with a gridded softbox. The grid simply straightens out the light so it appears to come from only one direction. You don't actually get a "grid" on your subject by using a grid right on the softbox. If you want to experiment further, make (or buy) some "gobo"s that mimic window muntins or venetian shades, for instance.

I am anxious to see some sample shots taken in your setup. I hope the 85mm f/1.8 lens will work for you, as that would be my first choice. That underscores the reason for choosing a long-ish room whenever possible.
 

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Here is a bit of practical advice: your fill-in light should be right next to you and your camera. Your main or key light, it is called both, should be somewhere to your left and go to the right. People subconsciously prefer lighting that comes from left of the camera and puts the shadows on the right hand side of their picture. This is a subtle but important difference that shows itself in greater sales.

One idea is to use roller base stands for your main and fill in lights. One of the most important things to do is to make sure that the lighting throws catchlights into the eyes of the subject.
If people have dark inky black eyes with no sparkle, they tend not to like the pictures very much. If people have bright lively eyes,they tend to like the pictures. As far as a sure-fire winner,
there is one lighting pattern that is typically reliable and it is called "modified loop lighting". Look into it. Again,one of the most important things is to set your main light at the right height so that it causes catchlights in the subject's eyes. You also want the shadow of the nose not to touch the upper lip. This means that you must adjust the main light height and not just leave it at one height.

Again let me restate it :your fill light should be right next to the camera, and pointing straight ahead. Your main or key light should come in at an angle of 20 degrees to 40° to the subject, depending upon the desired effect. What you do not want to do is to position two lights at 45° to the subject, thus creating what is called competing main lights. This is a great way to light so as to cancel shadows on flat copy artwork, but it looks like crap On People.
 
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let me advise you one thing that is really useful and worth it's weight in studio photography is a really good C stand with the roller base, so that your main light is easy to move, through an arc.

One of the biggest advantages of studio lighting is the preview that you get from the modeling lamps. The more experience a person has, the more they can "light by position." I believe that beginners to studio lighting benefit tremendously,tremendously,from the ability to preview lighting effects by way of the built-in modeling lamps that are found in studio flash units.
 
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I have been very reluctant to say anything on this thread, but ill put in two cents worth:

Because your working digital, review every shot and log the things you see. Aperture, shutter,(or speed if mirrorless, ISO settings, distance to subject, etc.)
This will help you get an accurate accounting of the various aspects and peculiarities of the camera and lighting.

It was a huge struggle for me back in the day (film, pre-digital) and had to wait to see the results. This is why i stayed away from portraiture because it caused such a headache when the photos came back with odd colors.

You have a huge advantage in the work today with digital, and don't hesitate to ask and post pictures. The help here is invaluable.
 

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Although you have heard some very good suggestions, remember to find your own creative outlet with portraits. There are some simple lighting scenarios but they all have an element of flexibility. The key to ask yourself is "does the portrait mimic your pre visualization of the subject"? Lots can be done in post but the bones should be in the camera.
 
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To anyone following this thread... I have a follow up question! I was looking at getting 3 strobe monolights (with modeling lights). If I wanted to take photos of water splashing (so, using a super-high shutter speed), how fancy/expensive would I need to get with the monolight? What product specifications would I need to look for to make sure the strobe would fire with a super high shutter speed? Thanks in advance to anyone who has an answer!!
 

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The most important specification that counts is flash duration, look for something in the 1/10,000 plus range. This issue with very short flash duration is essentially limited output or in other words, usable f-stop. Speedlights have typically dominated this arena in the past, with very fast flash duration but they are quite limited with output. That has changed recently with the advent of economical monobloc strobes such as Godox line.

One should look at what they want to achieve, where they believe light placement should be, camera f-stop required and those such factors. This will help to determine if speedlights would work of if you require strobes with higher output while maintaining very short flash duration.
 

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Actually, you don't need to go terribly expensive; you just need to look for something with a short flash duration. You don't need a lot of light, just short flash; try Godox speedlights.
 
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Thanks Tirediron and JBPhotog for your quick responses!
 

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Most people who do water drop photography have settled up on speed lights, since these typically have very Short flash durations

The best flash units for people work might very well not be very good at water drop photography. My preference for water drop work would be a speed light costing less than $100, but my preference as far as a flash unit for people photography would be much more concerned with the modeling light and the accessories available.

I really think that you should decide upon a portrait photography lighting set up, and then just buy a speed light. One thing that many people have found extremely useful in water drop photography is to purchase a trigger/timer that allows adjustment of when the flash and camera fires. A water drop is only really cool-looking for a few milliseconds, and sophisticated triggering is how the vast majority of experts get their incredible drop photos.
 
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What product specifications would I need to look for to make sure the strobe would fire with a super high shutter speed?
The good news is; you don't need to be concerned with the shutter speed at all. Even if your shutter is open for 1/60 of a second, the flash determines the exposure.

There is something else to be concerned about, and that is the flash color consistency. For portraiture, you need a flash that produces a white light even at somewhat reduced power. That is; at 1/32 power or so. You don't want the flash to become a different color just because you set the power down a bit. This is very important for portraiture, but hardly of any concern with water droplet photography.
 

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Consistency of flash color temperature is something that used to be a big problem, apparently, with cheap Monolights. I say apparently because I have never owned any cheap studio flash units that were affected by this issue.

As I understand it this issue has mostly been done away with,but it was never really a big problem at all with higher-end flash units such as those manufactured by Speedotron,or by Norman , or by Photogenic.

As I mentioned above, I have been using Speedotron Brown line powerpacks and flash heads since 1986, and I have never noticed a marked shift in color temperature when going from high power to lower power flash settings.

What little Mono llight experience I have was with units that did not show any noticeable change in color temperature between high power settings and low power output levels.

I think that today this issue has for the most part been rectified,at least in the better-made units that cost $100 or more.
 

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