Small Studio Equipment Advice

Olympus E300

TPF Noob!
Nov 22, 2009
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Ste.Anne, Manitoba, Canada
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Here's the story. I was working on putting together a very small, home based photography studio. I was buying equipment off eBay and doing my best to spend very little. The goal of this studio was to give myself a place to practice my lighting while doing some self portrait work (I haven't anyone near by who cares to model for me). In the end, I had to take the equipment down a few months ago because my ex and I are separating and moving apart. No big deal...Life goes on. But now I have access to a barn loft that I am renovating to allow me to once again setup my little studio. Currently I have the following equipment :

2 x 1000 Watt continuous light soft boxes, 20" x 30" (5500K)
2 x 7' adjustable light stands
1 x 12' (wide) x 10' (tall) muslin stand
2 x 10' (wide) x 24' (tall) muslins (1 red acidwash, 1 green acidwash)
1 x Olympus FL-50R flash

I've been toying with the idea of getting some monolights to put in this loft studio once I am ready to set my gear up again. I was thinking a minimum of two monolights. My problem is, I don't know what size to get. Basically, I'll only be doing self portraits with these lights right now. I'll likely want to do mostly full body shots and not just head shots. I did buy a pair of 150WS monolights (no namers) from eBay and am awaiting for their arrival. I have two questions... For a small studio setup and portraits containing the entire body, what would be an average size monolight to use? Secondly, how many lights would be used typically?

Below is a photo I took some time back when I had still had my gear assembled. Its an example of what I've been able to achieve with the little gear I current have. This was done with just the two continious softboxes that I have. They were in VERY close proximity to the subject! I've been told that strobes of some sort are the way to go though... I'm willing to roll with that...LoL. Advice anyone?

- Daniel

P.S. Feel free to comment on the photo. I could use some good old fashioned C&C while you're all here. But before you say it - Yes! I was going for the Jesus Christ starring into the devine light look...LoL. :sexywink:
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WoW!! All these people have stopped by and not a single response. I get that alot. I must be horrible at asking questions...LoL. Were my questions poorly worded? Are they in need of more information? Could it be that they are impossible questions to answer? Or is it that there is no proper answer? I'll lean towards the latter I guess... My questions were :

"I have two questions... For a small studio setup and portraits containing the entire body, what would be an average size monolight to use? Secondly, how many lights would be used typically?"

I can understand that this may be totally up to what the photographer wishes to achieve. Lets assume we were doing your standard, plain-Jane "picture day at school" photography. Furthermore, lets say that we were working in a 12'x18' room with just two light fixtures (100 watt each) in it and they were over the camera - not the subject.

Does that make it any easier to offer advice?

- Daniel
12' x 18' is only part of the equation. How high is the ceiling? Is it flat or peaked?

Strobed lighting gives you the advantage of controlling 2 exposures at the same time, ambient and strobed. Strobed lighting doesn't heat up the studio and subject as much, but you want to be sure and get strobes that have a modeling light so you can see the quality and placement of shadows.

150 ws monolights would be about the minimum usable power. The size and shape of your light modifers determine if you can do head shots, full body shots, and/or multiple subjects.

Inexpensive eBay monolights may suffer color shifts when used at less than full power settings, may not have user replaceable lamps, may not be durable, and may not be compatible with wireless triggering systems.
I have a bunch of lights, most, but not all of which were bought second hand, mostly from eBay, but from a couple of brick and mortar photo stores as well. I often use five lights: main light, fill light, separation light, and two background lights. Depending on the camera format, I'll use anywhere from 1200 to 50 watt-seconds on each light, but with an ISO 200 camera that has a crop-body sensor, the need for a while lot of light is not nearly as pressing as say with the 4x5 and ISO 64 film and bellows draw reducing my effective ISO to ISO 16 or ISO 12...

MY feeling is that my 300 watt-second monolight is too powerful for many single-person portaiture tasks...I would rather own two, 150 watt-second monolights than one 300 watt-second unit. The lowest cost 150 w-s monos I can think of would be Adorama's house brand, the Flashpoint series, which are $99 each for the 150's,and about $140 with a stand and an umbrella.

For the standard school picture, you want two umbrellas, about 40 inch models, for a dual-catchlight "sparkly eyes" look, a blue background and a light on it, or a gray background and a blue gel, so that is a three-light setup.
Your cutting off your nipple looks weird, cause it looks like you should have one and you don't. (IMHO)

I don't know about the studio stuff. I'm still fairly new at this myself :D

On the other hand I think the effect the light has on your eyes there is amazing.
Thanks guys! Good advice!! I appreciate your input! For the record KmH, the ceiling is about 8'. I know, it's kind of low but its all I have for now. Derrel, I was looking at the lights that Adorama's has to offer. I bought two different used lights for cheap-cheap!! They are probably junk but I thought I would rather lose my $40 than $100 if they weren't what I was looking for. Having spoken with you first, I think I would have gone the other way now. In the mean time, I'll tinker with these two monolights when I can and see what I come up with.

Cheers again!!
- Daniel
Your cutting off your nipple looks weird, cause it looks like you should have one and you don't. (IMHO)

I get that as feedback alot for this picture. I just haven't brought myself to crop it any differently yet. I suppose because it doesn't bother me...In time perhaps.

- Daniel
i have my small basement studio and i use 2 X 250ws stobe and 1 150ws stobe + 2 vivitar 285hv for my background light and they have more power that i will ever need.

you dont need 1200ws stobe for portrait work in a home base studio.
i use 9feet seemless paper backdrops.
you look like jesus
Typical, minimal portrait setup is 4 lights. Key, Fill, Hair and Background or, to stick to Derrel's terms Main, Fill, Separation and Background. That said, I started with only 3 using one bare (no reflector) as Hair and Background combined. No perfect but very decent results. I went to 5 (same setup as Derrel) as soon as possible. After that, you don't want to know, it's kind of obscene, lol.

2 Background lights is better so that not all your photos are like the one you posted, ie dark edges around a well lit circle sort of think. In your photo it works quite nicely but you want to be able to do more than one thing type of shot.

And you can do more with 3 lights by also using reflectors. Reflectors are way cheaper than strobes. Especially if you make your own: foam core boards are your friends. With or without aluminum foil.

That's it for numbers. Now, there is a different problem to talk about and that is mixing lights. Either types of lights or brands of strobes. When you mix lights, you are mixing color temperatures. Although not as bad, the same happens with strobes. And I would think it is even more true with cheap gear. Alien Bee strobes which are the cheapest strobes I ever recommend to anyone are known to have somewhat of a problem there. TBH I have not experienced it myself but it could be that 1/ the strobes were brand new, 2/ I didn't shoot a lot with them and 3/ who knows what else?

Personally, I stick to one brand and two models. 2 models because I prefer monolights for part of my work but packs are easier to set up for another part of my work. Maybe because it is a high quality brand, I don't see any problem when combining the two. Also, I'm not so anal as to check if a machine would see it differently from my eyes, lol.

ABs (Alien Bees) are not as cheap as what you have been paying but they are probably a lot better and I would start with 3 of them of the same power. Power, btw, can be dialed down with decent gear but it can never be dialed up so I tend to get the most power I can get. Keep in mind that everything you put in front of that strobe cuts the light down to some extent.

As I said earlier, 3 lights is enough to start with especially if combined with reflectors. If you need more than 3 lights you are getting past what AB can offer and it's time to look at more serious gear. But you 3 ABs can still be used. On a background like you have in the photo you posted, do you think anyone would know if your Background lights were not the same color temp as the Key and Fill?

The answer is no. Nobody has any idea what color this background is to start with. So you use 2 of your ABs there and the 3rd one can be used as a gelled spot or something like that.

Believe me, I'm cheap. I've never owned a new vehicle because I consider them a waste of money.

But when it comes to my work, I get the best tools I can afford. And if I can't afford one I want just yet, I wait and save some more. For the most part cheap tools end up costing you more.

Hope that helps.
Great input guys! This is very much what I was looking for, so thank you!! Also, I completely agree with you c.cloudwalker when you say that "cheap tools end up costing you more". I know this to be true. With that said, I'm willing to waste the money this time (only because it has been so little - so far, lol). Mostly because I don't have the funds avaliable to me to look at higher end stuff and also since I don't have the patience to wait and save...LoL.

- Daniel

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