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    CC, thanks for taking the time out to take some shots and post here. Quite informative!

    I’ve got a cheap little set up here at home – two softboxes that do both continuous/strobe, a larger box with grid for my 430EX II, backdrops, reflector and a few other things. I often practice lighting, as my only consistent model is myself. I’ve slowly worked my way up from natural lighting from the window, to single light source to now three. Getting there, but it’s taking some trial and error to get the look I’d like. And after a while, it’s boring shooting oneself.

    It’s always nice to see what others are working with to see what results they get. My cheapo lights aren’t nearly as powerful as I’d like, and on continuous they don’t change in power, so it’s the good ol’ move ’em back and forth trick. But they’re helping me to visualize it before I shoot strobe. My biggest problem that makes me salivate with your studio shots is my ‘studio room’ is tiny. As I’m using a crop camera, it’s made shooting quite a challenge – nearly impossible for my nifty fifty, but the alternative was my nasty kit lens for full-body shots.

    Regarding the light from the window – reminds me of when I was shooting a toddler recently. The bulbs blew out in the room light and my hubby – my biggest supporter and assistant – was fretting about not being able to turn on the lights to help with the shoot. I just smiled. The overhead lights weren’t going to make much difference, dear! 😉

    Thanks again! Interesting read. 😀


    Thanks, kbee.  Hopefully it will help others as well.  I decided to keep to 2 lights for simplicity but also because many lighting kits only come with 2 lights, so most beginners may only have a pair of lights.  Here, a pair of low power continuous lights costs about $250 including stands and softboxes.  Speedlights are about $500 each, then you need triggers, stands and modifiers, and a pair of studio strobes is about $1000, they come with a case, stands, radio trigger and either an umbrella or softbox.  Prices may be a bit less in America, usually we pay more for things here.

    If you are shooting yourself, it is hard to see the shadows until you have taken the shot, and it is difficult because you have to make sure you are looking at the right place so you are facing correctly.  If you position yourself slightly off, you don’t get the catch lights in both eyes.  If you are shooting a model, you are in a position to see shadows so continuous lights or studio strobes are beneficial because you can see where the shadows will fall.  Most studio strobes have modelling lights and many have modelling lights that go up and down in power along with the setting of the strobe so you can see the effects of your settings before you release the shutter.    Speedlights don’t have a very useful modelling light.  Mine will flash repeatedly if you press the right button, but I don’t find it nearly as useful as modelling lights on studio strobes.   After you have been doing it for a while, you can predict where the shadow will fall with reasonable accuracy.

    I live in high rise, so I’m fortunate I can also have a studio in the same building.  It means I don’t have to worry about rain or cold because we can just go into the studio.    The space for shooting is about 15 feet by 30 feet, though at the camera end of the room it’s only about 10 feet wide.  Behind the backdrop there is a wall of glass, so I can take down the backdrop, pull back the blinds and shoot with natural light if I want.  The space is pretty flexible.  Just off the shooting area is a pretty large kitchen that can be used by a make up artist and there are rooms for an office and a prop room.

    Other photographers I know, that live in houses, have set themselves up in their garage or basement.  Some basements here have 15 or 20 foot ceilings which is a real benefit because you can get your lights up high.  The folks using their garages can open the main door and shoot from outside when they need to get further back but if the door opens overhead, they are limited for how high they can put their lights.  And, usually a garage is cold in the winter!

    When I was setting things up, I stacked half a dozen coffee cans on the stool to approximate where my head would be and give me something to focus on.  Once focused I switched off auto-focus.  The cans don’t have a nose or eye sockets, but they are some help with setting the initial position of the lights.


    CC I want to be friends with you, now more than ever :)!

    This is very helpful and I’ve bookmarked it on my browser.  Which light would you say has been the most valuable and most used in your collection?



    I think you should have soaringturkeys take a good critical look at your shots and enlighten you. He is a prof photographer, after all.


    CC I want to be friends with you, now more than ever !

    This is very helpful and I’ve bookmarked it on my browser.  Which light would you say has been the most valuable and most used in your collection?

    Sure, we can be friends.

    Which light is the most valuable and most used?  The sun.

    I’m sure that’s not the answer to the question I suspect you are trying to ask.  Let me try to put it in perspective.  There are something like 3,000 photos on my personal page.  There are a couple of thousand on one of my Flickr accounts, and a hundred thousand on my computer’s drives.  The vast majority were done with ambient light.  When traveling, I carry a 430 EX II flash, but I seldom use it.  Shooting a stage show, I rely on the stage lighting and don’t use a flash.  Outdoors, the exception to not using a flash is weddings, then I use a flash in the hot shoe for fill.  Indoors, I frequently shoot without a flash, even when I should use one.

    So, I have a bunch of lights.  What do I do with them?  Well, when in the studio, I like the big studio strobes because they have lots of power and they don’t need batteries.  They have big, bold light which is great for portraits.   But, sometimes I need less power and a narrower burst of light.  The big strobes are not very good at stopping water drops for instance because the flash duration is too long and the water blurs.  So for stopping motion, Speedlites are better.  Sometimes I use older lights with Pocketwizards and sometimes I use the newer 600 EX RT lights because they have built in radios, it depends on which body I am using.  If I am going to be on site, and think I will need lights, I take Speedlites and spare batteries.  Sometimes I use the little feet that come with them and sometimes I take light stands and umbrellas.  It depends on how much I think I will be moving around and what I am shooting.

    It is easiest to say what lights are my least favourite.  Those would be continuous lights, which I only use for macro and product photos because they are not bright enough to get really good low ISO, high shutter speed shots, and they are too bright for me to look at for any length of time.

    If I were starting with nothing and could only have one set of lights, I would choose the 600 EX RT lights, and a bunch of rechargeable batteries, then add some softboxes or umbrellas made for Speedlites, and other modifiers like grids, gels and bounce cards.  My reasoning is that they provide the most flexibility and are easiest to carry.


    In today’s Star, Henry’s has Nikon umbrella kits on sale for $99.99.  They are good kits, you get a stand, umbrella, bracket and bag.

    Umbrellas spill light and if outdoors, catch wind.  They have their place though, and $99.99 is a very good price.

    Westcott, Rogue, Lastolite  and others offer alternatives:

    Bob Davis’ video shows a couple of Westcott options.  The Halo is an umbrella with a back that minimizes spill and helps prevent the wind from catching it.

    Here is a video with Rogue modifiers

    Joe McNally’s blog ( sometimes has placement diagrams so you can see how he set up a particular shot.  He is a fan of Lastolite which is a more expensive line, but it is well made gear.



    This has nothing to do with portraits, directly, but I thought I would share a shot, with a couple of setup photos as well.  This is a little stuffed toy, shot with a couple of Speedlites with grids.  I started with one but decided to use a second for fill.  This is the result I settled on.  Click the image if you want to see it larger, and scroll back in Flickr to see the setup shots if you are interested.



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