Building Your Home Studio Part 03:  Flashes, Light Meters and Backgrounds

Building Your Home Studio Part 03: Flashes, Light Meters and Backgrounds

Light is crucial in photography. Don’t believe me? Turn out all of the lights in your room, close the blackout curtains, make sure there is absolutely no light coming from anything in your room. Now try to take a picture. Focus giving you issues? Don’t give up. Turn your focus to manual and now try. I bet you still get nothing. Without light, there is no photograph.



Light of any amount from any source is necessary to create an image.


You can create and shape light as you wish to convey the mood you envision for your end result, but you must always have some sort of light – no matter how little – to create a photograph. We covered continuous lights in our last article of this Building Your Home Studio series. In this article, we will move into the convenient and portable flash or “speedlight”.



Though a decent strobe can be less expensive than a good speedlight system, I wanted to start our flash lighting topic with speedlights first because many of you may not start off working in a studio environment. Some of you may be going to client homes or offices. Some of you may also shooting outdoors. Due to their size, speedlights can be a much more portable and convenient solution for lighting a scene than a strobe. I dive deeper into the actual advantages, disadvantages and functions of using a speedlight in my article: Quickstart Guide to Speedlights.





My Nikon SB-700 Speedlight.


I am primarily a Nikon shooter, and while I currently work with the Nikon SB-700 (an older, but “still kicking” Nikon model), like most upgrades, the latest Nikon SB-910 is a nice upgrade from the SB-700 in that it provides a longer flash duration, a quicker recycling time and greater lens coverage as noted below.


Comparative Features Nikon SB-700 Nikon SB-910
Flash Duration – M1/1 (full) output: 1/1042 sec. 1/880 sec.
Quicker Recycling Time –  [using NiMH (eneloop) batteries]: 2.5 sec. 2.3 sec.
Greater Lens Coverage – (FX-format, Auto mode): 24-120mm 17-200mm
Price $326.95 $546.95


Depending on what you are shooting, how quickly you are shooting and how far away you might shoot your subject, the semi-minor differences might make a difference to you to warrant the $120 difference for the newer model.





Image courtesy of Adorama.


The industry standard speedlite for Canon shooters is now the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT at a $469.00 price tag. Unfortunately, and unlike the wireless Nikon speedlight, the Canon speedlite requires the Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT at an additional $280.00 to fire the speedlite – physically – off-camera.


Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT


Flash Duration (at full power): 0.0018 – 0.0023 sec
Recycling Time: Approximately 0.1 – 5.5 seconds
Lens Coverage – (Full-frame): 14 mm – 200 mm
Total Price: $749.00





Image courtesy of Adorama.

A current third party model that has comparable features to both Canon and Nikon flashes, but has radio capabilities at a fraction of the cost that I am a bit impressed with at the moment is the Nissin Di 700 Air Flash Kit at $299.00 which comes with the Commander and is made in Nikon, Canon and Sony versions.


Flash Duration: 1/800 – 1/30000 Sec
Recycling Time: 0.1 – 4 Sec
Lens Coverage – (Full-frame): 24 – 200mm
Total Price w/ Commander: $299.00


Flash Accessories



Batteries can be a big investment over time if you go with regular alkaline batteries. However, if you go with NiMH rechargeable batteries, they are better for the environment because they are reusable, they help the flash have a better recycle time and they are less expensive in the long run. Panasonic Eneloop AA Rechargeable Batteries are $19.99 for a pack of 8, but are high-performance and be reused up to 2,100 times.



Image courtesy of Adorama.


For extended use in the field, a battery pack could be a good idea as well as they are also rechargeable, they can triple the duration of the flash and they allow for a faster recycle time. Flashpoint Blast Power Packs are decent budget power packs that run between $269.95-$349.95 depending on if you want an extra battery with it or not. They are available according to your brand of flash.


Flash Brackets

Flash brackets are mainly used for events but they can be a little cumbersome for the average user. They are used because they typically place the flash a little higher than the line of sight, which helps to avoid red eye.



Image courtesy of Adorama.


With flash brackets, you are able to rotate the camera but keep the light in the same position. The Custom Brackets Digital PRO M Rotating Camera Bracket Kit is the standard for those that use them. At $379.95, if you are an event photographer, it just might be a good investment for you.


Flash Modifiers


On and Off -Camera Flash Modifiers

There are many tools out there that can be used to shape the light of both on and off-camera flash. There are things such as:

  • Diffusers
  • Umbrellas
  • Mini and Standard Softboxes
  • Bounce Cards
  • Grids & Honeycombs
  • Snoots
  • Color Filters & Gels
  • Ringlights


Expoimaging makes a great kit that has many of these tools called the ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBender 2 Portable Full Lighting Kit  for $199.95 at Adorama.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


Another great tool that I actually own and love is made by Interfit called the Interfit Photographic Strobies Modi-Lite Accessories Kit and it sells for $99 at Adorama. It includes a universal mount that works on most flash heads, a snoot with 2 honeycomb diffusers, a diffuser globe, a barndoor set, a reflector/beauty dish with a honeycomb grid,, a small softbox, a set of colored gels and a simple honeycomb grid.



My Interfit Strobies Modi-Lite Accessories Kit.


Other Off -Camera Flash Modifiers

Other modifiers you can use to diffuse harsh light from a speedlight include softboxes and umbrellas which I will individually dive into deeper next month… stay tuned.



White umbrella and silver umbrella. Available in gold too.



Profoto 2′ Octagonal Off-Camera Flash Softbox


Light Meters

Now that we’re starting to get into flash lighting, it’s definitely time to think about investing in a good light meter.



My Sekonic Flash Master L-358 with its younger sister, the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478DR.


A good handheld light meter will have the three metering capabilities: incident, reflected and flash modes and if you are also looking for the percentages of where your exposure is coming from (ambient, LED, fluorescent and/or tungsten continuous lighting vs. flash or strobe lighting), Sekonic meters are known to possess this feature. My current light meter, the Sekonic L-358 Flash Master (discontinued), along with the Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478DR (available at Adorama  for $337.99) has this feature. As you may contemplate strobes either now or a little later down the line, you may find the need for a meter to be able to fire your strobe – “wirelessly” – too. Some Sekonics such as the Sekonic  L-758DR Digital Master have this feature too. I do discuss light meters pros and cons, how to operate a light meter and features more in-depth in my article: Light Meters: Measuring Light in Studio Photography.



As you are now beginning to pull together home studio, don’t forget that background as it can make or break your image. Your background is a very important piece of your photo shoot puzzle, something that it will never be without – so it’s important not only to choose creatively, but to choose wisely so that the focus stays on your subject and not the background.



My Auto Poles with Interfit Chain System for Seamless Paper


In my article: Backgrounds: Choosing the Right Backdrop for Portraits, I spend a great deal of time going over the nitty gritty of backgrounds including the importance of and considerations for choosing a proper background for your subject. In addition, I jump into the major background types such as natural backgrounds, portable backgrounds, muslin, canvas, floordrops, vinyl, seamless paper and other creative background types.


We are getting there you guys! For those of you following along, and that have been taking some of my suggestions and who have become proficient in using some of the equipment I’ve mentioned should now have the necessary means to bring in a client here and there to start to start reimbursing those upfront, out-of-pocket costs of your immediate equipment such as your camera, lens(es), continuous and/or flash lighting, a tripod, a background choice or two and a few initial modifiers. I have a few things up my sleeve to help you along your journey including some helpful tips and information coming up in the next few months. Stay tuned!

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments


On our last segment of this series, I provided you with information on actual shooting necessities like cameras, lenses and harnessing tools for your investment. I also addressed concerns on actual shooting space within your home. Once you have your space situated, the shooting gear that’s right for you and you’ve learned how to use that gear (and you’ve mastered your manual settings!), it’s time to start building your studio. So let’s talk about continuous lights.


Benefits of Continuous Lights

There are many benefits to using continuous lights as a first light set or as an added set to your existing studio. For beginners, you get to see your end result before taking the shot. Beginner photographers can use continuous lights as a tool to see light quality and different light ratios by moving a light around their subject at different heights and angles. Continuous light uses are not limited only to beginner photographers though. Other reasons a photographer might choose a continuous light setup include:

  • There’s no worry about getting the right flash exposure or sync speed when using continuous lights as it’s much like shooting in the daylight, allowing your mind room to be more creative.
  • People tend to be more relaxed under constant light than under a flashing strobe, especially when you are shooting babies and young children.
  • Continuous lights allow you to shoot at wider apertures so that you can draw focus more on your subject or part of your subject – leaving the rest out of focus.


The Downside

The only real downside to continuous lights is that there are very few modifiers out there for them, with barndoors and scrims being the most common and readily available.


Continuous Lighting: Hot & Cool Lights

There are three types of continuous lights: tungsten, fluorescent and LED. Each light has its own personality where the light tonality is concerned and which to use is really up to the personal preference of the user. I’ve worked with all three and personally fell in love with LEDs, but that’s just me.


Color Temperature

First let’s take a quick look at color temperature as the different lights have different color temperatures. Color temperature is based on the Kelvin scale of 1000 to 10,000. The lower the number on the Kelvin scale, the warmer the color. The higher the number, the cooler the color.



Kelvin Scale



On a scale of 0 to 100, the Color Rendering Index or CRI measures a light’s ability to reveal accurate colors, hues and skin tones. Think washed out vs. vibrant. The higher the CRI number, the closer the light is to perfect light. I would not recommend anything less than a CRI of 90 when choosing lights.



Tungsten lights, literally hot lights, are quartz halogen lights that require a lot of amps – I would not recommend tungstens studio lights for small home studio spaces – especially in older homes – because they may not be properly grounded and can actually be a cause for an electrical fire. Since they require so many amps, you really can’t have much else going on at the same time on the same circuit otherwise you will overload the circuit, like I did, trying out a couple of Mole Richardson Tweenies and blowing the electric out in the whole front end of my apartment! If you choose to go with Tungstens, be sure to figure out your home circuits and what each they can handle before plugging in your lights. Also, be sure that if you plug a second Tungsten into an outlet or surge protector, that you do so on a separate circuit.

One other thing to note with Tungsten lights is that with smaller spaces, the heat alone produced by these lights can be very uncomfortable, except when shooting in the winter! I did, however, find an interesting alternative that could withstand the circuits of my old building and produced beautiful light for a portrait. The Lowel Rifa 66ex – 750 Watt Light at $475.11 each at Adorama. It’s originally a fluorescent light setup but you can get an alternate Tungsten light to swap out and use with it.



Image courtesy of the Lowel manufacturer website.


I only used one light for this beautifully soft portrait below. I liked that the light is inside the umbrella, which is collapsible, which is a plus for storing in small home studio spaces.



Photo taken of model Deeksha using the Lowel Rifa 66ex. ISO 800. Shot at F/2.8 and 1/125 of a sec.


Another great choice for a Tungsten setup is the Interfit Photographic INT457 Stellar XD Twin Softbox Kit – retailing at $485.95. This kit works pretty well and you get two lights in the kit – but at only 300 watts each.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.



Fluorescent lights are an excellent alternative to Tungstens as they closely match daylight in CRI and are much cooler to the touch. One of the top choices for fluorescent lights out there right now is the Westcott Spiderlite TD6 at $429.90 each at Adorama. All-metal, the Westcott Spiderlite TD6 has the versatility to be used as either a tungsten or fluorescent light with the simple switch of bulb types. This bad boy puts out approximately 1200 watts of daylight power with replacement bulbs costing around $6 each.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


An alternative choice for fluorescents is the Flashpoint CoolVee 7 at $199.95 each which includes a reflector and a softbox for each light.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


LED lights are much cooler lights, and much more compact than tungsten and fluorescent lights making them a great alternative if you are looking for more portable lights. The newer LEDs have color temperature and intensity options, which puts them a little more on the pricier side of continuous lighting.

I had the chance recently to use a set of Fiilex P360EX Variable Color LED Lights at $895.00 each. These LEDs have a CRI rating of >92. At least two of these LEDs are needed for shooting individual portraits. Each light comes with a warranty and barndoors for modifying and shaping the light to your liking.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


The great things about using these LED lights is that they vary in light temperature depending on which way you turn the smooth rotating temperature knob, a few stops of which you can see below.



Hot. ISO 800. Shot at F/1.4 at 1/80 of a sec.



Warmer. ISO 800. Shot at F/1.4 at 1/80 of a sec.



Cooler. ISO 800. Shot at F/1.4 at 1/80 of a sec.


They offer a kit: the Fiilex K302 3-Light P360EX LED Lighting Kit for around $2,849 at Adorama, which has everything you need to get started shooting with continuous lights. The kit includes three (3) of each:


  • P360EX Light heads,
  • P360EX barndoors, and
  • Light stands;


  • one (1) 15″x15″ Softbox with speedring, and
  • one (1) nice padded case to carry it all in.

This is a really a great deal for all that is included and the high CRI rating.  After using all three types of lighting in the past, I would recommend these lights over the fluorescents and tungstens for a first (and possibly only) continuous light setup any day of the week. They are versatile in color temperature, portable (really small) and create beautiful light quality. I’m actually contemplating getting rid of my old continuous light setup and making a new investment in a set of these!

Another interesting choice for versatile LED lights is the Westcott Ice Light 2 at $499.90. This is a great handheld, wraparound, daylight and portable light with an output of 1740 lumen and a CRI rating of 96. It can mount to a lightstand or tripod or be used handheld at any angle you want.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


You can even shoot and hold the light at the same time should you not have an assistant available. The Westcott Ice Light 2 lasts about an hour on a full charge.


Much Needed Support: Tripods

Continuous lights are invaluable pieces of equipment. They allow you to see what you are going to get as far as the end result image prior to clicking the shutter and they produce beautiful flawless light. Unfortunately, they tend to not produce enough light and often times require you to crank up your ISO and slow down your shutter speed which means you will need a tripod for a tack sharp image. It’s about time we talked about tripods now anyway…



Image courtesy of the Manfrotto website.


There’s nothing shameful or amateur about using a tripod to keep your camera stable when you take any shot whether it’s out in the field or inside a studio. All professional photographers own and use a tripod regularly. If you are shooting in a small space, a tripod can be a great tool to get that spot-on tack-sharp image every time. You can read more on tripods through an article I recently wrote on how to choose a tripod that is right for you.



As you begin to add expensive pieces of equipment like lights to your home studio, you’ll want to make sure you buy proper light stands to support your investment. Regardless of the type of lighting  you may use now or in the future, light stands are a piece of equipment that you will want to think a little more long-term about as there are so many types, sizes and options available.



Just a fraction of my light stand collection…


Considerations for Choosing the Right Light Stands for You

There are several considerations that factor in when choosing light stands for your home studio. Some things to think about include:


What is the maximum height of the light stand? While you do not have to extend most light stands all the way to use them as you want, some combi-boom stands (like the one shown above) require at least a 10-foot ceiling height in order to turn it from a regular light stand to a boom stand to use as a hair light. In this case, the height of your ceiling might affect your choices for using certain light stands.
What is the minimum height of the light stand? If you are looking for something that sinks low to the floor to pop light on things like feet/shoes, a pet, a baby at play, etc., most regular stands have a minimum height of 2-½ to 3 feet. In this case, you would also need a floor stand (shown at the far left in the image above) to light things low to the ground.
How much weight can the light stand carry? Whether you are using a portable flash, a small LED light, a heavy tungsten light or a strobe, you will need to make sure that the lightstand you put underneath that light will support it without it collapsing.
How much does the light stand weigh? If you plan to move it from your home studio to the field and back often, a steel light stand probably isn’t the best choice for you. You would want something portable and light.
All of this information is typically found on the light stand package or on the specs page of the light stand’s location on a website.
Types of Light Stands
Tripod Stands

Tripod stands can be useful for both inside the studio and outside the studio because they are lightweight and portable. However, aluminum light stands do tend to wear out a little quicker and can get bent if moved around often if you take them out of the studio and on location – especially those thin cheap stands. If you decide to save a few bucks in the beginning and go the aluminum tripod stand route, check out the Manfrotto 1004BAC 144″ Air Cushioned Aluminum Master Light Stand at Adorama for $114.99.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


I own a few of these due to the girth of the column and legs. Note that this is an air-cushioned light stand. This is really important as if you have a heavy light on top of your light stand and you lose your grip while lowering the light, the air cushioning will take the sting out of the light’s plummet to the next level of the stand – which could result in damage without this.

Sometimes you need a short light stands to light feet or to light a background behind a subject and while they are aluminium, I have have found the Interfit Compact Light Stands which Adorama sells for $26.93 to be very convenient to have on hand.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


When purchasing a light stand, don’t forget sandbags!! You will need these to keep your light stand from toppling over..


Strictly in the studio, C-stands are a great choice as, because of their weight and construction, they feel very solid and tend to last substantially longer than aluminium stands. The downside is that they do not have that air-cushioning option and you would have to be very careful using them.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


I just recently started the process of replacing my old Manfrotto aluminium stands and purchased an inexpensive Avenger 9.8′ Chrome Stell C-Stand 30  found at Adorama for $168.99. Some C-stands have adjustable legs for uneven flooring or for use on staircases. This can also be found in a kit form as the Avenger 9.8′ C-Stand 30 Kit with A2030D Turtle Base C-Stand, D520L Extension Arm and D200 Grip Head for $215.99. The extension arm and grip head are useful when using the stand to hold a light at a particular angle like overhead as a hair light or to hold a flag or scrim.

While I’ve mentioned a few light stands here, the right light stand(s)s for you really depend on your preferences and accommodations posed in the questions I’ve included above.



Whatever light stand you choose, don’t forget  to invest in sandbags! While the load capacity of a light stand will hold the weight of your light, it doesn’t guarantee that the gravity from the weight of your modifier hanging off of the light will not have it topple over. A good practice to have is to be sure you position your light over a leg for stability and place heavy sandbags on the legs opposite your modifier to help prevent a heavy light modifier from dragging your entire set up to the ground.



Image courtesy of the Adorama website.


An inexpensive option for sandbags, which I actually own are the Flashpoint Weight Sand Bags which you can find for $12.95 each at Adorama. Start with at least two per stand, though you may find the need for more as you continue to build your home studio.


Building Your Portfolio:
Photography Workflow and Data Asset Management

As you are beginning to build your portfolio with beautiful images in your home studio, I think now it’s a good time to start thinking about workflow and a photo editing software that you would like to include in your workflow. I say this from experience that it’s a good idea to have a good workflow in place at the start, unlike I did, because before you know it, you will have taken 26,000 images and not have any idea how to organize and edit them in an efficient streamlined fashion. I’ve recently written a great article on Photography Workflow and Data Asset Management on the Adorama ALC here.


I think this is a good point to break away and allow you to take time to digest some of these next steps in building your home studio project. Continuous lights are not only the best first step in studio lighting because they teach you how to position your lights for your intended vision but they also produce beautiful light with flawless results on your portrait subjects. As we begin discussing light types going forward, regardless of the type of light you decide to add to your gear portfolio, you will need a good quality light stand to support your investment. No matter if you are going with continuous lights or for any use in photography, tripods can be key in getting a tack-sharp image, and I’ve provided you with more information on those here. Lastly, whether you are in the studio or on location, as you are building your portfolio, you need to have a good workflow in place – which includes the use of a way of organizing and backing up your images as well as a preferred photo editing software program – that will get you from capture to distribution.

While the choices in this article are just a few suggestions. I encourage you question yourself about your purposes and needs for what you want to accomplish with your home studio and then read up more on specific continuous lights. Rent them. Try them out first and then make a decision.


Until next time…



Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments