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BUILDING THE HOME STUDIO PART 5: MONOLIGHTS & POWER PACK LIGHTS

BUILDING THE HOME STUDIO PART 5: MONOLIGHTS & POWER PACK LIGHTS

Getting the light right is extremely vital in photography. It can make or break an image. Just as there are many choices in cameras, lenses, backgrounds, light stands, tripods and other various photographic tools, there are also numerous choices for studio lighting.

Four monolight light setup.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

As I round out the last article in my Building the Home Studio Series, I wanted to recap on some of the options for lighting to help create your magic in the studio and discuss monolights and power packs.

 

CONTINUOUS LIGHTS & SPEEDLIGHTS

Previously, I touched on two other tools for lighting an image – once in one of my series articles: Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights & Light Stands, and then later in a series article on speedlights, Building the Home Studio Part 3: Flashes, Light Meters and Backgrounds. Let’s do a quick overview on those two lighting choices again before jumping into monolights and power packs.

 

Continuous Lights

Continuous lights do as they are titled: they are continuous running lights. They do not flash like a speedlight, monolight or power pack light would. Some of the benefits for using a continuous light are that many subjects tend to relax more under continuous lighting rather than a flash – especially good for blinking subjects. You can also shoot wide open for a shallow depth of field. The downside to continuous lights is that you are limited on modifiers and a tripod is almost a must for the sharpest image when setting the shutter slower than sync speed.

Left to Right: Lowel Rifa 66ex – 750 Watt Light, Westcott Spiderlite TD6 and the Fiilex P360EX Variable Color LED Lights.

Images by Adorama.

 

I have tested and used a few continuous lights in the past that I thought were pretty impressive:

 

Tungsten: Lowel Rifa 66ex – 750 Watt Light available for around $475.11

Fluorescent: Westcott Spiderlite TD6 available for $419.90

LED: Fiilex P360EX Variable Color LED Lights available for $795.00 each

 

A single portable option for continuous lighting that makes for beautiful convenient light is the Westcott Ice Light 2 available at Adorama for $499.90. I created a demo photo below using two Westcott Ice Light 2 light sticks to show their power and potential effect.

Demonstrating the Westcott Ice Light 2.

Model: Daria Komarkova.

 

Speedlights

Many of you may not start off working in a studio. Some of you may be going to client homes or offices. Some of you may also shooting outdoors. Due to their compact size, speedlights can be a more portable and convenient solution for lighting a subject than a continuous light, a monolight or a power pack. I dive deeper into the actual advantages, disadvantages and functions of using a speedlight in my article: Quickstart Guide to Speedlights.

Nikon

I currently work with the Nikon SB-700 Speedlight (an older, but “still kicking” Nikon model), like most upgrades, the latest Nikon SB-5000 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. Depending on what you are wanting to photograph, how quickly you are shooting and how far away you may typically be shooting your subject, these semi-minor differences might make a difference to you in deciding between the older model and the $270 difference for the newer model.

Canon

The industry standard speedlite for Canon shooters has been 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.

Nissin

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 compatible versions.

MONOLIGHTS & PACK AND HEAD LIGHTS

 

What is a Monolight?

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

A monolight, also called a “monobloc”, is a self-contained flash light source in which the head contains a lamp and power supply altogether. Monolights are a great choice because they involve no extension cables to meet a power pack. Since each of your flash heads are powered separately, if one head goes down, it may not affect the others. The only downside, really, to a monolight is that for most, you have to dial in and adjust the power on the back of each head individually, unless you have a remote control that controls the power for each of your heads. Monolights are generally less expensive than pack and heads due the the power source being a bit on the expensive side.

 

What is a Pack & Head Light?

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

A pack and head light, also called a “power pack”, is a light that must be connected to a battery pack. These can be a great choice as they can be placed just about anywhere without worry of having a power outlet nearby – including outdoors. You can control the power level of all of your lights connected to power packs in one place and use one power pack to ignite and power more than one head. That being said, the common downside to Power Pack lights is that if one head goes down or the battery isn’t working for some reason, any light connected to the same power supply may not be unusable. The other downside is cables between the lights and the power supply will run everywhere and will need to be taped down.

 

CHOOSING A MONOLIGHT OR PACK AND HEAD LIGHT THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU

Which flash lighting option you should consider purchasing is really up to you, your preferences, where you do most of your shooting, and your budget. Know that for speedlight options, you will usually have to buy a receiver if shooting off-camera flash, which will add to the cost of your investment. For monolights and pack and heads, this is also sometimes the case, though not always, and you may also need for a transmitter for your camera too. On a side note, as a rough guideline, 250W lights are sufficient for home studio use while 500W lights should cut it for a larger studio.

 

MONOLIGHTS

 

Flashpoint Rapid HSS 600 Monolight. I’ve had the opportunity to use several different monolights over the past few years in which I’ve liked some and others were just not my cup of tea. For the more budget-friendly option, I fell in love with the Flashpoint Rapid HSS 600 Monolight as it’s not only budget-friendly, but the receiver for this light is built-in. While the receiver is built into the monolight, a necessary piece of gear needed to run the light is a remote transceiver.

Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight with Built-In R2 2.4GHz Radio Remote System

Image by Yann Bizeul

 

 

I shoot with Nikon and was able to test out the Flashpoint R2 i-TTL Wireless 2.4 G Transmitter Remote for Nikon with both the monolight and the R2 Zoom Flash. There’s also a version for Canon, the Flashpoint R2T 32 Channel 2.4GHz Manual and HSS Transmitter for Canon. There’s also a 2.4GHz transceiver version for Sony, the Flashpoint R2 TTL 2.4G Wireless Remote and Triggering System – Sony. All transceivers work with Flashpoint’s other R2 lights including the Xplor, Streaklight and the Zoom Flashes.

Shot with a Flashpoint Rapid HSS 600 monolight.

Subject: Yann Bizeul

 

Profoto B1 500 Air TTL Battery Powered Monolight Flash. Another monolight that I bow down to is the Profoto B1 500 Air TTL Battery Powered Monolight Flash which is available on its own, with a transmitter or in a 2-head kit. I love this light because it’s wireless and the battery for the light is attached to the head. This means you can use this light indoors, outdoors and/or on-location where you might not have a power outlet nearby.


B1 500 Air TTL Battery Powered Monolight Flash

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

 

Use of a Profoto B-1 monolight with a grid.

Model: Xavier Lujan

 

Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 500 500ws Compact Flash Head. If you’re looking for something in between, the Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 500 500W/s Compact Flash Head is a great choice. Beyond its 20 FPS lighting on low power, it has an auto-sensing  multi-voltage power supply which makes it able to be used anywhere in the world. This particular light comes complete with a metal reflector, a softbox and a light stand so you have a good starter kit without the additional expense.

 

Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 500 500W/s Compact Flash Head

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

 

Broncolor Siros 800 Monolight w/ WiFi and RFS2.1 Receiver. Another good choice is the Broncolor Siros 800 Monolight with WiFi and RFS2.1 Receiver which you can also get battery-powered in a kit with 2 heads, a silver umbrella, a softbox and speedring is also a good find as the receiver is included and offers rapid flash sequences with up to 50 flashes per second. It also has a receiver and wifi capabilities built-in.

Broncolor Siros 800 Monolight with WiFi and RFS2.1 Receiver

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

PACK AND HEADS

 

Profoto B2 250 AirTTL To-Go Kit. The Profoto B2 250 AirTTL To-Go Kit is a great lightweight power pack kit choice as it has a fast 0.03-1.35 seconds recycling time and functions in TTL and high speed sync. The built-in AirTTL allows for wireless operation and the battery can power two flash heads. The kit includes the powerpack, one (1) B2 head, a carrying bag and a battery charger. The transmitter for this is not included though is available in some of the kits offered at Adorama specific to your camera brand.

Profoto B2 250 AirTTL To-Go Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Hensel Porty L 600 Power Pack Kit. The Hensel Porty L 600 Power Pack Kit is a good choice is you are looking for a good 600ws starter kit. It has incredibly fast recycling times from 0.2 sec with a short flash duration up to 1/8100 sec (with speed head), individual settings in 1/10 f-stop increments and an output range of 7 f-stops. This power pack has integrated Profoto Air radio, Hensel Strobe Wizard Plus and Freemask receivers. The kit includes a Hensel Porty L 600 Power Pack, an EH Pro Mini 1200-P Speed Flash Head, an EH Pro Mini to Porty Adapter Cable 16.5′ (5m), a 50-watt modeling lamp for Porty Heads, a quick charger for Porty 6 & 12 Lithium Battery (120-240VAC), an 8-foot aluminum stand, a 7 grid reflector for Hensel, a 4201 Deluxe Holdall VII Case with Wheels and a Hensel 90-day warranty.

Hensel Porty L 600 Power Pack Kit

 

 

Elinchrom ELB 400 Dual Pro To-Go Kit. Another great starter kit is the Elinchrom ELB 400 Dual Pro To Go Kit, which is a 424ws light that has a fast recycling time of 1.6 sec. at full power. The battery lasts 350 flashes at full power and is incredibly light making it easy for transport. The kit includes an Elinchrom ELB 400 Quadra Battery-Powered Pack with Battery, 2x Quadra Pro Head, 2x EL 11001 8′ head cable, 2x protective caps, an EL-Skyport Transmitter Plus, a 7″ Grid Reflector, a 5.3″ Standard Reflector, a multifunction cap, an Elinchrom 15.75″ sync cable, a ProTec location bag and an Elinchrom 2 Year Warranty for the ELB 400 Quadra Battery-Powered Pack.

Elinchrom ELB 400 Dual Pro To Go Kit

 

MODIFIERS

Modifiers are a necessary need once you have decided to jump into purchasing a monolight or strobe as you will need to diffuse and shape the light emitted from it. There are many choices on modifiers depending on the end result you envision and want to achieve. I recently wrote an article called: Transforming Light Into Art: 9 Modifiers for Diffusing and Shaping the Light which goes into great detail on a variety of modifiers and their uses. Some of the modifiers available for use with monolights and strobes are below.

 

Collapsible Reflectors

While not everyone has an easy time folding them back up, most of us know what a collapsible reflector is and many folks have actually successfully used one. They should really be your first light modifier, even before you buy your first monolight or strobe because they are useful outside in the field too. They work for not only lighting people outdoors, but subjects like flowers and animals too.

Collapsible Reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

 

Reflectors basically bounce or reflect light from a light source back onto a subject. Photographing a person outdoors in the sun? We generally put the sun behind our subject to avoid him or her squinting, but then our subject becomes too dark because the light behind him or her is so bright. A reflector can be used to bounce light from the sun behind the subject back onto him/her so that the subject is also lit.  This works the same way in a studio.

 

Metal Reflectors

Metal reflectors are those circular metal bowls that attach around the bulb or flashtube of your monolight or strobe and light reflects from the bowl directly onto your subject. Some monolights and strobes come with a metal reflector as a starter modifier. They are generally great for background and rim light use.

Flashpoint 8-1/4″ Reflector to Fit Elinchrom

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

While they tend to cast a very harsh light, I have often been able to pull them off as a front light, especially when photographing males (where a more harsh light might be desired), such as in the image below.


Harsh light for male portraits.

Actor: Patrick Walsh

 

They also work well as a background light, such as in the image below.

Self-portrait using a metal reflector on a floor light.

 

Umbrellas

Umbrellas are probably one of the first studio modifiers that are ever purchased by photographers as they are cheap, portable and come in a variety of sizes and colors. White shoot-through, or translucent, umbrellas are one of the more common umbrellas used in photography because the shaft of the umbrella is pointed away from a subject when lighting, which means a light source can be moved in as close as desired without poking out their eye! The downside to a shoot through umbrellas is that the light is hard to control because the umbrella is translucent and the light spills everywhere.

From top left clockwise: white shoot-through umbrella, Silver reflective umbrella,

gold reflective umbrella and black and white umbrella.

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

Black/white umbrellas are a great choice for when you need to fill in shadows without it affecting the color, quality or quantity of light. A reflective umbrella, a silver umbrella (with a black covering) can be used when you want to bounce in specular highlights without affecting the color of the light. The light will be subtly harsher than a shoot through, depending on your umbrella’s distance from your lightsource and from your subject as well as the size of the umbrella. A gold umbrella with black backing can be used to warm the color of an image and your subject. This umbrella color works well when photographing someone in a bathing suit or photographing someone with a very fair skin tone, where a healthy warm glow might be desired. To see the effects of these umbrellas, check out my article, Umbrellas: Good for More Than Just A Rainy Day.

 

Softboxes

Whether using continuous lighting, speedlights or strobes, softboxes prove to be one of the best light shaping tools for any professional photographer’s to have in their toolbox. Round softboxes, called octaboxes or octabanks, make for wonderful key lights. Their round shape is similar to the sun and the catchlights produced by round softboxes can be much more pleasing to some as they cast a more natural round catchlight into a subject’s eyes to match the roundness of the pupils.

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

An octabox also tends to wrap light around its subject. I find a larger octabox placed close to my subjects face serves close to what a beauty dish would do for me when placed straight in front of my subject. When placed anywhere else, shadows can vary from subtle to harsh depending on its proximity to the subject. I’m personally a huge fan of the 43” Westcott Apollo Orb because it’s easy to set up and break down – much like an umbrella! Squares and rectangles work well as main light sources as well as a fill lights. Depending on their size, they tend to throw out a more defined light complete with a nice and soft transitioning of shadows. Strip softboxes are great for lighting the full body when placed parallel with a subject. They also work well as hair lights. Depending on the distance from the subject, strip softboxes can create a very subtle or a very harsh transitioning in shadows. You view some of the effects that each of these shapes of softboxes create and more recommendations in  my article, Softboxes: Containing, Directing and Diffusing the Light.

 

Beauty Dishes

If you are into portrait or beauty photography, a beauty dish is a “must”. A beauty dish is a circular reflector or bowl with an opening in the center that attaches to a monolight or strobe. The bulb or flash is hidden by a raised plate in the center that forces light to disburse into bowl and onto a subject rather than the light source directly hitting the subject. Beauty dishes come as white or silver coated on the inside. White coated dishes make for a softer light whereas silver coated dishes make for slightly more contrast.


From left: silver beauty dish and white beauty dish.

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

Beauty dishes have two different companion modifiers that can be used along with them: a diffuser, sometimes called a “sock”, and a grid. The image above was taken using a diffuser while the image below was taken using a grid. I’ve always had a regret of buying such a small beauty dish – at 16 inches. If you can swing it, get something at least 22 inches in diameter or more. Which beauty dish you should get will depend on the monolight or strobe that you have. Brands like Glow make a variety of mount options to work for more than one single brand.

 

Grids

If you need the direction of light from your light source to be more concise, a grid is your best choice. Grids are useful when you want to light something specific with little to no spill, such as when you want to light your subject but you want to keep the background dark.  Grids are typically made to work with beauty dishes and softboxes, but I’ve also found them as companion modifiers for barndoors and snoots too. They come in different sizes, the hole width determining the width of the light beam emitted.


Grid on a beauty dish.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

Grids come in a variety of types, brands, sizes and hole widths and which you get will depend on the type and brand of main modifier you use it with.

 

Barndoors

Barndoors are one of the most versatile lighting modifiers one could own. This modifier is basically four doors that attach to a base which can be attached to a monolight or strobe. What’s versatile about this modifier is that these four doors can be opened as little or as much as desired offering numerous lighting combinations. Many barn doors are sold as kits that also include companion modifiers of four gels and a grid, such as Flashpoint’s Universal Barn Door Kit featured below.


Flashpoint Universal Barn Door Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Snoots

Snoots allow you to focus in specifically on one small thing on a subject, such as just the face, just the hands or for baby photography, just the feet. They are also a great tool for lighting particular things for an interior shoot or even products because the light is so concentrated and direct.

Flashpoint Snoot Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Snoots can also have complimentary modifiers of attachable gels and grids. Snoots are generally brand specific or universal as long as they have the specific speed ring adapter that matches the brand of monolight or strobe you are using.

 

Gels

Gels are not only a practical tool but they are also a fun, creative modifier to use for lighting a subject. In situations where white balance is an issue (such as incandescent bulbs adding a warm orange cast to an image and fluorescent bulbs typically generating a green cast, gels can be used to match the light’s color in order produce an image with light color closer to white.


Rosco 20×24 Color Effects Kit

 

For a more creative touch, gels can also be used to color backgrounds or to color the light hitting a subject. In the image below, I used a Rosco 20”x24” Color Effect Kit which contains 15 different color gel sheets and is sold at Adorama for around $97.65 for the whole kit. These gels can be bent or folded and are still reuseable. This particular kit contains the larger-sized sheets, which also allows me enough available to be able to also cut swatches of the gels for use too.

I used gels to color the background and the light hitting my model.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

I used a red gel on a background light aimed at a Savage Smoke Gray Seamless background. I also used a yellow and blue gel on two separate lights on each side behind my model aimed back toward the camera to give her an interesting rim light color on her skin and hair. As a bonus, because I used a fog machine for special effect, the gels colored the smoke as well.

 

DON’T FORGET!!

One tool that is a huge help that you’ll want to have on hand in the studio is a handheld light meter. The largest goal in photography is to capture your images with accurate exposure or in better terms: for the camera to record your scene or subject as you see it. How can this be achieved if your camera or handheld meter only measures in tonality and brightness? In the same lighting scenario, every shade or color reflects a different amount of light and this is where a light meter can come in handy.

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

 

I wrote a very informative article on light meters, how to use them and some recommendations called, Light Meters: Measuring Light in Studio Photography, which you can check out on the Adorama Learning Center.

 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER…

Well, this wraps up my series on Building the Home Studio. From cameras, lenses and bags to carry it all; to backgrounds, light stands and tripods; to light sources, modifiers and the random odds and ends, you now have the resources to begin your own home studio. If you missed any of the other articles in this series, you can catch them on the Adorama Learning Center or by clicking any of the links below. You’ll find additional articles within each series article. Happy building!

Building the Home Studio Part 1: Space and Essential Shooting Gear

Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights & Light Stands

Building the Home Studio Part 3: Flashes, Light Meters and Backgrounds

Building the Home Studio Part 4: Essential Studio Tools, Props and Odds & Ends

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
The Art of Portraiture Part 4:  Gear and Equipment for Success

The Art of Portraiture Part 4: Gear and Equipment for Success

A portrait tells a story of someone’s essence – someone’s being. It takes great skill and technique to capture an accurate portrayal of someone. While skills and techniques necessary for shooting a portrait are a large part of successful portraiture, the are not all that is needed. You also will need good tools to make the grade.

Capturing one’s essence.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

In the first part of this series, in my article entitled, The Art of Portraiture Part 1: Composition, Depth of Field and Background, I covered some of the basic necessities that contribute to a good portrait. In the second part, The Art of Portraiture Part 2: Light, I went over how light is an important element in a good portrait. In the third installment, The Art of Portraiture Part 3: Your Subject, we added in the most important element of your portrait, the person you are photographing and how to photograph him or her. In this last and final installment of this series, I will go some of the equipment that will help contribute to a successful portrait.

 

LENSES

The glass you put in front of your camera will determine the quality of the image the camera will help to produce. There is no camera made that will produce a stunning image if a bad quality lens is attached. While you most likely have a budget in mind for your new camera system, factor in the cost investment of a at least one exceptional lens before you buy that high-end camera body with half the features that you will never use.

 

Prime Lenses

Autofocus Prime Lenses. Autofocus prime lenses are great for shooting moving subjects such as when shooting fashion in the studio as you may have your subject continuously moving. Typically great focal lengths for shooting people in general are 85mm or a 100mm/105mm if you have the room. These come in several aperture ranges with the F/1.4 and F/1.8 being the most popular. The Nikon 50mm F/1.4 at $334, is a great compact lens that packs a lot of punch for its size. You can read more about this lens in my review here.

 

Shot with a 50mm F/1.4 lens.

Actor: Patrick Walsh

Manual Prime Lenses. Manual Prime lenses can cost a pretty penny and really work best only if your subject is stationary. These lenses are optimal for portraits and headshots. I found the Zeiss line to be exceptional with the more budget-friendly option of Rokinon right behind it. You can read some of my reviews on the Adorama Learning Center for the Zeiss 50mm F/1.4, Zeiss 85mm F/1.4, Zeiss 100mm F/2.0, Rokinon 50mm F/1.4 and the Rokinon 135mm F/2.0 lenses to determine which might work best for your needs.

Shot with a Zeiss 100mm F2.0 Makro ZF.2.

Model/Actress: Valery Lessard

 

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses can be a great option for shooting portraits as there is a tremendous variety in focal length and they allow for a versatile creative use of shooting while zooming in or out, among other uses. I’ve had the pleasure of using several Nikon zoom lenses in my studio work, most recently the Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8, retailing at Adorama at $1,796.95. While no longer manufactured, but still available used, I currently a Nikon 28-105mm in my space as well as client’s small spaces and have produced some very striking images.

Shot with my Nikon 28-105mm F/3.5-4.5D IF lens.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

For either a close-up option or for shooting subjects from afar, I have found my Nikon 70-200mm F/4G ED AF-S to be the perfect option for producing a high quality photo, which I also use for headshots. Be sure to look for lenses that have have vibration reduction should your camera system itself not have an equivalent function.

 

LIGHT SOURCES

 

Daylight and Reflector. The easiest and most inexpensive way to light an image is through the use of bouncing natural daylight off of a portable collapsible reflector back onto your subject.

Using a portable collapsible reflector with natural daylight at sunset.

Model: Katie Buell

 

Speedlights. Another terrific portable and inexpensive lighting tool is a speedlight. Speedlights can be used indoors or outdoors and are typically used in conjunction with a portable collapsible reflector and/or bounced off of a wall or ceiling.

Using A speedlight in conjunction with natural daylight and a tungsten light.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Continuous Lights. These types of lights are perfect to use when shooting babies or capturing portraits of people who have trouble with blinking because there’s no disturbing flash.


Left to right: Lowel LC88EX1 Rifa

1000 Watt Light, Westcott TD6 Spiderlite, and the Fiilex P180E 40-Watt LED Light

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

Strobe/Monolight. Most photographers use strobes or monolights when shooting in a studio as the instant flash lends to capturing a sharper image and the numerous modifiers available for use allows the photographer to get more creative with their lighting.

Portrait shot using monolights.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

I have found the Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight with Built-In R2 2.4GHz Radio Remote System to be a great budget monolight for shooting portraits or any other type of subject in a studio environment. For more information on this terrific option, you can read my review on it here.

 

I’ve also had the privilege of using the delicious Profoto B-1 500 Air TTL Battery-Powered 2-Light Location Kit. No matter where you are shooting, these battery-powered lights are lightweight and store conveniently in a backpack.

 

LIGHTING NECESSITIES

 

Light Meter

Cameras see differently than we do. While we have the ability to see everything in color, the camera’s meter sees and measures only how light or dark a scene is. It sees only tonality: black, white and a bunch of shades of gray in between. The shade in the middle of the gray scale is what is called middle gray. Middle gray is achieved when it reflects only 18% of the light that falls on it.

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

 

The largest goal in photography is to capture your images with accurate exposure or in better terms: for the camera to record your scene or subject as you see it. How can this be achieved if your camera or handheld meter only measures in tonality and brightness? In the same lighting scenario, every shade or color reflects a different amount of light and this is where a light meter can come in handy. Sekonic pretty much rocks the market on light meters.

A light meter in use.

 

If you shoot video, a color temperature meter like the Sekonic C-700 SpectroMaster Spectrometer would be an ideal tool for you. If you are 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, along with the Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478DR has this feature. Those folks that work in studios may find the need for a meter to be able to fire their strobe – “wirelessly” being a bonus. Some Sekonics such as the Sekonic L-758DR Digital Master have this feature.

 

Tripod

Obtaining a stable support system for your camera is one of the most important things you should do right after you buy any camera and lens. I’m always amazed at the number of students I’ve seen in the past who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars between a camera and lens (and maybe a flash too) along with other necessary and unnecessary equipment, but they were unwilling to spend enough on the support mechanism for their major investment.

Gitzo GK1545T-82QD Series 1 Traveler Tripod-4 Section- with GH1382QD Ball Head

 

This is almost like being too cheap and unwilling to put a good UV filter on your lens, which can help protect the front element from breaking if dropped. Not obtaining a proper tripod to support your camera and lens unit can result in the unit falling and getting damaged – sometimes beyond repair. How much did you spend on that camera and lens again? For more on tripods, check out my article, Tripods: Choosing the Right Support for Your Investment.

 

Lightstands

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 those lights. 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 few of the light stands in my studio.

 

For more on considerations for choosing the right light stands, check out my article, Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights and Light Stands.

 

LIGHTING ACCESSORIES

 

Collapsible Reflector

While not everyone has an easy time folding them back up, most of us know what a collapsible reflector is and many folks have actually successfully used one. They should really be your first light modifier, even before you buy your first monolight or strobe because they are useful outdoors as well.

A good collapsible reflector is a “must” in portrait work.

 

Reflectors do exactly what their name might imply: they reflect light. They are used to bounce light from a light source back onto a subject. Photographing a person outdoors in the sun? We generally put the sun behind our subject to avoid him or her squinting, but then our subject becomes too dark because the light behind him or her is so bright. A reflector can be used to bounce light from the sun behind the subject back onto your subject so that he or she is also lit.  This works the same way in a studio. You can learn more about collapsible reflectors colors and what the different shapes and sizes do in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 04 – Essential Studio Tools, Props and Odds & Ends.

 

Umbrellas

Umbrellas are probably one of the first studio modifiers purchased by photographers as they are cheap, portable and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

 

White shoot-through, or translucent, umbrellas are one of the more common umbrellas used in photography because the shaft of the umbrella is pointed away from a subject when lighting, which means a light source can be moved in as close as desired without poking out your subject’s eye! The downside to a shoot through umbrellas is that the light is hard to control because the umbrella is translucent and the light spills everywhere. However, they guarantee your subject to be well lit.


A shoot-through umbrella in use.

 

Black/white umbrellas are a great choice for when you need to fill in shadows without it affecting the color, quality or quantity of light.

 

A reflective umbrella such as a silver umbrella (with a black covering), can be used when you want to bounce in specular highlights without affecting the color of the light. The light will be subtly harsher than a shoot through, depending on your umbrella’s distance from your lightsource and from your subject as well as the size of the umbrella.

Clockwise from the top: White (shoot-through), silver reflective, gold reflective and black/white umbrellas.

Single images courtesy of Adorama

 

A gold umbrella with black backing can be used to warm the color of an image and your subject. This umbrella color works well when photographing someone in a bathing suit or photographing someone with a very fair skin tone, where a healthy warm glow might be desired.

 

Softboxes

Whether using continuous lighting, speedlights or strobes, softboxes prove to be one of the best light shaping tools for any professional photographer’s to have in their toolbox.

 

Round softboxes, called octaboxes or octabanks, make for wonderful key lights. Their round shape is similar to the sun and the catchlights produced by round softboxes can be much more pleasing to some as they cast a more natural round catchlight into a subject’s eyes to match the roundness of the pupils.

Variety of softbox shapes.

Single images courtesy of Adorama

 

An octabox also tends to wrap light around its subject. I find a larger octabox placed close to my subjects face serves close to what a beauty dish would do for me when placed straight in front of my subject. When placed anywhere else, shadows can vary from subtle to harsh depending on its proximity to the subject. I’m personally a huge fan of the 43” Westcott Apollo Orb because it’s easy to set up and break down – much like an umbrella!

Use of a square softbox with a triangular collapsible reflector.

Model: Xavier Lujan

 

Squares and rectangles work well as main light sources as well as a fill lights. Depending on their size, they tend to throw out a more defined light complete with a nice and soft transitioning of shadows. Contrary to some preferences, I find squares to make interesting and dynamic catchlights in the eyes when used in conjunction with a circular or triangular reflector as shown above. In this image, I used a Glow 24” x 24” Square Softbox which has a large variety of speed ring adapters available, sold separately.

Use of strip softboxes behind the subject.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Strip softboxes are great for lighting the full body when placed parallel with a subject. They also work well as hair lights. Depending on the distance from the subject, strip softboxes can create a very subtle or a very harsh transitioning in shadows.

 

You can read more on softboxes in my article, Softboxes: Containing, Directing and Diffusing the Light.

 

Beauty Dish

If you are into portrait or beauty photography, a beauty dish is a “must”. A beauty dish is a circular reflector or bowl with an opening in the center that attaches to a monolight or strobe. The bulb or flash is hidden by a raised plate in the center that forces light to disburse into bowl and onto a subject rather than the light source directly hitting the subject.

My 16” beauty dish, bare.

 

Beauty dishes come as white or silver coated on the inside. White coated dishes make for a softer light whereas silver coated dishes make for slightly more contrast. Beauty dishes have two different companion modifiers that can be used along with them: a diffuser, sometimes called a “sock”, and a grid. I’ve always had a regret of buying such a small beauty dish – at 16 inches. If you can swing it, get something at least 22 inches in diameter or more. Which beauty dish you should get will depend on the monolight or strobe that you have. Brands like Glow make a variety of mount options to work for more than one single brand.

 

Grid

If you need the direction of light from your light source to be more concise, a grid is your best bet. Grids are useful when you want to light something specific with little to no spill, such as when you want to light your subject but you want to keep the background dark.

My beauty dish grid.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

Grids are generally made to work with beauty dishes and softboxes, but I’ve also found them as companion modifiers for barndoors and snoots as well. They come in variety sizes, the hole width determining the width of the light beam emitted. Grids come in a variety of types, brands, sizes and hole widths and which you get will depend on the type and brand of main modifier you use it with.

 

Barndoors

Barndoors are one of the most versatile and inexpensive lighting modifiers one could own. This modifier is basically four doors that attach to a base which can be attached to a monolight or strobe.

My barndoor setup.

 

What’s versatile about this modifier is that each of these 4 doors can be opened as little or as much as desired allowing for numerous lighting results. Many barn doors are sold as kits that also include companion modifiers of four gels and a grid, such as Flashpoint’s Universal Barn Door Kit.

 

Snoot

Snoots allow you to focus in specifically on one small thing on a subject, such as just the face, just the hands or for baby photography, just the feet. They serve kind of like a spotlight on a choice subject.

 

Snoot used on my model’s face only.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

Snoots also a great tool for lighting particular things for an interior shoot or even products because the light is so concentrated and direct. Snoots can also have complimentary modifiers of attachable gels and grids.

My snoot setup.

 

Snoots are generally brand specific or universal as long as they have the specific speed ring adapter that matches the brand of monolight or strobe you are using.

 

Gels

Gels are not only a practical tool but they are also a fun, creative modifier to use for lighting a subject. In situations where white balance is an issue (such as incandescent bulbs adding a warm orange cast to an image and fluorescent bulbs typically generating a green cast, gels can be used to match the light’s color in order produce an image with light color closer to white.

Rosco 20”x24” Color Effect Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

For a more creative touch, gels can also be used to color backgrounds or to color the light hitting a subject. In the image below, I used a Rosco 20”x24” Color Effect Kit which contains 15 different color gel sheets and is sold at Adorama for around $97.65 for the whole kit. These gels can be bent or folded and are still reuseable. This particular kit contains the larger-sized sheets, which also allows me enough available to be able to also cut swatches of the gels for use too.

Red gel was used for background and blue and yellow gels were used to color the light.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

I used a red gel on a background light aimed at a Savage Smoke Gray Seamless background. I also used a yellow and blue gel on two separate lights on each side behind my model aimed back toward the camera to give her an interesting rim light color on her skin and hair. As a bonus, because I used a fog machine for special effect, the gels colored the smoke as well.

 

WHEN YOU’VE CAPTURED THE ESSENCE OF BEING

When you’ve captured a true portrait of someone, you have captured the very essence of their being. As you can see, there is much involved to achieve this and many techniques available to do this successfully. This is what makes capturing a portrait – an art.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Practical Tools for the Portrait Photographer On The Go

Practical Tools for the Portrait Photographer On The Go

Not everyone works in a studio, or even within 4 walls. While I work a lot in my home studio, I oftentimes also have to work on location, so portability is important to me. For those photographers that might work out of their car, or even using public transportation as a means to get to location shoots (like I do), there are many useful tools out there that can make the journey much less of a hassle, allowing you to you to shoot in a much more positive frame of mind from start to finish.

One of my location shoots in The Bronx.

Model: Daria Komarkova

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

Tripods

A stable support system for your camera is one of the most important things you should consider purchasing right after you buy any camera and lens if you shoot still objects – and there is no shame in using a tripod for your portraits. I actually love occasionally mounting my camera to a tripod, check the frame and then use a remote to shoot – that way I can freely move around anywhere to engage more with my client or help adjust wardrobe or to demonstrate a pose.

Tripod in use on location in Midtown.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

Model: Vixie Rose

 

Tripods usually get left behind because they are too cumbersome due to their weight, too awkward to carry due to length or take too long to set up. They can also get a little pricey, however, they are supporting the weight of your $500+ camera and lens combination. Not obtaining a proper tripod to support your camera and lens unit can result in the unit falling and becoming damaged – sometimes beyond repair. How much did you spend on that camera and lens again?

My diagram of a tripod and its features.

 

Tripod Legs

Weight for the traveling photographer is a huge factor when deciding on a tripod. Aluminum legs can be heavy. If you spend the little bit of extra money, upgrade to carbon fiber legs. Carbon fiber is very lightweight material that is also very durable. All I can really say about the differences here is to walk into Adorama and ask to see and lift up one of each type of tripod legs: you will see what I mean!

If you must get fancy or want the top of the line, the Gitzo GT0545T Series 0 4- Section Traveler Tripod pictured below is a good choice as it weighs only two pounds and closes to just over a foot.

Gitzo Traveler Tripod Legs.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

The Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber 3 Sections Tripod with Horizontal Column is a more affordable choice that has a horizontal column, however, it weighs close to 4.5 pounds. I’m actually looking to upgrade my tripod legs to the Manfrotto MT190CXPRO4 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column as it has a useful 90 degree column (hey, maybe I want to shoot someone laying down? Sure, but it nice to have options when you like to shoot more than people…) These legs are a great option as they are lightweight due to the carbon fiber construction weighing in at only 3.6 pounds.

Manfrotto 190 4-Section Aluminum Tripod

 

Tripod Heads

Tripod heads, well, good tripod heads make up the bulk of a tripod’s weight. There are several types of tripod heads and really, it all comes down to preference, I personally like the flexibility of a ball head. You do not have to get a large ball head, but do make sure it does have a little weight and feels solid (not that cheap plastic feel…) as it will last a bit longer.

Various type of tripod heads.

Collage created by Dawn M. Wayand – Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

You can learn more about tripods: why you need them, why they get a bad rap, considerations when purchasing a tripod, components of a tripod and more of my recommendations for tripods and heads in my article, Tripods: Choosing the Right Support for Your Investment.

 

Light Stands

Just like your tripod, light stands are known to sometimes hold monolights or strobes worth thousands of dollars, so you want to pick a reliable light stand to support your investment. I’m a big fan of the Manfrotto 1052BAC 93″ Air Cushioned Aluminum Compact Stand. This light stand weighs only 2-3 pounds, holds 10-11 pounds and folds up to 33-34 inches. 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 as it drops to the next level of the stand – which could result in damage without this feature.

Manfrotto 1052BAC 93″ Air Cushioned Aluminum Compact Stand

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Maybe you are only using speedlights. A great portable option for a speedlight stand would be the CheetahStand C8 Light Stand. It expands to 96 inches, can carry 6-7 pounds, collapses to 28.5 inches and weighs 6 pounds. This is a free sliding light stand, so you will need to be careful with what you put on top of it when you lower it from any height.

Sometimes you might need a short light stand 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 to be very convenient to have on hand.

Interfit Compact Light Stand.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

For those of you who may be working strictly in a studio and do not need to worry about weight and size or you work both in a studio and on the road, I have written a good read with more recommendations on light stands in my home studio series: Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights and Light Stands.

 

Sandbags

BTW – don’t forget to use sandbags on those light stands! Yes, this can be tricky with weight and traveling, but would you rather your light stand with a $1,000 light go toppling to the floor because you had nothing weighted holding the light stand down?

Flashpoint Weight Sand Bags

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.

 

Speedlights

Speedlights can work really well on the road. 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.

Self-Portrait taken using a Nikon SB-700 Speedlight and a White Shoot-Through Umbrella.

 

NIKON

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.

My Nikon SB-700 Speedlight.

 

CANON

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.

Image courtesy of Adorama.

 

NISSIN

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.

Image courtesy of Adorama.

 

There are a lot of great accessories and modifiers that work well with speedlights that I go into more detail on in my article, Building the Home Studio Part 3: Flashes, Light Meters and Backgrounds.

 

Monolights & Strobes

 

Monolights

I recently had the pleasure of using a Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight and was really impressed with the quality of lighting produced for the price. It is a very lightweight light, perfect for the traveling photographer.

Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight in use with an umbrella.

 

Due to the receivers being built into the monolight and flash, this particular monolight is also compatible with the Flashpoint R2 Zoom Flash for Nikon, Canon or Sony when using the respective Flashpoint R2 i-TTL Wireless 2.4 G Transmitter Remote. Below is a portrait my assistant took of me using this monolight as a key light along with the Flashpoint R2 Zoom Flash as a fill light.

Using the Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight a a keylight and the R2 Zoom Flash as a fill.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

You can check out my review of this monolight, Hands-On Review: The Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight for more information on this light.

 

Strobes

I’ve had the opportunity to use the Profoto B1 500 Air TTL Battery-Powered 2-Light Location Kit a few times through Adorama Rental, and it was a dream. This kit is very easy to use with is fully-integrated with your Nikon or Canon digital camera via the optional Air Remote TTL-C or TTL-N. It’s battery powered and cordless so it can go with you anywhere. One of the great features of this kit is the exclusive custom backpack that the equipment travels in, which keeps everything safe and secure.

Profoto B1 500 Air TTL Battery-Powered 2-Light Location Kit.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

LEDs

If you use LEDs, an interesting choice for versatile, compact LED lights is the Westcott Ice Light 2 at $499.99 each, which I recently had the opportunity to try out and was blown away with the light quality. 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.

The Westcott Ice Light 2.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

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

Testing out the Westcott Ice Light 2.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Modifiers

For portability purposes, there’s a few types of modifiers that fit the bill and work very conveniently for location shoots: reflectors, umbrellas, certain softboxes, a beauty dish,  barndoors and/or gels. There are also a few speedlight modifiers that work well too and I’ll get to those in a moment.

 

Portable Reflectors

A portable reflector is probably the first modifier you will ever own, especially if you shoot people. They are an inexpensive, portable and convenient fill light source. Whether you use the sun or a flash, monolight or strobe, portable reflectors are an excellent tool to help fill in unwanted shadows.


Large oval reflectors, circular reflectors, square reflectors and triangular reflectors.

 

I go into great detail about reflectors in my article, Building the Home Studio Part 04: Essential Studio Tools, Props and Odds & Ends.

 

Umbrellas

Umbrellas are convenient portable tools that serve to diffuse or bounce light back onto your subject when shooting in a studio or on location. No matter your level or budget, umbrellas are your great tool for getting professional results in your portrait work. I go into great detail on umbrellas in my article: Umbrellas: Good for More Than Just a Rainy Day.

Shoot through, white, silver and gold umbrellas.

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

Softboxes

Umbrellas softboxes, like umbrellas, are convenient and portable as they fold up like umbrellas and take up less room than conventional softboxes. I’m a big fan of the Westcott Apollo Orb which is now on sale at Adorama.

Octabank, strip and square softboxes.

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

There are a few softboxes with speed rings that are easy to set up too.  I’ve had the opportunity to try out the Profoto 2’x2’ RFi Softbox which were are a dream to put together. I actually own two Glow 24 x 24″ Softboxes, which didn’t cost much and are easy to put together (speedrings are separate and custom to your light’s brand). Glow also has strips and many other shapes and sizes available.

 

Beauty Dishes

If you are into portrait or beauty photography, a beauty dish is a “must”. Beauty dishes come as white or silver coated on the inside. White coated dishes make for a softer light whereas silver coated dishes make for slightly more contrast. Beauty dishes have two different companion modifiers that can be used along with them: a diffuser, sometimes called a “sock”, and a grid.

Silver beauty dish (left) and white beauty dish (right).

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

If you can swing it, get something at least 22 inches in diameter or more. Which beauty dish you should get will depend on the monolight or strobe that you have. Brands like Glow make a variety of mount options to work for more than one single brand. Don’t forget to get a beauty dish bag to carry it on location. This will help keep it circular instead of battered and mis-shaped.

 

Barndoors

Barndoors are one of the most versatile and inexpensive lighting modifiers one could own. This modifier is basically four doors that attach to a base which can be attached to a monolight or strobe.

Flashpoint Universal Barn Door Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

What’s versatile about this modifier is that these 4 doors can be opened as much as desired allowing for numerous lighting results. Many barn doors are sold as kits that also include companion modifiers of four gels and a grid, such as Flashpoint’s Universal Barn Door Kit featured above.

 

Gels

Gels are not only a practical tool for color correction, but they are also a fun, creative modifier to use for lighting a subject too.


Rosco 20”x24” Color Effects Kit

 

In the image below, I used a Rosco 20”x24” Color Effects Kit which contains 15 different color gel sheets. These flat-like-paper gels can be bent or folded and are still reuseable. This particular kit contains the larger-sized sheets, which also allows me enough available to be able to also cut swatches of the gels for use too.

Example of use of gels with monolights (okay, maybe a fog machine too!)

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

Additional Speedlight Modifiers

Using a speedlight and not a monolight of strobe? Some of the same modifiers can be used for speedlights as well, but if you’re using a speedlight, you can get even more portable than that. 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.

ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBender 2 Portable Full Lighting Kit

 

Laptops, Tethering & Storage

 

Computers & Laptops

Shooting anything on location where you can bring a laptop and/or where more serious situations might include a laptop with monitor and a monitor hood. This doesn’t just apply to people and products, but it can also apply to landscape shoots too.

My Apple 27-inch iMac for studio use and my Dell laptop for location use.

 

Tethering Equipment

I love, love, LOVE tethering to a computer (my 27-inch iMac when in the studio) or my laptop(when on location) whenever I am shooting people so that I can see my results immediately and on something larger than my 3-inch LCD screen. Then I can make any necessary adjustments that I might’ve missed if only viewed on a smaller screen. Tether Tools makes a huge assortment of products for your tethering needs.

The Tether Tools Starter Kit.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

I invested in a Tether Tools Starter Kit which consists of one direct 15-foot TetherPro Cable that plugs from computer to my specific camera model, a Jerkstopper Cable Management System consisting of a piece for your camera (to prevent the cable from being pulled out of the camera should you step on the cable), and a piece for your computer/laptop (to prevent the same from happening from your computer/laptop), 10 Jerkstopper ProTab Cable Ties and a small carrying case for all of it to keep you organized. If you shoot tethered, I cannot emphasize how much this kit will help you with an otherwise shoddy, unreliable connection.

 

LaCie Rugged RAID Portable Hard Drive

It’s a good idea to use a portable hard drive when on location as you can set yourself up to immediately back up your images as you are shooting, which is safer than relying on your memory card to not fail you. I back up to a LaCie 4TB Rugged RAID Portable Hard Drive whether I am in the studio or on location to ensure my images are safe.

LaCie 4TB Rugged RAID Portable Hard Drive

 

Bags and Cases

Of course as a photographer working on location, you need bags and whatnot to carry your gear, equipment and odds & ends. I go into greater detail on selecting what you need to carry these things in my article, Bags, Cases & Pouches: Picking A Means For Carrying and Storing Your Gear.


Some of my typical location bags and pouches.

 

Camera Bags

Camera bags really come down to preference. You may want a backpack or you might prefer a shoulder bag or crossbody bag more. Others might like a roller bag. If I’m on a light location shoot where I do not need to take a lot of lenses, I might go with my fashionable Kelly Moore Brownlee Bag (pictured above in Indigo).

If my shoot is a little more involved, I take my Ape Case Pro Backpack. I love this versatile backpack because you also have the option of rolling it (yes, it has wheels too). This backpack has numerous compartments for your camera and many lenses, plus it has plenty of room for a small laptop and tethering cords too.

The Ape Case Pro Backpack and the ThinkTank Retrospective 5 Shoulder Bag/Messenger Bag.

 

Gentlemen, you might find the fashionable ThinkTank Retrospective 5 Shoulder Bag/Messenger Bag to be a good option if you prefer a shoulder bag for on the go. Again, there are numerous options and my previously mentioned article explains what to look for in a bag along with some great examples.

 

Pouches & Wallets

Camera battery and AA battery pouches and memory card wallets are great for keeping these tiny necessities all in one place instead of them rolling around your bag. The memory card wallets even have clips to clip to a part of your bag to ensure they do not get lost.

ThinkTank corners the market on exceptionally made battery pouches and memory card wallets.

 

Monolight/Strobe Cases

Many monolight and strobe manufacturers create custom bags that are included with your light. I love the Profoto B1 Kit backpack as it makes carrying that expensive investment much easier and safer. I’d definitely want those attached to me!

Westcott Deluxe Strobe Bag and the Profoto B1 Kit backpack.

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

I also like the Westcott Deluxe Strobe Bag if I already have on a backpack (like a camera backpack…) because it’s on wheels. It means less weight on my body, plus the wheels feature both make it easier to move around.

 

Light Stand/Tripod Bags

Light stand bags with wheels are very convenient for the traveling photographer as are tripod bags with shoulder straps. For the light stands, I like the Hensel HD Bag for Stands and Umbrellas. It doesn’t have wheels on it’s own but if you pair it with the Hensel HD Trolley for Strobes, then you have a solution for both stands, some modifiers and strobes.


Hensel HD Bag for Stands pictured with Hensel HD Trolley for strobes.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

For tripods, I find the Hakuba Tripod Case to be a good investment as your tripod most likely cost you several hundred dollars. You want to make sure it’s protected plus it has a strap that can easily be worn over the shoulder.

Hakuba Tripod Case

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Odds and Ends

 

Gaffer’s Tape

Gaffer’s Tape is a great tool for taping down electrical wires or seamless. It’s also useful for taping a flag to your speedlight or lens, taping equipment to clamps, tripods, light stands and taping wardrobe in the back when it’s too big, etc.

 

A-Clamps

A- clamps can be similar to gaffer’s tape in that it has many uses such as clamping wardrobe when it’s too big, clamping a muslin background to a background support system or clamping a seamless roll so that it does not roll out farther than you want it to. I like the Tether Tools 2″ Rock Solid “A” Spring Clamp in solid black.

Tether Tools 2″ Rock Solid “A” Spring Clamp

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Batteries

Batteries are needed for many things on location such as your transmitters, receivers, speedlights and your camera. Always have a large stash of backups (Depending on how long my shoot will be, I usually try to have 2 sets of batteries for each piece of gear that requires it as backups…) It can get expensive replacing batteries all the time so I use Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries which are a good solution to save money and to help save the environment.

My battery stash at home. Remember those pouches above?

Great for storing some of these for the road.

 

Extra Bulbs

It’s really important once you own and start using strobes that you have backup bulbs. These can get really expensive, but if you are on an assignment and one or more of your bulbs blow, you could be screwed. Having additional bulbs can save the situation. I tend to keep one backup bulb for each strobe I own…

Additional bulbs.

 

There are many odds and ends that you might find useful depending on what you are doing with your location photo shoot. You can find more of my tool ideas in my article Building the Home Studio Part 4: Essential Studio Tools, Props and Odds & Ends.

 

Some Final Thoughts…

Yes. I did go over a lot of gear and equipment here for a location shoot, but it doesn’t mean you need all of it every time. Depending on many factors and your personal preferences, you may need only a few things from what I listed or sometimes maybe more than just a few things. The greatest challenge is packing as light as possible to avoid additional strain on you. Many of the items I mentioned here are lightweight whereas things like your DSLR camera and lenses, you may not have much of a choice if you care too much about how your client assesses the relationship between your equipment and being a professional. Organization is also key, so good bags will help do the trick. I hope you found this list helpful. Feel free to leave some comments here and let us know what you have found useful for shooting on location.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Transforming Light Into Art:  9 Modifiers For Diffusing & Shaping Light

Transforming Light Into Art: 9 Modifiers For Diffusing & Shaping Light

So you’ve just picked up a monolight or strobe for your studio setup, or maybe you already have that and you are looking for tips on diffusing and shaping the light that comes from it. Acquiring a modifier for that light is pretty much a necessity as without a way to diffuse a light source, the light ends up being harsh, producing high contrast. You also end up losing any control over the light as the light spills everywhere.

An 11” long throw metal reflector was used as a front light and a 7” metal reflector was used as a rim light.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

You have several options for light modifiers (depending on the type of monolight or strobe that you buy since some light models are limited on modifier options…) Which modifiers you choose depend on the result you are aiming for in your images. Below are nine light modifier options that can help you diffuse and shape light in your studio work.

 

COLLAPSIBLE REFLECTORS

While not everyone has an easy time folding them back up, most of us know what a collapsible reflector is and many folks have actually successfully used one. They should really be your first light modifier, even before you buy your first monolight or strobe because they are useful outside in the field too. They work for not only lighting people outdoors, but subjects like flowers too.

Collapsible reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

 

Reflectors do exactly what their name might imply: they reflect light. They are used to bounce light from a light source back onto a subject. Photographing a person outdoors in the sun? We generally put the sun behind our subject to avoid him or her squinting, but then our subject becomes too dark because the light behind him or her is so bright. A reflector can be used to bounce light from the sun behind the subject back onto him/her so that the subject is also lit.  This works the same way in a studio.

The image on the left was taken without a collapsible reflector and the image on the right was taken using a collapsible reflector.

Model: Katie Buell

 

As you can see through the images above, in the image on the right, the reflector helped to fill in the under-eye and under-chin shadows, shine a little more light onto her hair, which in turn, created a little more texture as well as put an extra catchlight in her eyes.

 

Collapsible reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. I try to stick with at least a 5-in-1 reflector, which means that there are five color options in one reflector kit. Below you can see the effect of the different colors in my 32” 5-in-1 reflector: (1) Black – takes away light, (2) Translucent Diffuser – diffuses the light, (3) Silver – creates soft specular highlights, (4) White – creates highlights and (5) Gold – warms the subject.


The effects of a 5-in-1 reflector.

 

You can learn more about collapsible reflectors colors and what the different shapes and sizes do in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 04 – Essential Studio Tools, Props and Odds & Ends.

 

METAL REFLECTORS

Metal reflectors are those circular metal bowls that attach around the bulb or flashtube of your monolight or strobe and light reflects from the bowl directly onto your subject.

Flashpoint 8-1/4″ Reflector to Fit Elinchrom

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Some monolights and strobes come with a metal reflector as a starter modifier. They are generally great for background and rim light use.

The metal reflector helped add depth to my image by lighting the background

while I shot through Saran-wrapped Plexiglas for a dreamy effect.

Model/Dancer: Shoko Fujita

 

While they tend to cast a very harsh light, I have often been able to pull them off as a front light, such as in the first image of this article, a floor light, such as in the image immediately above, and especially for photographing males (where a more harsh light may be desired) by positioning them further away from a subject and setting the light at a lower power, such as in the image below.

Positioning a metal reflector far from a subject and setting the

light at a lower power worked for this shot.

Actor: Patrick Walsh

 

UMBRELLAS

Umbrellas are probably one of the first studio modifiers that are ever purchased by photographers as they are cheap, portable and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

 

Shoot Through Umbrellas

Shoot-Through Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

White shoot-through, or translucent, umbrellas are one of the more common umbrellas used in photography because the shaft of the umbrella is pointed away from a subject when lighting, which means a light source can be moved in as close as desired without poking out their eye! The downside to a shoot through umbrellas is that the light is hard to control because the umbrella is translucent and the light spills everywhere.

Shoot through umbrellas make great beauty lighting modifiers, but the light is hard to control.

Model: Katie Buell

 

In the image above, I used the inexpensive JTL 40-inch White Umbrella w/ Removable Black Cover with the black cover removed.

 

Black/White Umbrellas

Black/White Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Black/white umbrellas are a great choice for when you need to fill in shadows without it affecting the color, quality or quantity of light. In the image below, I used the JTL 40-inch White Umbrella w/ Removable Black Cover, but with the cover on.

Black & white umbrellas are great for filling in shadows without affecting the light.

Model: Katie Buell

 

Black/Silver Umbrellas

Black/Silver Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

A reflective umbrella, a silver umbrella (with a black covering) can be used when you want to bounce in specular highlights without affecting the color of the light. The light will be subtly harsher than a shoot through, depending on your umbrella’s distance from your lightsource and from your subject as well as the size of the umbrella.

Silver umbrellas bounce in specular highlights without affecting the color of the light.

Model: Katie Buell

 

In the image above, I used something similar to the Phottix 40” Two-Layer Silver Reflective Umbrella available at Adorama for $17.95 each.

 

Black/Gold Umbrellas

Black/Gold Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

A gold umbrella with black backing can be used to warm the color of an image and your subject. This umbrella color works well when photographing someone in a bathing suit or photographing someone with a very fair skin tone, where a healthy warm glow might be desired.

Just an example of the warming effect of a gold umbrella…

Model: Katie Buell

 

Above,  I used something similar to the Phottix 40” Two-Layer Gold Reflective Umbrella available at Adorama for around $21.95 each.

 

Parabolic Umbrellas

The use of a 7-foot parabolic umbrella.

 

The larger your umbrella is, the more your light will be spread out. Larger umbrellas, like parabolic umbrellas, are great for full body shots, group shots and portraits, where smaller umbrellas project a more narrow focus, therefore, better for some portraits and headshots. For the image below, I used a Westcott 7-foot Silver Parabolic Umbrella.

Parabolic umbrellas can make for beautiful full body shots, group shots and portraits.

Model: Katie Buell

 

SOFTBOXES

Whether using continuous lighting, speedlights or strobes, softboxes prove to be one of the best light shaping tools for any professional photographer’s to have in their toolbox.

 

Round

43” Westcott Apollo Orb

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Round softboxes, called octaboxes or octabanks, make for wonderful key lights. Their round shape is similar to the sun and the catchlights produced by round softboxes can be much more pleasing to some as they cast a more natural round catchlight into a subject’s eyes to match the roundness of the pupils.

Light is wrapped around my model here and the octabox creates round catchlights in the eyes.

Model: James Campbell

 

An octabox also tends to wrap light around its subject. I find a larger octabox placed close to my subjects face serves close to what a beauty dish would do for me when placed straight in front of my subject. When placed anywhere else, shadows can vary from subtle to harsh depending on its proximity to the subject. I’m personally a huge fan of the 43” Westcott Apollo Orb because it’s easy to set up and break down – much like an umbrella!

 

Squares and Rectangles

Profoto 2×2′ RFi Softbox

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Squares and rectangles work well as main light sources as well as a fill lights. Depending on their size, they tend to throw out a more defined light complete with a nice and soft transitioning of shadows.

Square softboxes create soft shadow transitioning and leave square catchlights in the eyes.

Model: Xavier Lujan

 

Contrary to some preferences, I find squares to make interesting and dynamic catchlights in the eyes when used in conjunction with a circular or triangular reflector as shown above. In this image, I used a Glow 24” x 24” Square Softbox which has a large variety of speed ring adapters available, sold separately.

 

Strips

Interfit Photographic Strip Light Softbox for Strobes, 28×75″

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Strip softboxes are great for lighting the full body when placed parallel with a subject. They also work well as hair lights. I used a softbox similar to the Westcott 12”x36” Strip Bank for the image below.


Strip softboxes are good for full length images and create long narrow catchlights in the eyes.

Model: Katie Buell

 

Depending on the distance from the subject, strip softboxes can create a very subtle or a very harsh transitioning in shadows.

 

BEAUTY DISHES

Beauty dishes are beautiful! If you are into portrait or beauty photography, a beauty dish is a “must”. A beauty dish is a circular reflector or bowl with an opening in the center that attaches to a monolight or strobe. The bulb or flash is hidden by a raised plate in the center that forces light to disburse into bowl and onto a subject rather than the light source directly hitting the subject.

A silver and a white beauty dish (left to right).

Images courtesy of Adorama

 

Beauty dishes come as white or silver coated on the inside. White coated dishes make for a softer light whereas silver coated dishes make for slightly more contrast.

Image taken using a 16-inch white beauty dish with a diffuser as a main light.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Beauty dishes have two different companion modifiers that can be used along with them: a diffuser, sometimes called a “sock”, and a grid. The image above was taken using a diffuser while the image below was taken using a grid.

Image taken using a 16-inch white beauty dish with a grid.

Model: Xavier Lujan

 

I’ve always had a regret of buying such a small beauty dish – at 16 inches. If you can swing it, get something at least 22 inches in diameter or more. Which beauty dish you should get will depend on the monolight or strobe that you have. Brands like Glow make a variety of mount options to work for more than one single brand.

 

GRIDS

If you need the direction of light from your light source to be more concise, a grid is your best bet. Grids are useful when you want to light something specific with little to no spill, such as when you want to light your subject but you want to keep the background dark.

Grid on a beauty dish.

Image by Yann Bizeul

 

Grids are typically made to work with beauty dishes and softboxes, but I’ve also found them as companion modifiers for barndoors and snoots too. They come in different sizes, the hole width determining the width of the light beam emitted.

The use of a grid on a beauty dish.

Model: Tara Virada

 

Grids come in a variety of types, brands, sizes and hole widths and which you get will depend on the type and brand of main modifier you use it with.

 

BARNDOORS

Barndoors are one of the most versatile and inexpensive lighting modifiers one could own. This modifier is basically four doors that attach to a base which can be attached to a monolight or strobe.

Flashpoint Universal Barn Door Kit with Grid and Gels

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

What’s versatile about this modifier is that these 4 doors can be opened as little or as much as desired allowing for numerous lighting results. Many barn doors are sold as kits that also include companion modifiers of four gels and a grid, such as Flashpoint’s Universal Barn Door Kit featured above.

A quick example of the use of barn doors bare on a subject.

Model: Matt Chamberlain

 

Above I used the barn doors bare with each door opened halfway, which produced a very harsh light on my subject whereas below, I popped a grid onto the barndoors and while the light is still a bit harsh, notice that the background goes dark. As noted previously, grids help direct light in a specific direction leaving little spill, if any. The light doesn’t wrap around my subject and hit the background in this case. The light only hits my subject.

A quick example of the use of barn doors with a grid.

Model: Matt Chamberlain

 

SNOOTS

Flashpoint Snoot Kit for Bowens Mount Strobes

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Snoots are serious business. They allow you to focus in specifically on one small thing on a subject, such as just the face, just the hands or for baby photography, just the feet. They are also a great tool for lighting particular things for an interior shoot or even products because the light is so concentrated and direct.

A snoot used bare in the front with a beauty dish and grid used as a rim light behind my subject.

Model: Celeste Smith

 

Snoots can also have complimentary modifiers of attachable gels and grids. In the image above, I used a snoot bare and in the image below, I used a snoot with a grid.

Example of a snoot with a grid for a front light and a beauty dish with a grid as a rim light.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

Snoots are generally brand specific or universal as long as they have the specific speed ring adapter that matches the brand of monolight or strobe you are using.

 

GELS

Gels are not only a practical tool but they are also a fun, creative modifier to use for lighting a subject. In situations where white balance is an issue (such as incandescent bulbs adding a warm orange cast to an image and fluorescent bulbs typically generating a green cast, gels can be used to match the light’s color in order produce an image with light color closer to white.

Rosco 20×24 Color Effects Kit

 

For a more creative touch, gels can also be used to color backgrounds or to color the light hitting a subject. In the image below, I used a Rosco 20”x24” Color Effect Kit which contains 15 different color gel sheets and is sold at Adorama for around $97.65 for the whole kit. These gels can be bent or folded and are still reuseable. This particular kit contains the larger-sized sheets, which also allows me enough available to be able to also cut swatches of the gels for use too.

Gels can be used to color backgrounds or your subject (or in this case smoke too!)

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

I used a red gel on a background light aimed at a Savage Smoke Gray Seamless background. I also used a yellow and blue gel on two separate lights on each side behind my model aimed back toward the camera to give her an interesting rim light color on her skin and hair. As a bonus, because I used a fog machine for special effect, the gels colored the smoke as well.

 

A LAST WORD ON MODIFIERS…

Lighting gets a whole lot more fun when you begin introducing modifiers into the equation. It brings endless possibilities as to how to light a subject. If you are on a budget, start with umbrellas and/or a barn door kit. When you can swing it, launch into softboxes, beauty dishes and more, building them up as you find that you need them. While each has a place in the studio, all allow lighting a subject to be a much more creative process.

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments