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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
Building a Home Studio Part 01: Space and Essential Shooting Gear

Building a Home Studio Part 01: Space and Essential Shooting Gear

 

You love photographing and people and have decided to make the leap from a part-time hobbiest capture here and there to becoming a part-time or full-time professional studio  photographer. While photography can already be an expensive hobby, it doesn’t get less expensive as a professional service! Some of you might not be able to afford separate studio space and have considered building your own home studio, but there’s much to consider and basic required gear to have before opening up shop. Over the next few months, I will be sharing with you tips, advice and a few recommendations on building a home studio from the ground up based on my own experiences of working in a home studio environment. My goal is to arm you with information you need to decide what to get, to help you think on if you really need what you think you need and much more. This month, I will go over space considerations as well as cover required equipment that you will need before you can even think about investing in studio equipment.

 

STUDIO SPACE

 

One of the biggest determinations of whether to embark in creating a home studio is space. “Is my apartment/home big enough?”, “Can I devote a particular part of my home to working space?” and “Do I have the ideal type of environment for a home studio?” are just a few questions going through your mind. I personally work out of a 11×12 foot space and still create work that leaves my clients happy and working with me again.
Studio-Space-1

This is not to say you can work in a closet, but as an artist, you must get creative with making your home studio space work.

 

The optimal amount of space is as much as possible, however, when you don’t have 2,000 square feet to devote to studio space, keep the following thoughts in mind:

 

  • You’ll want a decent ceiling height. Ten feet is really a minimum for shooting standing full body shots if you plan to use a hair light, and if you do not want to have to Photoshop the bottom of your roll of seamless from behind the subject’s head. Lower ceilings could work, however, sitting portraits and headshots might be more of a working option with a low ceiling height.

 

  • Aim to have at least 6 feet between the wall and your subject to avoid a shadow on the background without having to use a backlight. Depending on what you are shooting and what focal length you will use, you also want to consider the space between you and your subject too. You will not be able to use a 100mm lens and get a full length shot of your standing subject when you are only 3 feet away. Don’t have this much room? Consider shooting from outside the door of your studio space: down the hallway, from the kitchen, sit or stand on the furniture behind you to shoot – get creative.

 

  • White walls are the way to go. If you have colored walls, that color may tint your images. (I have this trouble with my blue walls leaving a bluish hue on my images…) Can’t paint your apartment walls? Consider buying or making two sets of v-flats (white on one side/black on the other side) to create 4 walls of neutral light and dark space for your needs.

 

  • Having the option of natural light in your studio space is a plus, however, in wanting to create a controlled studio lighting setup, sunlight is hard light to coStudio-Space-3ntrol and sometimes it can be too much. For this, consider installing blackout curtains for use during those overly bright times of the day.

 

  • If you are already limited on space and using only one room for your studio, keep in mind you will also need room to store equipment and props. Too much gear and not enough space? Consider creating shelves and/or hanging gear on the walls out of the way. A single coat rack makes for a nice modifier stand.  My top piece of advice is to only buy what you need and nothing more. My next piece of advice: make sure every prop you buy has more than one use (ie. my ottoman not only stores equipment but I use it for my subjects to sit/lay on.)

 

  • Most likely, you will be shooting a person in multiple outfits. You will need space for your client to change and to prepare their hair and makeup. Sometimes you may have a hairstylist and/or makeup artist in that space too. How large is your bathroom or kitchen area? Consider a portable coat rack for hanging clothes and a folding wall for your subject to change behind in the kitchen. A foldable standing mirror is a ideal for your subject’s use as it can be hung on the wall to save space, moved around the room when needed and even used as a prop (remember, double use!)

Studio-Space-2

With space, there are ideas you can create to make it work if you put on your thinking cap and get creative.

 

CHOOSING A GOOD CAMERA THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU

 

While it’s really important to have a good camera when shooting for more than hobby, you should buy only the best camera that you can afford. Keep in mind that the glass you put in front of that camera body is nearly if not more important in determining the quality of the image you will make. Imagine the images you’ll create slapping a crappy low-end lens onto a high-end camera! This is not to say you should buy the bottom of the barrel camera body and an expensive high-end lens as then you would be losing many performance necessities.

 

First, it’s wrongly-perceived that a higher megapixel count means a better camera option for you. It is really important to consider what you are shooting and how you plan to output the images. If a majority of your image-making is for the purpose of posting on the web, regardless of what you are shooting, you are absolutely fine with a 12MP camera, so long as it has other features that are important to you. Buying a 36MP camera for only posting on the web can be overkill and if used for nothing more and would be a waste of money that could be used on buying a better glass option.

 

Next, format size is usually a big question and most of the time is decided by how much you can afford as crop sensor cameras can run anywhere from $400 to $1,000, whereas full-frame cameras can start new at $1,800 (when on sale) and can go up to $5,000 or more depending on the model. Which has better quality? I’ve shot on both full frame and crop sensor cameras and saw nearly no huge difference in quality when used with good lens choices.

 

Cameras-1

Shot with a Nikon D300 (crop sensor) using a Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8 lens.

 

Cameras-2

Shot with a Nikon D750 (full frame) using a Nikon 85mm F/1.4 lens.

 

Cameras-3

Shot with a Canon 7D Mark II(crop sensor)  using a Canon 85mm F/1.8 Lens.

 

Another consideration is whether you are interested in shooting video or think you would be in the near future. You can save money choosing a camera that does not offer a video option and putting that savings toward better or additional glass too.

 

Shooting rate and buffer size is another important quality to consider when choosing a camera that is right for you. Will you be shooting a lot of indoor action in your studio or location such as dancers or sports? You will definitely want a camera that has a higher shooting rate before the buffer kicks in.

 

While with a home studio you would mostly be shooting at a low ISO speed, for shooting on location indoors or outdoors in low-lighting conditions, ISO is another factor to consider. If you think you will be shooting in low-light conditions, you will want a camera option that has a higher ISO performance to minimize the noise quality. The Canon 5D Mark III has a native ISO of 25600 extended to a whopping ISO 102400!

 

You’ll want a camera body that has a fast focusing speed and a high number of autofocus points. I tend to shoot just about everything with off-center composition, so more autofocus points is important to me. I found the Nikon D7100 and Nikon D750 cameras are pretty darn quick and both have 51 autofocus points. While the Canon 5D Mark III has a 61-autofocus points, the Canon 7D Mark II has 65 autofocus points.

 

Do you think you’ll use the Live View option? While Live View has its benefits, such as being able to shoot from the hip or shooting from overhead and still being able to see what you are shooting, Live View does have some disadvantages. Your battery tends to not last as long when using Live View. In addition, there tends to be a little bit of a lag time between pressing the shutter and actually capturing the image in Live View mode, which I specifically noticed with the Nikon D7100. It’s important to consider whether you prefer to have a camera with Live View or would forego the option to save money and put it toward better or additional glass or save it for other gear that you will want or need for your home studio.

 

Have an existing DSLR and just looking to upgrade? Unless you have money to blow, it’s usually wise (and less expensive) to consider staying with the same brand when upgrading so that you’re not only having to go through the hassle and expense of selling your old camera body and buying the new body, but also selling all of your old lenses to purchase lenses to accommodate your new camera body.
Brands

As for brands, there is so much controversy of which brand is the best brand of camera. That’s a tough question that really cannot be answered as features that are developed that put a manufacturer on top one year is exceeded by new technology developed by a different manufacturer the next which keeps manufacturers constantly cycling on top. Sometimes awesome new helpful features tend to come at the expense of lacking other features. For your purchase now, consider the features you want and need in a camera and what you will mainly shoot with the camera.

 

For the most part, Nikons and Canons have been on top in the industry for many reasons in addition to the actual functions the cameras provide. They are versatile. They are rugged and  built to last. Nikons and Canons tend to have longer battery life than many other brands of cameras. Some brands have tethering issues to programs such as Adobe Lightroom, whereas Nikons and Canons do not have those issues. Not to mention there are many more lens options for Nikon and Canon than any other brand as not only do they have their own extensive lens lines, but third party companies like Sigma, Tokina and Tamron manufacture a multitude of lenses compatible with Nikon and Canon cameras.

 

Some of the cameras I found to be of terrific quality and that I would consider replacing my very old Nikon D300 with are the:

 

Nikon D7100 at $696.95,

Canon 7D Mark II at $1,399, or the

Canon 70D at $899

 

for crop-sensor format cameras, or for full-frame format cameras, the

 

Nikon D750 at $1,896.95,

Nikon D810 at $2,796.95, or the

Canon 5D Mark III at $2,499.  

 

“SO MANY LENSES… WHICH LENS IS RIGHT FOR ME?”

What 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 out there that will help produce a magnificent image with a bad quality lens attached. While you most likely have a budget in place for a new system, before you buy that high-end camera body with half the features that you will never use, factor in the cost investment of a at least one exceptional lens.

 

A good lens for you really depends on what you are shooting. It does not necessarily mean the widest aperture available. Why? Well, most of the widest aperture lenses are extremely costly and may not produce the results that you might be looking for. Almost all wide aperture lenses – while having beautiful bokeh – yield very soft images. This is great for newborn and child photography, but when your client might be a group or family or even if you are shooting for a lookbook or an ad, that client will want tack sharp images that are produced by an aperture of between F/5.6 to F/8. So why go crazy buying an F/1.2 if you’re not doing newborn and child photography?

 

You also might consider where you will be using the lens the most. If it’s in your home studio, consider the size of your space. Remember, you will not be able to use a 100mm lens in a small space for a full length portrait.

 

PRIME LENSES (AUTO)

 

Autofocus prime lenses are great for shooting moving subjects. These lenses are practical good for shooting fashion in the studio as you may have your subject continuously moving. Typically great focal lengths for shooting people in general are 50mm and 85mm. On a crop sensor camera they are right around the equivalent of 90mm and 135mm respectively. 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.

 

Nikon-50mm-F1.4

Shot with the Nikon 50mm F/1.4 Lens at ISO 200, F/5.6 at 1/200 of a sec.

 

The Canon 50mm F/1.4 at $329, is also a compact lens that does a good job in capturing portraits and headshots as seen here.

 

Canon-50mm-F1.4

Shot with a Canon 50mm F/1.4 Lens at ISO 200, F/5 at 1/80 of a sec.

 

The Nikon 85mm F/1.4 at $1,596.95, is also an exceptional piece of glass that produces a beautiful bokeh and sharp features both in and outside the studio.

 

Nikon-85mm-F1.4

Shot with a Nikon 85mm F/1.4 Lens at ISO 100, F2.0 at 1/80of a sec.

 

The Canon 85mm F/1.8 at $349, is a great alternative to the F/1.4 option and is a little less expensive to boot.

 

Canon-85mm-F1.8

Shot with a Canon 85mm F/1.8 Lens at ISO 200, F/2.8 at 1/50 of a sec.

 

PRIME LENSES (MANUAL)

 

Manual Prime lenses can be expensive and really work best only if your subject is stationary. These lenses can be optimal for portraits and headshots. I found the Zeiss line to be exceptional with the more budget option of Rokinon right behind it. You can find 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.

 

Rokinon-50mm

Shot with a Rokinon 50mm F/1.4 Lens at ISO 3200, F/11 at 1/250 of a sec.

 

Zeiss-85mm

Shot with a Zeiss 85mm F/1.4 Lens at ISO 640, F/5.6 at 1/160 of a sec.

 

Zeiss-100mm

Shot with a Zeiss 100mm F/2.0 Lens at ISO200, F/2.8 at 1/50 of a sec.

 

ZOOM LENSES

 

Zoom lenses can be great as they have much variety in focal length and 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.

 

It gave me terrific look book images indoors…

 

Nikon-24-70mm

Untouched, this was shot with a Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8 Lens at ISO 160 and F/3.5 at 1/40 of a sec.

 

On location outdoors this lens also made an enormous impact, case in point: the following untouched image of my model Katie at sunset.

 

Nikon-24-70mm-2

Untouched, this was shot at shot with a Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8 Lens at ISO 200 and F/5.6 at 1/200 of a sec.

 

While no longer manufactured, but still available used, I have used a Nikon 28-105mm in my space as well as client’s small spaces and have produced some very striking images.

 

Nikon-28-105mm

Shot with the Nikon 28-105mm at ISO 200, F/5.6 at 1/160 of a sec.

 

Be sure to look for lenses that have have vibration reduction should your camera system itself not have an equivalent function.

 

HARNESSING YOUR CAMERA: CAMERA STRAPS AND CAMERA HOLSTERS

 

Camera straps are one of those things you need that can also be a nuisance to deal with wearing. Some photographers take them off, only later to drop their camera and break it or drown it in a pool of water! Neck straps are generally a safe way to protect your camera from tumbles and falls, but they also have their issues such as causing neck and back pain, getting in the way of a shot when shooting down as well as the “obvious” factor when you are a street photographer trying to conceal that you are shooting.

 

There are some great alternatives to neck straps out there such as sling straps, double-camera vests and holster belts.

 

CAMERA SLING STRAPS

Sling-StrapBlackRapid makes a great sling strap called the BlackRapid Metro Sling Camera Strap, which is available at Adorama for $39.95. This is my go-to when I’m shooting outdoors, as I can let the camera hang to my side and quickly and easily bring it up to my eye by sliding it across my body up from waist to eye. It’s also nice as the lens hangs behind you, making it harder to damage the lens if you run into something.

 

 

 

CAMERA VESTS

Camera-VestIn addition to the sling strap, BlackRapid also makes the BlackRapid Double Slim (DR-2), Double Strap for two cameras. If you shoot weddings or other events, for $134.95 this is a perfect solution for having your backup camera also attached to you saving you money from the damage of having both cameras bumping into each other using two neckstraps. My favorite studio strap is not a strap at all – it’s a belt.

 

 

 

CAMERA HOLSTERS

SpiderHolsterAt $15.95, Spiderholster Pro Kit is an easy way to have your camera securely attached to your waist by a locking hook mechanism, which takes the strain off of your neck and back while keeping your camera right at your side, within your hand’s reach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KEEPING IT CLEAN

 

It’s extremely important to clean your camera and lens after every use to avoid heavy buildup from occurring as well as to keep dust from getting into your lens or camera, especially for those that are not weather-sealed. It’s like washing and waxing your car. A bare necessities that you need to do this are camera wipes, lens cleaner, a lens cloth, a blower and maybe Q-tips. Some of the basic kits that Adorama carries that get the job done are the Adorama Cleaning Kit for $14.95, the Zeiss Complete Optics Cleaning Kit for $28 (good for more than Zeiss lenses), and the Vanguard 6-in-1 Cleaning Kit at $18.14.

 

Visible Dust makes decent sensor cleaning kits but while cleaning your camera exterior and lenses is like washing and waxing any car, cleaning your sensor can be extremely difficult to do and to do safely and like not making my own repairs on a high-end car, I would leave that to a technician.

 

Building your studio from the ground up starts with analyzing your space needs before anything else and if you’ve decided to give it a go, acquiring equipment and gear that is mandatory for actually producing an image such as cameras, lens cleaning kits and camera harnesses. This is probably one of the most important and the most time-consuming part of building up a home studio from scratch because of the infinite number of choices. Once you’ve gotten past this point, it is pretty much a walk in the park in choosing your light sources, modifiers and the other odds and ends you’ll need to set up a professional system. I’ll be covering all of this and more each month over the next few months. Stay tuned and happy shooting!

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments