Kelvin scale

6 Tips for Beginners Learning Photography

6 Tips for Beginners Learning Photography

Photography can be a very rewarding experience for many photographers. Not only do photographers create a permanent archive of memories, but the validation and criticism received when sharing your work – be it with friends and family or exhibiting in a gallery – can generate an amazing feeling and confidence within that photographer. While technology is making it easier and easier to “take” a good picture, many things are necessary in order to improve and “make” an extraordinary photograph.

Photo in my 2nd year of shooting.

Bern, Switzerland

 

In 2011, I started NYC Digital Photography Workshops, which has now collectively grown to over 5,000 members. Working alongside some of our world class instructors over these last six years, I’ve helped generate a terrific program, especially for beginners on how to best learn photography and have consistently seen positive results. Below are 12 tips for beginners on how to best learn photography.

 

DECIDE ON A WORKFLOW FIRST

I wanted to start with workflow first as not having one from the beginning was a personal mistake I made that resulted in over 30,000 images years later and not knowing where and how to start with organization. If you sit down, think about and create a good workflow from the beginning, you can avoid feeling like you will never be caught up because you keep changing your mind on how you want process your images from set up to sharing with the world.

I use Adobe Lightroom for the post-processing part of my workflow.

 

General Camera Setup

Since this article is primarily for beginners, it’s important to set up your camera’s general settings from the start and to know what will change from scenario to scenario. Some of the features you’ll want to consider setting up from Day One are:

 

  1. Your playback options of what is displayed on images upon playback such as highlights, RGB histogram and shooting data.

Info I’ve chosen to be shown on upon playback.

 

2. On your shooting menu, things such as file naming, card slot rules (if you have two card slots in your camera, what role each card slot will play), image quality (jpeg vs. RAW) and color space (sRGB or Adobe RGB). It’s extremely important for the sake of post-processing your images that you set your camera to record images in RAW format as this format will gather and record the most data. If you want to be able to instantly share your images, set your camera to RAW and JPEG together, but don’t just shoot JPEG as you will severely limit your editing options.

Shooting in RAW is extremely important for post-processing purposes.

 

3. On the video shooting menu (if you have this), you’ll want to set up your file naming convention, the destination where videos will go should you have more than one memory card slot, frame size/frame rate, movie quality, microphone sensitivity and wind noise reduction.

 

4. Under your custom menu, you might want to set up your general autofocus settings, metering and exposure settings such as ISO sensitivity, step value and EV steps, whether the camera beeps upon shooting (this can be helpful when shooting subjects in studio), continuous mode frames per second, whether or not you want to have a grid display in your viewfinder to help guide your composition and functions of the buttons on your camera. You can customize what the buttons on your camera do as you may find you use certain functions more than others and you’ll want to be able to adjust those quickly and easily, therefore, assigning those functions to buttons that are more easily accessible.

 

5. Under your setup menu, you may want to set up the color balance of your LCD monitor, your monitor brightness, the timezone and date/time, language, auto-rotation of images and customize your image copyright information.

 

How You’ll Backup

There are many ways you can backup your images as you create them with some ways being temporarily convenient while others are much more reliable in the long run.

Example backup sources (clockwise from top left): Dropbox (cloud), flash drive, desktop external

hard drive, memory card and portable hard drive.

Images courtesy of Adorama

 

Memory Cards. A CompactFlash or SD card will be your first method of backup as you are initially shooting your images (unless you are tethering to a computer or laptop…) This isn’t a reliable way to permanently store your images as they become full quickly, can be a bit pricey and offer no way to organize your images. Since you will need these regardless, I do not recommend using only one large capacity memory card when you shoot as should that one large capacity memory card become damaged, you will lose all of your images. Instead, use several smaller capacity cards so that if a card gets damaged, you only lose some of the images instead of all of them.

 

Flash Drives. While cloud-based platforms really make these unnecessary anymore these days, a flash drive is a great way to transport or deliver images should you want to share images in a place where you do not have a wifi connection. I wouldn’t recommend a flash drive for permanent storage of your images but more for when you might have a presentation and need to plug a pocket-friendly portable storage device into your laptop on the road.

 

External Hard Drives. An external hard drive is a “must” as local, secondary backup source. A couple of great options for external hard drives are the WD My Passport Ultra 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive, the LaCie 6TB 2big Quadra Hard Disk Two Bay RAID Desktop Drive or what I have: the LaCie 4TB Rugged RAID 2.5″ External Hard Drive, Thunderbolt, USB 3.0. I’m a big fan of RAID drives because you can set up half of the drive to mirror the other half so that if one half goes down, you’re still backed up because the both halves of the drive are identical. Portable hard drives are a great backup option when you don’t have access to wifi to backup to cloud storage.

 

Cloud Backup and Storage. Your best option for backing up and sharing your work is cloud storage. Some of most common options out there are Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, iDrive, Google Drive (Google Photos), Apple iCloud Drive and Box. I was very pleased to find that Google Drive/Google Photos has options of 100GB to 30TB in storage ranging from $1.99 per month to $299.99 per month.

 

 

How You’ll Process Images

Another major workflow decision that you’ll want to decide on is what software you will use to organize and process your images. There are many choices out there such as Aperture, Capture One, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. I will be honest with you. Adobe has some of the best software out there for importing, organizing, processing and sharing your images. We generally teach our students to use Adobe Lightroom because it’s so easy to use and you can batch process images, to do as much as you can in Lightroom first and then do any fine tuning in Photoshop. You can take advantage of a free trial of Adobe Lightroom here: http://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html.


Various photo editing/tethering software such as PK Tether, Camera RC,

Control My Nikon, Aperture, Capture One and Lightroom.

 

Naming Conventions

When using photo editing software, you’ll want to decide up front on the naming convention of your images and the folders they will be stored in. Due to keywording features, some photographers keep all of their images in one folder, thoroughly keyword their images and then they are able to locate them upon a search later down the road. I personally title my folders by “yyyy-mm-dd Project Name or Subject Title” and then my images are titles “Subject Title-Sequence Number”. It’s really up to you how you prefer to organize and name your images, but it’s good to decide this in advance to avoid having to go back 20,000 images later and reorganize and rename everything in a consistent manner.

 

Keywording Your Images

Lightroom is a great tool for not only organizing your images but also locating your images when images are thoroughly keyworded. I try to be as descriptive as possible with keywording for each of my shoots so that if I need to find all images of models with black hair across all of my images, I can easily search and see only the images I have of models with black hair. It automatically picks up image information such as the camera and lens used, the date the image was created and the settings for each image (aperture, shutter speed and ISO).


Keywording in Lightroom

 

How You’ll Organize the Images

Going along with the topic of naming conventions and keywording, Adobe Lightroom is a great tool for organizing your images because you can import, create folders and move images from folder to folder within Lightroom and it mirrors the same organization on your local hard drive. An important tip: If you use Lightroom, don’t try to move images from folder to folder directly on your local drive instead of through Lightroom as when you go to look for the images in Lightroom again, you will have to locate and relink the images in Lightroom to the new location where you moved the images on your local drive.

Organizing images into folders in Lightroom.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop or any other photo editing software, my group, NYC Digital Photography Workshops offers private workshops with photo editing guru, Clifford Pickett, who specializes in Lightroom, but also teaches other software as well. For more information, you can email pi@nycdpw.com.

 

GET TO KNOW YOUR CAMERA

You just got your camera and you’re ready to hit the ground running to start creating amazing images. It happens all too often though, that a new photographer will get frustrated with not getting the shot they want because they can’t figure out how to use the camera and they end up putting the camera into a drawer, never to be picked up again. Let’s safeguard that from happening to you.

 

Read Your Manual

You’ve probably heard this many times, and most of us hate to do it, but the best way to get to know your camera is to read your manual from front to back. I know, I’m terrible at manuals too, and usually don’t even look at directions when putting furniture together, but this is one instance where it will make using your camera a whole lot easier.

Read your camera manual cover to cover!

 

Try Out Every Function on the Camera

As you go through your camera manual, try out every function you read about to better understand what it does, where it is and when you might use it.

 

Lenses & Focal Length

While the camera is the performance mechanism for your kit, the lens is what creates the quality of an image once you’ve learned technique and composition. As you acquire lenses, you should have at least one good lens in your kit, which usually do not come cheap. As the saying goes, you can put a high quality lens on a non-top-of-the-line camera and still get a great shot but you can’t put a bad piece of glass on a top of the line camera and still get that same shot!

Just a few of my lenses.

 

What lens(es) you choose will be up to what you shoot. If you fancy shooting landscapes, a wider angle lens would be a good bet and those can vary in focal lengths. If you like to shoot portraits, a prime lens like an 85mm and using your feet to zoom in and out would work, or a zoom lens like a 70-200mm would do the trick – depending on how much space you have to shoot your subject.

 

LEARN MANUAL SETTINGS TO OBTAIN PROPER EXPOSURE

Learning manual settings give you more control over your shooting.

 

Program Mode

The program mode can be helpful for beginners as a place to start when learning manual settings. Set your ISO and the camera will select the aperture and shutter speed for a properly exposed image. This mode is a good start to see and understand the relationship of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and where you might want to make adjustments to these elements in full manual.

 

The Aperture Mode

With Aperture Priority, you select the aperture and ISO and the camera figures out the shutter speed for optimal exposure. Aperture Priority is best when you are wanting to control the Depth of Field. When shooting things like landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes, you will most likely want everything sharp in focus, so you will need the maximum aperture (a higher number). When you are photographing people, whether it’s portraits or headshots, you will most likely want your subject to be the only thing in focus with things behind your subject out of focus so as to avoid mergers and distractions in the portrait or headshot.

The background is out of focus here through a shallow depth of field.

 

The Shutter Priority Mode

When using the Shutter Priority mode, you select the shutter speed and ISO and the camera determines the aperture to obtain a proper exposure. The shutter speed priority mode is best used when you are trying to capture motion or to control freezing motion and to make everything in the image sharp.

 

Full Manual Mode

If you choose to use full Manual mode, you are controlling all aspects of the capture: the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Aperture is basically how large the opening of the lens is when a picture is taken. The aperture is what controls the amount of light that enters the camera. The smaller the opening (the higher the number), the less light will come into the camera. The larger the opening (the lower the number), the more light will come into the camera.

Shutter speed can best be described as the amount of time that the shutter stays open when a picture is taken. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more light that gets onto the sensor.

ISO is the measure of sensitivity your camera has to available light. The lower the ISO setting, the less sensitive your camera will be to light. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive your camera can be to light. The part of your camera that needs this input to make an image is the image sensor. The image sensor is what takes available light and creates the image. As a rule of thumb, you want to try and keep your ISO as low as possible to obtain the best image quality. You want to use a low ISO setting when there is plenty of available light to satisfy the sensor sensitivity to make the image. The workaround to use a low ISO setting in a low-light environment would be to stabilize your camera on a tripod or sit it on a stable surface and set a longer shutter time to allow more light onto the sensor. Note that anything moving within the frame may disappear or become blurred in motion. You may want to use a higher ISO when you are in a low-light environment but want everything captured within the frame and/or are limited in time to capture the image. Again, you may have to compromise image quality (introduction of grain) to get that low-light shot quickly.

 

LEARN THE KELVIN SCALE & WHITE BALANCE

To top off a good exposure, you want to also make sure that you have the proper white balance in your photo.

 

White Balance Settings

As you can see in the first image below, tungsten lights tend to produce a warm yellow-orangish hue while a typical fluorescent light might produce a little bit of a greenish hue. If you look at a scene on a cloudy day or if it is in a shady area, the image might have a slight cool cast. Your camera offers quick white balance settings for lighting situations like shade, cloudy days, sunlight, artificial/flash light, tungsten and fluorescent lighting to balance the color of your images. For more control over the white balance of your images, it’s a good idea to learn the Kelvin Scale and how to use it in certain lighting situations.

 

The Kelvin Scale

White balance and the Kelvin Scale.

Image courtesy of Google

Since the goal is correct white balance, you want to match the Kelvin number to the environment lighting. When using tungstens, for example, you’ll want to set your Kelvin number to somewhere around 3000 to get a proper white balance.

 

Tools to Help With White Balance

The easiest way to get your white balance correct is to use an 18% gray card and correct your images in post-production. You can also use the same Lastolite Gray Card or an ExpoDisc 2.0, snap a photo using one or the other and use that photo to set white balance under the Custom White Balance setting in your camera.

Lastolite Gray Card (left) and ExpoDisc 2.0 on the right.

Images courtesy of Adorama

If you don’t have a 18% gray card or an ExpoDisc, you can still get your white balance close to accurate by using the white balance settings in your camera and/or making adjustments in post-processing.

 

STUDY COMPOSITION

Good composition of a photograph is generally what will make the subject of a photograph more appealing to a viewer. To break the rules of composition, you first should learn the rules. Some elements of composition to familiarize yourself with are: The Rule of Thirds, line, balance, motion, shutter speed, depth of field, focal length, light, color, form, positive/negative space, camera position, texture, pattern, contrast and tone.

Lines make this image a little more appealing to look at. The S-Curve takes a viewer’s eyes through the image.

 

A good exercise is to go through a bunch of magazines and tear out the images you like, and then determine if composition played a part in its appeal to you.

It’s good to study magazines containing photos of your favorite genre to shoot to determine what about the image appeals to you.

I wrote a great article earlier this year that involves many of the elements of composition among other things that make an image more appealing called, Creativity & Awareness: Learning to See Before the Capture. Be sure to check it out.

 

LEARN LIGHT

Light and shadows are what make up photography, after all, the word photography literally means “to draw with light”. Light and shadows can create patterns on surfaces, which we’ve already determined is appeasing to the viewer’s eye. It can also create lightest and darkest areas of an image whereas the lightest part of an image generally will attract a viewer’s eye before anything else.

 

Natural Light

Many photographers may think that natural light photography is easy but it’s uncontrolled light that spills everywhere and with things like harsh daylight, can cause very harsh shadows, not to mention cause your subject to squint, which can really break a photograph. Once you learn some of the tools and techniques necessary to control natural light, this type of lighting can be your definitely be your friend.

Playing with the shadows of the trees in natural daylight.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

The best time to photograph outdoors is when there are clouds in the sky. Why? Because the clouds serve as a natural diffuser to soften the harsh light the sun produces. However, when you don’t have cloud cover and you still have to shoot, you learn to find workarounds like breaking up harsh sunlight with a tree’s shadows or using a manmade diffuser to soften the light. A white sheet works wonders and can be tied or clamped to trees or light stands or held by assistants. If you can swing it, you can buy a large portable collapsible reflector, which generally has a diffuser as the base option when the covers are taken off. Another option is a scrim which you can attach to a light stand to diffuse light from the sun.

Using a reflector shooting in natural light.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

What is really important to learn whether you shoot indoors or outdoors and no matter the subject is how to use a portable collapsible reflector to bounce light back onto a subject to fill in those harsh shadows. Learn how to angle the reflector and see the light on your subject and you will always have a well-lit subject.

 


Artificial Light

Another great way to learn light is by purchasing one or two continuous lights and placing them in various positions around your subject. This will give you the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) result of how the position of lights affect the way your subject will be lit. These are a great learning tool prior to obtaining monolights. Adorama has a great Flashpoint CL-1144R Circular LED Two-Light Kit to work with for $560.95.

One of my first portraits with monolights.

Model: Tara Virada

 

CONCLUSION

As a newbie to photography, these are going to be the six most important keys to learning your craft as exposure (learning your manual settings to obtain this properly), white balance, composition and light are the most important elements of photography while having a workflow in place and knowing how to use your camera will make your creating and processing your images a lot easier and much less stressful down the road. Stay tuned for more tips for new photographers learning photography – coming soon!

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Understanding Exposure

Understanding Exposure

One of the goals in photography is to obtain the correct exposure when capturing an image. Mastering this can really take a lot of practice, but the great thing about digital cameras these days is that it doesn’t cost you anything extra to test for proper exposure – as much as you need to for getting it down.

Example of correct exposure. Orchid at the NY Botanical Gardens.

Shot at ISO 250, F/4.5 at 1/50 of a sec.

 

So what is exposure? The technical definition of exposure is that it is a process by which light that reflects off of a subject hits the camera sensor through an opening in the camera lens (aperture) for a specific duration (shutter speed). The sensitivity of the sensor (ISO) determines how large the lens opening should be and how long the light can pass through. The proper combination of these three factors results in a properly exposed image and is often referred to as the Exposure Triangle.

Correct exposure just after sunset as twilight has a cooler hue.

Top of Arc du Triomphe in Paris, France

 

The Exposure Triangle

The Exposure Triangle is made up of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, as exhibited in the detailed diagram below. Let’s discuss now what each of these elements specifically are and what they do.

The Exposure Triangle.

Image courtesy of Google.

 

Aperture

As I mentioned before, aperture is basically how large the opening of the lens is when a picture is taken. The aperture is what controls the amount of light that enters the camera. The smaller the opening (the higher the number), the less light will come into the camera. The larger the opening (the lower the number), the more light will come into the camera.

I created this aperture diagram as an easier way of understanding aperture.

 

When Aperture Priority is Best Used

Aperture Priority is best when you are wanting to control the Depth of Field. When shooting things like landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes, you will most likely want everything sharp in focus, so you will need the maximum aperture (a higher number). When you are photographing people, whether it’s portraits or headshots, you will most likely want your subject to be the only thing in focus with things behind your subject out of focus so as to avoid mergers and distractions in the portrait or headshot.

Shooting with the focus on aperture allowed me to create a shallow depth of field, blurring the background behind my subject.

ISO 200. Shot at F/2.5 at 1/50 of a sec.

Model/Actress: Valery Lessard

 

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed can best be described as the amount of time that the shutter stays open when a picture is taken. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more light that gets onto the sensor. This is a good setting for when you are trying to capture motion, however, you run the risk of introducing noise/grain into the image. It’s also a good way to control freezing motion and to make everything in the image sharp.


My simple diagram of what shutter speed is and what it does.

 

The less time the shutter stays open (a slower shutter speed), the less light will hit the image sensor. This is good for when you are trying to freeze motion. You are less likely to get noise/grain into your image when using a fast shutter speed.

 

When Shutter Priority is Best Used

 

  • To Capture Motion. Shutter priority can be used when you want to capture motion, such as in a sports game, a moving river or even trailing car lights at night.

 

Capturing motion with a slower shutter speed.

ISO 400. Shot at F/6.3 at 1/80 of a sec.

 

 

  • To Freeze Motion. You will also want to focus on shutter speed more when you want to freeze motion for a sharp image such as capturing the water in a fountain or someone on the move.

 

A faster shutter speed will freeze motion.

Paris, France

 

ISO

ISO is the measure of sensitivity your camera has to available light. The lower the ISO setting, the less sensitive your camera will be to light. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive your camera can be to light. The part of your camera that needs this input to make an image is the image sensor. The image sensor is what takes available light and creates the image.


Diagram of a camera demonstrating light’s path to the image sensor.

Image courtesy of Google

 

ISO starts at 100 or 200 and progresses in increments by doubling its number (ie. 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc.). As a rule of thumb, you want to try and keep your ISO as low as possible to obtain the best image quality. This number will usually be either 100 or 200 depending on how low your camera model’s setting will go. That being said, when trying to capture an image in low lighting conditions you will have to increase your ISO setting because you want your camera to be more sensitive to that low-light environment. However, the higher you adjust your ISO, the more likely grain will be introduced into your image. There are ways to compensate for this though.

Since it was night time, a higher ISO was used here.

Paris, France

 

When a Low ISO Setting is Preferred

You want to use a low ISO setting when there is plenty of available light to satisfy the sensor sensitivity to make the image. The workaround to use a low ISO setting in a low-light environment would be to stabilize your camera on a tripod or sit it on a stable surface and set a longer shutter time to allow more light onto the sensor. Note that anything moving within the frame may disappear or become blurred in motion.


ISO 200. Shot at F/7.1 at 1/320 of a sec.

Bug’s eye view of tulips at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens Cherry Blossom Festival.

 

When a High ISO Setting Might Be Necessary

You may want to use a higher ISO when you are in a low-light environment but want everything captured within the frame and/or are limited in time to capture the image. Again, you may have to compromise image quality (introduction of grain) to get that low-light shot quickly. A ceiling of no more than 800 ISO helps to maintain image quality when dealing with a low light setting.


I did go above ISO 800 for this image but it was very dark so it was necessary.

London, England

 

Learning the Exposure Triangle

Years ago, I overheard the an explanation of the Exposure Triangle as an analogy of using a garden hose filling a bucket with water. Think of the width of the hose as the aperture. The duration that the hose is turned on for to fill the bucket is shutter speed and the pressure of the water is the ISO.  This same mentor also provided us with a great exercise for understanding the relations between settings. Try practicing this with your camera. For a base to work from, the top row of numbers makes a correct exposure of a certain scene. The goal is to figure out how each row will give you the same exposure as the top row of numbers by figuring out the value of the missing element.

Chart courtesy of Emerson Wu

 

It’s important to keep in mind that changing one setting will impact the other settings so you always have to think about all of the settings.

 

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is really an entire article in itself, so I will mention it briefly here. In some cases, when you use the aperture priority or shutter priority modes on your camera, the exposure you end up with may not be exactly what you intended. You can adjust your exposure by using exposure compensation. Raising exposure compensation will make an image brighter whereas lowering exposure compensation will make an image darker.

 

White Balance

To top off a good exposure, you want to also make sure that you have the proper white balance in your photo. As you can see in the first image below, tungsten lights tend to produce a warm yellow-orangish hue while a typical fluorescent light might produce a little bit of a greenish hue. If you look at a scene on a cloudy day or if it is in a shady area, the image might have a slight cool cast.

 

Your Camera’s White Balance Settings

As you can see in the second image below, using the incandescent setting (usually a light bulb symbol) on you camera’s white balance settings for an image where there is tungsten lighting present will add blue to the image to color correct the orangish-yellow to a near correct white balance. Using the fluorescent setting adds a magenta hue to the green environment when in the presence of fluorescent lighting. For those cloudy and shady environments, use the cloudy setting (to add a little yellow) or the shade setting (to add a little orange), respectively, to get a near perfect white balance.

The Kelvin Scale and examples of what your camera does on certain White Balance settings.

Image courtesy of Digital Camera Magazine

 

Using The Kelvin Scale

If you really want more control to get a little more accurate, use the Kelvin setting. Since the goal is correct white balance, you want to match the Kelvin number to the environment lighting. When using tungstens, for example, you’ll want to set your Kelvin number to somewhere around 3000 to get a proper white balance.

 

Other Tools

The easiest way to get your white balance correct is to use an 18% gray card and correct your images in post-production. You can also use the same Lastolite Gray Card or an ExpoDisc 2.0, snap a photo using one or the other and use that photo to set white balance under the Custom White Balance setting in your camera.

Lastolite Gray Card (left) and ExpoDisc 2.0 on the right.

 

If you don’t have a 18% gray card or an ExpoDisc, you can still get your white balance close to accurate by using the white balance settings in your camera.

 

When You’ve Got the Right Exposure…

We want to get as much right in camera as we possibly can. Getting correct exposure, including white balance, can take some practice to get right. Thank goodness we’re in the digital age! It’s all about pouring over the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings in manual mode, additionally and optionally using exposure compensation when using aperture and shutter priority modes and getting that white balance right. If you miss the mark just a little, know that you always have the fallback of fixing some of these things in programs like Adobe Lightroom though!

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
BUILDING THE HOME STUDIO PART 02: CONTINUOUS LIGHTS & LIGHT STANDS

BUILDING THE HOME STUDIO PART 02: CONTINUOUS LIGHTS & LIGHT STANDS

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

 

Benefits of Continuous Lights

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

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

 

The Downside

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

 

Continuous Lighting: Hot & Cool Lights

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

 

Color Temperature

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

 

Kelvin-Scale

Kelvin Scale

 

CRI

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

 

Tungstens

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

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

 

Lowel-Rifa-Tungsten

Image courtesy of the Lowel manufacturer website.

 

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

 

Lowel-Rifa-Fluorescent

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

 

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

 

Interfit

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

Fluorescents

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

 

Westcott-SpiderLiteTD6

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

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

 

Flashpoint

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

LEDs

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

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

 

Fiilex

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

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

 

Fiilex-LED-01-Hot

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

 

Fiilex-LED-02-Warm

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

 

Fiilex-LED-03-Cool

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

 

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

 

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

Plus,

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

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

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

 

Westcott-Ice-Light-2

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

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

 

Much Needed Support: Tripods

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

 

Manfrotto-MT055CXPRO03

Image courtesy of the Manfrotto website.

 

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

 

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 your investment. Regardless of the type of lighting  you may use now or in the future, light stands are a piece of equipment that you will want to think a little more long-term about as there are so many types, sizes and options available.

 

_DMW0126

Just a fraction of my light stand collection…

 

Considerations for Choosing the Right Light Stands for You

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

 

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

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

 

Manfrotto-Stand

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

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

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

 

Interfit-Stand

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

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

 

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

 

Avenger-CStand

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

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

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

 

Sandbags

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

 

Sandbags

Image courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

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

 

Building Your Portfolio:
Photography Workflow and Data Asset Management

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

 

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

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

 

Until next time…

 

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments