conventional studio lighting has diverse range of lighting
options, but usually involve:
AC powered monobloc lights with modeling lamps and slave
triggers on lighting stands, combined with accessories such as soft box
for main light, umbrella for fill light, snoot (+/- honeycomb) for hair
light, and possibly barn doors or color filters for background lights
while you may be able to get away with just 2, for
versatility you need at least 4-5 light sources which becomes expensive
the advantages of monobloc lights are:
accurate daylight colour balance
not hot like tungsten light sources and thus more
comfortable and less risk of burns
AC powered so no need to worry about recharging
batteries and also, usually fast recycle times
incorporate a modeling light to assist in accurate
positioning of light
buy the most powerful you can afford (200-400Ws
as a minimum)
if 2nd hand avoid those with brown tinge which
may indicate excessive use & check cords
how easy is it to change the fuse & where is
the optical sensor positioned?
how many manual settings are there?
most recommend Elinchrom or Bowens, although
Prolinca may suffice
now, instead of monoblocs, we could use a wireless TTL flash
set up, but this is fairly expensive and often complex and requires wireless
TTL compatible equipment such as Nikon's i-TTL, so instead, I have suggested
a cheaper alternative using old technology which can give just as
professional results although the recycle time may limit ability to take
some shots, and it will require a bit more thought and trial & error.
alternatively, a ring flash gives nice circular catchlights:
a must have is a radio slave set up:
if you value your camera, get rid of as many cables as
you can, I have tripped over the cable and even pulled a camera off a
table by moving a studio light which was tethered to the camera. My
Olympus dSLR hit the floor on both occasions but fortunately no damage
done - don't risk this, get a radio slave
if you work with other photographers who have their own
lighting, you may need one with more than one selectable radio channel
so you don't accidentally trigger their lights.
note - these do not provide wireless flash TTL
wireless radio slaves:
almost a must have is a good flash meter:
although you can successfully use trial and error and
check the histogram on a digital camera, accurate adjustment of
different lighting ratios is best done with a flash meter that can read
down to 1/3rd stop increments.
the Minolta Flashmeter IV has been a standard with
professionals but is a bit complex to use, the Flashmeter V is better
and simpler to use.
the Gossen Luna-Star F2 is a simpler design, and more
compact & uses standard 9V batteries and takes a 5deg spot meter but
it only meters to EV -2.5. It displays ambient reading as well as the
flash reading and can give you contrast range as you sweep it around
with button held down.
the Sekonic L-558 Dualmaster has a 1 degree spot meter
as well as optional radio trigger for Pocket Wizard wireless flash sync
L-358 has radio trigger but spot meter is optional.
Studio lighting on the cheap:
Studio lighting a little more expensive:
- the following gives an example of using 4-5 second hand Metz
45 series flash guns with slave trigger devices attached ($A30 each although
you can attach one to a 1 to 4 flash sync module and thus fire other flashes
by sync cable).
- these flash units will need to be mounted on either lighting stands,
tripods or just sat on the floor or tables.
- this means that we will not have the luxury of TTL flash metering (so we
really need to buy an accurate flash light meter or just rely on our
measurements and check results), nor will we have modeling lights (but
instant feedback of digital will help us here), and our recycling times may
be limited to 5 sec on NiCd batteries.
- furthermore, we will need to make our own:
- these are important for two main reasons:
- shape the light to give a smaller light source:
- why on earth
would you want to make your flash light source even smaller than
it already is?
- I have found that bouncing a flash off a
ceiling or wall often makes the effective light source too large
with resulting flat effect on the subject, so one either has to
move the flash closer to the wall or ceiling or use a snoot to
make the area of light hitting it smaller.
- minimise light hitting unwanted parts such as the face,
background and camera lens when using it as a hair light.
- I have made my own by buying a sheet of vinyl and making a conical
shape from it which just squeezes over the Metz flash head - this is
one reason why I chose to have all the same size flash heads so that
one size fits all.
- "soft box":
- whilst you can buy mini-soft boxes to attach to these units, they
are not altogether cheap.
- a cheap effective alternative is using a diffuser screen
positioned between flash and subject, the advantage of this is that
by varying the position of the screen, one can change the effective
size of the light source without having to make any changes to our
exposure calculations, as long as the flash is kept in the same
position. It will mean either making a screen or buying one and
either having someone hold it or making a stand for it.
- so far I have not come up with a simple was of making these for
the Metz, I just use a piece of vinyl and attach it using a rubber
band, but this lacks the versatility of a true barn door attachment.
- so now we can design a standard studio lighting set up such as this:
- main light:
- 1 Metz 45CL-4 flash aimed at subject
via a diffusing screen, or alternatively bounced off a white wall or
ceiling at an appropriate angle & position for the main light
- fill light:
- 1 Metz 45CL-4 flash bounced off an umbrella located near the
camera on opposite side of main light, or alternatively, fill may be
provided by a reflector bouncing the main light
- background lights:
- one or two Metz 45CT-1 flashes aimed at the background +/- snoots for
shaping +/- filters for colour
- these may need to be set on an auto setting and flash reading
checked, for example, so that a white background is over-exposed
by 1-2 stops to ensure detail is not visible.
- I have chosen 45CT-1 flashes here as they are significantly
cheaper to buy and are adequate for this purpose.
- hair light:
- 1 Metz 45CL-4 flash with snoot, set to Winder mode (GN 8) and
mounted on a lighting stand +/- boom and aimed at hair for the hair
light effect and distance from subject set to over-expose hair by
1/3-2/3rds stop depending on effect and colour of hair.
- to add to my options, I have just purchased a studio lighting kit made by YinYan
- Chinese-made but no longer distributed in Australia
- this studio lighting kit (normally
available for ~$A1350 but now superceded by the more durable metal C series
) consists of:
- two CY-300C studio flashes:
- output adjustable from quarter
power (75WS, GN32), half power (150WS, GN45) to full power (300WS,
GN64) - in retrospect, I really miss being able to reduce the power
even further as with the new units on the market.
- trigger either by PC sync cord
(6V trigger according to manufacturer so safe for digital cameras),
optical slave trigger or test button
- recycle time 1-3sec
- flash duration 1/600th sec -
- 60W modeling light adjustable
from 1/4-1/2-full power
- one CY-200C studio flash:
- as for the 300C, but output
adjustable from quarter power (50WS, GN26), half power (100WS, GN37)
to full power (200WS, GN52)
- two 0.7x1.2m soft boxes:
- when used with the CY-300C give
an effective GN of 13, 18, and 26 at the respective power settings
- this means that at 2m from the
subject, one needs to use f/6.3, f/9, and f/13 at ISO 100
respectively, or open up by 1 stop at ISO 50.
- for my Olympus C8080 which has
minimum aperture of f/8, I would need to use ISO 50 and 2.4m
at full power or 1.6m at half-power.
- but for lower depth of field, I
could use f/3.5 at 50ISO at ~4m at half power or ~2.9m at quarter
- when using a 2nd softbox for
fill-in at 1 stop less exposure, it is easiest to have it at the
same distance as the main softbox and just reduce its power by half
that of the main softbox.
- barn doors with honeycomb grid and
optional coloured filters:
- I would use this or the snoot
with its honeycomb grid on the CY-200C
mainly to provide hairlight
- three light stands
- cons of this flash system:
- the quality of this kit is not up to
the more professional quality of the Bowens or Elinchrom, but at a half the
price, it will do my needs for the time being, and I doubt one could tell
any difference in the end photos, it is just that one has to be more careful
with the fittings and perhaps longevity & repair may be an issue.
- the material sockets for the
rods to insert into in the softbox need a bit of reinforcing
- the light stands are a bit
flimsy and liable to fall over if a softbox is raised to full height
and knocked forward
- the soft box fittings do not
attach to the light reliably using a bayonet fit and when rotated
into position results in the soft box being angled at about 20deg
from the vertical.
- plastic support tends to crack
if over-tightened & plastic housing may be an issue - this has
been resolved by the current model which is now metal cased &
has metal support.
- the flash has a less bright
modeling light (60W compared with 250W in other systems) which
makes auto-focus & assessment of modeling a little more difficult
- the flash units themselves have less power options
(1/4, 1/2 & full) - the new metal C units go down to 1/8 - and longer flash
durations than high-end models.
- optical sensor is at the rear
instead on of top of the unit & thus more likely to not
"see" the trigger light & thus not be set off - the new
metal C units have it on top now.
- studio flash care:
- studio flashes have capacitors that require a little pampering called
"forming" to ensure the capacitors last which just involves
leaving the A-C power turned on for a specified time to
"recharge" the chemicals in the capacitor. It is not necessary
to flash the tube at the end of forming.
- Constant flashing of your electronic flash power supply puts a
tremendous strain on the flash capacitor and shortens its life. Forming
is just the opposite, by having a constant calm voltage applied to the
flash capacitor it helps to rejuvenate the chemical properties. This is
very similar to slow charging a car battery to give it an extra boost.
- Flash power supplies that are not used on a daily basis, or ones that
are stored for long periods of time definitely need forming.
- inactive or stored flash units:
- if not used for months at a time, form the capacitor for 6-8 hours
each day over a 3 day period prior to using it on an assignment.
- if not used for more than a year, it will be advisable to bring
the unit to an authorized repair service. The repair service has
special equipment that will bring the Flash Capacitor voltage up
- During slow periods or between assignments it is advisable to form the
capacitors at least once a week for 4-5 hours.
- If your electronic flash is being used 2-3 times (or more) a week make
sure that the main power switch is on during set-up and break down of
the set. This will bring a steady calm voltage to the flash capacitors
giving them the forming time they need. Don't just turn on the model
lamp circuit; make sure that the 100% charge circuit Ready Indicator
Lamp is on.