View Full Version : Studio lighting... on the cheap.

10-28-2006, 11:44 PM
Chances are, if you are like me and many others, you have two electronic flashes in your bag to get rid of background shadow and also to correct for heavy shadowing on one side of the subject to the other.

With Canon... and others, you usually set up a master/slave method of lighting, using some kind of stand or prop.

I took this a little further, this weekend, when I went and bought a set of 13.5' tripod lighting stands with carrying case and a pair of translucent ZipDiscs w/covers. One of the things I wanted to avoid was having to buy a complete set of new lighting strobes for studio work. For one thing, they usually need 120-volt AC power to operate or a serious rechargeable lead-acid battery source. Even these low-level lamps also can be upwards of $400-$500/ea. The good ones... is there actually a top stop on price?

The idea was basic and simple:

Use the Canon 580EX ($379) as the KEY light source
and the Canon 420EX ($229) as the complimentary light source (shadow-killer)

The stands each having a telescoping extension bar w/ "chip clips" from the top to hang the 42" ZipDisc from. Another telescoping arm, on the same stand to hold the portable 580EX or 420EX electronic flash. There is a lot of flexibility built into this set-up.

Setting both these flashes to SLAVE, the Canon ST-E2 controls and triggers them, remotely. The effective diffused lighting seems adequate for small groups (2-4 people) and solo studio shots.

TAmROn SP AF17-50mm f/2.8 XR DiII LD @ 50mm f/8 1/25th sec. ISO-200 5600K
Not properly sync'd, but it was a quick test.

Best part of all this is... it is truly portable. You can use it indoors or pack it up and head for the woods... for those tricky nymph-shots.

Admittedly, it is limited range, but that's to be expected even from 150/300W lighting set ups. The effective savings of using your existing portable flashes in this way is about $500-$1000.

It may not be for everyone... but, it does offer a portable and decent lighting alternative... on the cheap. So, use those flashes you bought in a new way... and get the buy-back, until you're really ready to top those light stands with the serious stuff.

Remember: Children love knocking these stands over, tripping over cords or just being careless... many photographers have lost many lamps in this way. Even the salesguy I spoke to recently laughed when I asked how long the big lamps last. He told me I would probably never burn a bulb out... but, more than likely have to replace a broken one or the entire broken unit.

The way I figure it, the very lightweight nature of the portable strobes (580EX/420EX) will probably lend itself to them actually lasting just a little longer... plus the simple fact that there are no power or sync cords to trip over. Sure, you might go through $6.00 in batteries (non-rechargeables), but that beats forking out $600.00 for a replacement strobe lamphead. Plus, who really wants to lugs 50-lbs of lighting and grip equipment around?

Hey, it's your money... I've just seen the LIGHT!

10-30-2006, 11:22 AM
I was wondering, since the weather is turning... unfriendly, who else might be taking it indoors and improving their lighting efforts?

Someone? Anyone? Are the lighting/grip-equipment vendors going broke?

10-30-2006, 02:08 PM
Don, I can see the convenience of having a 580EX or 420EX on camera (or held extended by cord) but when you start getting into multi-light setups with stands, and umbrellas, etc. why wouldn't you just switch over to using Profoto light shaping equipment?

10-30-2006, 04:43 PM
Cost, for one thing. Personally, I'm a little tapped out in the new equipment end of things. Adding a $1000 worth of lamps to my inventory just doesn't fit at the moment. I don't sell my work... so it's still the "hobby budget" for me.

Weight: Adding another 20-30 pounds to my load is not sounding all that much fun. I already have the flashes in the back pack... so they are already there and ready to go. The ZipDiscs fold up into 18-inch bags and the stands... well... stands are stands. I suppose I'll wind up getting a little hand truck for a high-powered portable studio in the Spring... but, not just yet.

Power: One of the drawback of the high-powered strobes is that they need high-power. 120 VAC, for the most part.... or a rather heavy-duty lead-acid rechargeable battery system.

Like I said, perhaps next year for all of that. I'm still reeling from the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM hit in the head I took last Summer. I love the lens... but, she demands my wallet in exchange for such love.

Oh, I could probably swing it... but, I've still got the "hot lights" available for free in the college studio for the "heavy lifting". That'll get me through my experimentation phase until next May. I just wanted something small and lightweight for the holidays at home or visiting.

Setting up my own personal studio will be an ambitious effort unto itself. Ten-foot ceilings and a good 30'x30' room. I may even try to integrate computer-positioning of the lighting. Can you imagine... lighting running around on rails and adjusting direction with a joystick. Yeah, now we're talkin'... IT meets the camera-jockey. You can stand at your rig... and position the lighting without even stepping away. Turning it off and on, at will... adjusting intesity... even strobascopic-effect for the interesting stuff.

Anyway... that's for another time. For now, I just want to keep it... light. (no pun intended)

Hope this makes it a little clearer.

10-30-2006, 05:44 PM
Don, thanks for the thread. I've been thinking about studio lighting recently. I know absolutely nothing about it, and the thread has been very informative.

10-30-2006, 05:56 PM
Don- I'm confused as to why you are keeping your 70-200 and Canon gear; you seem to be very pro Sony in many of your posts. Why have so much money tied up in two different systems?

I've got the opposite problem: I've got spare 20x35' rooms with 10' ceilings in my house but I've got a photography and post processing learning curve ahead of me that takes priority over studio lighting right now.

Let me know if you ever decide to go Profoto, I've got some connections that will save you some serious money.

Are you taking a college course that gives you use of a studio thru May? I'm planning on registering for a class next semester myself. (fall semester came up too quickly)

10-30-2006, 08:46 PM
I'm actually involved in three creative classes, simultaneously.

Color Film Photography
Adv. B & W Photography
Photographic Lighting

Each class has a definite agenda of production and I've been embroiled in getting the creative work out.

I am developing (no pun intended) a B&W Journal, designed to demonstrate the various combinations of developer and paper combinations... and what they result in. There are a total of 50 prints, warm and cold developers, and variations therein. Darkroom time abounds!

My color class requires film-negative and transparency work... printing and developing. Time consuming is just the tip of the iceberg. Plus... the darn R4 print developing system broke for a full week, the chemistry was exhausted with the Ilfochrome (Sebachrome) printer... so that wasted a night or two.

The lighting class deals with studio, metered outdoors (at different times of the day), flash photography, isolated flash photography, light painting and a big old project.

So, yeah... I have my hands full of studio work.... and will, as I take another semester of photography with adv. color and adv. digital. I know, in the end, I will have a much better grip on the more intimate aspects photography than I have now. Also, the prize of a Photography Certificate... to spread the good news.

You might say I'm putting the cap and gown on my thirty years of experience... with a little bit more modern training. There is a lot of learn... and even worse... putting it into real practice.

As far as the Canon vs SONY issue goes... I thought I had explained this, but for the sake of clarity... here we go again.

For twenty years, I have had my Minolta 7000/9000 35mm-film cameras and all their associated glass. When the 7D came along, I thought I'd finally get into digital, when the business bottom fell out of Minolta. I knew the 7D stood to be an orphan of that storm, so I began a search for a decent replacement system.

That's where the Canon EOS 20D came into play. I was sizing it up against the Nikon D70s... and actually bought the Nikon, only to return it because it was delivered several weeks late. I bought and kept the Canon, instead. I had hoped the kit lens would be of some worth, but was rapidly disappointed after having shot my Minolta-glass for so many years.

I quickly sought out Canon-glass and found the prices were... well, you know. I had a couple of good TAmROn lenses for my Miinoltas, so I opted for Canon-mount TAmROn lenses to replace the kit and build up my new glass collection. The first lens was the 18-200mm, then the TAmROn SP AF11-18mm, to complete the wide-angle. I quickly snapped up a EF 50mm f/1.8 II "nifty-fifty" to have a sharp prime available. The 18-200mm just isn't THAT sharp. I also got a line on a EF 28mm f/2.8 for a C-note, and grabbed it, too. I found it soft and sent it off to be repaired and realigned.

While the TAmROn 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD was a good, all-round lens... it was missing low-light functionality. In March I got a line on a TAmROn SP AF28-105mm f/2.8 LD lens. This was an awesome lens, but I had to have it modified to work with digital focusing systems. After some circuit card replacement, it is was a dandy. The repair took nearly a month... and I had a hard time dealing with it.

During that time, I found out the 17-50mm f/2.8 was on the way. I was in a hurry, though, because of another photo engagement and went into the photography store, here in town. There they made me a deal on some of my old Canon FTb and FD-glass in trade for the TAmROn SP AF28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD. This baby shot up a storm... and quickly was becoming one of my favorite lens, but it was short-lived, as within a couple of weeks or so, the TAmROn SP AF17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD arrived. I got it as soon as it was delivered to the shop. One of the first of these lenses out. A most excellent piece of glass, I quickly found out and now, so have many others.

Well, a month or two went by... and I needed a low-light telephoto for an upcoming indoor ceremony. If the 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 wasn't good enough at 18mm for me, it was absolutely not going to make a 200mm shot at f/6.3 look any better. Too much light was necessary and that would be disruptive. I swallowed hard and went into Calumet Photographic... and slapped the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM on my rig... and, my friend, that was all she wrote. It was bagged and tagged, and I was out of there.

Anyway, as luck would have it... SONY came out with their A100. This was the answer I had been looking for to make use of all my old glass for the Minoltas. At a cost of just over $800... I instantly got Image Stability for every lens I had. That's pretty cool.

The purchase of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM was an investment in my photography. It's cost exceeds almost all my other glass combined.

While the SONY is a good camera, based on the Minolta 5D body, it still isn't quite the Canon 20D. Together, these two cameras are a heck of a pair, to be honest. I can get IS on all the other ranges for no additional cost. But, when I want to torpedo something at the telephoto range... out comes the Canon with its 52-ounce hero hanging on the front of it.

With the EOS 20D's ISO-800, 1600 and 3200... it can solve a lot of light issues when I am shooting the TAmROn SP AF200-500mm f/5.6 Di LD.

So, to make a long story short, Rich... it isn't really SONY vs Canon... it's SONY with Canon, a dynamic duo for my near future... and a selection of glass beyond my wildest expectations, film and digital.