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Thread: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

  1. #1

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    Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    Hey folks,

    I'm starting to venture into the whole portrait side of photography. Before, with digital and smaller formats, I simply took candid portraits or snap shots of friends and family and focused most of my photos towards landscapes. Now that I'm shooting with a 4x5 camera, I have this sudden urge to take portraits!

    Currently, I've been using window lighting in my hallway. While the light coming through is actually very good, I'm just not getting enough light. My last photos were taken at 1/30th, f5.6 (shallow DOF!) with ISO 100 film.

    I am looking at a powerful, but affordable strobe with a modifier (mostly likely an octabox). For the time being, I am only planning on using a single strobe with modifier and perhaps a large sheet of white foam board as a reflector. Cost is key, but I have around $500 to spend. I understand SOME of the limitations with using a single strobe, but I really feel like I can make do with what I have. Once I master a single strobe, I plan on adding another, but this won't be for a while.

    So with that said, I am looking at an Alien Bee 1600 with their large 47" octabox. Whiel I'm planning on only shooting 1 to 2 people at a time, I am hoping that I will be able to shoot at least 4 with a single light as well.

    Other than the strobe and modifier itself, what are some other things I will be needing to get started? I believe my Copal 0 shutter (150mm Sironar-S lens) has a flash sync port (is that what you call it?). Will the Alien Bee strobe be able to connect directly to the shutter? Or will I need some kind of remote trigger such as a Pocket Wizard?

    Sorry for being so wordy, but I would appreciate all the help that I can get! Thanks!

    Jason

  2. #2

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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    A long pc cord will do for firing the strobe with your shutter. No need for a PocketWizard. Get their 15 foot cord. http://www.alienbees.com/cords.html

    Also look into a collapsible reflector. Not always needed, but is good to reflect the strobe light into the subject for fill. Something like this: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...eflector_.html
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

  3. #3

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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    Hey Walter, the AB1600 comes with a 15 ft cord so I guess I'm set! It would be nice not to be tethered to the light, but it seems like those remote triggers get expensive really fast! Perhaps in the future...

    As for reflectors, will a sheet of white foam core board work? If not, even one of those round reflectors used in automobiles? I'm trying to be as stingy as possible here

    Thanks,

    Jason

  4. #4

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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    I agree with Walter about the reflector. They are great tools to have and are generally inexpensive and light weight.

    I got rid of my dynalites last year and switched to Alien Bees and I love them. You can always call Alien Bees with questions also. It really is maybe the most reputable company I have ever dealt with. Good luck.

  5. #5

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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    $100 bucks seems a little pricey for me at this point. I already own a reflector for my car So I'm going to give that a go first and perhaps even a sheet of white foam board!

    The only problem now is there's going to be a lot of practice involved! I'd rather not waste sheet film (or the time in the darkroom to develop it!). Since I no longer own a digital camera, I'll have to test with my Rolleiflex TLR first!

    Jason

  6. #6
    lenser's Avatar
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    Tim from Missouri
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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    Jason,

    The foam core will work quite well. So will a 4x8 sheet of styrofoam insulation board if you want to go bigger and cheaper. Move it in or out as you need for more or less fill on the subjects.

    Avoid the silver reflectors for car windows. They are WAY too specular for good portraiture. Almost like light glimmering off of water.

    If you are considering a collapsible reflector, look into one that is soft gold on one side and white on the other. That way, if you decide to go color, the gold side warms up skin tone wonderfully.....as in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition warm glowing skin. Avoid gold foil for the same reasons as the metalic silver.

    Since you are considering four or more people on large format, you might want to save up a bit more and look at the White Lightning x3200. Hellaciously good light unit with much more power so that you can then power down when you need to do so for single or couple head shots. Of course it fits the WL octabox. That extra power gives you much more flexibility for both portraits and any table top or commercial work you might decide to do.

    Eventually, you may want to go for the remote flash trigger just to get one more obstacle out of your way. But then, I'm clumsy so I use a camera stand instead of tripod, and rail mounted lights to get light stands and cords off the floor and away from being tripping hazards for me and for clients. Those also offer a lot more space for me to move around and get to whatever I'm shooting to make adjustments without having to contort around stuff.

    Tim
    "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude." Carl Sandburg

  7. #7
    Peter J. De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    I agree with Tim about the reflector. Use white foam core or styrofoam. Silvered reflectors can be really hard on models. I haven't used Alien Bees, but they have a good reputation. (I have Photogenic monolights, and we mainly use Speedo's abd Dyna-lites at work.) You might seriously consider a big umbrella. They are fairly inexpensive, quick to set-up, and compact when closed. You can also adjust the light by moving the umbrella closer or farther from the light. Another option would be a Westcott Halo, http://www.fjwestcott.com/productcat...lightmodifiers I have one, and it's pretty nice. Because the white difusor bows out from the front, you might need to put a flag (something opaque) between the light and the camera lens. If you'd like something smaller, I made a 20" beauty dish out of a large stainless steel salad bowl, a cheap monolight ring, and some frosted mylar. I like it better then the "real" 20" dishes we use at work.

    Also check out: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...tliter_II.html
    If you use anything outside, make sure to secure the stands,either with a sandbag or two, a Bogen magic arm, or...? You don't want anyone to get hurt. (I've had to run to a light stand even though it was sandbagged because the wind suddenly picked up.) Soft boxs, umbrellas and silks all make great sails.

    Oh yeah, pocket wizards are great. Get the classic ones, and not the super complicated ones. The less cords the better. That said, assuming your monolight has a built in slave, which it probably does, you can put a small flash on your camera aimed at the monolight. This small amount of light will set off your big flash. Since most people have at least one on camera style flash, this is a cheap way to go cordless.

  8. #8

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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    FWIW, I use older Dynalites (the 25-year old D-series) and I just picked another 805 pack with two blower heads for $305. They are approximately 33% heavier than the current models, which would cost close to $1500 retail. Not to knock the popular Alien Bees and other inexpensive monolights, but Dynalites, Speedotrons, Normans, etc. are very durable and professional quality -- and they don't have the ugly decals on their sides.

    Umbrellas are really versatile, underrated, and inexpensive. It would be better to get a big 48" one for bigger stuff and a small 24-30" for single people. Use them as close as possible to the subject. Learn how to use an umbrella before spending $$$ on the fancy stuff that, umm, does the same thing only differently, not always better.

    If you use a shallow depth of field, you can spill light onto a background placed close to the subject so one light can illuminate both beautifully. Check the work of William Coupon for good one light examples.

    Umm and my stuff too - I often use one light.

    Except I use ISO 400 film, a single 300-500 watt tungsten (not strobe) or your proverbial window light -- and I can easily shoot at 1/60 or 1/125 at f/5.6-8. Which is ideal, simple, fast, etc.

    Especially for learning, constant light is so much better than strobe. But most people think you "need" to have strobe and nobody listens to me here anyways ;-)

    One word of caution with strobe if you are using a dslr for proofing (since Polaroid is ridiculous) -- get a "strobe safe" connector so you don't accidently fry your camera from spikes in your sync voltage. It isn't as big an issue with mechanical shutters (unless it is really high and it melts them) but it can be fatal to delicate electronic-based cameras.

    The eBay Chinese folding reflectors and wireless syncs are really cheap and not bad at all, so shine on the over-priced Pocket Wizards and Quantum Radio Slaves, they have always been a huge rip-off for a simple device -- so that's a case where I am glad to see some cheap Chinese competition.

  9. #9
    All metric sizes to 24x30 Ole Tjugen's Avatar
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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    Keep it simple, and use Mortensen lighting.

  10. #10

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    Re: Suggestions for single strobe portraits

    Tim, thanks! I took a look at the White Lightning website (guess it's the same parent company as Alien Bee) and the WL X3200 is out of my budget. However, comparing the WL X1600 and the AB1600, I can't really make out much of a difference, other than the 7-stop range. I'm not sure how much more this will be useful. All of the other specs seem the same. Physically, the WL X1600 is heavier and larger than the AB1600 as well. Are there any other benefits? The X3200 is out of budget, but I may be able to pony up for the X1600. One big benefit I see is that it seems more durable.

    Edit: Oops, the X1600 also has a brighter modeling light as well. I'm guessing that this will be useful when composing/focusing on the ground glass!

    Peter and Frank, forgive me for asking such a beginner question, but why umbrellas over the octabox? I really don't know the difference between the two! I'm not even sure why I feel this way, but I would prefer a "shoot through" method rather than bouncing the light off an umbrella (though I'm aware that you can also you shoot-through umbrellas as well). I guess I was heavily influenced by the Ovation video special on Timothy Greenfield Sanders. I just remembered seeing a large octabox and it seemed to work well enough for him

    BTW, for the time being, I don't think I'll ever shoot more than 4 people at once. I'm just hoping that the light I choose will be powerful enough to light 4 people... just in case. Photography is just a hobby for me, but I know once I invest in a strobe/light, family members are going to be asking for family portraits

    Thanks for your help guys!

    Jason

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