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Thread: Monolights

  1. #1

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    Monolights

    I am just now moving to LF. I use Bowens 500W monolights in the studio for portrait, fashion and small product work. They work great shooting a full frame DSLR, shot a f/8 with a 200 iso equivalent. Will they be enough for a 4x5 shot a f/22 on 100 iso film, or do I need to go to a 1000W or 1500W monolight? I'm choosing f/22, because from what I've read, most LF 150mm to 300mm lenses have an optimum aperture range from f/16 to f/32. The lenses I use for my Nikon D700 have an optimum aperture or around f/5.6 to f/11. I'll do some experimenting, once I get my camera, but was wondering what others do.

  2. #2
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Re: Monolights

    My old White Lightning Ultra 1200 guide number with the small supplied reflector for ISO 100 is 220 and with the 20" wide angle reflector is 160 according to Paul Bluff. Experience confirms this. The Ultra 1800 gains 7/10 of a stop. This should suffice for your needs, especially with the faster film that is practical in 4x5. You should have enough power so desired DOF determines the aperture, not the limitations of the lighting.

  3. #3
    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Monolights

    My old white lightning 10000 has a claimed guide number of 220 and to shoot 8x10 on iso 100 film at f22, I have to get the flash/umbrella in close to the subject to have enough light. If you are shooting small things, you will be fine. If you are shooting static things, you can probably get movements to get everything in focus or shoot multiple exposure to get enough light.

    I shoot tmy2 at iso 320 in 4x5 and have plenty of light with what I have for lighting. WL10000 and WL5000. For people, you really don't need to have the lens at it's sharpest nor do you need iso100 film unless you want a combination that shows every single stray hair and pore and fault. Karsh did lots of crisp portraits like this, but I don't think most people are secure/confident enough to own a portrait of themselves that is that revealing.

    Depth of field will be more of a practical consideration than lens sharpness. Without disrespecting some of the great portraits posted here, I'm not inspired to shoot photos where the eyes are in focus but the entire nose is out of focus.

  4. #4
    Scott Davis
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    Re: Monolights

    As mentioned before, it all depends on your subject. I shot portraits and full (and partial)-length figure studies of single individuals with a pair of Calumet Travelite 750s (made by Bowens). Even using a large softbox I never had a problem getting f16-22 at iso 100. You might just have to bring your lights in closer (not a problem when shooting headshots, as it's pretty easy to keep the lights out of the field of view, even with just a 210mm lens).

  5. #5

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    Re: Monolights

    Thanks for the information, everyone. To be more clear, I need studio lighting for up to 3 people, full-body, brightly lit shots. I would like to be able to see the detail that exists in an f/22 exposure. From what I'm reading my 500Ws lights won't be enough. I wondering just how much light will I need. Scott seemed to get good results with 750Ws with one person. Would 1500Ws be enough or are we talking 15KWs strobes? I'll rent, before I buy, but any thoughts would be helpful as to what gear.

  6. #6
    Unwitting Thread Killer Ari's Avatar
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    Re: Monolights

    For many years, I had a Dynalite 1000 w/s power pack and three heads.
    Getting f16 (at ISO 100) with a softbox at 8-10 feet was no problem, and f22 (which I never used) was certainly possible; there was still some power left over.
    I think pre-digital lighting manufacturers might be truer to what they claim was their GN; digital lighting, or lighting made for digital SLRs, seems to be a fuzzier world.
    Speedotron Force 10 claims 1000 w/s, but I have no idea if it's a good light; it just gets bought right away whenever there's one for sale.

  7. #7

    Re: Monolights

    For lighting purposes aperture is aperture without regard for the design or type of the camera. So you can test this with your Nikon. f22 is a good pick for this 3 person set-up I think.

    I'm gonna guess you have shot this 3 person scene with your digital camera before. I don't know how you lit it but, as a hypothetical:

    If you are using one light now, add another of the same light right beside it, and you'll gain one stop. That gets you to f8 at 100asa. Add two more beside those two and you gain one more stop so now you're at f11 using 4 identical lights.

    We've not yet taken into account any light modifiers or fill, and you'll likely be a bit shy on DOF for a three person stand-up.

    My favorite way to shoot this would be to hang a 8x8 foot 1/4 stop silk and shoot through that with enough lights to get the aperture you want. You're essentially making a great big window to light your people. Back the lights away form the silk until you cover the whole surface. Hang or stand a big reflector on the other side of the subject for some fill. I'd call that done for a simple attractive lighting set-up.

    Big monolights are great in that you don't have to carry as many but they generally recycle slower and more importantly they have longer flash durations. This isn't always a problem but it can be if you've got kids or action in the picture.

    More small lights create more clutter but you have more flexibility if you want to do more complicated set-ups. Or even simple set-ups made to look like one light source. Most of the time I like to keep the light as simple as possible. Using many small lights is a good way to make one gigantic single light source.

    If you're running out of money to buy more lights, you could switch to a 400 speed 4x5 film as a way to gain back about a stop and a half. It'll still be marvelous unless you print really big. If you stay with 100ish I'd go with FP4. Your people will look wonderful either way.

  8. #8
    arca andy's Avatar
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    Re: Monolights

    I've got 500w Bowen Monolights and they are fine for small studio set ups (more than f22 at times)...I also use them on location shooting interiors mixing them with ambient light and again they are great.
    If you are going for an elaborate lighting set up then they will be a bit limited. But you can always hire in other lights for those times.
    Having said that there is nothing like a 2000w Quad set up.
    'Life is tough, but its tougher when you're stupid' John Wayne

  9. #9
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Monolights

    Are you going to use a light meter? If so, it'll help you figure these things out. Your Nikon "EI" settings might not be equivalent to what your film ones will be.

    With three people, you'll have quite a bit of falloff on someone if you use a fairly small light source, unless you light them from the front, which you probably don't want to do. I agree with Henry. A big diffusion panel with a couple of lights behind it would be very useful for lighting 3 people. That's what I used to do when I had access to a studio.
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

  10. #10

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    Re: Monolights

    Back in "my day" as a studio-corporate tog I would put a 1000 watt Dynalite head through a large (6') Chimera slightly higher than the subjects and 45-60 degrees to one side, as close as possible just out of the frame, and then a medium box straight ahead and above the camera. Then maybe another medium box to the opposite rear to add a hair light/separate people from the background. Be sure to flag the rear light so it doesn't flare. You'll probably be in the f/16 to 22 range, I would push the E6 film half a stop or use ISO 400 negative material (my preference).

    Try to keep as much distance from the background as possible with distance and a long lens. You may needs two more flagged lights to throw some light on the background too. Remember you can use a white background and let it fade to grey by depriving it of light. Watch trying to get a neutral grey background in a complex or environmental situation, it is really hard to keep your light clean.

    At this point it would be good to remind you to have all the same color temperature to your lights for color, which is easy if you have all the same brand and type of flashtube. Otherwise test and segregate the odd lights to secondary tasks. And use Photoshop. If you already have a couple of Bowens monolights, the best value is to pick up some older AC packs and heads like Speedotrons and Dynalites (if you are in the USA, different regions have different gear preferences) and relegate the Bowens to hair and background lights. Note that a 1000 watt Dynalite will match a 2400 watt Speedo due to the head design, so take ratings with a grain of salt.

    Most of the time you'd want to shoot these for annual reports, healthcare organizations, do-gooders, etc. so you'd want a Rembrandant kind of light. Put the fat people sideways. Bald white guys furthest from the light, the darker folks closest. Make em tilt their glasses down but don't try to avoid all eyeglass reflection, the important thing is to see catchlights in the eyes.

    Nowadays it is trendier to use round lights, a little bit harsher because the rectangular boxes and ultra softness screams 1980s!

    When you shoot, watch their eyes most of all but you have to be aware of everything. Try get a safe straight one in the bag first, before something goes wrong.

    Ideally this was the sort of thing you shot with 2-5 rolls of 6x6 120 with a Blad or RZ with a 100-120mm lens. Most amateur subjects are not patient enough to shoot more than a few 4x5s and you usually need to shoot more than a couple to get the right mix of expressions. That's why you see plenty of OK-fair group portraits and only a very small number of artful ones. Avedon and Penn have a few memorable ones but it really is a test.

    Here is an environmental one of Albert Paley and his crew in the 80s. I only had a couple of 800 watt Dynalites and medium Chimeras but you can make it work if you do enough tests beforehand and figure it out. I think I had one to the front left on full and one to the rear right further back. I most certainly did not have f/22 but if you can pre-focus and know where people will be you can pull back and keep them all sharp at f/11.5 or so.... I probably shot 1/8 sec to boost the ambient as well and it was probably TXP.

    OK I am out of writing time, gotta flush.

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