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Thread: Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Dec 2000
    Southern New England

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    There has been a few discussions over the use of lighting for portrait work. Of particular interest is the use of a continuos light source. I am looking to do some portrait work on 11x14. As always depth of field is somewhat of an issue. More important is the quality of light delivered. For the past few years I have been using strobes for my 4x5 portraits. Using 750 watt monlights has proven to be rather limiting for a good depth of field. I have used both umbrellas and a large softbox with similar results. Moving forward I would like to invest in a more powerful system to hit around f32-45.

    As the work is 100% black and white my first thought is to go with a Mole Richardson setup. I have looked at both the 5,000 watt solorspot and 4,000 watt super-softlight. My feeling is that 4,000 watts with no diffusion would give ample depth of field. Placing diffusion over 4,000 watts could kill a few f-stops and may be too low for practical use. The 4,000 watt softlight may not even be enough based on the foot candle specifications from the Mole catalog. I may need to go to the 8k model. Back in the day I worked at a studio using the Mole’s for all of our catalog work. We used the 5k models for most of the work yet I never tried using for portrait work. I did do some portrait work with the super-soft 4k model yet that was on medium format. I have also looked at the HMI lights and would consider as an option although they are rather pricey.

    I could also invest in a good Speedotron system. A 4800 ws pack should be enough for the main and fill light source. For shots against a white background another pack would be necessary. I am sure that a 2400 ws pack with two reflector mounted lights would be plenty for lighting a white background.

    So has anyone out there worked much with Mole Richardson lights for portrait work? Does a 5k light with diffusion sound good? How about the 4k super soft light?

  2. #2
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Rio Rancho, NM

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    I've used a 650 watt Arri as a focusing light when shooting models with a view camera a few times. Most people can't open their eyes with that lighting, let alone maintain any sort of usable expression. I'd hate to think of how they might scrunch up their face with a 4K or 5K light. Thus, I'd really suggest going with a relatively high-output electronic flash system.

  3. #3
    Tracy Storer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Oakland CA

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    Dear Bruce,
    I wonder if 4, 5 and 8K constant sources will be uncomfortable for your sitters? A client tried HMIs once for a shoot with me, and seemed painfully bright to be around but still didn't deliver the f-stops where needed.
    Speedo strobes will work well for sure, I often rent them for shooting with the 20x24. Heavy, but cheap and powerful.
    Tracy Storer
    Mammoth Camera Company tm

  4. #4
    Big Negs Rock!
    Join Date
    Mar 2000

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    Hey Bruce,

    The Mole lights are really the standard of the Motion Picture industry. I own a lot of Mole fixtures, including the 5K. The largest soft light I have is the 2K zip. Be aware that most B&W film needs 1/3 more light from a Tungsten source. Check your film specs. I've used 18K and 20K lights on set too, and your eyes get used to the light. Look at the actors in many many films. They look fine and are lit with these big (& bigger) units. I also own Speedotrons. Some of the portraits I've shot used a 4800ws head with 1200ws on the bg. The stop with FP4+ was usually F/22-32. The 4800ws head was in a Chimera type of diffuser and about 3-4 feet from the subject. You can look at some of the results at: Click on the Fine Art link and click on the gallery you want to see. The portrait of my daughter in uniform was shot with the 4800ws head as described above, as were all of them except for "Hillary," that was natural light -- direct sun from the south coming though a window with diffusion on the window, & "David with Child." The last was shot with a 1200ws head about 3 feet from him and the child with a focusing screen on the strobe head. If you look at my commercials page, you'll see examples of commercials that were shot with the Mole units. The Optimeyes comes to mind, and the still shows the lighting. BTW, if you buy a used unit, make sure the focusing mechanism keeps the globe's filament in the center of the mirror and fresnel. If it doesn't, don't buy it unless you now how to fix it (not that hard to do). BTW, Moletown sells reconditioned (by Mole) units from their rental side at about 50% of list price with a guarantee.

    Hope this helps,
    Mark Woods

    Large Format B&W
    Cinematography Mentor at the American Film Institute
    Past President of the Pasadena Society of Artists
    Director of Photography
    Pasadena, CA

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Norfolk, UK

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    Unless you want your studio to double up as a tanning parlour, I'd go for the high-power strobes. There be something in models' contracts about not being fried while they work.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    I've been shooting with a combination 250w and 500w Lowel Tota and Omni lights for digital and Graflex SLR work, but I am shooting wide open (f/4.5 for the 4x5). I wouldn't attempt group shots or anything where I wanted to stop down, but for most set ups I can shoot at a comfortable handheld shutterspeed on 320 ASA film (1/60 to 1/200).

    One thing I do is to turn off the lights as much as possible. It also helps to dress lightly and to photograph models in states of undress. It's also good for geezers who like it 80 degrees plus...

    I often shoot editorial portraits with hot lights - usually a flood bounced off a wall - with a digital SLR and a f/1.4 or f/2 lens wide open.

    Here's a lame one I did for a mag.

    I like tungsten because I can usually bounce it and move around a wide area with decent lighting. I wouldn't try to do Hollywood glamour lighting with hot lights myself, but remember that Hurell and the old timers used lots of little, low wattage lamps to achieve their results (they also used portrait lenses fairly wide open).

    I also use Dynalites and have found that a 1000 watt pack can do a respectable f/16 @ ASA100 with a softbox for most 1-2 person portraits. Definitely better for controlled situations.

    HMIs are just too expensive. I like Lowels and Dynas - they are compact, inexpensive, and cross compatible with accessories.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Santa Clara, CA

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work


    Your first problem will be electrical power! Most homes have 110/120 volt, 15 amp outlets.

    Most big studios have many 25 amp outlets, and one or two 220v 40amp outlets.

    You must also note that those units are the same as 4000 or 5000 watt heaters; very nice in the winter, but not to much fun at any other times.

    Check the power requirements for the big Mole's, and you will not have the power needed for this setup.

    I work with a 8 X 10 all the time and need at least 8000 watt seconds of strobes to get f64 for my 24" artar

    At f64 it is hard to get from the tip of a nose, to the back of the head in focus.

    I cant imagine using an 11 X 14 with longer lenes, but should make great images.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Feb 1999

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    I used to do hot light portraits with little more than a couple of cheap Smith Victor 500 watt lights (with clip-on diffusers), and they looked pretty good, if I do say so myself.

  9. #9

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    You can get 2000 watts from a 20 amp circuit. Ohm`s Law volts x amps = watts I think.

    I don`t know where you will get the power or how you will dissapate the heat.

    Models can`t stand that much light. I bounce Lowel Omni`s into heat resistant umbrellas and they can sit there all day. The unbrella makes a hugh difference.

    Movies use large diffusion scrims to the same effect.

    Buy some high output strobes that will run on household power, not all will, and make sure they have have bright modeling lights or a separate light you can use for focus.

  10. #10

    Mole Richardson Lighting for Portait Work

    I think you're gonna cook 'em with those big hot lights.

    Think about a set of monolight flashes. I use White Lightning X1600's and can get f64 at about three to four feet with two lights in big soft boxes. And I can dial this back if I choose. For head and shoulder portraits this works great. Another couple of units (four total) and you can light about anything of that nature.

    I find monolights much more convenient to work with than packs and I really like the fact that the pack can't blow up and leave me stranded with no functioning light. I suspect that four monolights and inexpensive soft boxes and/or umbrellas will cost less and be lots more useful than those big hot lights and whatever modifiers you use. You'll need lots of space just to keep from catching something on fire. You probably know all this with your experience but I thought it worth pointing out.

    Since you won't have 11x14 polaroids, take a digital camera along to check your set up and trust what it tells you as to look and exposure.

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