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Thread: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

  1. #1
    http://www.spiritsofsilver.com tgtaylor's Avatar
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    Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    Instead of sitting around watching the boob tube, I could be doing something creative instead so I’m seriously thinking about taking up still life (flowers, etc) and portrait photography with my cameras (35mm, 645, 6x7 and 4x5 view camera).

    Having no experience in this area of photography, I’m thinking that a continuous lighting source (besides an open window) would be a better choice than using a strobe? Does that sound correct?

    Here are some of the lighting units that I have been looking at:

    http://www.calumetphoto.com/eng/prod...t_light/cf0003

    http://www.calumetphoto.com/eng/prod..._stand/cf0003k

    http://www.calumetphoto.com/eng/prod...o_light/sv3860

    http://www.calumetphoto.com/eng/prod...ght_kit/hl5030

    Do you think the Calumet Quatro unit would be a better choice that the Smith Victor product? Would a 10’ stand provide sufficient height? I imaging that you could place some diffusing material in front of the bare bulbs on these units to create a soft box effect. The Wescott product is a continuous lighting source that comes with a soft box enclosure but would that limit you to one color of light? Which of the two types would prove to be more versatile?

    The price differential between the units is not a deciding factor.

    Thanks for your input and -

    Happy Holidays,

    Thomas

  2. #2

    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    I'm sure others on here will join in with more expert information, but here's my take on it, from the standpoint of someone who started off with digital portraiture. (Waits for thrown shoes )

    I had some continuous lights that I used at first; a pair of 1000 watt hot lights, and did they ever live up to their name. I used them precisely once, during which I discovered a number of things.

    1. They do not produce the light output you'd think. I was forced to use a tripod for everything in order to get a reasonably good exposure. I'm sure there were things I could have done to improve even with those lights, but I was not happy with it at that time.

    2. They were HOT. I could practically see the subjects melting. Not good.

    I switched to a set of White Lightning strobes, with a softbox and reflectors, and Pocket Wizard transmitter/receivers. I was able to unhook from that tripod and move freely within the set area I had built. The results from that second set (same subjects) were absolutely fantastic.

    Again, this is from my digital experience. I have yet to venture into large format portraiture, though that is my next project. I will not be hauling out those old lights again.

  3. #3
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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    Thomas, You won't get many straight answers to that sort of question. But the title will attract some interest.

    FWIW (my suggestions hardly ever fit 'common practice'):
    Get just one fan-cooled tungsten-halogen lamp.
    An umbrella gives you more control and less clutter~ than a soft-box.
    A single source is not only better practice but also in better taste*.
    Strobe only when you can make a living from it.
    If it moves, use a smaller format.

    ~ Clutter from extra stands for flags and scrims.
    * Just balance background and foreground tones to get separation - never add back-light or cheek-skim, ever.
    Last edited by cjbroadbent; 25-Nov-2010 at 06:31. Reason: use/add

  4. #4

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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    I agree with Christopher.

    I've found Lowel to be a good brand of reasonably-priced, well-made gear (USA made even!), although they do not make a fan cooled Halogen head. They are nice for location work as I do... otherwise, sure old Mole Richardsons would be the bomb.

    A pair of heavy gloves helps with adjusting "hot" lights.

    I never had anything melt except ice cream.... I even do portraits with hot lights.

    Most people think they need strobes. Maybe they do for jumping fashion models and shots of pouring liquids. But I never found the light quality to match between the modeling lamps and the strobe tube, and I don't like working blind, I want to see the light.

  5. #5

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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    Another way to approach this is in reverse: Choose some photos that you admire, and find out how they were lit. Then get the equipment you need.

  6. #6
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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Lee View Post
    Another way to approach this is in reverse: Choose some photos that you admire, and find out how they were lit. Then get the equipment you need.
    The woodchopper approach. Best advice.

  7. #7

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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    I have a lot of gear and limited experience. Hot lights are miserable. I bought a kit and the lights were so hot that I could not tolerate leaving them on in the basement. Maybe useful in an unheated garage in the winter for still lifes, but too uncomfortable for use with humans. Just my opinion based on limited experience.

    I have been experimenting with strobes for portraiture lately. I agree that it is best to keep it simple at first. I am starting with too much gear and I found out quickly that I need to keep it simple. I suggest one strobe with an umbrella and a soft box plus a reflector of some sort. That is enough to get started. A single strobe is relatively inexpensive used and a monolight (e.g Calumet Travelite 750) is convenient.

    Also, you need much more light when doing 4x5 than with 35mm so the strobes win over hot lights.

  8. #8
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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    I'm still at the stage of primitive mucking around when it comes to portrait and still life. But FWIW, I started with a pair of Lowel Tota-lights. Really good for heating up the house in the dead of winter; who's to mind if the subject melts or broils? My advice is to save your pennies for some strobe gear.

    I agree as far as keeping it simple. I've been doing my tinkering with a single light in a softbox. Christopher's various examples are so lovely, though, that on Ken's principle I may yet "unbox" the head and try my hand with an umbrella.

  9. #9

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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    Can you really use an umbrella with halogen lamps that aren't fanned? I've got a couple Ianiros. I am afraid they'll melt the fabric.

  10. #10

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    Re: Lighting For Still Life and Portrait Photography

    Yeah just leave a few inches between the umbrella and the bulb.

    If hot lights get too hot, just turn them off in between shots.

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