Recommended home studio kit?

Started Feb 11, 2011 | Discussions thread
mbloof Senior Member • Posts: 1,376
Think of the end result.


There's a few different directions you can go in, depending on what your planning on doing in the short term, long term and what your willing to invest.

Many of the photographic stores have 'starter kits' that cover a WIDE range of usefullness, price and quality. The same could be said of 'ebay' where $250 might barely cover the cost of a single light or an entire kit of 6 with light stands and modifiers.

1st lets address space. You mentioned you have a "small room"? Define "small". The home/office room I'm currently sitting in is 9x12 feet, the bedroom down the hall? 8x10 feet. (The living room where I do most of my practice and shooting has much more room) The closer your lights are to the subject, the less power is required and smaller modifiers can be used.

2nd What are you going to light? (assuming humans here) A head? A bust? A torso? 3/4 length? Full length? Two or more people? Lighting larger areas with "soft light" requires more power and larger modifiers.

3rd What is the goal or outcome? Is this a single purchase that will only be used in the small room or something that you intend to build on and use elsewhere? What are you planning on doing with the lights 6 months or a year or more from now?

Many folks recommend learning lighting starting with just a single light source and then adding more later. While even in a small room (such as my office) I could have a: Key, fill, hair/kicker and two background lights however without proper modifiers, paint, flooring and gobos it would be hard to control the light "spill" from 5 lights in such a small area. (assuming that I could get all the above + myself, camera/tripod and a subject/chair to fit)

Many kits come with umbrellas and non-air-cushioned light stands. While umbrellas are the cheapest 'bang for the buck', they also have a lot of light spill. I know I discounted the usefullness of air-cushioning when I got my 1st kit (a 2 umbrella+ 2 lightstand B&H kit $99) but I'm slowly replacing my non-cushioned ones.

Ok, lets talk lights. I'd recommend considering getting only one or two equal power lights. As you recognised there are two ways to go, inexpensive studio lights or battery powered portable flash units. Both can go from the very cheap to the very expensive.

A popular choice is getting monolights. Many come with built in 'modeling lights' that can help you set the shot up, 4-6stop power adjustment, built in optical triggers and come in a wide range of price, quality and power. You may be able to purchase 2 lights, stands and softboxes with wired/wireless triggers and stay within your budget.

Getting one or more battery powered hot shoe flash units presents a few more decisions and choices. There are cheap ($90) 'dumb' flash guns and expensive ($320-500) 'smart' speedlights. The least expensive have no power adjustment (you have to use distance/light fall off to adjust brightness) and the most expensive can use automatic wireless ETTL adjustment/triggering.

Since you don't have much space to work with, I'd recommend staying away from the cheapest ones and get units that you can manually adjust the power level. Most of the units that have manual adjustment are also ETTL compatible when mounted on your camera's hot shoe. (you won't have wireless ETTL but will have a decent on-camera flash)

Personally I started with 2 580EX2's and the afore mentioned B&H 2 umbrella kit.

The 580's and the less expensive (Metz mecablitz 58 AF-1 $320 a copy) flash units with wireless ETTL have the advantage of being able to adjust the power level from the camera as well as using Canon's smart ETTL lighting ratio's.

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