Decent Lighting / Low Cost for Intimate Model Shoot

Started Jul 29, 2012 | Discussions thread
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AdrianGray Regular Member • Posts: 119
Re: Decent Lighting / Low Cost for Intimate Model Shoot

All of the advice in the thread has been excellent, though I understand the constraints you are under. You can't afford to upgrade all your gear at once, and you have compromises to make, and you need to start producing results soon. Ok, got it.

So the question is, what is "good enough"? I've tried using a ghetto continuous setup, but for me, it wasn't good enough, even though I have a better camera. The fundamental problem is that you have to get a lot of continuous light to do anything without have a slow shutter speed or high ISO.

If you wanted to use continuous, then you would be better off with a real camera that can shoot above 200 ISO. I'm sure you could use continuous for dramatic, shadowy portraits, but a for a product shot, the convention is for things to be well lit, which sounds like a recipe for pain with the setups you are considering.

We aren't just saying that your setup won't be pro, we are saying that the path you are going down actually be painful and makes things excessively difficult for you, especially considering that you are a beginner. Whether the results will be good enough for you, I do not know.

But I'll try to give you some practical advice on how to improve things. Here's the process I would suggest taking:

1. Try to get speedlights working with your camera. Many speedlights have an optical slave mode so that they can trigger from your camera's direct flash (turn off red eye mode). For instance, the Yongnuo 460 II at $40 has S1 mode which triggers on a flash, and S2 mode which triggers after a pre-flash. Do some research and see if you can trigger flashes with your compact (or order a cheap speedlight and send it back if it can't sync with your on-camera flash).

If this works, get two cheap speedlights, put them on lights stands, and use them through umbrellas, bare, or bounced off the ceiling and walls (see This will be the most powerful and efficient sort of lighting you can get. Nothing else will work so well for $80-100. Even if you get sick of cheap manual speedlights later, you can still use them to light backgrounds or as rim lights.

Put a diffuser on your direct flash so that it contributes less light to the scene, but just enough to trigger your real lights. Also, note that optical slaves can be unreliable when there is a lot of ambient light, but indoors that shouldn't be a big problem.

2. If you can't use speedlights, then use some combination of continuous and natural light.

If you use natural light, then I hope that both you and your model are morning people, and that neither of you are running late, or you will be rushed to complete the shoot before your shutter speed gets too slow.

When I started out, I looked at work lights, but I couldn't find any that I was happy with. The problem with halogen work lights is that they give off a lot of heat, which tends to make models unhappy, especially if you are in a small room. If you invest ~$200 (4 x $50)in halogen work lights, then that's $200 down the drain once you get sick of them.

Fluorescent work lights exist, but they were more expensive.

So I got a bunch of 100-watt equivalent CLF bulbs from Home Depot and put them in clamp lights, and then clamped them to music stands (and later, to light stands). I also got a couple Alzo CFLs.

CFLs didn't give me enough power for my needs (e.g. blanking white backgrounds), but I can probably use them for video later, or around the house, or to provide light to autofocus not that I've switched to speedlights.

If you must use CFLs, you might continue looking into the Ebay/Amazon kits (more powerful than the one you were looking at), because at least you can cannibalize them for light stands / umbrellas once you get sick of continuous from never having enough light and wires causing trouble positioning your lights.

Shoot in manual exposure mode to make sure that your camera isn't doing something silly with the shutter speed or ISO.

I know that you don't want to buy a low-end DSLR that you will need to replace later, but be careful about buying a lot of crappy continuous lighting that you will need to replace later.

3. If your Lumix + lighting (either cheap flashes or CFLs) aren't "good enough," then switch to a real camera. And use off-camera flash if you aren't using it already.

What is a "good enough camera"? For your needs, probably a high-end Micro 4/3 mirrorless, an APS-C mirrorless, or an entry-level DSLR with a kit lens.

The cost will look like this:
$600 entry-level DSLR, perhaps used, perhaps even cheaper
$40 Yongnuo 460 II x2 = $80
$40 2 light stands and umbrella shoe mounts
$35 radio triggers
= $755

If you can jump to that immediately, it will probably solve your needs for web quality photos for a while: you can shoot product, people, and events. And if you aren't trying to be a pro, maybe you would never need to upgrade, so this money would not be wasted.

Or you can spend $100-200 on continuous and hope that it's good enough, that you can handle the headaches it will involve, and that the money won't be wasted when you inevitably upgrade.

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