04.10.10 Let There Be (Studio) Light

Fellow artists, this one’s for you.
Several days ago I mentioned a new lighting set-up for photography. Here it is, a two-light kit bought locally at Idaho Camera in Boise.  There are plenty of similar kits available online and perhaps your hometown photo center has a selection as well.
Two weeks ago Idaho Camera hosted a studio lighting workshop at the Vista Ave store.  The one-hour session was geared primarily towards portrait photographers, but the basic principals apply to product photography.  
It was a nice introduction, covering the pros and cons of four types of studio lights: 
  1. strobe, or flash 
  2. continuous lighting with “hot” incandescent bulbs and 
  3. continuous lighting with “cool” fluorescent bulbs
  4. continuous lighting with “medium warm” halogen bulbs
Let me get my notes out for you… they’re not all inclusive so by all means do more research yourself.   That being said, here we go —
Strobe Light
Pros: Clean bright light that is color balanced for daylight; energy efficient; stops action.
Cons: You can’t see in advance exactly the lighting effect that will be captured in pixels or on film; you  really must use a photography light meter to be able to judge what settings your camera needs.
Continuous Light, Incandescent Bulb
Pros: What you see is what you get; bulbs are available that approximate daylight (look for the blue tinted 5400º Kelvin photography bulbs, 250 to 500 watts).
Cons:  These darn things get really hot, like melt-things hot; the color of light given off by the bulb will change over time. (An additional con, many years ago I had a bulb of this type blow up awhile I was using it, scared me to death.) 
Continuous Light, Fluorescent Bulb
Pros: What you see is what you get, bulbs are available that emulate daylight (look for “Photo Fluorescent” lamps, “daylight balanced”, 30 to 85 watts); these bulbs do not get as hot as incandescent bulbs thus are a bit safer and more pleasant to be around; they are also much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs.
Cons: Fluorescent bulbs take a few minutes to warm up to their brightest light; these bulbs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs (but should last longer). 
Continuous Light, Halogen Bulb
Pros: What you see is what you get, bulbs are available that approximate daylight; these bulbs give off consistent color over time, some lamp bases come with variable power controls to fine tune how much light is given off.
Cons: More expensive than other systems; they can get a bit warm.
Long story short, I chose to go with a two-light kit outfitted with continuous light, fluorescent bulbs.
The Promaster two light studio reflector kit includes light stands, lamp bases and parabolic reflectors that accept a photographer’s umbrella to bounce and diffuse light.  Do you see how the umbrella is mounted near the center of the reflector, just below the bulb?  The stem of the umbrella is secured in a channel built into the lamp base.  Do you see the stem protruding to the rear of the lamp in the lower left corner of the photo?
Bouncing light into the umbrella provides a nice soft fill light. 
I also tried turning the umbrella around so that it was pointed towards the piece as if it was a soft box.  The light quality is pretty nice, but there are really ugly reflections of the umbrella itself in the shiny surface of the gloss glaze.  See below.
Playing with the angle of the lights, the horse and the camera in relation to each other yielded the better, though not perfect, result seen below.
Table top “cube” set-ups are used by many of my colleagues. They achieve stunning results.  But with such fragile ceramic artwork, I simply prefer to have more open space to maneuver in than the interior of a tent.  These highly reflective surfaces may force the issue however. Another benefit is that this more open set-up is flexible enough to photograph flat work and sculpture that is larger in size.  Shoot, I could start doing portrait photography with it too (but I doubt I will!).
Final notes, the backdrop is a graduated “Flotone” brand vinyl backdrop from B & H in NYC.  And any day now a diffuser sock, which fits over the reflector, will arrive.  That should help to soften the harsh highlights of the main light, seen in the photo above as the bright glare on the hip of the horse.
Alrighty, that brings you up to date with the latest experiments in studio lighting here.  I hope the information is useful to you.  If you have any tips to share, please do!  We’re all learning together.
~ Lynn
P.S. Blog Triage docs and fellow students — this is not my Lesson Two post. Though it uses some principles from that lesson, it’s a follow-up post I promised readers on April 7th.  The Lesson Two post will be done by Sunday night.  Promise.

2 thoughts on “04.10.10 Let There Be (Studio) Light

  1. Cynthia

    Very informative, Lynn!

    I don’t think there is much for courses around here, but I would love to take a studio lighting workshop! Lucky you!

    I use a home built light tent rig, so not quite as constraining as one of the pop-up cubes. It still has its limitations, in that my construction halogens are often still somewhat harsh through the sheeting on the tent frame. They aren’t daylight balanced bulbs either, but I just set a camera white balance for them instead.

    Your set-up looks very nice! Maybe it’s time to experiment more with my own.

    What I really like is the backdrop you found! With few places to shop around here, I usually rely on Wal-Mart posterboard and the selection isn’t great. I’ve been wanting something like this for ages, just didn’t know what it was!

    Wow, I see they have Idaho Camera has an Olympus seminar and sale coming up… may have to check into that!

  2. Lynn A. Fraley

    Hi Cynthia, thanks for stopping by.

    For years, I resisted spending the extra money for bulbs that are truly daylight balanced for photography. I think they’ve already paid for themselves by saving me the time and frustration of fussing with color correction.

    Not only Olympus, but Nikon and Canon will be at Idaho Camera in May. I’m getting by with my little pea-shooter of a camera, but I’d like to learn about the latest and greatest myself. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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