Getting a home studio going…

One of the areas I haven’t dealt much with so far, but am very interested in is studio photography. Natural light has so far been my favourite, and I’ve learned to make interesting photos with it. However, with a studio set-up you can ”paint” more with light and create lighting that can be adjusted how you want it, and replicated many times, which is something which is very hard to do using natural light.

My first idea was to buy a simple studio kit, which consists of 2 flashes of 110ws strength with stands and an umbrella each. This costs about 300 Euro in it’s simplest form. WS (watt-seconds) is the unit which studio lights is measured in. Unlike guide numbers for a flash, which tells you how far you flash reaches at a given ISO and lens size, watt seconds tells how much power is stored in the studio flash and will then be translated into a burst of light. A 110ws is probably a bit weaker than most ordinary flashes you’d put in your camera hot shoe (except the built in flash, which is very weak), but the benefit of a studio flash is how well it can be controlled, and how it can be modified. You can fit different things to it, such as an umbrella or a soft box, or a snoot. There are standard sizes, so you have plenty to chose from. How strong the flash is doesn’t change much in how you can use it, but it does put a limit to how big of a scene you can light. A 110ws probably wouldn’t be enough for anything more than face and/or upper body photography of one person. If you go up to 300-400 ws then you’d be able to light full body photos of several people at once…

But, I said my first idea was a studio kit. I then discovered that I could use my two ordinary flashes as a light set-up instead. I have a Dörr DAF42, which is a simple, but modern flash, and a Pentax FTZ-330, which is a bunch of years old, but still fires well. These are typical flashes that most people would have for their camera. What makes the big difference is getting them off the hot shoe of your camera, since keeping them just on top of your camera doesn’t let you get interesting shadows. You can either make a flat but soft lit photo if you add a diffuser, or a very strong harsh light if you use the flash bare. There are several ways of getting the flash off the camera, and I chose a Cactus V4 radio transmitter & receiver kit, a cheap solution, costing about 50 Euro. This allows you to move the flash away from your camera, many meters away, and it doesn’t have to be in the line of sight. One flash is controlled by the Cactus V4 and the other flash has a slave sensor, which means it ”looks” for another flash firing, and fires immediately when it sees the flash from the first one. In essence this makes both flashes fire at once (much faster than the camera opens and closes the shutter). So, one flash can be above and on an angle to the person you’re shooting, while the other is behind the person, lighting up the background. This makes for a simple and interesting set-up to play with if you already have a camera flash or two to play with.

In my next post I will write a bit more about what other things I’m going to be trying to set up at home to make a little home photo studio, and how I plan to use the studio when it’s done. Stay tuned…