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Author Topic: Basic home studio setup question  (Read 1733 times)

wsmith96

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Basic home studio setup question
« on: March 29, 2014, 07:03:55 PM »
Howdy all,
  I have a question regarding a home studio setup.  I would like to take individual portraits of my family so I can learn and improve my portraiture photography skills.   I'm not looking to invest a lot of money right now (for this topic, a lot to me is over $500) and was wondering if a speedlite setup would work for me.  I've searched the forums and found that most home studio folks are using Einsteins or Alien Bees strobes, but I'm not ready to invest that much and was hoping to use the two flashes I have, and a simple background to get going.  The bad part is I'm not sure if I need anything else or not.  I know that sounds silly, but I keep going in circles so I'm seeking advice on what to start with.

My signature includes what I currently own.

I was thinking of getting two shoot through umbrellas (Westcott perhaps) and a Westcott X-Drop background with white and black backdrops.  I do not currently have the room for larger backdrops right now, and what I end up using needs to be portable as I don't have a dedicated space in my house for this.  This is where I go in circles.   Are umbrellas the right choice, or should I be looking at softboxes for my speedlights?   Are speedlights the right answer here, or is continuous lighting/strobes necessary to work with?   blah blah blah.   I was hoping that one of you portrait photographers out there could provide some guidance.   I don't want expensive, but I also don't want poor build quality.  It is also okay for me to out grow the beginner solution and replace it should this lead to continued growth as a photographer, or a side job.  For now, it's for my own achievement purposes.

Thanks a lot for all of your feedback,

Wes

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Basic home studio setup question
« on: March 29, 2014, 07:03:55 PM »

Jim Saunders

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2014, 07:48:45 PM »
Two umbrellas, two manual flashes, dark-colored roller blind for a backdrop?  Could work.

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sagittariansrock

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2014, 08:08:54 PM »
Great thread. I had a very similar query. From what I have gleaned so far, speedlights should be sufficient to begin with, however they don't provide as much power as the strobes and working them full tilt is probably not a great idea. I was also curious about umbrella (that too, shoot-through vs reflector) vs softbox. Really hoping to get some great information from the experts.
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privatebydesign

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2014, 08:53:33 PM »
The trouble with umbrellas is a total lack of control on where the light goes. I think most beginners, particularly in smaller spaces, are far better off starting out with a cheapo Chinese softbox with grid kit, something like this. It is far easier to understand and control what is going on if you have more directional control.

For a starter kit I'd recommend two speedlites, something like these and a trigger. They are manual only, well priced but radio triggered so no cables.

I wouldn't worry about a backdrop, after watching a million videos on YouTube you will realise you can do a lot of that with the lights.

Watch stuff like this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WTWiN9kLts They have a huge range of very good videos.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNGiOpWEKxQ This guy has a great channel and really can use small shoot through umbrellas as well as anybody I have ever seen!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91gU93J2Q8k This guy also has a fantastic range of videos and covers both white and black backgrounds with light.
And I really like this, though I'd argue the 16 looks! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zZBD6EMB1k

As for what modifiers are the best, well it totally depends on what you want to shoot and the look you want. Shoot throughs will give the broadest light, excellent for groups and real estate, reflector umbrellas will give you more control, though not much unless collapsed, but they are very versatile. Soft  boxes are "best" for mood and control of what, exactly, is going to be illuminated, stylish portraits are easiest and quickest to do with a gridded softbox.
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Skirball

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2014, 05:35:29 PM »
Great thread. I had a very similar query. From what I have gleaned so far, speedlights should be sufficient to begin with, however they don't provide as much power as the strobes and working them full tilt is probably not a great idea. I was also curious about umbrella (that too, shoot-through vs reflector) vs softbox. Really hoping to get some great information from the experts.

Speedlights are plenty strong enough for studio work, it’s only when going up against the sun that their weaknesses really shine, or don’t as the case may be. 

+1 what PbD said regarding softboxes.  Umbrellas are fine but given that you can get these knockoff softboxes for hardly more than an umbrella it’s almost a no-brainer.  Home studios are usually cramped and spill from an umbrella goes everywhere.  Personally I think the catch lights are leagues better than an umbrella as well.  If you have space to store a fully assembled soft box then I can personally recommend this one:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005ODJ8YC/ref=oh_details_o08_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

If not, any of these type:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0090S8WFS/ref=oh_details_o07_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 …sets up and tears down almost as fast as a brella.  The down side is that it’s a bit of a hassle to adjust power settings and you have to fudge it to tilt them down.  But it’s still better than an umbrella.  You’ll need an umbrella holder.

If I was on that tight of a budget I’d get:

(3) Yongnuo 560 III – radio receivers built in: ($75x 3 = $225)
(1) Yonguo RF-602 – you need a transmitter and have an extra receiver if you get another flash ($25)
(1) PBL Backdrop support (link) -  you can go cheaper, but these are a good middle ground IMO.  Use them as flash stands for now, but can be used as background support if you upgrade down the road to some sleeker flash stands.  ($80)
(0-2) Manfrotto 026 Umbrella Holder – you’ll need one for umbrella type softboxes (or umbrellas), but not the Photodiox rear mount box I posted above.  ($33 each)
(2) Light modifiers – say one of each of above for variety ($50 + $25 = $75 + 1 umbrella holder at $33)

That puts you at $438 plus tax for a three light setup.  I’d take what I have left over, go to JoAnnes, and grab some cheap fabric for background – if you want.  But you don’t need it.  Yongnuo makes a YN460 that is super basic, doesn’t even zoom.  I got mine for $25.  Find one cheap (or any cheap used light) and you can use that as a background light (no zoom needed), you already have another receiver, and use your third 560 III as a hair light.  Pro portraits in $500.

Backdrop link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001ANT1I8/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
« Last Edit: March 31, 2014, 05:39:03 PM by Skirball »

Skirball

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2014, 05:37:22 PM »
I should have said, you can do fine portraiture with 2, or even 1 light and a cheap reflectors.  But as you may find...  strobism is an addictive disease.

wsmith96

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2014, 12:37:57 AM »
Thanks for all of the advice.  One thing I wanted to be clear on is that I have 2 x 430EX II's and an ST-E2 transmitter, so I can take those dollars recommended below for flashes and put them back into light modifiers.

I watched the BHPhoto lecture that PBD recommended and I was very impressed with the single flash and reflector options (the 16 looks video).  That's got me wanting a similar setup as a starting point.  It was small, portable, and looked straight forward to work with.   Now I don't know all of the brands and options, but here's the list of what was in that video along with some stands.

1 - Sunbounce micro mini reflector and clamp
1 - Photoflex 45" convertible umbrella
2 - Manfrotto BAC1052 stands with 026 swivel clamp
1 - small rogue flashbender
1 - a storage bag for the stands
1 - kupo universal hotshoe adapter

replace the umbrella with the recommended 24x24 fotodiox softbox and I'm at about $550 USD.

I could drop the price by changing the manfrotto stands, but reviews on amazon are hit and miss on a lot of the cheaper stands. Do your PBL stands hold up pretty well?   I was looking at just the 2 lightstand kit on amazon and one reviewer said they were a bit flimsy.  Manfrotto seems to be a go to stand from the forum posts I've read here, so I was looking at those.

The other big ticket item is the Sunbounce reflector.  It looks portable and easy to use, but I can't say that I have any practical knowledge of reflectors.   Seems silly to put a lot of money towards something that you don't have experience with, but I've learned that sometimes it's better to pay for more quality up front rather than paying over and over for lesser quality.  I do see me using this for years should the equipment hold up.

This has been the part that I struggled with - figuring out where to start.  There is so much out there that it's easy to go in circles trying to figure out what you'd like to do.  I was impressed by the video mentioned earlier and think that's a good place to start. 

« Last Edit: April 01, 2014, 12:51:37 AM by wsmith96 »
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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2014, 12:37:57 AM »

privatebydesign

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2014, 01:03:22 AM »
The Sunbounce is not particularly cost effective, there are many other much better value alternatives. I would not get this as a starter item, get a cheaper alternative and see how you get on with reflectors.

I have the Photoflex though mine is the 60", they are very well made and I recommend them. But I'd get the softbox kit first :-) unless you were mainly shooting full length and/or group shots.

I have the BAC1052's, they are great stands and I use them a lot but they have two caveats; first, the bases are big when opened up, in tight spots this isn't an advantage, and two, I really like boom stands, especially in a starter kit. I always recommend the Manfrotto 420B as the best first stand to buy, it is so flexible it is crazy and you can often get them used off eBay. I believe Impact make a similar thing for less and I am sure the Chinese will be there too.

I have a Rouge FlashBender, I wouldn't recommend the small, get the large. The large has three flexible supports and can be manipulated much better than the small which only has two. Highly recommended.

I much prefer Frio cold shoes to the clamp type you listed. I have loads of the screw clamp type and I find them fiddly and I have damaged plastic trigger feet with them, also the slide clamp type lock on the 430 works much better with a slot type mount.
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Skirball

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2014, 11:43:08 AM »
Thanks for all of the advice.  One thing I wanted to be clear on is that I have 2 x 430EX II's and an ST-E2 transmitter...

Even better.  You already have to eTTL flashes, so that gives you some options for either more flexibility, or you could just cut the cost in half.   The ST-E2, well, it makes a nice paper weight.

You could either get a third eTTL-equipped flash, like the Yongnuo YN-565EX (or a third 430exII), and then get the eTTL radio triggers (RF-622), or stick to manual and just use the RF-602s.  Personally I never use eTTL for portraiture, but some people do and like it.  The nice thing about the 622s, is that you can control power from your camera, which is nice for those umbrella softboxes where the flash is inside and hard to adjust.

Since I use manual a lot, I just use my RF-602s.  They have a 1/4" thread on the bottom so they screw right into my stands, no cold shoe needed.   They’re also small, and I find them easy to use. That said, if I had none and was to purchase radio triggers, I’d probably just get more flexible 622.

The ST-E2 only works on line of sight, which can be a problem when using softboxes.  It’s just not worth it given the amount of radio options out these days.


I could drop the price by changing the manfrotto stands, but reviews on amazon are hit and miss on a lot of the cheaper stands. Do your PBL stands hold up pretty well?   

My PBL stands feel quite robust actually, but the action opening and closing them isn't the smoothest.  But to be fair, I mostly use them for a backdrop, which is to say not much, or a third light stand.  I have two Manfrotto Nanos.  I love them, but they’re not as big and sturdy as the ones you listed.  They’re the gold standard for “Strobists” who want easy portable lightstands.  I put softboxes on them and have never worried they were unstable.    I know some people swear by aircushioned; I don't really care one way or the other, I just wanted something small and portable.  If it's just going to stay in your studio, then you might as well get something beefier.  There are plenty of good brands out there, but I've never had a complaint with any of my Manfrotto gear.  I don't remember if I said it in my first post: DO NOT SKIMP ON UMBRELLA HOLDERS.  I've got a couple of plastic paper weights in my drawer, just get the Manfrotto ones and you only have to buy once.


The other big ticket item is the Sunbounce reflector.  It looks portable and easy to use, but I can't say that I have any practical knowledge of reflectors.

Holy crap.  I had to look that one up.  I’ve never heard of that thing, but I don’t see what it does for $200 that would make it remotely worth it.  Get a generic circular 5-in-1 reflector off Amazon for $15.

Skirball

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2014, 11:53:09 AM »
I have a Rouge FlashBender, I wouldn't recommend the small, get the large. The large has three flexible supports and can be manipulated much better than the small which only has two. Highly recommended.


Do you still use these [in a studio] if you have softboxes and full-sized modifiers?  I’m not sure where I would use them, and if I did, I’d just use a piece of posterboard and a hair tie.  Might be a nice to have, but if you’re trying to build a studio on a budget I’d think that $40 could go to far more useful pieces.

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2014, 05:47:26 PM »
You are getting some fantastic advice from pbd and Skir... I had never thought about the ST-E2 not working inside a softbox - that is a REALLY good point! Hence the strength of the 600 and its radio control...

I, personally, would not use TTL in a studio setting... Outside, when you are running and gunning, it can do amazing things delivering nice fill... But inside, you control all the light - I would get my manual settings down and have 1:1, 1:2, and 1:3 ratios already worked out... That is why I like radio controllers or remote studio strobes - you don't have to mess around dialing in different settings when the flash is mounted inside your softbox/modifier...

I am a big believer in lighting the background separately - I like the way it adds dimension - if I had your kit (as is) I would put one 430 in a softbox, one 430 on the background, and bounce in the fill with a reflector... Oh, wait, I forgot about your 270! You could use that on-camera as a very soft direct fill...

Lastly, I can't remember if anyone said this, but I would invest in a flash meter... I just checked them and can't believe how expensive some of the high-dollar ones are! But I have one similar to this and it works great... http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/93222-REG/Shepherd_Polaris_SPD100_Polaris_Digital_Meter.html

Happy strobing!
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wsmith96

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2014, 08:42:06 PM »
Today I went to Austin for a business trip and was able to stop by Precision Camera - my closest camera shop.  They carried a lot of Promaster and Westcott products.   Some of the packages they had seemed flimsy, but of course there were the better built models as well.  They did have some promaster 24"x24" collapsible soft boxes with flash bracket and carrying case for $99.  Do either of you have exerience with promaster gear?  It appeared well made.   The only thing that I would have questioned is the promaster and house brand adjustable umbrella brackets they had.  They were plastic/nylon.  The only metal ones they had were westcott brand.

The Westcott gear appeared okay.  There were a lot of starter kits there and I would put them above the house brand that they had.  Any issues to be aware of with Westcott?

I did pick up a large flash bender, but am still working my way through the thousands of options.   Some days it would be nice to have only 2-3 choices :)   

Thank you for all of your help!
« Last Edit: April 03, 2014, 10:59:52 PM by wsmith96 »
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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2014, 02:15:25 PM »
Wes,

Have you checked out David Hobby?  He's got all sorts of info on this stuff.

http://www.strobist.blogspot.com/
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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2014, 02:15:25 PM »

surapon

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2014, 08:28:55 AM »
Howdy all,
  I have a question regarding a home studio setup.  I would like to take individual portraits of my family so I can learn and improve my portraiture photography skills.   I'm not looking to invest a lot of money right now (for this topic, a lot to me is over $500) and was wondering if a speedlite setup would work for me.  I've searched the forums and found that most home studio folks are using Einsteins or Alien Bees strobes, but I'm not ready to invest that much and was hoping to use the two flashes I have, and a simple background to get going.  The bad part is I'm not sure if I need anything else or not.  I know that sounds silly, but I keep going in circles so I'm seeking advice on what to start with.

My signature includes what I currently own.

I was thinking of getting two shoot through umbrellas (Westcott perhaps) and a Westcott X-Drop background with white and black backdrops.  I do not currently have the room for larger backdrops right now, and what I end up using needs to be portable as I don't have a dedicated space in my house for this.  This is where I go in circles.   Are umbrellas the right choice, or should I be looking at softboxes for my speedlights?   Are speedlights the right answer here, or is continuous lighting/strobes necessary to work with?   blah blah blah.   I was hoping that one of you portrait photographers out there could provide some guidance.   I don't want expensive, but I also don't want poor build quality.  It is also okay for me to out grow the beginner solution and replace it should this lead to continued growth as a photographer, or a side job.  For now, it's for my own achievement purposes.

Thanks a lot for all of your feedback,

Wes


Dear Wes.
Here are the Simple  Studio Lighting systems that I have learn from the PRO, The Lighting sources are depend on your money---From Cheapo to high end.
You just  try from the cheapo first, such as the Umbrellars from 20 Us Dollars and your Flashes.
Good Luck.
Surapon

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2014, 08:31:08 AM »
Here are the Simple  Studio Lighting systems that I have learn from the PRO, The Lighting sources are depend on your money---From Cheapo to high end.

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Re: Basic home studio setup question
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2014, 08:31:08 AM »