FREITAG, 05.01.2007 - 01:47 Uhr
The DIY Lighting Guide
This is the evolution of the first DIY guide to something bigger.
Now included are hints and guides for setting up and running a studio.
This guide is not yet finished, and probably never will be finished
at all, but it will be constantly updated if I find time.
Any useful suggestions for updates and complements are gladly
received and will be integrated if possible. Just send e-mail
The German original is available at http://www.photoquack.de/tutorials/baustrahler.htm
When your ambitions grow, this doesn't mean your budget grows
as well. Many amateurs and also a lot of pros then buy
overpriced or just trash. This guide is meant to help choosing
and buying equipment suiting your needs at a good price.
Good price does not always mean low price, the old rule that
you get what you pay for still applies. There is a certain
lower range of prices that you can only get under with foul
compromises in safety and functionality.
This guide can't be perfect and it can't look into all special
cases. "Studio" can be a wide variety of things. For one
photographer "studio" may be the window sill with a sheet of
tracing paper over the window pane with the sun shining through,
for the next one it is annoying that he can't lift the damn
Mack truck high enough with his studio winches to shoot
the transmission with one shot.
Somewhere between these extremes is the definition of
"studio" for you. To get a little more specific I will concentrate
on facilities and techniques that are suited for stills that
can be arranged on a table up to people shots with one to three
persons. With this information anyone can abstract down or
up to bigger or smaller setups. Or ask me, if necessary.
I cannot guarantee answers, and from a certain level or in
professional consultations I might eventually need to charge
for my time. But asking is for free in first place.
If you speak German, you may ask in the German newsgroup
news:de.rec.fotografie and copy the message to my e-mail account (firstname.lastname@example.org)
marked "posted and mailed".
I write there on a regular basis, and public answers save me
from writing duplicate answers.
Copyright applies to this tutorial as well as all pictures in it.
Republication in what ever way possible is expressively forbidden
without my written approval in advance. Violating my copyright
will be subject to criminal prosecution without warning.
And now the fun part:
I assume there is a dedicated room for the aspiring studio. This can
be a renovated garage as well as a single room, eventually with
side rooms. If you need to remove all furniture from your living
room for occasional shootings, you will hopefully be able to
abstract from my statements what to do. Setting up the studio
in your bedroom or torture chamber is okay for stills or shooting
your fiancée. Otherwise you might provoke misunderstandings.
Outfitting and running a studio
Or (grin) maybe not....
A studio with less than 270 centimeters (around 8ft) ceiling height is only
endurable crouching, and the fun starts around 3 meters (9 to 10 ft).
More headroom is always okay, a gallery catwalk around the studio
in 3 meters is a killer. But there are other limitations. Autopoles span
only up to 370 centimeters, for example. After that you might need a
ceiling rail system for a gazillion dollars or at least a good wind-up
tripod. Wind-up no come cheap, sir...
So you should look for anything between 300 and 350 centimeters (9 to 10 ft).
If stills are your only intention, you can start with 3x3 meters for
the shooting range. More is always better, and it gets really useful
5x5 meters and up. For people shots 5 meters width and 6 meters length
are a good starting point. You can probably make do with less, but
you will face serious limitations. And as usual: The more, the better.
The walls should be tough enough to take an occasional drilling and
screwing fixtures to it. You will need that more often than you think.
The room should be dry and heatable, the floor even and somewhat
thermal insulated. Carpet requires a plywood plank under the backdrop
to prevent heels from poking holes into it on first contact.
This already counts for totally downturning unsexy flat heels.
Water supply with at least a sink is always great, a (clean!)
toilet and a shower are perfect. Both should be directly accessible,
and not over the yard or through a cold basement cellar.
A separate dressing room or a wardrobe that can be closed is strongly
recommended to give the models some privacy, a make-up table with
fluorescent tubes on either side is perfect. Make sure to pick
tubes with the highest light quality index.
You should dedicate room for props and tools. If you stock clothing,
the garments should be new out of the shop or at least freshly washed.
Further comfort for model and photographer is added
by a well filled fridge (little or no alcohol), a coffee machine and a small
stereo set. Consider the fact that not every model shares your taste in music,
not even if you like both sorts of music, country *and* western...
Some photographers like the possibility to work with daylight, I prefer total
control. In my studio there is no light other than what was made by me.
Depending on your subjects you can build a room in a room and replace
the wallpaper or paint on a daily basis, or you use a paper backdrop
curved to a cyclorama or you even go for a fixed cyclorama in the corner
of your wall. For stillifes a dedicated shooting table is a great asset.
You can buy one for loads of money, or you get two sawing trestles from
your local DIY-mart and a piece of glass, plexiglass or chipboard to put
For stillifes the ideal studio wall color is black, people shots
often take advantage from extra reflections spilled from white walls.
If you prepare a fixture to hang black cloth on the walls or
curtain rails with black curtains, you can still cut out unwanted
reflections. Precise, very accented lighting is impossible without
black walls or at least huge black flags.
Light, more light.....
Which sort of lighting devices and how many of them you buy depends on many factors.
The perfect solution under almost any circumstances is studio flash equipment.
Later more about that. Stillifes and non moving subjects can be done with very
little light. Light quality is much more important than light quantity.
Any subject that I can see can be photographed. Just use a sturdy tripod and
expose longer. Light can come from a simple desktop lamp as in the following
Subjects with movement or people require much more hot tungsten lights
or better flash to work handheld. The amount of tungsten lights is
limited by their emitted heat or the capacity of your mains supply, flash
is mostly limited by the tiny red numbers on your banking info...
The more tungsten lights you have, the more room you need, and the
heavier the workload for your air conditioning. Tungsten lights can roast
subject and model.
Suitable lamps for permanent lights
In theory any constantly burning lamp can be used, but practically there are long
lists of disadvantages for many lamps, such as problems in color consistency,
short life at high cost, high temperature output and so on. For photography with
big ambitions and low budget there are only few useful combinations of lamps and
sockets, all of them halogen tungsten lights. Those are perceived as very bright,
but unfortunately their effect on film is not the same as the subjective feel.
Lamps with a nominal power consumption of 500 or 1000 Watts are in no way luxury.
You can fill with smaller devices of 300, 150 and 100 watts. DIY-marts stock
halogen lights at very low prices with halogen lamp tubes, sometimes even shipping
with small tripods. They come in nominal rates of 500 or 150 Watts. The 500 Watt
devices also take lamp tubes of 300 watts rating. Not as cheap but more compact
are Osram halostar lamps that have a protective extra glass housing and come
with Edison mount E-27 for ceramic lamp sockets in 100, 150 and 250 watts
nominal power rating at full mains voltage. No transformer is needed for those.
Cable, Switches, Lamp Mounts, Clamps
Many E-27 lamp sockets are only good for lamps up to 100 Watts, some just for
60 Watts. One should check in advance if the socket is capable of taking the
lamps you want to use. Cable drums will act as an inductive oven, even if you
hook just a few small lamps onto them. If you must use a cable drum, the cable
must be fully wound off the drum before operating to prevent overheating.
Construction site lamps are often available without cable, just with an angle
iron for screw mounting. It is wise to mount only 30 centimeters (1 ft.) cable
or cable of the max length of your tripod plus 3 meters to prevent building
trapslings. Rubber or silicone insulated cable thick enough to stand 20 amps
is the right choice. Make sure to mount the tension relief sprockets.
|Mount a 5/8" Bogen/Manfrotto rapidapter to the lamp bracket.|
On the left you see the standard 5/8" bolt of professional lamp stands, on the right you see
a rapidapter mounted on that. Just mount the lamp bracket on the rapidapter screw and secure with
spring ring and nut.
If you can get hold of very strong cable switches, you might use them.
If not, an external multiplug with switch and fuses for each mains
outlet is the best solution. Just pulling the plug is more professional
than using cable switches that are only strong enough for desktop lamps.
Many household fuses do not allow more than 10 Amps/ 2000 Watts in Europe.
Deduct fridge, washing machine, coffee machine and everything else hooked
to the same circuit, and you find yourself sitting almost in the dark.
Yes, that's not much left for lighting. More than one circuit is pure
gold, but you should check which mains outlet belongs to which circuit
before you start and mark them. This skips the situation where everybody
is in the dark after you switch on one lamp....
You will run into this situation anyway, believe me. So be prepared, check
that you know where the fuse box is, that you have intact (!) spare fuses
and a flashlight to help replacing them in the dark. If there is a basement
door between you and the fuse box, you don't want to find out that you
don't have the key in the middle of a production. Always good for a joke are
location managers that camouflage next to the most important door, wait
until you just checked that it is open, double lock it and then go fishing.
Of course they leave their mobile phone at home....
If you are out on location, you should have all coomon sorts of fuses and
a few tools with you. Don't try power tie-ins before reading "about power
tie-ins and seeing god" from Lowel light.
Don't forget fuses for the flash units and spare batteries for meter and camera.
Tungsten halogen lamps will get very hot while operating, some up to
800 degrees centigrade. This makes safety glass required by law in
Germany and many other European countries. Breaking tungsten lamp wires
often kill the fuse and sometimes they make the bulb burst. Safety glasses
are NOT useless luxury!! A safety working distance of at least 50 cm
(20 inches) must be observed, unless you want a picturesque campfire
in your home. When using hot lights, having a fire entinguisher ready
is a good idea. Choose one with carbondioxide as extinguishing agent.
This makes it more expensive, but it is capable of extinguishing fires
in electrical devices still powered on and does no extra damage because
of the agent. If possible switch off electricity before attempting to
fight the fire.
Power Reduction And Color
For color pictures and to some extent also in black and white it is no good
idea to dim tungsten lamps, because this would change the light color
and make light an greyscale rendition uncalculatable. Power control is
better done with different nominal wattages in bulbs, increasing or decreasing
the distance between lamp and subject or with the use of transparent scrims
in various densities.
Regular tungsten lamps vary in light color from 2800 to 3400 Kelvin, depending
on state and age of lamp and mount. After choosing the sort of lamps to buy,
you should run tests with correction filters Wratten 80A and 80B in order to
find out which color result fits your taste best. If you don't have any filters
yet, buy the Wratten 80A as first filter. If that is a little too cool in color
for your taste (unlikely) you can still buy a Wratten 80B on top. Both make
sense anyway. Buy separate filters for all lens diameters you are going to
use them with. Buying just one filter for the largest lens and then using stepping
rings renders your lens shades useless and results in extra stray light and
reflections. You don't want that. For black and white shots you don't *need*
correction filters, provided that you bear in mind that the lower color
temperature of tungsten versus daylight is equivalent to using a slight red
filter or an orange filter. This makes skintones of people brighter, reduces
pimples and blemishes, but also lipstick. Flash light is always daylight, you
rarley run into color problems here.
Flash - how many and which?
This question is often answered with a look at the last bank balance, and rarely
with a profound knowledge about all vendors and their products. Even more enigmatic
is the question how to evaluate handling and suitability of the products for your needs.
Most regular guys make their first experiences with flash *after* having bought.
Second hand information and hearsay are bad advisors. I have no other explanation
for the fact that for example Multiblitz sells very good to amateurs and very bad
On top of that there are "tests" in selfproclaimed expert magazines. Weird to see,
that next to each test winner there is an ad for the vendor. One may draw conclusions
from that. Those magazines qualify for the mark "special interest paper" far better
than being a competence carrier.
Not only "studio", also flash is a very scalable thing. It starts with small
10 dollar battery powered units with built-in slave cell and ends with people
like Benjamin Baghiro, who mounts 200 generators with flash heads under the
roof of an aircraft hangar to shoot a jumbo jet in fresh finish incliding the
complete airline staff - in just twenty minutes time frame for the hot phase
after weeks of preparation.
Most of you will already have one or two shoe mount flashes. They are good
for journalist use, but they are not too useful in a studio environment.
Using TTL extension cords works only in rather flat and low contrast frontal
lighting acceptably well, there is little room in moving the flash away from
the camera. Most manufacturers offer some more or less complicated and always
very expensive ways to couple TTL flash units by cable or wireless control.
Okay but expenve for flat frontal lighting, but as soon as you try to build
sophisticated lighting with shadows or a harsh sidelight, TTL is not very
successful, and too expensive on top. Two or more cheap servo flash units
with fixed power and a flash meter cost fractions of it and perform very well.
Metz Multiconnector System
I myself own the Metz Multiconnector System for SCA 300, but I use the flashes in
manual power modes. I use the system because triggering by cable guarantees triggering,
which is not always the case with cell or wireless triggering, and because there
is a flash ready lamp, when all units are recycled. Even for that is is too
expensive at close look.
1): Metz 36 CT2 on extension cable for compact units
2): Metz multiconnector on SCA-300 adapter
3): Direct connection cable for compact units
4): Direct connection cable for torch light flashes
5): 5 meter (15 ft.) extension cable, up to three can be cascaded
The next, and cheaper solution is the use of servo flash units. There are cheap
ten dollar units from Radio Shack, but they require storing enourmous amounts of
(rechargeable) batteries, and the long recycling times are not quite ideal
for spontaneous shootings. One can bypass the battery problem with mains operated
servos from Taiwanese manufacturer WOC. They are distributed by legions of resellers
under various labels. They are used in Edison lamp sockets E-27 and are mains powered.
M-type ("master") units can be triggered by cable, all can be triggered by another
flash, kicking off the built-in photo cell. They are also reasonably sensitive for
infrared light, so you can use them with a standard IR trigger flash. They also have
acceptable power output and they are rugged enough to endure firing in fast intervals.
W.O.C. also makes units with something they call pilot light. It is rather dim and
murky, on top of that it is an inacceptable thermal load, I cannot recommend those
units with pilot lights at all. If you need a pilot light (who doesn't?) you should
better look into the catalogues of flash manufacturers for some compact studio units
or small generators with separate heads.
Knuffies and WOC slaves, other products
1): The "Knuffi", battery powered small flash with built-in photo cell, fixed power, GN approximately 10/11 (meters)
2): Cheap battery powered flash with hot shoe to PC cable adapter
3): Another cheap battery flash, this time mounted on a Bogen/Manfrotto tilt head with
an option to mount umbrellas. Put that on a lamp stand, add a simple white or silver
umbrella and you easily obtain soft light. And the whole setup folds very handy for
4): A WOC slave flash, model SF-28M, labeled Hama (German distributer). The abbreviation
stands for studio(servo)-flash, guide number (28, for meters) and Master (M, means the unit has
a plug for cable triggering.
5): A Bowens servo cell with 6.3 mm jack for studio flash units.
6): A servo cell (Rowi 301, around 25 USD) on a hot shoe to cable adapter.
7): Various flash cables.
These are all with good reason units with fixed power output. Train your brain
to do the guide number calculations or go for a flash meter. Reasonably useful units
start at 150 USD. Ambient metering is enough, I never need object metering.
Studio flash units
Regular compact studio flash units are a combination of generator and flash head
in one housing. By this integration expensive connectors, cables and the second
housing can be saved, mounting is easier. This leads to smaller prices in comparison
to separate generator and flash head setups of the same nominal power. Also
the short internal cables provide for less cable transmission power loss, in
comparison to separate units a compact unit will return approximately one f-stop
more from identical nominal wattage.
Compact units range in power from 250 Ws up to 2000 Ws. If you buy only one unit,
you should start at least with 500 Ws, if you are not too broke, bigger is better.
You can add smaller units, spots or generators later after gathering some experience.
For stillife one bigger unit is better than two small ones, for people one 500 and
two 250 Ws units are a very good start. With a loft light setting this should make
for f 11 @ 100 ISO film. If you can't decide if you want more power or more accessories,
go for the accessories. Snoots, umbrellas, honeycomb grids, filter frames, barn doors
are very important accessories for light forming and far more versatile than
just more power. The product range of most flash manufacturers contains units without
proportional setting, just full and half power with a switch. You can use those for
completion and occasional fill work in your equipment, but for the first two or three
units you should choose units with a stepless power regulator. You should look closely
into reflector mounting. Hensel uses a patented quick mount that makes free rotation
of all reflectors possible. This system is unparalleled on the market and superior
to all other brands in my opinion. The newer Expert and Contra units have a smaller
reflector diameter, the Mono line has a bigger one, compatible to anything Hensel made
from the early seventies on. There are stepping rings available to adapt the bigger
mono lightformers to the smaller Expert/Contra units, but not the other way.
The Mono uses the same lightformers as the flash heads for the high power generator
line, the Expert/Contra lightformers also fit smaller separate flash heads up to 3500 Ws.
The bigger lightformers are only slightly more expensive, but they offer more
room for handling and are less prone for accidental flash tube damaging.
For professional use I prefer the Mono line, but with time and if you don't need
them as every day workhorse, the smaller hedas and reflectors are the cheaper choice.
The lighting result from both systems is 99% identical.
There are quite a number of other manufacturers of studio flash equipment, namely
Briese, Bläsing, Pro AB, Elinchrom, Horst Musch, Balcar, Broncolor, Lumedyne,
Courtenay, Multiblitz, White Lightning, Paul Buff and a few more.
All have their advantages and disadvantages (some have only disadvantages), but balancing
everything, Hensel offers in my opinion by far the best bang for the buck. It is thus
the system of my choice and I explicitly recommend it.
Aside of full range flash manufacturers there are a number of companies making only
accessories, such as Chimera and North Lights. If you are really interested in buying
studio flash equipment, you should look into the offerings very good, before possibly
buying crap. The more you know, the easier you spend your money for Hensel stuff.
You find more on their website at http://www.hensel.de.
Setting up your lights.
There is some significance to the consideration where-to-put-the-lights?, but
where-to-prevent-light? is the more important thing. Otherwise your results
will look like cheap soap opera lighting, made bright but not sophisticated
lighting. Later more. I cannot produce a complete course in lighting, it takes
years to "feel" light and to manipulate it at will.
Nonetheless I will describe various methods of lightforming and their most
intelligent application respectively their effect on the subject. As a rule
of thumb, large diffuse lights will render soft shadows and gradual blacks,
small point lights render hard edged, dark shadows, high contrasts.
More about that in "Basic lighting".
Effect of lights
The effect of lights is not only depending on the nature of the lightformer,
the angle of light against subject and camera are also important variables.
A (hypothetical) point light sent out from the center of the negative through the
lens onto your subject will render no visible shadow. Spots positioned close to
the optical axis produce few but hard edged contours. The same point spot light
positioned to the side will render dramatic and very hard shadows. The same
counts for large, soft lights. Positioned at 90 degrees to the side of your subject
they will produce considerable shadows, just the transition from light to
shadow will be softer.
The effect of various lightformer sizes and lamp distances on shadows
|Spot reflector, short distance||Spot reflector, long distance|
|Standard reflector, short distance||Standard reflector, long distance|
|Soft box, short distance||Soft box, long distance|
The lighting setup serves two main requirements: Subject nature and image idea.
The subject nature requires illumination adequate to the material. This counts for
stills the same as for portraits and nudes. From the lighting point of view human
skin is a surface just as steel or wood are, only with different reflection properties.
Your idea makes an image instead of a simple reproduction.|
Soft light comes from large lights. That can be direct lights like softboxes,
it may also be large reflectors, walls, ceilings, styrofoam panels or anything
else off which you bounce your light. You can also diffuse light with translucent
objects such as ripstop nylon, tracing paper or similar. Reflection is a little
softer than diffusion, and diffusion often results in extra problems because of
side stray light. Soft boxes are very good solutions, diffusing well but
avoiding stray light to the sides.
Hard light comes from especially small lights, and precisely directed lights that
are flagged off to the sides in order to prevent reflections. The less light
reflects from walls, ceiling or the set itself, the more precise lights can be.
Honeycomb grids are frequently used to narrow lights to the desired degree.
This is a detailed view from a panel of honeycomb grid. This is half an inch thick
and has 3 mm wide honeycomb cells. It is made from aluminum, but there are others
made from kevlar, nomex and more materials. It comes from aviation, aerospace and
racing car construction. Honeycomb grids are pressed into form and then laminated
with carbon fibre on both sides. This makes a plank with the durability of steel
and marginal weight. The picture below is shot from a distance of approximately
5 centimeters. You can easily see how light is only passing through in one direction.
This grid is untreated, light reflects from the walls of the grid cells to some extent.
Variants are painted black, eliminating even this stray light. Honeycomb grids can
be used with almost all reflector sorts and sizes. The preserve the light characteristics
of a light former but eliminate extra stray light allowing very precise lighting control. |
Flags are black panels, shields, frames covered with black cloth, painted back
plywood planks or similar. They are positioned in a way that makes sure that
there is no lamp directly visible from the camera viewpoint. Else you would have
to fight flare, reduced image contrast or reduced sharpness in your images.
You can build all sorts of flags yourself, or you buy professional c-stands and
grip equipment like Bogen/Manfrotto has in their basic line and the Avenger line
of studio grip equipment.
Making lightformers yourself
I need to work on this chapter a little more. I hope soon .... with images!
Generally speaking, it is not pratical to try and build all sorts of lightformers yourself.
I build lightformers in special forms or lightformers that are not available professionally.
Home brew lightformers are mostly less transportable, heavier and often
serve only one purpose in comparison to professionally offered stuff. Before
starting a project, you should make sure that you have no alternative.
Building lightformers yourself can be more expensive than buying, at reduced flexibility.
I myself use two home brew lightformers, one backlight bank with an illumination area
of 15 x 140 centimeters covered with honeycomb grid and a standing softbox with
30 x 140 cm illumination area. I'll post some construction details soon that will help
Almost all options for home brew lightformers are options for soft lights.
Softboxes, difuusion scrims on frames, etc.. Reflectors for hard, accented light
are nailed to metal processing and they often come along with huge thermal and
optical problems. This can't be done with a Radio Shack tool kit. So, if you are no
perfect craftsman, you should refrain from making barn doors, snoots and similar
yourself. On the other side, if you have the appropriate tools and know how to
handle them, make sure that you have seen the lightformer in question (or at least
something similar) operate in a professional environment and that you understand
how it works exactly. If not, you might build a perfect looking piece of crap, not
even useful as a paper weight.
The major player's catalogues are full of it. Some of it useful, some of it
pure crap at obscene prices. Some of it can be found in DIY-marts for only
fractions of what it costs with the label "professional photo".
Here we have a regular Bogen/Manfrotto floor stand (1, good but expensive) plus
the double spigot and the home brew variant with just the double spigot welded to
a metal plate screwed onto a piece of chipboard (2, cheeeeaap...). The notorious
rapidapter fits both. Studio flash units, too.
You should not try too hard to save on lamp stands, riggings, electrical installation
and safety equipment. A simple safety chain for two dollars saved my largest flash
unit from dropping several meters when a super clamp broke due to faulty manufacturing.
50 dollars difference in price for a proper lamp stand and a converted music stand
may make the difference between life and death of a much more expensive flash head
or the future head form of the proud studio owner. Given, the chicks love veterans
with steel plates in their heads, but.....
Very useful are screw clamps, glueing clamps, tackers from the DIY-mart instead of
the tenfold expensive pendants from a studio outfitter. You can use adhesive putty
from a studio supplier, tiny little jar for 10 dollars, or you buy the same material
from a car accessories supplier as car cement, one kilogram for 5 dollars.
The products are almost identical.
1): Glueing clamps from the DIY store. One dollar fifty.
2): The home brew floorstand.
3): Super Clamp. Expensive but excellent.
4): Dito, with hook accessory.
5): Extension arm, double spigot, hooks for backdrop mounting, all for super clamp.
6): Multiclip, expensive. Not as strong as clothes pins or glueing clamps.
7): Towel clips. Miraculous things.
Classical studio photography is often done in front of a cyclorama, mostly
made from paper backdrops. The paper comes in rolls of 2,75 x 11 meters
wide, approximately 280 grams per square meter strong. It is on cardboard core.
Hanging it permanently will cause it to hang curved, the curves show when
you spool off and use the backdrop. Frequently used backdrops are thus often
changed to steel or aluminum cores (2750 x 50 x 1,5 mm). Cores are mounted
with expanding center cores into hooks. These hooks can be an accessory to a
super clamp that may subsequently be clamped to autopoles or permanently
fixed to a wall.
Backdrop paper is expendable. The full roll is about 50 USD and with
shoe prints or holes in it you need to cut off a meter or two occasionally.
Studio beginners feel like cutting their own leg about this. But there is
no way around. No mercy. With some experience you cut much cooler.
You can also use backdrops made from cloth. You can use them as they come or you can
color them with wall color, using sponges or gardeners sprayers.
Cloth can be obtained in large width up to 36 feet from theatre suppliers.
A plain brick wall also serves well as a backdrop.
Now that you know everything you only need to start. Will cost you some money, will cost
you some time and certainly will cost you several attempts to achieve satisfactory results.
But I hope that at least accidents or too many misplaced investments will be avoided
after reading this guide.
This documents original location is
I will not accept mirroring anywhere.
Please contact me if you find it somewhere else.