I frequently get calls from students wanting to purchase studio
lighting kits. There are some really nifty kits out there at a
fraction of the price of what it would cost you to build up a set
yourself from second-hand units. The problem is - how do you
decide on a kit?
First look at what you would need for a typical portrait setup: *
at least two flash heads, preferably three * a stand for each *
an umbrella (white or silver inside) for each * a sync chord from
your camera to one of the lights * 2 optical slave units to
trigger the other two lights * a backdrop which you can
manufacture yourself * poly boards of white foam sheets to use as
Some kits come with two lights, two stands, two umbrellas and
built-in slave units. Sounds cool, doesn't it? This can set you
back anything between R10 000 and R14 000, if you buy reasonably
strong lights. Strong? It means the output is such that you can
light a big scene, or pump enough light into a setting to enable
the use of a small aperture for big depth of field.
And this is the point of the newsletter this time: the "working
aperture" that a set of lights allows you should be the first
factor to look at when choosing your light set.
Let's say you see an ad in the smalls for a studio kit. It turns
out to be a mismatch of lights from various makes. Much like my
own. You decide you would like to take them since they're going
for only R7000. Are they going to be up to the job? Do a test:
set up the lights 2 or 3m away from an object, then use your
flash meter, if you have one, or your digital camera, to check
the output. On your digital back, check your exposure after each
test shot to see at what aperture you have to shoot to get a
spot-on exposure (you always shoot on manual in the studio). If
the minimum aperture that you can use at that distance away from
the subject is less than f8, don't touch. Why?
To be able to shoot groups or close-ups of products, you would
have to move your lights further away to get an even spread of
light. Each meter you move them away, the amount of light falling
onto the subject decreases. So f8 becomes f5.6 and so on, and
each time you have to stop down, you lose depth of field. So the
person in the front of the group may be in focus, but not the
tall guy at the back. You have a problem.
Always buy the strongest lights you can find. Which means a
working aperture of around f11 or f16. You can always move them
further away or diffuse them. The opposite, unfortunately, does