This week, I finally decided to splurge on some studio equipment. I live in a small apartment, but figured that the common lounge area in my building looked big enough and empty enough to function as a small studio space. Winter is coming and a studio is a great, controlled environment to get creative in. This can work!
For lights, I spent a lot of time trying to decide between more standard strobe lights or continuous lights. I'd actually never even heard of continuous lights being a viable option until I started researching. Up until recently, the only continuous lights available tended to run hot - enough to be scary and to make people sitting under them uncomfortable. They also suffered from poor brightness and color cast. Nowadays however, improvements in CFL and LED lights have made them much better - greater light output, cool to the touch, and daylight balanced.
I ended up getting a set of Westcott TD6's. These are daylight balanced flourescent lights. Some of the pros and cons I weighed were:
- WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). Admittedly, I'm not super comfortable with strobes and really like the idea of being able to see and adjust lighting while it's shining on my subjects.
- Much easier to shoot wide open. Strobes get a little complicated if you want to get really shallow depth of field because of how powerful they are and limitations on shutter speed. I love the look of studio shots that have shallow depth of field.
- Less likely to startle children and pets.
- Well, it's good to learn how to adeptly operate strobes.
- Strobes are more compact and don't have a bunch of big light bulbs to worry about not accidentally breaking.
- There are some cool effects that are only achievable with strobe lights, precisely because it lets out such a short burst of light.
- Strobes can output much more light - though for what I was looking to do, continuous lights should do the job okay. Also, given how high ISOs can go on today's cameras, shooting at ISO 400 doesn't really look different from shooting at ISO 100.
When the TD6's arrived, I was surprised at just how big the light heads and bulbs were. These are gigantic. And while the set did come with a carrying case, the big and heavy case basically had to be wheeled around. Not as easy to travel with as I'd hoped. The florescent light bulbs had to be unscrewed for storage and it was a challenge to figure out where and how to store or carry 12 loose light bulbs without breaking them. That said, these really do output beautiful, bright light. My fiance described it as "blinding" at its brightest setting.
I asked him to be my first guinea pig for my new setup and went to the lounge to do a test shoot.
I wanted to play around and experiment with some different lighting positions with and without diffusers or grids. The kit basically comes with a 3x4' softbox and a strip bank with choices for diffusers or grid. I also used a reflector, though that was difficult to position without an additional stand or person to help. All in all, it was a fun first attempt. Reviewing the results, there are definitely a couple of things I'd do differently next time:
- I think there's a natural aversion to turning towards bright lights, but turning away creates awkward shadows and eyes lose their catch lights. Next time, I'll need to do a better job turning the subject towards the light or filling in the shadows.
- I ended up taking a handful of photos where my fiance is just kind of staring into some space not-quite-at-the-camera, which had a really odd look. Unless the pose deliberately involves looking away from the camera, the subject's eyes should probably be looking into the camera.
- For some shots, I think moving the lights a little further for a wider spread might have worked better.
I also realized that a 53" roll of seamless paper (background) is not very wide at all! It seemed "tall" when I carried it considering it's most of my height, but once it was hung horizontally, it became obvious that it would only be wide enough for close up portraits (or pets). I'll probably have to pull out the 107" rolls for anything else. Below are some of the pictures. My fiance will probably be embarrassed :). He's an avid Hearthstone player, so if that's up your alley, you can follow his blog here.