Ok people. Here’s the deal. Well, hold on I need to get another cup of coffee before we start this post…..
Well, I went with a Diet Coke instead. Ok. I have had a lot of people ask me lately about my “lighting set-up” What am I using, how am I using it…. What do I recommend as a good solid set-up. So, here it is:
Starting with the camera. Why start with the camera? Light sensitivity. Always consider what your ambient light is doing. Can it be a part of the image. This is something that a lot of people, when starting to dive into off-camera flash, forget to consider. They get so tied up in what the flash is doing, this part goes out the window. Back to the camera. The better your camera does in low-light, the more options you have. Therefore, I am going with the recommendation of the D700, it’s what I have; it’s what I love. Whatever you have works, but this is just a rundown of my set-up and each piece of gear’s role in the “lighting set-up.” Another big piece of this for the “start-up” photographer is that this has a pop-up flash and supports Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS). This is a system that will wirelessly talk to the off-camera flash and automatically adjust it’s output for a proper light amount. Big flaws in this system? It’s line of sight only. We’ll come back to that.
So you have your camera, which you paid tons of money for, and now you hate all your images because you want to get some off-camera light in there. The options from this point are vast and endless. If you have tons of money. Which, well, obviously you don’t, or you would have just bought all the gear you could from the get-go…. Here’s my recommendation for the cheapest, but MOST versatile set-up. Let’s re-visit that comment and focus on most versatile. What I am going to present is not the “cheapest option,” but remember you didn’t buy the “cheapest” camera. I am presenting a set-up that will grow with the budding photographer. This is meant for someone who wants to save a little, but not spend a lot. That said, here ya go:
Start with the one off-camera flash. I recommend the Lumopro LP160. Keep in mind this is a manual powered flash. BUT. When on a budget, and learning the art of lighting, I would recommend learning manual powers. It helps you understand light amount in relation to your available light, plus a manual only flash is MUCH cheaper. Get rid of all the auto adjusting technical stuff inside the flash, and you are going to save a lot of money. This particular flash is AS strong as the SB-900, which puts out as much power as a small studio flash. I have lit the side of a two-story building with an SB-900.
Now to trigger that flash. As, without the ability to MAKE the off camera flash, well, flash, you are just outta luck. Most everyone starting out learns the joy and fun of “on-location” work. This normally ends up being out in sunlight and therefore using the little pop-up flash to trigger the off-camera flash becomes a real hit or miss option. Note, that is an option. But it’s kinda a last resort, I am a hobo and can’t afford triggers kinda thing. Plus then you have to use on camera flash and that is going to make your photos look like poo, most of the time.
So, to trigger the flash. There are a ton of options out there. I am going to immediately refer to my favorite option, which I still use on a regular basis. The Pocket Wizard Plus II. Try to find them used at first if you can, look on your local Craigslist ads. Almost always a set on there, barter as needed. Here’s the deal with these things. One costs as much as the flash when bought new. $169 a piece. You need two. BUT, and stay with me here…… I have been using these things for a couple of years now, I have YET to have one not go off (when I hit the shutter, and they are actually turned on…) I have used them from crazy far distances, and they trigger every time. The coolest thing about these, and any decent radio trigger really, is that you can now put your flash around a corner, behind a door, at the end of a long hallway for cool dramatically lit photos (mixing available light and off-camera flash……….) There are other options, like the cactus radio triggers, Radio Poppers….. There are others, and I want to point out that I don’t know much other than what I have heard…… but I GUESS those are reasonable alternatives. Never used them, have no personal experience…. Just throwing it out there. Don’t buy ’em and get mad at me if they suck. But if you do buy them and they rock, shoot me an email and let me know.
So, you have a flash and a way to trigger it. Let’s say you get the LP160 and a set of these cactus things, because you are super poor…. you are now at $192.95. If you decide to stop there for a while, you have a set-up that, as long as you have someone there to hold the flash for you, can work. But stick with me. A few accessories will take you a LONG way here.
Something to hold the flash. Ah, a light stand, if you are always working on your own. Firstly. A light stand is NOT a light stand is NOT a light stand. When you are starting out, well, strike that, in the world of photography, you are going to drop and beat and smack your gear around….. buy something that is well-built and it’ll last you much longer. Again, I bought light stands when I was first buying stuff, and I still have these things. I recommend anything by Manfrotto. First and foremost. That said, there are quite a few well-priced and reasonable options out there. This is a do your research kinda thing. Look for the good reviews (though, that applies to anything you buy) If you wanted a direct recommendation on what to buy, I would say something along the lines of THIS one. It’s a Manfrotto stand and runs about $60. That’s a little pricey for a starting out, but I am really referring the height and quality idea here. Make sure whatever you get can stand about 6/7 feet, and has at least three sections. It’ll be sturdier when fully extended.
So, now you have to attach the flash to the stand. My go to recommendation it a Justin-clamp. (sidenote, I just realized that I know it’s called a 175F clamp technically. I really am a photo nerd….) It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s a tool that if you are using off-camera flash, you need. They are awesome. Just go look at it and you’ll understand it’s versatility. Stick a flash anywhere in a tight spot, both figuratively tight spot, and literally.
Justin clamp aside, Something along the lines of this, a hotshoe mount, will work perfect for you. They are reasonably priced, and the fact that they swivel (note the middle section) will give you the ability to direct your light upwards or downwards, rather than straight on.
Now, you have the flash, the trigger, the stand, the holder…. technically. that’s all you need to start out. It’s a base point of reasonable gear that will allow you to produce images far above the average “photographer” that just buys a camera and thinks the price tag means good pictures.
For the record, here are some modifiers I recommend. A quick rundown of what I use regularly. Not everything I have, but what I go to when on the average shoot.
For starters, my newest piece of exciting gear is the Pocket Wizard Flex tt5 system. I have two of them, which means one on-camera and one on the off-camera flash. Long story short, they wirelessly transmit the TTL (auto-adjusting) flash information through radio trigger, vice the line-of-sight system that Nikon uses. They rock. They are also pricey, and require that you have Nikon flashes (when using a Nikon camera, same idea for a Canon shooter). I linked to the Pocket Wizard sight for the information and explanations they have. I’ll hopefully be making time to do a post about them soon. I am backed up on blogging. Stupid day job.
The “Joe McNally” Ezybox 24″ softbox is another go to item. When I need soft light (getting rid of harsh contrast and shadows) from my small flash, this is the item to do it. Again, with this and all this stuff I am trying to find time to do shoots and write some posts on. Time. I need more of it. For now, I must say, hit up google…… ;( yup. Sad emoticon face.
Lastolite also makes Tri-grips. I have the 30″ version, with the slip-on reflector sleeves, more versatility, more space saved. You can buy like 8 reflectors for $20 a piece, and then replace them when they rip or break or start fraying on the edges in a year. You can also get pissed off at how flimsy and awkward the round ones are to hold while on a shoot by yourself, trying to bounce some light back into the subject’s face. You can also get upset at how much space 8 reflectors take up. OR….. You can save a bit of money and buy one of these tri-grip sets, have a well-built item with a cool and very sturdy built-in handle and a product that is built to be beaten and abused and used regularly. PLUS, the slip-on reflector surfaces fold up nicely and all fit into a little round bag that takes up minimal space. If you hadn’t noticed, I really like my tri-grip.
Now that I have an assistant for most every shoot, which really helps make lighting easier, I use my light on a stick. same mount that goes to the light stand, but I put that on something along THIS line…. This lets my assistant get the light up high, bring it down to the side, go directly overhead the subject. Gotta shoot for like ten minutes, then let the assistant take a little break for a minute or two. Holding it up for awhile works the arms pretty well. Plus when I throw, say the ezybox on there, or use the tri-grip and shoot through it for quickly softened light, I am suddenly creating a bunch of different looks to my light. And with an assistant, it becomes a quickly changed type of light, thus creating a much more diverse set of photos in the final product.
So, there is my “list” of lighting gadgets on the quick. I tried to make sure I linked everything to a page to further explain or buy. Everything but the cactus triggers I recommend when it comes to buying.
Hopefully you take something from reading all this. As you can see, it takes a little money however you approach it to start getting good light. But, if you have the little money to put out, you can start creating portraits stunning enough to make people want to pay, therefore getting the money you spent on the equipment back, and then some if you are good.
Hopefully I’ll have the time sooner than later to go over all these things I have and be able to give my own in-depth opinions and reviews on the gear I have. For now though, I hope this at least gives you an idea of what a GOOD starting set-up should look like. Just remember, in the world of photography, buy crap, get crap. Do your research and save a little money.
That’s all I got for the time being, now get to saving and go buy some new toys….
Oh, P.S. total sidenote! iPhone 5 drops tomorrow. Speaking of saving///