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Photography Question 
Greg D. Scharton
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/12/2007

Portrait Photography Lighting

I'm wanting to buy a lighting kit for shooting portraits. I don't know the difference between continuous lighting and strobes. Which would be better to buy for portrait pictures and why?

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5/17/2007 5:06:09 PM

Hi Greg,
Continuous lighting is, well, permanently switched on - like your average desk lamp, but a bit stronger. And you can see exactly what it does on the subject. It also generates a lot of heat, which requires excellent venting and an up-to-date insurance policy.
But what you see is what you get, and that's not much for portrait lighting. You'll have to use low shutter speeds to expose sufficiently. Slow shutter speeds will complicate your portrait shooting: they are live subjects after all. And they won't appreciate the heat either.
Continuous lighting may be usable for table-top still photography, but not for portrait photography.
Strobes are basically flash guns that plug into an electrical wall socket. They recycle fast and consistently. Most have a 'modeling light', a permanently-on light, but much less powerful than the flash, that enables you to see the effect on the subject. They're ideal for portrait photography. You need about 1,000 watt seconds output power, or up. You can attach all sorts of light 'modifiers', like softboxes, umbrellas, dishes, snoots, barn doors, etc.
For portrait photography, you'd do well to get 2 reflectors, 2 by 4 feet minimum, either D-I-Y (do it yourself), or foamcore from Home Depot, or flip-out foldables from
Have fun!

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5/17/2007 6:26:56 PM

Greg D. Scharton
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/12/2007
  Thanks so much. That is exactly what I needed to know. One more thing though... When you say 2 reflectors are you talking about umbrellas? and what is D-I-Y. Sorry if I sound inexperienced, it's because I am.

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5/18/2007 6:19:41 AM

Reflectors are exactly that: reflectors. 'Foggy' mirrors. You place it/them on the other side of the subject, opposite the main light, to reflect the spill-over light back onto the subject. This lightens the heavy, dark shadows caused by the main light. The jargon is that it 'opens up' the shadows.

Lastolite sells nifty flop-out reflectors. Look here:

They're not cheap. But they are very effective.

D-I-Y is 'Do-It-Yourself'.
Crumple up aluminium foil into a ball. Then stretch it out very carefully. Don't tear it!
Get yourself a lightweight panel 4x3' minimum and sprayglue it. Attach the stretched out alu foil to the sticky panel surface, shiny side outside! Flatten carefully, iron for good measure. You're done. You got a reflector.

But D-I-Y stores like Home Depot sell large white, lightweight, foamcore boards that can also be used as reflectors.

Good luck.

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5/18/2007 11:16:59 AM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Hi Greg,
Continuous lights are hard on the subject, because of heat and brightness as W. mentioned. Strobes require you to learn to see light in your head, as modeling lights are not that useful. This is a very fine skill for a photographer to have. You have the lcd of a computer monitor and histogram to help you. These tools make it easier to learn lighting than ever before. You could certainly start with one light, but eventually you will probably want three. Your most powerful light should have at least 500 watt-seconds; more would not be bad.
Thanks, John Siskin

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5/18/2007 11:55:31 AM

Greg D. Scharton
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/12/2007
  Thanks guys. This helped a lot.

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5/18/2007 1:24:11 PM

Bruce A. Dart   Hi Greg,
As a portrait photographer for the past 30 years whose first class was a week long course working nearly 50 hours with the main light before we "graduated" to the normal multiple light set-up, it is hard to give a crash course in a few paragraphs. Strobes are better for the previously noted reasons, modeling lights are good because they let you set the effect of the light on your subject. Due to the extreme difference in intensity between flash and modeling, however, they cannot be used to determine exposure. The strobes balance color temperature and digital, with the histogram and lcd allows an instant feedback to know if you are in the ballpark. Most portrait photographers work with 4 lights -- main, fill, background and hair. The power and light modifiers (umbrella, softbox, parabolic, etc.) depend on the effect you are striving for and most importantly, the size of the room in which you work and the space between subject and background. While you generally are most concerned with flash to subject distance, the fall off of light in a large room can change your light ratio for the background and ambient light, making your images appear somewhat dark even if properly exposed. Reflectors can simulate another light and can be made of any of the materials already mentioned. The late Dean Collins often demonstrated an elaborate lighting of a set with one light (a big one) and many, many reflectors (because he could!!) Most of us don't have the ability to do that easily every day. Experimenting with and knowing your equipment will help lots. Keep in mind that none of us started out doing things perfectly and we didn't learn it magically overnight. Good luck and have fun with it.

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5/23/2007 7:33:16 AM

Debby A. Tabb
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/4/2004
  " Experimenting with and knowing your equipment will help lots.Keep in mind that none of us started out doing things perfectly and we didn't learn it magically overnight." lol,lol
This is unbelivably true statement and the hours you invest now really depends on how fast you grow.
No schooling of any type will take the place of playing with your equiptment.
I spent countless hours playing with stuffed toys ect, posing them and then lighting them, I still teach that today.
Wow the funny looks I get! Like I don't know what I'm talking about,lol.
What that does for these kids is teach them to put together groups, frame , most important how to get comfotable with their equiptment.
moving the camers off axes/ lights to get showdows filled or corrected.
The best thing about when you play is that You start to think out side the box, and look to always improve and /or perfect.
Now if your thinking of a light system, 4 lights is perfect.
But 3 lights min. is recommended.
Can you do it with less?
Yes, but sooner or later you will have to have the others to really grow in your work.
If you go to the "Studio Photography Threads" You will see many other start with thier lighting,and some who tryed the "DIY" lighting and the frustrations they had, it may help.
PART #1 (of 23):

I do hope this helps, And wish you the very best in your ventures,

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5/23/2007 8:08:45 AM

Amanda Murray   I just wanted to send in a big "Thank you" to those who make time to ask and especially answer questions on BP. I'm learning so much from this forum, and I am very appreciative!!

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5/25/2007 8:36:24 AM

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