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Photography Question 
Jessica K. Cunningham
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2006

Christmas Wish List

Ok first of all I want you to know I feel very ignorant asking questions because I know very little and it makes me nervous I'll say something stupid. I trying to give my family some ideas of what to get me for Christmas (woohoo!) but I am having trouble figuring out what I need. I have been wanting to set up a "studio" in my extra bedroom and just play around with shooting my dogs and other objects as kind of a self teaching project. I'd really like some lights and maybe a reflector or two but I have no idea where to start. I try reading and I've bought tons of books but I was really hoping maybe someone could give me a little shove in the right direction. I just need a good starter set kind of thing. I don't even know if it matters what kind of camera I have (Canon 20D) or which brands to look out for. I would make the trip to the camera shop (about 2 hours) but I think they know I don't know much and try to sell me all kinds of things. I tried wrapping tin foil around a piece of card board as a reflector, which, as ingenious as it was, has not given me very good results. I need shinier foil. And help. Thanks!

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10/5/2006 11:42:25 AM

W.    Aluminum household foil usually has 2 different sides: matte and shiny. You need the shiny side. Also, the foil must be crumpled up real good in order to get thousands of minuscule reflective facets. Then the foil must be stretched out carefully, then (spray-) glued onto its base board. Then flattened maximally (e.g. with an ironing iron).
That should give you an adequate reflector.
But you can also buy 'm for a 100 bucks a pop, of course.

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10/5/2006 11:54:43 AM

W.    My VERY mobile portable studio basically consists of 3 GN56 wireless flashguns on 3 tripods. And 2 reflectors (silver/white), for fill or as virtual softbox. No tripod for the camera, I shoot portraits and groups mostly freehand. Easier for subject/scene direction.
Enough 'oomph' for most situations, highly mobile and portable, thousands of variations, simply 'stowable'.

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10/5/2006 12:05:10 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Greetings Jessica: First, don't feel ignorant. Just ask away and if anyone gets smart with you, let me know so we can dope slap'em. :>)) [We're very protective of newbies around here].

It's good that you're reading alot of course, but as I mentioned recently, some of the consumer trade publications print equipment reviews that strongly favor (and please) their advertisers so you kind of have to sift through all the material to make an informed decision about what to buy or pass on.

Also, I recommend you come up with like a minimum equipment list of things you feel you should have in your basic kit and some basic criteria for how you intend to use it. For example, do you want to just work at home or want a rig that's portable that you can take on location to a park or someone elses house. Do you need stands, a battery operated power supply or just one that plugs into a 110 volt outlet.

For lighting, I usually recommend that instead of buying lighting packages, they find a manufacturer they like, like Norman, Bowens, Speedotron, Calumet, Elinchrom, and others, buy either a pretty powerful monolight (self-contained portable flash) or a light weight pack system that will accept multiple heads. In other words, start with one light, get a good one, and grow into the system as your abilities grow. All of the portraits in my gallery here were shot with a single light in a 3x4 foot Chimera softbox or stripbank.

Light modifiers like softboxes can be cheap or expensive. I suggest you drop the dime and get a good one like a Chimera because they last. I've had one of my Chimeras for over 20 years and it gets a LOT of use. You also need a mounting ring for your softbox to your light so you need to know the lights youre going to have in advance of buying a softbox with the ring.

Umbrellas are good, reasonably priced like Eclipse 60" diameter brellas that you can interchange the fabric and make them shiny or dull. The foil idea you came up with is good, but foil as you may have found, produces a pretty hard reflection. Umbrella reflectors can be used to soften, diffuse and wrap the light around your subject (when properly set-up) and only cost a few bucks, like $40 or 50 for one that's pretty sturdy.

Having a flash meter, or a meter that will measure flash, ambient light in the reflective and incident modes is useful. You can get some good used ones with warranties at or new at

For x-mas stuff? Get a B&H Photo Catalog. It's a full-year full of reading material. LOL !!! If it's not in their catalog, you don't need it.
Calumet Photographic sells Monolights under their name, so does B&H under Bowens Monolights. Take a look at those.

Nope. the kind of lights you buy isn't related to the camera you use. Lastly, for now, if I were you I'd stay away from package deals on e-bay. It's a jungle there and if you don't know what you really need or want, you can get really cheap equipment that looks nice but lasts about 10 minutes in use.

Meanwhile, just hollar if you need us and all this so far should get you started. Stick around. In no time, I'll lay odds you know a lot more than the guys in the camera store :>)) Oh yeah, do searches in the archives here for lighting info too you might find useful.
Take it light.

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10/5/2006 1:05:47 PM

Kerry L. Walker   That is a really dumb question. OK, Mark. Start the slappin'. I go for that sort of thing!

Just kidding, Jessica. The only dumb question is the one not asked. Now hang around a while and I may give you some dumb ansers! LOL

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10/5/2006 2:05:58 PM

Andrew Laverghetta
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/13/2004
  Hmm, christmas presents, I don't think anybody I know, even my parents, would spend the money to get my a whole bunch of lighting equipment like this haha.

At one point I had to use aluminum foil, some extremely crinkled and some pretty flat to move light around. Kinda cheap but it got the job done. Now, what I use for outdoor shoots now is insulation board about 1/2 inch thick. When you go to home depot you see big sheets of what look dense blue foam in cross section and is a flat silver on one side and has a blue plasticy survace on the other. Then you cut that into maybe two big pieces and you've got some very large reflectors. I cut mine into 3 pieces because I don't have a large car.

Check this out, it's called the "Fuzzy Flector." I dont' remember who devised this but the name on the following website is Chuck Shade.

This system is all about getting the person in the shade if possible and bringing in light from the open sun areas. If you're very far into the shade you can use mylar (almost like a mirror) on one side of the board and bring in very hard light from a ways away and bounce it off a less harsh, white surface or the flat silver surface.

Contact me through my gallery if you'd like to see pics of what I use and sample images.

I know I'll get jumped on for saying this, but on a budget and if you're still of course looking for good equipment, check out "alien bees" or "white lightning" by Paul C. Buff....a name the pros seem to laugh at...Works great for me though. Maybe if I really use this as my job I would buy more expensive units, but for now, buying these other brands would be like buying a Gucci belt or other designer clothes when I can go to Macy's.

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10/7/2006 10:35:47 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  "The Fuzzy Flector"???????? Sounds like a marital aid designed by Dr. Phil.

Alien Bees I guess are ok, Andrew, but I don't know about their ultimate durabilty. I've heard some people like them while others think they're cheaply made with a lot of plastic instead of metal parts. Plastic is ok for some things, but not really a substitute for heavily used parts that need strength like mounting brackets, clamping studs, stands, etc.

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10/9/2006 7:26:54 PM

Jessica K. Cunningham
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2006
  I can't tell you guys how much I appretiate you taking the time to write responses to my question!! I've been taking notes! It will all help me so much and I just wanted to say thanks!

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10/10/2006 9:46:56 AM

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