BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Wayne Redden

Backgrounds and Lighting

Can someone recommend, for a tight budget, a studio flash system (for portraits) and a source for backgrounds (also for portraits). The backgrounds I have located are expensive and I am not familiar with the lighting systems. I have a Nikon N65 and I am not a professional (as you can probably tell).

To love this question, log in above
7/11/2002 4:42:38 PM

Tom Darmody   Wayne-

A studio lighting system is a big investment. The best advice I could give you is take a trip to the library or the book store and get as many different books you can find on studio lighting (there are quite a few) and figure out what you need then go from there.

Beware - there are alot of junk lighting sytems out there being marketed as "starter kits" most are just a huge waste of money.

To love this comment, log in above
7/11/2002 5:22:23 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Another suggestion for your studio "flash system" is to use your existing flash. You probably know that for taking portraits, the light source is best at 45 degree on the side with or without fill light (in general, use fill light for females to soften the shadow but males will look more masculine without the fill light). I am not familiar with your camera (I use Canon AT-1, which is all manual). But if you can use a remote trigger or a sync cord (which is inexpensive) to fire off the flash, then you have the main light. For fill light, you can use a white cardboard or a reflector to bounce the light back to your subject. You can use your tripod or buy a decent light stand to mount your flash (you may need a bracket and a shoe mount too). My set up is with two flashes with the same guide number. One flash mounted on the camera as the fill light and one on the side as the main light source. The main flash is put on a "slave unit" which is mounted on my tripod. The flash on my camera triggers the slave unit which fires off the main flash. In this setting, I will put my main flash 4 feet away from my subject at 45 degree on the side and my camera with the fill flash at about 8 feet from the subject. If you can set your camera to manual, you may try these two ways. Besides, I am a student myself and have tight budget too. Hope this helps.

To love this comment, log in above
7/11/2002 6:44:02 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Forgot about the background. I got away with using a white wall (or any wall with solid color) if I shoot B&W. I also bought the "The Peoplepopper" background set from B&H in NYC for $150. Right now they even throw in a 1522 posing bench for free. This background set comes with 2 stands and a crossbar, a nylon fabric background, opens to 6' x 7' and stores in a bag which is portable. Also the "slave unit" I mentioned above is from Hama, which I also bought from B&H for $20. Go to and see for yourself.

To love this comment, log in above
7/11/2002 6:56:05 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Check out for decent quality strobes at really affordable prices. As far as backgrounds go you can make your own out of muslin. Simply dye it yourself and hang it.

To love this comment, log in above
7/12/2002 3:14:44 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  I second Jeff's recommendation about Alien Bees and the use of muslin. The lights were reviewed by Bob Shell in July/August Photo Techniques. They got a very high "bang for the buck" rating from him.

Many studios make their own backgrounds from muslin as Jeff suggested. A couple of tips about them ("roll your own" or store bought):
(a) Consider the size you need.
It should be long enough it either goes completely to the ceiling or you have near zero risk of running out of backdrop along the top frame edge of your photographs . . . which ever comes first . . . and then extends out across the studio floor at least six feet (even longer is better) . . . to hide where wall meets floor. It should be wide enough to prevent running out of backdrop along the sides; same as avoiding running out of top.
(b) Muslin comes in various widths (as with store bought backdrops). Look for seams. Some types of pattern backdrops will hide them, but it can be difficult with solid colors.
(c) You can paint them with a non-descript, subtle pattern in addition to using dye. If you paint one use paint designed specifically for fabric.

-- John

To love this comment, log in above
7/14/2002 9:43:46 PM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.