BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: Is that Photographic Technique Even Possible?

Photography Question 
Dede Carver

Homemade Home Studio?

I love to experiment with pix of my kids. I've had wonderful success with outside pix now that I am finally getting the "light" idea. Never even crossed my mind how different inside lighting would be. I bought a couple of king size white sheets, hung them over a bar, through in some adorable props, "strategically" set around regular household lamps, read some about high key photography and obviously needed more than a few hours to learn the technique. The only thing that came out of the entire "great idea" was a withdrawl from my checking. Everything went gray or goldish and the lighting stunk. Had some obvious metering failure on the part of the photographer!

Is it at all possible to set up a homemade home studio using what I have around the house? I'm not expecting a pro look, but at this point I have so much to learn that spending the money on pro lighting is silly. I have a great camera, an awesome flash with an off-camera shoe cord (of which I know very little about using for either the flash or cord) and a five-in-one reflector. Can anyone suggest something to make the variables that I can control flow better, i.e. film type and speed, a filter? Placing of my regular lamps? Anything? I know I need to work on the metering - that's a given - any comments on this would be appreciated too!

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12/2/2002 8:07:16 PM

Judith A. Clark   Well, first learn to use the flash that you have. Add an inexpensive soft box to it. You probably need to give up on the household lights they are tungsten based and are causing the yellow. If you need extra light try buying the new light bulbs, I think the are called enhance, they are sort of a pink color and are whiter than reqular household bulbs. You should be able to do a lot with just your flash. High key shots may not be the best choice of shots. The gray background is caused by lack of light. White backgrounds in high key are overexposed. This means they have more light than the subject. You can accomplish this with some extra slave flash units, they aren't that expensive.

I would say buy a few more sheets, maybe brown, or light blue. These just shoot better with the light from your flash. Make sure your subject is as far away from the background as possible to avoid shadows. I think that's about all the advice I have. I hope I covered some of your question.

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12/3/2002 12:19:06 PM

Dede Carver   Thanks, Judith, for you advice. I need all I can get. Your response poses a few more questions now, if you have the time. The first is going to sound almost stupid. Is there a best way to learn about my flash? The manual that it comes with is assuming that I already now what a strobe flash is for, for an example, and when to use it. This is one example of many "this is how to make it work" but never any indication of what it does, why I would want to use it, and when I should use it. I have a book on flash photography, but it's much of the same thing. I wrote BP and asked if they give classes on flash photography but have yet to hear anything. The same goes for knowing what is intended for slave flashes and master flashes. My flash is a Canon 550 EX. It was around $450.00. The manual mentions using two or up to three of them as slave units to get great pix. Is this what you had in mind when you mentioned getting a few slave units and at this price? You mentioned a soft box. How do I learn how to use it if I were to buy one? All that I have looked at are big tall items. You said learn to use my flash and add a softbox to it. Is there something that goes over the flash? I have an opaque retangular spape piece that pulls out and can cover the light piece. Is this it? I've used it for bounce flash in a different way. Sooooo many questions. I appreciate anyone's help. I work a full time job and live in a small town. There is little to no opportunity to take a class so I am on my own. I am a teacher so I know the value in "doing to learn". I just feel like I am learning about chemistry using only an outline! There has to be an easier way!

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12/3/2002 1:39:06 PM

Judith A. Clark   I'm not familiar with that flash, but I would check with a camera shop. Sometimes they know of where you can take a class, sometimes they will offer them, I don't know off the bat a good web site thay offers flash photography. The piece that pulls over your flash sounds similar to a soft box. I bought mine for less then 30 bucks - it's made by Lumiquest and attaches to the flash with velcro strips. When you go to the camera shop, also ask if you can use a bracket to raise the flash off the camera. As for slave flashes I have to be honest I have two that I haven't really taken the time to figure out yet, they ran about $24. They are supposed to fire when your flash fires but they didn't come with directions, and I can't seem to get them to work, but I have studio lights. Maybe someone on this site can give you some clues to the rest of your questions. I'm just learning myself, but I hope I gave you some suggestions to use. As far as all the features of the flash, if you don't find the answers you need then its just a matter of trying them to see what kind of effects you get. Its probably a waste of film and processing, but you'll see what you like and what really doesn't work.

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12/3/2002 2:36:52 PM

Dede Carver   Thanks again. You have more than helpful. Please remember me as you learn, too. Any pull I can get helps!

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12/3/2002 2:47:22 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  You have one of the most powerful and sophisticated flash (I would say 'the most'). This flash has a built in transmitter that can communicate with other 550EX or 420EX. However, the 420EX can only use as a slave unit (it only receives signal) and cost about $200 each. Be careful if you are buying other slave flashes or slave unit (actually a light sensor that you attach a flash onto it). Your 550EX uses a 'preflash' to measure the subject distance and the exposure needed before the actual flash goes off and the shutter opens. This preflash may trigger the non Canon dedicated flashes prematually. The little piece of plastic you pull out from the flash head is the diffuser. Your flash can cover an anlge of a 28mm lens. But if you have a wider lens, say 24mm, you need to pull out that plastic to diffuse the light to cover a wider angle. I have never used a soft box on this flash because I can bounce the light (by tilting or turning the head). Even I am satisfied with the frontal, direct light from the flash (you pay that much money and it better be good). Of course, it's only my opinion. As far as when to use the flash and which feature to use in different situation, I think the manual explains it pretty well, in my opinion. It has pictures to demonstrate each feature too. If you need to understand a specific feature of your flash, we can help.

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12/4/2002 11:50:17 AM

Dede Carver   Andy, thanks for your reply. If you don't mind me saying, the manual explains it pretty well to the person who is ready to use a sophiticated flash. Here is my problem. I am starting from square one with terminology, understanding and technique. My husband knows I love to take pictures. Everything I ever took was pretty much in program mode. I am good at composition and seeing a picture so my pictures always turned out fairly well to the average viewer. I never messed with shutter speed or aperature let alone knew how to. All of the sudden my husband shows up with an entire Canon EOS3 system, two pro lenses, and this awesome flash. Not quite ready for anything like that, but now what? Tell him to take it back? I'm up for the challenge, but as I said - I am starting from square one. I'm trying to learn little by little. The outside shots are going great. I live in Iowa and want to shoot mostly kids. At 9 degrees no one is too excited to go out, so... I am trying to learn lighting and technique inside. If I leave things in program, things aren't too bad. Color is off due to inexperienc of metering. But once I try dinking around with AV and TV mode then my flash requires some other adjusting that I am not confident with and things go screwy. Do I sound frustrated? I am. Do you perhaps live in Iowa? HA! I am wanting one on one hands-on training. Kind of difficult to get when I work full time and nearby colleges or schools do not offer classes at night. I learn so much easier by watching and doing rather than reading and doing, especially when the material already is above my current level. I have signed up for a couple of classes through this sight. Maybe its the best I can do. Please comment back, Andy. I have read many of your responces on several questions and I value what you have to say. Just remember, I am a beginner to REAL photography.

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12/4/2002 3:56:16 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Wow. I would like to start my photography with the equipment you have ;) Since you mentioned the 550EX, a professional grade flash, I assumed ... Wrong assumption. Anyway, I started 'taking snap shots' twenty something years ago with an all manual (no metering) camera, Lordomat, from my father. All exposures were just guesting based on the sunny 16 rule, or distance to subject when using flash. Later my father let me use his Canon AT-1, still manual but with a build in meter. All I did was turning the aperture ring or the shutter speed dial to match the circle with the needle of the build in meter for exposure. I knew nothing about the depth of field in relation to the aperture. Never heard of the terms hyperfocal distance, slow sync or second curtain sync, etc. I didn't even know why there were so many numbers on the lens. Until two years ago, financially permitted, I decided to learn photography and I enrolled myself in NYIP (New York Institute of Photography). Since then, it opened a whole new world to me. The more I learn, the more I like those manual cameras. Last year, I finally purchased my first camera, a Canon 1v, with 550EX of course. I am still learning to 'create' an image.

It's really hard to do one on one training in photography because you need to wait for the result to come back. Besides the many fine courses offered from this site, you may also want to take a look at the NYIP site and see what they can offer you. The class I took was a study at home class (I have a full time job too) and covers ALL areas, from the most basic and fundamental. Their URL is:

About your flash. Even though you use Av or Tv mode and changing the values, you should not need to change anything on the flash. That's the beauty of ETTL unless you want special effects. Maybe you can post your settings and the problem here so we can try to analyze the problem for you. Hope this helps.

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12/4/2002 9:08:40 PM

Jim Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  Might I also suggest one of the BetterPhoto courses? You might really enjoy Jim Zuckerman's new course because the final four weeks will delve into flash photography. Or I would look into my Beginning Photography course listed below.

Also, starting in Spring, we plan to have an excellent course on portrait studio lighting with a special focus on creatively photographing children.

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12/5/2002 4:26:57 AM

Michael Grace   Hi Dede:
I know very well the feeling you have. You don't have to have very expensive equipment. Your current flash and maybe another cheap flash unit for a 2 light setup will give you great shots. What you need at this point is a good light meter that will measure incident light from your flash units. That is probably the biggest thing (aside from a little knowledge and experience)that you are lacking. I won't go into a lot of tech stuff. That isn't difficult. But I would visit a site called by Scott Smith in Texas. That will tell you a whole lot more than I could put in an email. If you want to talk about some of the details you're not sure of I will be happy to explain any questions you have. Check out Scotts site and then get back to me if you want. Have a great day!
Mike Grace

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12/5/2002 4:52:26 PM

Dede Carver   Mike, Jim, and Andy,

Thanks for your responses! I love this website! I will take everyone's ideas and start to play around a little. IF I can figure out the upload thing, I will call upon you again for your constructive critisim. My husband asked me what I wanted for X-mas. He's pretty indulging. I have a light meter as you suggested, but of course, not sure what to do with it. On top of figuring out this new camera system it was just too much. I gave it to a friend to use and bring back me when I was ready. So guys.....what should I ask for? He flies into NY almost weekly and shops at B&H. (He says this place is absolutely amazing!!!!!!!!!) Mike, you mentioned a 2nd cheap flash for a two light system. Can you give me any specific suggestions? should I get another 550EX or something else cheaper that will work as well? Any filters or special film for inside portraits in a basement? Also if I get a second light, I'm going to need your help to figure where they should be placed. Once I get this photo thing mastered I'll give everyone a free photo session free for your help. He He!

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12/5/2002 9:16:44 PM

Shirley D. Cross-Taylor
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/7/2001
Contact Shirley
Shirley's Gallery
  Hi Dede, You've gotten some great information so far. Your experience sounds much like my own at the beginning. Some great sources for inexpensive slave units, soft boxes, light stands, bounce umbrellas, etc., are the Photographers Warehouse, and Porter's Camera Store. Both advertise in most of the major photo magazines. Photographers Warehouse ads are usually in the body of the magazine, not in the back. I purchased all my studio lights and softbox and bounce umbrella from them. You can use your existing flash with a bounce umbrella on a light stand.

Another option is to buy faster speed tungsten balanced film, which will work with your lamps, no flash. Your photos will have a bit more grain, but this can also be an 'arty' look. Most of my original still-life photos were taken using one 100 watt bulb in a reflector through diffusion material (mine was a milky white cutting board propped up,) and Ektachrome 160T slide film. Just put your camera on a tripod and use a cable or remote release.

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12/5/2002 10:32:00 PM

Michael Grace   Hi Dede:
Another option you might think about is doing some black and white portraits. That way you could use regular tungsten lights or even the really bright halogen lights and the color temperature wouldn't matter at all.(no color cast in B&W)That would be a great way to get used to using your meter and the developing and printing costs would be a whole lot less than using color film. Another way to save money on lighting accessories is to use a diffusion panel made from white ripstop nylon fabric on a PVC frame. You just put your lights behind the fabric panel and now you have anything from a small hard light to a very soft diffused light depending on how far from the panel you place your lights. The only real negative of using a regular flash off camera behind a screen is that you won't have a modeling light to "see" the effect before you take the picture. Before I bought my first pro light system I was using a pair of Vivitar 283's with a reflector panel and was getting good results. You can mount the flash units on a stand and fire them into an umbrella reflector. Also the brand of strobe really doesn't matter much, any strobe that can be used with a sync cord or a slave and has enough power for your purposes will work just fine. You might note that almost ALL pro light systems are completely manual systems because that allows complete control of your lights. You can vary the intensity by how far away from your subject you place the lights.I still use a diffusion panel instead of softboxes because they are a lot cheaper and much more versatile. Go get you light meter and check out and have fun! Later Dede.
Mike Grace

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12/5/2002 11:29:44 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Since you already have all these Canon products, I would recommend go for the 420EX if you want another flash. It sells for around $180 at B&H and you don't have to worry compatability and it works nicely with your 550EX as the master. Also you can set the flash ratio easily and still using the E-TTL metering of your camera. Get a couple umbrellas, light stands and shoe mount clamps and you are all set. This is very portable and easy to set up anywhere. For background you may find the Peoplepopper set quite handy (about $150; it comes with a support stand, crossbars, a 6x7 background of your choice and a carrying bag). I can carry all these with two hands to take portraits for my friends and relatives every where. Since you are taking mostly portrait, you don't need any filter except maybe a soft focus filter to create a dream like effect. As for film, I will use Kodak Portra 160NC. Other expoerts here may suggest what Fuji line of film to use. So many options. So many choices. Decision. Decision.

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12/6/2002 10:38:38 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Also go to this site to request brochure about your EOS 3 camera, lens, and other product information. I found the EOS 3 brochure worth reading if you want to know your camera better.

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12/6/2002 10:46:17 AM

Judith A. Clark   I agree with Andy on the Portra 100 Nc great film for skin tones. I suggest a warming filter, before I got my lighting set, I had a problem with red skin tones, the warming filter keeps them golden. If you want a cheep color background, I found $15 canvas drop cloths from a paint store I thing 12'x15' dyed them in the washer. Youv'e got a cheap alternative. You can also dye king size sheets. Or try some of the tye dye sprays on the market. You would be suprised at the ideas you get at a large hobby store. Try some netting material, like you use in wedding veils to give a great soft look to props.

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12/6/2002 10:54:31 AM

Dede Carver   I have printed this entire Q&A section and I am going to study it tonight. I am very excited to try some of this stuff out.... like tomorrow. ( I'm not kidding!) So....anyone up for a little "teach the new girl over the web" game:o)? It will be a test for all? Okay mostly me, but most photographers seem to people who are up for a challenge, why else would they spend years trying to perfect this crazy
concept? By calling it a test I thought it might tept some of you that have already helped me. Will begging help?
With soley the equipment I have:
*Canon EOS 3
*28-70mm and 200mm zoom lenses
*550EX flash and off shoe cord
*remote cable release
*big retractable 5 color reflector
( I have no clue what I am doing, but at least I look good. HE He. Now only if the pix did.)
In my living room for X-Mas, I have a white washed wooden fence. Not a lot of white left, lots of aged, gray colored wood. Pine greenery lines the top with little white X-mas lights. On the fence are our 6 stockings. there is a west facing door directly to the camera's left and large North and West corner windows about 18 feet from the wall opposite of the fence. Do not see that the corner windows will affect the shot, but thought I would throw it in there just in case. The ceiling is white, the four walls are similiar to a mocha color. With all of this in mind, is anyone up for a test, laying their rep on the line (HA) by telling me EXACTLY how they would shoot this pose with the system I have? Results can be posted - maybe Jim M will even want to hire you to teach a course? Yes, I know it would be better with the proper lighting and I am working on it. I am just not patient enough to wait. Pretend some pushy, millon dollar photo hotshot wanted you to shoot this same scenerio of his kids in exchange for a job of a lifetime except you fell drastically ill and had to send..... me.....the one with the great equipment that I don't now how to use.... pretending to be you. ( we will not worry about any gender factors)The cool thing about this for all of you great photographers already advising me is that this should force you to really stop and think about the details you already know and take for granted now that you are so awesome. Miss a detail and the shot could be lost. Doesn't this sound fun? ( the correct answer is "yes") Can it be done or have I wasted everyone's time by finally getting through this post? DeDe

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12/7/2002 11:51:47 PM

Dede Carver   Oops;) forgot to mention the hodge podge of film taking up a shelf in my fridge just in case.....
Fugi NPC 160
NPH 400
Kodak Tmax 100
Portra 160NC &400NC
Portra 160 VC
Portra 100 Tungsten

Obviously got a little carried away ordering, but I was curious to "see" the differences. Everyone recommends something else yet says it's a personal choice. Thought I would try one of everything and see what look I like , then go with it for awhile until I have more things figured out. Thanks again!DD

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12/8/2002 12:07:02 AM

Bill McFadden   So, lets see, five basic rules that I try to follow are (from an old soldier who has had too many bumps on the head) :
(1) Scout the area and make a plan for locations that look right for your subject. (you already know to check the colors of the room and have a great grasp for detail.)
Determine at least a basic idea of what settings you will use on the camera and flash or when you wish to use the reflector in various locations.
(2) Now we have basic plan. of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy includes the weather, cloud cover, the time of day, etc. (It is not possible to say, for example, Okay, everyone stop having fun now, it is 3 PM (the so-called (and misleading) magic hour for outdoor lighting, and we NEED to take pictures right now!) So, have several locations noted in advance so you can capture the perfect moment when and where it happens.
(3) there is never such a thing as too much "ammunition." Ammunition includes having enough spare batteries and film to meet the situation's requirements.
(4) Shoot as much as possible, before, after and especially, of course, during the event. You already know you should use professional film. Sometimes the shots you do not think would ever work give the best results.
(5) before you take pictures in a new but readily accessible location, use stuffed animals, flowers or other subjects with a wide range of colors to test your plans. (Stuffed animals never ask to see their picture later. They also never worry about having a "bad" picture taken!) I use a real animal, my old and patient dog, fake flowers and a 1940's radio.

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1/1/2003 12:50:35 PM

Bill McFadden   My initial assessment of your challenge is you can get some good texture shots of peeling white paint against a backdrop of aged gray colored wood, using the TMAX 100 film. You can also use the line and shape of the pale greenery line against the wood, taking the viewer's eyes into a corner where an interesting subject is placed using TMAX-100 and NPC 160. If the six stockings are on a horizontal plane, you can alter the composition by holding your camera at a 45-degree angle. place one stocking in the lower right and the top stocking in the upper left. Try the same concept but place the top stocking on the upper left and the bottom stocking on the lower right. (using Portra or Fuji color film. )
Place items in the stocking to add interest to the composition. Include a human subject in part of this process. If no model is available, use your self, the tripod and the camera's self timer to show pictures of you in various poses, moods and clothing, placing items in the stockings.
Use the tripod and the Portra 100 Tungsten film to create a soft mood. Use long exposures in the twilight or night hours with the camera of the tripod, the remote camera release and the bulb setting. For example, turn off the room lights, after securing a working flashlight. Take a series of timed exposures (one minute, then two-minute and three-minute exposures) Shine the light on each of the six stockings for about a dozen seconds each time. (turn off the flash in between these times.) Of course, you would need to have your working area clear of any possible obstructions.

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1/1/2003 12:51:53 PM

Bill McFadden   Try a rose in a stocking, with just the top showing and the stem within the stocking.
That is a few thoughts I had on the stockings. I would use the 28 - 70 mm zoom lens for the "stocking shots" and the 200mm zoom (28 to 200, maybe?) for the texture shots. You would use the EOS 550 on camera and also handheld off camera (connected with the off shoe cord) to obtain the texture shots.
I have to think more about using bounce flash, the light panel and let other ideas develop before I make a bigger fool of myself.

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1/1/2003 12:52:53 PM

Carrie C. Brannon   Well I tried to enter the Picture, but it wouldn't let me! Sorry Dede...I can email it to you if you'd like!
Carrie B.

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1/16/2003 5:48:09 PM

Dede Carver   Carrie,
I would love to see your pix!

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1/16/2003 7:05:18 PM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001

I'm not sure where you are now with your learning experience, since I am coming to this late.

There really is no substitute for taking things methodically, one step at a time. Learning to use studio lighting is an additive process... you learn to use one light, and a reflector for fill, thoroughly. Then you add a second light and so on.

There are only two problems with your 550EX. It is not really powerful enough when bounced into an umbrella, or through a sofbox either of sufficient size to be worthwhile in a "studio" setting. And secondly, relying on the automation it provides will never teach you to really understand what is going on.

First off, you need to buy a good book on the subject... since you are interested in photographing your kids, Vik Orenstein's "Creative Techniques for photographing Children" is a modern classic, now in atleast it's second printing. She has a fair bit material on simple lighting setups. Any of Nancy Brown's books are also great. A basic book that explains the relationship between light intensity and distance, size of the light source and the softness of the light, and other basic concepts should also be on your list. Any well stocked book store should have at least a few to choose from.

You will need to use your incident flash meter to determine exposure, although you could purchase the Canon extension bits to get the unit a few feet away... the Shoe cord is too short (I know because I also own and use all the equipment bits you mention).

As a starting experience, I recommend picking up a 36" umbrella, on a short stand and appropriate brackets... much cheaper than a comparable sized softbox. I suspect that you'd be hard pressed to get more than f/5.6 with ISO100 film using this combination at say 4 to 8 feet from your subject, although I am guessing here. This should be fine for headshots and small groups... and for learning.

You can do a lot with just one light and few reflectors... and you should master this first before acquiring more lights.

The lead image in my gallery was shot with one light directly above(a 600 ws monolight on a boom in a 3x4 chimera softbox... but a 36" umbrella would be just as good; you use what you have), a silver reflector below, and a second behind to camera right to bounce some light back into the hair, providing better separation from the background.

To really learn this you must be willing to practice your craft, slow and steady wins the race.

You have great entusiasm, looking forward to seeing some pictures!

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2/15/2003 12:58:08 AM

Jim Miotke
BetterPhoto Member
Owner,, Inc.
  This has got to be the best online discussion on studio lighting I have ever seen - bar none! You guys have put together a wonderful collection of excellent and time-saving tips.

We have launched three new online photography courses that will be of interest to you:

Check out these courses as a great place to start. As was mentioned above, you get the benefit of having assignments that give you the direction you need. Better yet, you then have enough time to actually do the shooting and get it critiqued by the instructor. Best of all, you get to interact directly with the author/instructor throughout the course.

Enjoy your studio lighting adventure!

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2/15/2003 10:15:24 AM

Dede Carver  
  Sam and LeAnn
Sam and LeAnn
© Dede Carver
  surrounded by roses
surrounded by roses
© Dede Carver
  Sam and Leann
Sam and Leann
© Dede Carver
  Sam and roses
Sam and roses
Okay, may it go on record that the brown boots were not my idea.
© Dede Carver
Mark and Bill M(1/1/3),
Thanks a million for all of your insights. I really haven't done a lot with my home studio. My daughter had a friend over a month or so ago and begged me to photograph them. They had gotten all dressed up with fashion boots and make up - obviously feeling like models. It was fun to mess around with them as they were easy to work with. When the photos came back, I was thrilled to see I had finally exposed the white background white and not gold or gray as in my previous attempts. This was probably the most rewarding for me. The lighting was flat all around. I used my 550EX bounced off an eight foot ceiling. It was on a tripod with a connecting cable a 45 degrees from the girls and the camera. I had the reflector out and leaned up against the opposite wall of the flash, but really didn't know how to use it as I had no idea where the flash would be hitting it. Guess that's where studio lights with modeling lights come in handy. I showed someone a few of the photos for critique and their only response was for me to stick to outdoor shots. (I will try to upload them - cant guarentee they will be attached)Kind of took the wind out of my sails and I had just shoved off. So now I am back on shore, searching endlessly for studio lights. I cant believe the difference in quality, price and opinion. I don't think I have ever been so confused as to what to buy in all of my shopping years. I don't want to put a lot of $$$ into a system at this point as my only subjects are my kids and they dont pay well. I looked into Britek and JTL as they are affordable, but then heard to continue looking as these might not be the best choice. From there I went to Allienbees and White lightning. I've heard wonderful things, but to get a three light setup was more than the hubby wanted to spend ( especially in the middle of remodeling our bathroom- apparently indoor plumbing holds some sort of priority) To make a long story short finally, I am still looking for lights. I want to take the Studio lighting course offered on this site and the instructor requires two lights I believe. Any suggestions on brand names and equipment to buy or shy away from would be GREATLY appreciated. My little room is in the basement toyroom, so no natural light is available. It has eight foot ceilings and is only about 10 feet wide. Someone had told me
that a 300ws strobe would be plenty bright. I am unsure if he meant in one light, both lights, or in combination of two lights ie. 150ws each.
Again, thanks guys for all your time with my question. This is a great site!

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2/15/2003 2:56:38 PM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001
  Dede asked me some questions via email, and we agreed to post this here, in order to have more input from others, as well.


As for the person who told you to stick with outdoor shots... nuts to them!

Your pictures with the 550EX are just fine... quite good in fact. Just keep shooting, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Photography is no different than most other human endeavours. We learn best by making mistakes.

Thanks for your comments about my work... after 25 years you do get lucky once in a while.

My only comment would be that they _appear_ to be a tad underexposed. Did you rely on the in-camera metering of the 550EX and EOS-3, or did you meter the light directly? If the in-camera meter were the culprit, then I'd guess that the white background has fooled your meter. Remember that a white background requires you to open up about one stop if you are using an in-camera or other reflective light meter. I don't want to insult you by explaining why, when you may already know why... but if not, let me know and I'll go into it some more. If you used your incident flash meter, then you need to review you metering technique, or more likely adjust the ISO film speed you are using. I assume from you earlier posts, that you were using colour negative films... if so, then try setting your meter to one stop or so over the recommended speed. I regularly shoot Fuji Reala (nominally ISO 100) at ISO 50 in the studio. The image quality is actually better; smoother grain, better shadow detail.

As for your studio lighting equipment... If two lights are required for your course, then two is what you should get. A pair of moonlights, such as White Lightning, Alien Bees or Photogenic should do the trick. A 300ws and a 150ws should be more than fine. I have four 600ws Photogenics, and most often use them on half or one-quarter power. Particularly in a room with 8-foot ceilings, these should have more than enough power. Eventually the 150ws will work great on a boom as a hairlight, if you decide to go that far.

I have no experience with the other brands you mention, such as Britek.

Next, since your professed desire is to photograph your kids, you will need some method of making the light larger, such as a soft-box or an umbrella. Larger light sources = softer light sources, and softer light sources are great for people pictures. They smooth out facial defects and give nice smooth transitions from highlight to mid-tone and mid-tone to shadow. They are also easier to work with. Umbrellas are decidedly less expensive, and a couple in the 36"to 48" range shouldn't set you back too much. You will also need a couple of lightstands to support your lights; Bogen, Avenger, Manfrotto, all make guality, reasonably priced examples.

A reflector is next on the list. A big hunk of white foam core (say 4' x 6', get it from an art supply store) will work just fine, and a couple of short pieces of plywood with slots cut in them can be used to make a "stand to hold it upright. If you want to spend more money, there are a number of reflector systems available. I have a number of "Lightform" 42" X 78" panels (distributed by Bogen... check out their web-site), which I consider indispensable. You will find that a reflector has to be quite close in order to be effective. At times it will be almost in your field of view, no more than 3 - 4 feet from your subject.

I assume from your earlier posts, that you have an incident light meter that is capable of reading flash.

This is all you really need, and is actually more than your need to get started.

Next you need a good book or two, and lots of shooting time. Don't get hung up on the details... basic studio lighting is actually pretty simple. More than the technical details, your rapport with your subject is far more important to the success of an image. Don't get discouraged, this is supposed to be fun!

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2/15/2003 5:31:23 PM

Dede Carver   Again, Mark, your advice is greatly apppreciated. Judging by your work, I feel confident you are a valuable sourse.

I metered these pictures using my hand held meter. This was my first time using it actually. I took the reading off the nose of my daughter and pointed at the camera. Let me restate what you said about the metering just so I know I have it right. On my hand held meter, not the camera's ISO itself, enter in I am shooting 200 speed film instead of 400??? And this will help achieve a better exposure? If I have this wrong let me know as I am ready would like to try it out. I believe the film I used was Fuji 400 bought from Target. All of this film in my fridge and then I read that while learning how to achieve correct exposures, ametures films are more forgiving then pro films. The same goes for a 400 speed rather than the 100 or 50. I figured I needed all the help I could get, so I am letting the pro film chill. Is there any truth to what I read?
Alien Bees has something called a brolley box - I think that is right - it's nicknamed "the poor mans softbox". It's an umbrella with a softbox look. Know anything about these as I fit in the poor man catagory and need a softbox look. If I only have two lights and love the high key and low key looks(plain white and plain black backgrounds) will I have trouble achieving separation between the background and the subject? I know to move them at least 4 feet from the background, but is there anything else I should do without a third light. Also, I am confused if I should be searching for monolights or strobes. Monolights are continous lights, right? My kids are little and I am afraid they might become too hot. My son would probably do a science experiment on them by melting toys as well.( Got to love boys or at least that's what I keep reminding myself!) Any insight on this would also be happily taken. Thanks again, Mark. DeDe

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2/15/2003 6:08:45 PM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001
I’ll try to take each of your points in turn…

>>I metered these pictures using my hand held meter. This was my first time using it actually. I took the reading off the nose of my daughter and pointed at the camera.<<

>> Let me restate what you said about the metering just so I know I have it right. On my hand held meter, not the camera's ISO itself, enter in I am shooting 200 speed film instead of 400??? And this will help achieve a better exposure?<<

Metering technique will have some influence on what will end up being your personal best EI (EI = “exposure index”, or your “personal” ISO rating). Assuming the main light is about 45 degrees to one side, if you point the meter’s dome at the main light and take a reading, then turn the dome to the camera and take another reading, you will likely find that there is about a ½ stop difference between the two. Either approach is fine, but adopting a consistent approach to metering is important. I tend to point the meter dome at the mainlight, since this approach will favour a reading that will properly expose for the highlights, and since I often use transparency film, this is important. Slide film is very sensitive to overexposure, so we want to adopt a metering method that will ensure that the important highlights are properly exposed. Now, as I said consistency is very important; when you are working with both transparency and negative film in the same session, you don’t want to be trying to remember when to use different metering approaches. As a general rule negative film is quite tolerant of overexposure, but completely intolerant of significant underexposure… if you don’t let enough light get the film, you just won’t form any image density in the shadows, and if it ain’t on the film, you can’t print it, no how, no way.

Now, also as a general rule, most C-41 films (C-41 is the process used to develop colour negative films) will benefit from a bit of “overexposure”… up to a point. This tends to smooth out the grain pattern, improve tonal gradation in the dark shadows and improve sharpness, again, up to a point.

So, for me, I always rate the C-41 films I use, 1 stop over the manufacturers rating, ie. Reala (ISO 100) I set the meter’s ISO setting to 50. The camera’s ISO setting is irrelevant at this point. If I were using Fuji 400, I would set the meter at 200, and so on. I have little or no experience with the comparable Kodak emulsions, and I know Kodak has campaigned over the years to break pros of the habit of “overexposing” their pro negative films, claiming that their films are true ISO 160 films or whatever. You can test this theory by simply running an exposure test of your own… shoot the same subject right on, 1 and 2 stops over, a1 and 2 stops under. Have your lab make the best print they can from each exposure, and then just let your eyes be the judge.

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2/15/2003 11:20:10 PM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001
  >>All of this film in my fridge and then I read that while learning how to achieve correct exposures, ametures films are more forgiving then pro films.<<

Most pro films are essentially the same or similar to the amateur variants (with some claimed exceptions) so I have never experienced this. Pro films are just, among a few other unimportant-for-us points, “aged” to be released when they are near their theoretical aim point for colour balance. Pro films are not inherently less forgiving than amateur variants of the same film… Provia for example, is not less forgiving than Sensia. Now, certain emulsions called “professional” by their manufacturers are by their nature less forgiving, but they are less forgiving of exposure errors simply because they are less forgiving, not because they are “Pro” emulsions. Velvia for example is a slide film that Fuji generally characterizes as a “professional film”. Because of its great inherent contrast, it can be tricky to nail the exposure in high contrast lighting… but when you do, the results can be sublime.

>>I figured I needed all the help I could get, so I am letting the pro film chill. Is there any truth to what I read? <<

I wouldn’t worry about pro vs. amateur… there is no “silver bullet”. Use what you like, not what someone says you need. Save the pro film money and use it to buy a lot more amateur film. Give Reala a try… Fuji no longer classes it as a Professional film, but it has the finest grain and best skin tones for my money.

>>Alien Bees has something called a brolley box - I think that is right - it's nicknamed "the poor mans softbox". It's an umbrella with a softbox look. Know anything about these as I fit in the poor man catagory and need a softbox look<<.

Not familiar with this item, but from the way you describe it, it sounds like just what you need. In fact it sounds rather like the Photek “Soft-lighter”, and this is used successfully by many pros.

>>If I only have two lights and love the high key and low key looks (plain white and plain black backgrounds) will I have trouble achieving separation between the background and the subject? I know to move them at least 4 feet from the background, but is there anything else I should do without a third light.<<

High-key and low-key lighting effects involve more than just the choice of background. By definition, a low-key image has a greater preponderance of mid to shadow tones, and is often, although not always, a bit higher in contrast. My Chantal #1 is the closest I have to a low-key image in my gallery. Separating the subject from the background is one of the hallmarks of good craft in lighting. You can use your second light or a reflector to get a bit of light back onto the subject from behind the subject position to provide an "edge" of light to separate it from the darker background.

High-key images on the other hand, have the light or white background you mention. But in addition to this they also have a preponderance of light mid tones to highlight tones in the subject. They have an airier, lighter feel to them.

Low-key images will be quite a bit easier to shoot with only one or two lights. Just be sure to keep enough separation between your subject and your background, so that their will be enough fall-off in light intensity at the background to allow it go dark… put enough light on a black background and you can make even it look white. For a true “photographic black” background, a reflected meter reading of the background should be at least four stops darker then a reading off a gray card at the subject position.

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2/15/2003 11:20:57 PM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001
High-key images will be more difficult, but not impossible. I have attached a rather crude diagram I sketched to illustrate this.

First you will need a suitable white background. But you will also have to dump some additional light on it to ensure that it stays truly white. You want this light to relatively even across the width of the background, and this usually means at least two lights, one on either side of the background. But you only have two lights, right? So how will you light your subject?
This can be done by shooting your “main” light through a large diffuser… a true white bed sheet would work, or you could buy a few yards of white nylon (like that used to make tents or parachutes) . You aim your main light so that part of the beam illuminates the diffuser, and in turn your subject, and the rest of the beam from this light spills over on to your white background. Use your other light to even up the light on the background, and there you go. If you want a true white background, and are using a white material, your goal is to have about ½ to 1 stop or so more light on the background, as read with your incident meter. Don’t go to much more than this or you will run the risk of having reflected background light flaring in to your camera lens.

>> Also, I am confused if I should be searching for monolights or strobes. Monolights are continous lights, right?<<

No… monolights, are strobes; electronic flash units. A monolight has the power supply and the flash head contained in one unit, ala Alien Bees, and White Lightning. The perhaps more conventional Pack-and-head systems, have a separate power pack connected to the flash-head by a heavy duty high voltage cable.

>> My kids are little and I am afraid they might become too hot. <<

This is a concern with any strobe system, mostly because the modeling lights become VERY hot. You just have to be careful.

>>My son would probably do a science experiment on them by melting toys as well.<<

>>( Got to love boys or at least that's what I keep reminding myself!) <<

Yup, got one myself… although I don’t have worry about the melting toys. My problem is understanding why he thinks that the older he gets the less I know… but he will be graduating and going off to college this fall, so he probably does know more than I do.

Where has the time gone?

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2/15/2003 11:21:26 PM

Dede Carver   Mark,
Okay, Well then...... looks like I need to print this off and reread and then reread your incredible info. You make it sound so easy!!!!! Why is my head spinning then? Ha Maybe I should buy some lights before I really start worrying as not much is going to happen without them. I will certainly be contacting you when they hit my door. Better yet, why don't you and your family just come visit this snow covered state for awhile and stay until I figure it out? My kids are young enough that your son could pull off his all knowing attitude with them. They'd never know. Ha. Thanks again, Mark. You put a lot of time and thought into the things you've said to me. It's great to know there are people out there willing to help others just because!!!!1

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2/16/2003 8:22:56 AM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001

I should probably point out, before some else does, an ommission on my "2-light high key diagram.

You would want to add at least a reflector on the side opposite to my diffusing screen main light. Or better yet a second diffusing screen like the main one, with the second light "skimming" the screen and hitting the background as well. Other wise you are going to have some fairly dark shadows... not really a "high-key" effect.

The hour was late when I sketched that up.

I wouldn't mind a bit of your snowy landscape... we're having the warmest winter I can remember in many years; yesterday it hit 50 degrees... the grass is starting to grow, and the trees are budding.

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2/16/2003 9:03:54 AM

Kimberly Beatty   Just wondering if you've checked out eBay for any of your equipment? I've gotten most of my stuff there and have been more than pleased with it. Just bought some studio lighting - great items! just a suggestion. Hope things are going well for you - keep up the enthusiasm and great work!

Kim Beatty

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2/16/2003 2:57:16 PM

Bill McFadden   You may want to check out a video from Dean Collins called "The Portfolio." from his Basic Lighting series. He does some amazing things with Bogen panels, 1 to 2 Metz strobes and a mirror. The website is (not this is not a paid commercial endorsement.) the video includes lighting diagrams. Also, Susan McCartney's book called "Mastering Flash photography" is excellant on providing information on using shoe mount flash, light meters, stand and reflectors to achieve studio quality lighting.
I once asked a lady at work who ran community threatre performances where did she get some of the impressive props. She advised me to check out local thrift stores and flea markets for interesting props. I purchased several items for a song. The more props the model can use, the more looks you can get. You might even find something that will work with the boots!
Mark knows far more than I about photography but I might ask him and you to consider two points. You can use duct tape and two poster board panels to create a large reflector for fill.
Lighting schemes depend greatly on how much room you have available for your studio. I learned after a long time that the subject to background distance determines to a great extent how you use lighting to get high key effects.
Things to look at when you check out strobes. Re-cycle times at full power. I brought a Metalight three light strobe set with 2 - 100 w/s lights and a 60 w/s light. Waste of money since the recycle times are 4 - 6 seconds at full power, way too slow for people or pets, and the power is too litle to reduce it much. You want a system that gives you 2 seconds recycle at full power and a three stop range.
I was told that this system does not work but so far, on a limited budget, I have been able to use an old Sunpak 520 flash and it's AC cord to get 2 second recycle time. There is a problem using most auto-trysiter flashes with electronic cameras and with the Canon EOS system. Unless you use a system like Wein to regulate the voltage, you can fry your camera with the older model flashes.
The best value for the money on studio lighting appears to be a Novatron head and pack system. They come in several kits. When you price them against monolights, you would have to add stands to use the monolights. The monolights are heavier, so I would recommend Bogen or similar make stands. bhphotovideo web site has information on the weight, closed length, open lenght and load bearing capability of most stands.

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2/16/2003 3:44:18 PM

Bill McFadden   Oh, I almost forgot to mention I like the pictures of the kids. The poses are great and the use of roses is a classic prop. If you want to use chairs or stools, you can add color and depth to the picture by placing "fake" plants (or real ones!) on small tables or classic columns. My sister in law found two 4' classic columns at a local thrift store and brought them for $5.00 each. Fabric stores are also a good place to get stuff to add to the photos. They have bins with discarded pieces left over from their work that they sell for very little.
I have considered using one of those plastic 4 ' trees that some folks have in their homes. There are always plactic plants in the trift stores. However, my dog is stupid enough to not realize she is indoors and therefore should not pee on it!
Stools are good for portraits. I would recommend white ones for the high key look.
You could also try creating a "bench" using pillows on top of plastic storage boxes covered by a scrape of fabric store material. I have not tried out that idea because I worry about the ability of the boxes to support people. An alternative may be two or three milk crates or wooden storage boxes on and a wooden plank covered by the pillows and fabric store covering. I would recommend a clamp or four from the local hardware store to secure the planks to the boxes.
There are posing stones, storage boxes that double as posing benchs and various other props sold at many photography on-line stores. My plan is to try the same concept and purchase a padded bench that will hold camera equipment.
As I type this, we are being hit by 20+ inches of snow. It is my fault. I planned to take pictures of the snow covered fields and historical sites in Valley Forge national park. Most of the time I plan on taking outdoor pictures, it snows or rains. The good news is I can, I guess stop droughts!

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2/16/2003 4:07:31 PM

Dede Carver   Oh, if I could only just wish you all out of your chairs and into my toyroom studio!!!!!!!!!! You are all full of so many great ideas! I can't wait until I have even half the wealth of knowledge as you all. For now the biggest challenge will be deciding on the lights.
Kim, did you buy your lights from someone who has an ebay store or from an individual with only one set? Can you tell me about them? I think I may go the route Mark suggested with the White Lightning and the Brolley boxes. My dad would be so proud of me. I think this is the first time in my life that I've actually taken the time to think about something before doing it. Believe it or not making the purchase of the lights scares me to death. There are so many choices between brands, output, quality, and gadgets. With my luck I will have them delivered and only have half of what I need as I will not have known to order the other half. Once I make my decision, would you all mind looking it over? I value your opinions and I feel you can make the difference between a good or bad move on my part.
Hey, Bill. When God gives you snow, go out and make angels!

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2/16/2003 6:48:15 PM

Carrie C. Brannon   Hi Dede, Mark, Kim, Bill, and All!
I noticed Bill mentioned buying props at thrift stores, and I agree, that is an exellent source for all sorts of items, clothing, furniture, etc. You can even find charities such as Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Shriners, ASPCA, etc. that have stores that will actually put the money you spend to good use! Another great place to find things even cheaper than thrift stores is at Garage/Yard Sales and Flea Markets! There you can find anything and everything you can think of to use as props, and you can also dicker over the price too!! At the last one I went to, I bought a bookshelf to hold all my photography books and such for $5, and then a genuine Indian handmade drum and rainstick as well as two neat hats, all for $8! Hats and clothing type stuff can be found many times for as little as 25 or 50 cents! So the next time you are driving along and see a Yard Sale sign, stop in and check it out! Now that is my second favorite hobby in the summer time! (Photography being my first of course!)
I leave out very early on Saturday mornings, like 7AM, and I pick a road with a lot of subdivisions or neighborhoods and I just drive along looking for the signs. It is kind of like a treasure hunt! A lot of them are also listed in the local paper in the Yard/Garage sale section of the classified ad section. Once I stopped at my first yard sale, I was addicted!
Where else can you take $20 and shop all day and come home with a car stuffed full of stuff? I have found things like a white mink coat for $20, a full length sable mink for $30, etc.! I even find camera stuff from time to time! And people like Kimberly who are 'suffering' with the warm winter while we are covered in an inch of ice at the moment, and Bill is burried under 20+ inches of snow, should be able to find Yard Sales every WARM weekend! LOL. I wish I were suffering like that! I am suffering from withdrawals for yard sales, and I can't wait for the first TRUE sign of spring, a Yard Sale sign!
So Good Luck and Happy Hunting!
Carrie B

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2/16/2003 8:05:34 PM

Kimberly Beatty   My lighting set is quite simple - a 250 watt light stand with a 40" umbrella. Doesn't sound like much, but in my makeshift studio, that thing really packs a powerful punch! I bought this set-up from Warehouse Photo. They had awesome service and were very easy to work with.
There are tons of listings on ebay but you have to be willing to look. It took me a while to find what I needed, and after pricing the exact same thing at say, b&h, I found I was getting a pretty darn good deal (I paid $99, and b&h would have cost about $140). I think the yard/garage sale and flea market ideas are great! I can't wait until this crappy winter weather is done with Indiana so they start popping up! If you have any more questions about some of the eBay stores/sellers I frequent, or about anything at all, feel free to email me!


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2/17/2003 5:08:30 AM

Scott    Dede,
There are as many correct answers to your questions as there are photographers. Reading your original post you mentioned that you did not want to spend a lot of money on equipment and you live in a rural area where supplies are hard to come by. Start at your local library, read everything on photography you can get your hands on. Make notes on everything you do behind the camera and compare these with your photos. Here is my personal journey into studio lighting, this may sound really silly to some of these advanced photographers out there but I now have a home studio and make a part time income from photography. I also live in a rural area. I started with window light and a reflector. I got excellent results with this. A basic reflector can be made with cardboard and aluminum foil or a white piece of foam core. I bought halogen lights from the hardware store, you can shoot through a sheet for the softbox look or use a regular umbrella lined with foil or white paper for reflected indirect light light. If you use your portraT film, your pictures will not have a yellow cast from the Halogen light. You can also use regular film and a filter specifically designed for this light (3200K). My first light stands? They were made from old projector screen stands, they are adjustable and available from almost any thrift store or garage sale. Slowly, I made the transition to studio flash units and equipment, replacing one light at a time. I am very leery of buying second hand flash equipment as you never know the stuff was handled by the previous owner. I would suggest B&H photo as an online resource for photography equipment. Alien bees monolights are also an excellent choice, available only from the manufacturer(white lightning) In your quest for studio lights, you will be happiest with units that have built in slaves and modeling lights. Thanks to all the people that have posted to this forum and happy shooting.

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2/18/2003 7:51:13 AM

Mark English
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/7/2001

Scott has provided some very sage advice. It is often all too easy to get caught up in the quest for more and better equipment, and to forget that excellent work can be done with very simple tools.

I once attended a workshop at the studio of a well known professional advertising photographer here in Vancouver. Over the course of an evening, he created a whole series of portraits of his wife, each with an entirely different look, using only a single halogen hot-light and a few reflectors and diffusers. Too much gear can actually get in the way of learning.

I also second his comments on buying second-hand lighting gear. Not to say that others haven't had, or that you wouldn't have good experiences. But, unless you know their history and the person who used them, the potential for problems is greater.

B&H also gets my vote. absolutely first rate service and unwavering integrity. I have been buying from them for the last 10 years or so, and have never had a problem that wasn't resolved quickly and professionally. I find that even with shipping charges and 50% exchange, I save a substantial amount over buying locally.

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2/18/2003 9:30:24 AM

Victor J.    Dede. I've been following your original
question on 12/2/02 and the follow up answers by Judith, Andy, Mark, Bill, Kim and Scott. You have a mini photo course right there. Keep rereading thrir replys. Every time you read them you'll get more out of it. Being a teacher you should know that. I would like to mention a couple of small items. 1. Especially in the beginning it is most important that you write down on a small note book how each shot was done. To include ISO, shutter, aperture, lightning, etc. This way, when you get the prints back you can identify the print (They are numbered on the back.)with how you exposed that shot. Scott mentioned this. Of course when you drop your film off at the one hour lab you must tell them not to make any corrections on the prints. @. This comes to bracketing. 3 shots, one (so called)normal exposure, one over exposure and one under exposure. Eventually you be able to know what exposure to use. Assuming you haven't changed your lighning. 2. Ref to Slave unit, Andy mentioned on 12/4/02 about a light sensoring devise that you attach to your second flash unit. Inexpensive. You can get a second flash unit rather inexpensive that can act as fill, or back lite for as little as $25. Of course if you're going for those monolites. More power to you. Michael mentioned the flash meter which you seem to have. Learn to use it properly. 3. As the Piano instructor tells his students, You must Practise, Practise, Practise. Good luck. Vic

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2/18/2003 10:28:18 AM

Bill McFadden   I disagree with ordering any equipment from on-line places until you have gained experience in using equipment and know what works for your situation and skills. B&H photovideo has one of the best reputations in the business but I have found there is not anything like a local PROFESSIONAL photography store when you need advice on both purchashing and using equipment. If it breaks, they have a warranty. if it isn't broken but I just did not use it correctly, they can tell me what I did wrong when I bring the item into the store.
Photography chain stores sell entry level equipment and employ people new to the field, except for managers and sometimes the assistant manager.
We have two professional stores in my area that are happy to show a new person how to use equipment and give excellant advice on what to buy. The best store in the greater Philadelphia area is Allen's Camera and Video. I do not think on-line stores can beat the knowledge that Allen and his staff have if only because it is easier to show a person how to use a device than it is to walk someone through it over the phone. Stay away from any stores that employ college students for the bulk of their employees. These students are still learning the craft and tend to give advice on the systems that they use. They canot match stores that people with extensive experience. The best thing I ever did was stop using on-line stores and instead purchased items (prices at Allen's are equal to B&H when you add in B&H's shipping charges) at my local store.
I strongly believe even the staff at B&H service customers serve customers well when the customer already knows what they want. I have found, when I onced used two on-line stores, that they are less helpful to a beginner.
Check out for stores in your area that have received favorable reviews.

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2/18/2003 11:12:25 AM

Kimberly Beatty   To stray from the somewhat expensive equipment - I just completed my wildly inexpensive backdrop set!!!! If you are willing to spend a little time to make it, it is well worth it. Actually, I completed my first backdrop in about an hour - Just buy the material of your choice (nothing too reflective, and something that isn't too busy to keep from making any distractions) and one of those tab-top curtain rods (mine is about 6' and about 1/4" in diameter). Just make a pocket along the top with enough room to slide the rod through and hang it on the wall. I am quite pleased. I think I spent a little over $60 and got the pole, and 4 backdrops out of it. Makes my home studio seem a lot more professional, even though it's still in my home and they aren't "real" backdrops. Just a thought.
On the topic of buying professional equipment online - I was only suggesting it as a means for inexpensive equipment. Some places offer very good deals. I agree you shouldn't buy things that you aren't sure/confident how to use, but when you get to that point there are some great places to go!

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2/19/2003 7:33:35 AM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/20/2001
  Dede et al,
I have compiled some great links and info on studio shooting on my web site if you're interested. Check out DEALS & STEALS

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10/10/2003 7:25:56 AM

Steve A. Stephens   Dede, I'm sure somewhere in here someone has mentioned that your pic's are nice but the light is falling off very how to resolve that. I didn't read everyones response but I think using a 3 light setup is key..maybe 4..I use novatron lights and they are absolutley the best in lighting...a bit expensive but you can get em used pretty resonable...second..for the hi-key set did you meter the backdrop??..that is usually about 3-4 stops higher than your main light...also try using a hairlight to put some spec hi-lights into the hair...
lastly...if your using home lights and want to shoot wth existing lighting without the red tint..try the tungstun's balanced for 3200k light temp and not the 5600k from outdoor film...good luck...if you can email me at my home email addy with specific questions...I'll be happy to help out...

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12/1/2003 7:57:26 PM

Peggy Wolff
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/26/2003
  Before spending any more money on more flashes which in my personal oppinion doesn't make any sence, you can buy 2 good strobe lights for the same price. Also the tungston lights are only about 50-$100 a piece and that often comes wiht a stand. A good place to begin. Remember to check out E-bay for backgrounds, and equiment. If you live any where near the twin cities I would be happy to spend a few hours with you teaching you about light and lighting options but I do better *showing not writting it all down. I agree with others about using textured backgrounds to start, with high key you really need to light them correctly and they need a lot of light. Back up your subject at least 3 feet from your background so you don't cast a shadow and then tilt your flash so it isn't directly in front of their faces and shoot. Have fun learning, your mistakes are the best way to learn! Take it from someone who has made a lot of them!

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12/18/2003 8:01:47 AM

Carrie C. Brannon   Dede,
Hi, it's Carrie, remember me, your Ebay and Better Photo board friend? Sorry I haven't written in so long, but my computer crashed, my AOL wouldn't even open! So, I ended up having to do a complete system recovery, and so I lost ALL my addresses, fav places, etc! I found something in a magazine that I think would be of GREAT interest to you, but I don't have your email address any more! I remember the first part but not the last, so send it to me asap please! Email me @! Anyway, it is an article on painting your own backgrounds, and I could scan and email it to you if you want. Plus I have done some experimenting and came up with a few tricks of my own that cost under $20 for a nice background, self made!
I went to Kmart and bought a couple window shades, the roll down, plain white kind which were about $6 each(they come in all widths and sizes, larger costs more of course, but tops out at about $30!), and I sponged two different shades of gray household paint on one side of one of them and the effect was great!Then I turned it over and used a brush and made kind of a swirly pattern with the lighter shade after painting the whole thing in the darker color. It looks really cool! There are a couple more IMPORTANT things I want to bring you up to date on too so PLEASE contact me! I think you will be VERY interested in one of them!!!!
I miss talking with you and would love to know how everything is going with your photography and life in general too! Talk to you soon!
Hi to everyone on the boards whom I have also sorely missed, but I am back now! LOL.... I have a LOT of reading posts and catching up to do! Take care everyone and a belated Happy Holidays to you all!
Happy Shooting!!!
Carrie Brannon
Western NC (Brrrrrrrr!)

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1/16/2004 4:42:30 AM

Dan Hickman   Hi Dede, I have read this entire discussion and have learned a lot from everyone right along with you. I started out with a set of Smith-Victor photo flood lamps when I began playing with portrait photography. I learned a lot from that but soon wanted to get into using strobes for lighting. My first umbrella was just that, an umbrella I bought at a outlet store and spray painted it silver on the inside. I used one of my photoflood stands and fashioned a mount of sorts to attach it to the stand. It was very primitive but opened the door to some fun experimentation. I also made some frames with pvc plastic pipe and bought some ripstop nylon from Porters Camera supply and used it as a shoot through diffuser.Everything I have done has been trial and error in this department, I could never afford a good flash meter, but after awhile and many rolls of film I kinda got my bearings on where things need to be placed and where to set the aperature and so forth. I had my studio in the living room of my mobile home as I had just gotten divorced and had very little furniture in that room. The photos you had in the forum tell me you are headed in the right direction, just don't get discouraged. Keep workin at it, my experience ( very limited at that) says this is a very exacting area of photography with many elements to consider, and a lot of avenues to explore. I have been out of this area for quite awhile, but I am venturing back into it slowly. I have a daughter who loves to be in front of the camera and she is my guinea pig, along with some of her friends. We have a lot of fun playin with this and I am starting to get my bearings again in portrait photography. This is a good site for Q&A, best I have found so far and I intend to check back regularly to see whats goin on. Good Luck Dede, and thanks to everyone who contributed to this question. I learned a lot also.

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1/17/2004 8:45:26 PM

Peggy Wolff
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/26/2003
  Dede, I only read about 1/2 the responces but another idea is to paint your walls differently. My studio is in our bacement and kids room. I have one wall painted like a ghetto wall, one with blue and clouds, and another I nailed up old barn wood to. I have also painted a big canvas, with tones of ivory and gold on one side and a more rustic browns on the other side. I first bought all the expensive acrilic paints for the first side and it was expensive and hard to work with. Then the second side I used just cheap wall paint that I got out of the *oops cart and it was easy and only cost a total of $3.00 for about 4 colors. I also bought a blace velvet backgroud that were drapes from an antique store that was going out of business. I think I paid a whopping $1.00 for it. Then I found a photographer who was going out of business and bought about $3000.00 worth of backgrounds and equipment for $500.00. Just keep your eyes open! I love National camera for camera and lights, they are so helpful and are always there to fix any problems. The guy who sold me my lighting setup even came to my house to set everything up for me. By the way my backgrounds are all held up by homemade devices. Like the muslims are on shower curtain rods and hung on a heavey wire that goes across the room. Then my papers are on big PVC poles. I have a wooden hanger that we sawed out half circles in each side so that they fit into and it hangs from my ceiling. It makes it easy to change backgrounds quickly and easily.

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1/18/2004 7:19:26 AM

Sylvia    Hi, all. I am new to this site and have been a wanna-be photographer for about 2 years. I am in the same boat as DeDe as far as wanting to learn and not have local resources available. I have a Nikon N70 that I can manage to get some ok portraits from outdoors but I cringe at thought of indoor shoots for the very same lighting reasons that she mentioned. I just wanted to thank you, DeDe, for posting this question and everyone else for posting answers. I am learning a lot from reading your responses am I'm only part way through. I look forward to the reading the rest.

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8/5/2004 10:59:06 AM

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