Home-made lighting tips?

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As a relative beginner, I've learned a ton just reading through this great forum; this site is great! I love shooting B&W in natural light and have had good success, but I want to explore the controllability of shooting inside, studio-style. Unfortunately I can't afford proper studio equipment; but if there's a way to be resourceful (read: cheat) with lights (understanding that flash would be ruled out), my creativity would be able to flow in more directions. Has anyone out there made their own lights as I'm sug- gesting? What kind of light works? What wattage? Basically any advice on cheap ways to set up a make- shift studio (lights, diffusers, stands, gels, back- grounds, flags, etc.) would be much appreciated.

Thanks for the help! Joanna.......:P

-- Anonymous, July 14, 1997


Dear Joanna

Your cheapest source of Light is still open skylight coming in through a window. By that I mean Look to a window located on the north or south side of you building. Be sure that the light through the window comes from the sky and not reflected off the grass or filtered through a tree. The easiest thing to do is look to see if out the window all you can see is a nice big patch of blue (no sun either). If you have this condition you have all you need for your main light. From there you need to have a reflector to controll your contrast. Good portraiture (and color film) can handle a max ratio of 4:1 (this is a two stop different between your shadow and highlight). You can make a great reflector just from foamcore (gotten at your local Staples or Office Max). If you don't have a light meter, eye the ratio, keep notes and practice.

I hope this helps with your photography and budget. If you have any more questions or still would like to know how to make a cheap set of lights e-mail me.

-- Anonymous, July 16, 1997

I do know that you can use simple flood lights of the style sold in hardware stores because color balance is not a problem in black and white. These are called "hot lights", or you can buy "hot lights" (tungsten lights) specicically made for photography. Back to the cheap way though, a couple of store bought portable floods, and foam core to bounce into or off of, shoot thru sheets of linen to soften diffuse, or a single flood on one side, a sheet of faomcore on the other for fill, another small flood in backround for backround light/seperation/or hair light. Generally reflectors can do a lot for you with NO electricity, both white foamcore, foil, gold foil, You can cut off light from areas by using black cardboard as flags. Caution: Hot lights get hot (duh), and need to be monitored for overheating and allowing items to get too close and burn, or so close that the light can't cool and bursts causing eye injury. Careful about falling lights (causing bursting bulbs). Gaffers tape down ALL exposed cords ALL the time ! Keep spare bulbs around. Light stands are cheap, but buy weighted sandbags to keep them from getting knocked down and hurting people with flying hot glass. Clamps (pony clamps) are also cheap.....those are those orange handeled clamps and come in all sizes. Buy a lot of clamps, as they are great for holding things up like flags and foam core. Large foam core, if you cut partially thru a sheet and fold at 45 degrees will stand by itself and bounce soft dufussed light for you. Light meter will help, a simple incident will suffice for hot light work. Your life will be easier in a large room with tall ceilings (never have enough height it seems) and enough room to move far back from subject with medium telephoto lens. It really helps if you start out in a dark room with no light at all, so you can see what your lights/panels/flags etc. are doing, otherwise the effects are hard to see. Using hot lights causes heat/ventlation problems in the room......a sweating subject doesn't look too good, so use a stand in to set your scene, and bring in a subject only for the actual shoot. You might have to run a fan to keep the heat from getting too oppressive. Stay away from light banks/softboxes unless they are designed for specific use for hotlights and ventilate properly or you WILL burn your house down (if that happens run straight for your negative files). Best of luck. Shoot a lot of film and KEEP notes !!!

-- Anonymous, July 17, 1997

Home made lighting.

First, to use artificial light for people photography you really need a proper light meter. A reflected meter is a pain to use with a grey card and rarely covers a tight enough angle. An incident meter works much better and solves a lot of guesswork. Good need not be to expensive, however, as most meters will last a long, long time and basic ones are available used fairly cheap.

Next, one light and several reflectors (foam core, maybe covered with deli foil or reflective wrapping paper) enable you to do almost anything you can do with mega-thousands of dollars of light instruments. I've taught lighting and I do a special class on one and two instrument lighting. The light levels are much lower, of course, but with the wonderful faster films available today, this should not be a problem unless you just must shoot K25 or Velvia. How about a soft box made from a cardboard box, some white paper and a cheap flash unit? Anything is possible if you understand how light works and are a bit creative.


-- Anonymous, July 24, 1997

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