Looking for some portrait lighting for my 4X5

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I have been using a single Vivitar 285HV mounted on top of my Graphic view II. It works.. but the shadows are harsh. I am looking for more of the professional look.

I ran across a deal on light stands and some other stuff. I will list the equipment I have.

5 light stands 6-10 feet tall. 1 Vivitar 285HV With bounce card (I currently use) 3 Vivitar 283's Quantum radio slaves Minolta IIIF meter

I am now ready to purchase umbrellas for the setup. (2 umbrella setup) Will I be ok with 2 vivitars in 1 umbrella. For a total of 2 umbrellas? What size umbrella should I get?

Or should I dump the Vivitars and get two actual strobes? Umbrella size??

Or the third senario is to get 1 strobe and use 2 vivitars in an umbrella for fill. Umbrella size??

-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 13, 2001



What kind of lighting gear you use is really a matter of taste. I own monolights, a medium softbox, scrims (transluscent and opaque), shoot- through and reflective umbrellas. Each has it's own look.

I would say that 85% of the time I end-up using the softbox. Mainly because I love the look, the even light distribution and because it spills the least amount of light. 20% of the time I use the scrims. I'd use them more if I had not made them so large (6ft x 3 ft). They are easy to make from PVC pipe (cost is virtually pennies each once you buy the glue) and are very versatile - just imagine a 6 ft x 3 ft soft-box-like light source that costs under CDN$50! The remaining 5% I use umbrellas.

It's nice to use real studio lights with the softboxes and scrims as they really pack more punch than portable flash units. This is especially important when shooting at the smaller aperatures required for 4x5 work.

Were I you, I'd keep the portable flash units for location work and low power fill lighting, and spend your money on the best studio flashes (whether pack/head or monos) you can get your hands on. Then build your own scrim frames from PVC plumbing supplies and removable faces for them with nylon from a fabric store. The sky's the limit really, you can make translucent ones for softbox effects, white, silver and gold ones for fill effects and black ones for negative fill effects. If you make them in various sizes you'll never have to pay the rediculous cost of a new softbox. In my mind, home made scrims are both the most versatile and cost effective lighting tools you could ever own.

It might be advisable to go rent some scrims/softboxes/umbrellas from a local pro shop to see what you like best before you set off.

Good Luck.

-- Dominique Labrosse (d_labrosse@hotmail.com), July 13, 2001.

Maybe I should add this comment:

I don't do this for $$$ :) Its a hobby..

so money is an issue!! thanks

-- pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 13, 2001.

Well, I have to sort of agree with the other guy here...large foramt does require a bit more power than shooting with smaller gear, even for pretty simple shots like a head & shoulder portrait, or copywork for that matter...a direct 283 will have a GN around 80 or so manual probably...surely no more than 120. put that in an umbrella, and it will decrease alot. So I guess my question to you would be what are you planning on shooting? I'm not saying it can't be done with this kind of setup....but your range is going to be severely limited, as is the lack of any modeling lights etc....

-- DK thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), July 13, 2001.

Even dual vivitars in each umbrella?

I have been doing child portraits. Ok... now maybe we can look at some cheaper strobes. Are the britek strobes any good? I can probably sell 2 vivitars and buy one of those... Can I get away with one primary strobe, and use the Vivitar/umbrella combination for the side fill?

-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 13, 2001.

You'll be pushing it(so to speak)to get enough power if you try to bounce the Vivitars into an umbrella. If you can get to around f8 or f11, then that'd be great.

You might want to think about using a Stofen "dome" ($20US) on a Vivitar. This gives the effect of a bare bulb without a lot of the harshness and you'd maintain at least some power. You could put a piece of white foamcore (cheap) behind the Stofen to reflect more of the light into the subject. Place this to one side of the subject, say at 45 degrees.

Take that same lighting package (if you can) and set up another Vivitar/Stofen/reflector within 20 degrees of your camera position. Have this one almost one stop less than the other. This will give you a 3:1 lighting ratio (trust me) which is a basic portrait lighting ratio. If you can't duplicate the Vivitar/Stofen/reflector try a piece of white foamcore placed on the other side of the subject as a fill.

Slave one of the other Vivitars to be used as a background light. Have it low and pointed at the background so the intensity drops off as it gets higher. With another Vivitar you could make a snoot to use as a hair light. At university we used a Styrofoam coffee cup, painted it black and cut the bottom out. This would be placed high and just aimed at the back of the subject's head. The backlight and the hairlight will separated the subject from the background.

Now that's kind of using what you have. What you don't have are modeling lights so you can't "see" the effect of the flashes. So you better have some Polaroid capability or you're gonna waste some film.

You also have the world's worst flashmeter. I can say that because I own one, purchased new I might add, and it's garbage. Everything that was wrong with the Autometer IIIf, Minolta fixed witht he IVf, and you'll need a flashmeter that you can depend on for this kind of lighting. But for now I'll assume it works.

Measure each light separately so you know what's going on. If I'm using the above (with monolights bounced into umbrellas) and shooting black and white or colour negative film, I set up the main at say f8, the fill at f5.6 and a touch. Then I usually shoot at f5.6 & a half. But for Polaroid and especially transparency film I shoot at the COMBINATION of the fill and the main which in this example is going to be around f8 and a half. The tranny and Polaroid film will just not have the latitude to do it any other way.

As I've said, the background light should fade in intensity as it gets higher. I'd want it fairly bright behind the subject's shoulders but then fading to no exposure at all at the top of the frame. The hairlight should be grossly overexposing the hair. Two stops or four stops, it doesn't matter since you won't be able to tell.

At some point you will want to get "real" strobes, with modeling lights and much more power. But for now you can have a lot of fun with what you have - although that Minolta IIIf isn't my idea of fun ... ;-)

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@accesscable.net), July 13, 2001.

get a 300 to 600 w/s monolight, something like a Paul C. Buff White Lightning Zap or Ultra unit. Ewlinchrom and Balcar also makes terrific monolights. I have two Elinchrom EL1000 units and a couple of older Balcar Monoblocs. Look on ebay to see what is available.

What size umbrella? Get a 42" to 60" white translucent umbrella. I like the Photek Good Lighter II that has a removable black backing, Use the black backing and you kill the light spill out of the back of the umbrella . Take the backing off the umbrella and point the back of the umbrella at the subject and you can get it closer to the subject for a softer, more wrap around effect. Since the source is three dimensional it makes it easier & more efficient to use bounce cards for fill.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), July 13, 2001.


I did not mean to scare you off with the mention of money but... I managed to accumulate most of the gear I've listed above while I was a University student. So it can be done cheaply (that's a relative term of course).

Don't buy umbrella's or softboxes. Make your own scrims. They will litterally cost you $5-$10 each for the frames and maybe another $5- $10 per removable face... but you'll have to make/sew them yourself. I've got some old plans kicking around that I could try and e-mail you if you are interested.

Keep an eye out for good deals on old used pack/head combinations or monolights. The great thing about mono's is that you can buy and acumulate them slowly, one at at time. Mind you you could do the same with flash heads once you buy a power pack. Once you start spreading the light around you really need more than the little flashes.


-- Dominique Labrosse (d_labrosse@hotmail.com), July 13, 2001.

Scrims?? I have no clue what they look like or what they do.. But if they are cheap and work then I can use them

Minolta IIIF sucks? I dunno it seems to work for me.. my negatives look good...

I have a polaroid holder and 11 cases of out of date film. (I shot some and it still works)

If I am wasting my time with the vivitars.. I am sure I can sell all of them and buy one mono light.

What should I be looking for in an older strobe? Novatron good?

-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 13, 2001.

If it's just one kid in the shot, I'd almost say to just try to get a halfway decent, bare bones monolight...just one light, off to the side or even in the classic butterfly lighting position, will do alot...throw in a couple of fill cards and an umbrella....the other problem with ganging all your vivitars into one umbrella, or something like that, is in just power & recycling time...I've used 2-3 small flashes in 1 umbrella before, shooting quickie location shots with Nikons, but 4x5 is a different beast...don't get bogged down with hairlights, backlights etc. at first. You can do alot with just one light...and if there's any kind of movement to your subject, like a kid moving around a set, this will just complicate things more....one more question. Is there some reason (other than just wanting to use a 4x5) that you're doing this on a view camera??

F8 really won't go far on a view camera, depending on what lens & film you're shooting...I know for a portrait, you may be shooting at a wider aperture, but that usually means something like f16 at least. I'd think something in the range of 750-1000 watts or so would be fine. But, it's really the sort of thing where you want more power than you think you're going to need...

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), July 13, 2001.

For the most part I have liked the results with a 4X5 negative. I normally take my 35mm gear with also.. and the 4X5 negative almost always gets used. I usually print 8X10 and larger.

could be a combo of the film I am using.. Ilford HP5+ in 4X5 and Fuji 200 in 35mm.

I have done 35mm and 4X5 prints to 8X10. And the 4X5 is usually the best...

I am doing this for friends and family.. and I they always come back for more.. I have actually gone so far as setting up appointments. but I have been limited to outside shoots (natural light) or inside with the vivitar 285HV. Maybe tonight I can scan and load a pic I shot last week with my view camera.

-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 13, 2001.

I looked on Ebay and searched for some mono lights. Most seem out of my price range... What about the Britek lights? Are they ok for amature use?

Maybe one session a week?

-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 13, 2001.

Speedotron Brownline with M11 heads.

-- Wayne DeWitt (wdewitt@snip.net), July 13, 2001.

Working with Novatrons can be a shocking experience.

The Minolta IIIF is a fine meter.

To make a scrim: find some materials: wood, PVC tube, metal conduit that is strong enough too not snap or warp under tension. you want enough to make a simple frame about 5'x5' or 6'x6'. Use a frosted (translucent) shower curtain for the diffusion screen. Stretch it across the frame you built. Voila'! A diifusion screen (AKA: A scrim)!

The bigger the source behind the scrim the smoother the light. i like to use a light bounced into an umbrella . If you don't want a big umbrella a 24" to 32" inch umbrella works well. feel free to experiment with changing the position of the source relative to the scrim for different effects. But I often find it effective to start with the head at the same height as the sitter's head Put one edge of the scrim next to the camera and the other edge whereever you like. Experiment with this angle too.

A decent monolight with a powerful enough modeling light to let you see what the light is doing (Ideally you want a modeling light in the 150 to 250 watt range) should run you about $500.00

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), July 13, 2001.

Alright... all this talk about strobes...

I bought a Photogenic 1500 with softbox on ebay. $350. Did I get ripped off?

I have a light stand.. I assume this strobe will work on it...

so now that I made everyone happy and got a strobe and am selling my flashes...

Should I start a new topic? "how to use a strobe with my Large format camera"


-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 13, 2001.

Keep your 283s! they can be very useful as hair and other accent lights. It sounds as if you got an okay deal on the Photogenic as long as it isn't too beat up. Enjoy!

For a guide to lighting with minimal equipment (and less jargon) I like Bob Krist's bookSecrets of Lighting on Location.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (evphoto@heartstone.com), July 14, 2001.

Pete, that sounds like a pretty good deal, I had one of those years ago, and it's a rugged light...the thing I remember about it was that it required an adapter to fit onto my regular lightstands...it could just be the model I had though, so don't quote me on this...the adapter only cost $10 or so...I'd hold onto the 283s/285 as well...they'll still be great for the 35mm stuff, and we still use a half dozen 283s or so for location work as well...we slave them & place them in corners etc...they really can't be beat for some things...that Bob Krist book is really good too. Don't worry about your meter either. Once you get used to the lighting setup you have, it all come pretty easy....but, make sure you get a couple of extra sync cords. Good luck.

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), July 14, 2001.

have you thought of going with a tungsten constant light source? light is light, hell, you could use chicken lights if you had to......

-- mark lindsey (lindseygraves@msn.com), July 14, 2001.

Well I have to sell the vivitars to pay for the new strobe!!! I am keeping one of the 283's

So now I have this mono light and softbox. Should I stick with the softbox or get an umbrella?

I do some portraits outside, and would like to have some light for fill.

It seems the Vivitar 283 would be useless. I could hook the vivitar to my quantum II reciever. Then the strobe can use its own slave.

-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 14, 2001.

Why I think that the Minolta Autometer IIIf is the worlds worst flashmeter - and not to be confused with the Minolta Flashmeter 3, which was a very nice meter.:

1) I've bought one IIIf new and had it for a decade. A friend bought one at about the same time. I finally sold my first one and my friend he GAVE me his. Neither of them would consistantly give a flash reading. You'd pop the flash and the meter would ignore it. Maybe one in four pops would give a reading. And this error was for BOTH of these meters. Eventually they both gave up giving any flash reading at all. As an ambient meter they're fine, sort of. 2) When they did work as flash meters there was still no way to plug a synch cord into one. Thus you had to either fire the flash yourself or have someone else fire it. 3) The battery. First it's a very expensive one, and if you leave it in the meter it'll die within a couple of days. There is no on/off switch so you must remove the battery or be prepared to carry a lot of spare batteries with you. Once the battery is reinserted you must then reset the film ISO.

So this meter is unreliable and difficult and expensive to use. The IVf has an on/off switch, a PC terminal and takes a AA batery so it IS robust, dependable, inexpensive to use; and if I may say, the industry standard; but that IIIf is crap.

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@accesscable.net), July 15, 2001.

Thanks for all the info!! I am going to end this thread... since it isn't going to deal with small strobes anymore!!


-- Pete (gregarpp@icqmail.com), July 16, 2001.

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