Studio Lighting for 8X10 : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

As the Wisconsin winter rolls on I am getting my annual dose of cabin fever. The last couple of years I have been toying with the idea of setting up a studio in my basement to do 8x10 portraits. I have seen some monolight packages that seem pretty reasonable out on the web. Could anyone help me out as to what I would need in the way of a monolight(s) to get started out on the cheap. I don't have 1200.00 to spend on one light. Any input,ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much!

-- Michael Pry (, January 14, 2002


There is a 5,000 w/s Balcar set on eBay right now. That should do you.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, January 14, 2002.

Ellis, is a 4,800 or 5,000 pop what's needed for 8x10 with portrait length lens (400) for DOF consideration? Is this comming out of one light, or can you illuminate subject with less, say 2,400 & use less for background?

-- Andre Noble (, January 14, 2002.

You can have a nice set-up with one light(a key light, a reflector/flat boucing some key back as fill, and a softbox/'eggcrate' grill to limit spill on background).

How's the electrical wiring in your basement? Arc protection-what happens if you or somebody accidently kicks the strobes power cord out of an outlet? High voltage coming back through your pc connection? Newer units tend to have all this covered, I still think you need to check if your buying used.

Will you be doing any 'high key' with the juice needed to do it? Fiters(25R-3 stops, 21-2 stops)? One of my strobes is a White Lightning Ultra, which I've had since around '87, has never failed, never, cheap, safe(had to buy a fan-I beleive they're fan cooled now).

Are you set on a monolight? I've just check out E-bay which has a Balcar 3200WS(Balcar concept P4) strobe w/3 heads(1 1600WS, 2 800WS heads). You've get the pack, 3 lights, giving you the capacity to adjust your key+fill/fil ratios on portraits, and a background light if you want. The bidding is $500.00 way below the figure you mentioned, it may be the pack Ellis mentioned. I don't use Balcar, I would defer on specifics to those who do, but a combination like this if you can get a deal, may give you more flexibility than one monolight.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 14, 2002.

I have a elinchrome 3000 ws and two heads, The single head full tilt in a 4x6 soft box at 6' to the subject gives me f32 on asa 160. If I go to the 30" beauty light reflector at 10' with asa 160 I get f45- f64, so yes you do need alot of light but this gives me the depth of field the lense can render. I use 500's for background with ordinary standard reflectors, If you want a great holiwood light then you can get a used fresnel, WOW!!!

Don't was your time with 1000ws mono lights, You really will not be happy until you hit the 3000ws and one head, The Normans are a little less efficirnt and you nee the 4000ws , the 5000ws balcar is alot of light!!! the balcars are efficient, the colour temp on the balcars and elinchromes are right on daylight 56oo kelvin, the normans are warmer about 45oo kelvin.

-- ED (, January 14, 2002.

I do 8x10 and 5x7 portraits and still lifes in an outbuilding "studio". With respect, I think the responses are too technical. Get some lighting and start shooting. There are pretty powerful halogen "work lights" on stands at Home Depot etc. that work great. Twenty bucks or so. Pop a white umbrella or something similar on one for diffusion (point the light at the umbrella, the umbrella at the subject). Play with single lighting for awhile. Use some mat board for reflectors/dampeners. Look at the groundglass. Have fun. -jeff buckels

-- jeff buckels (, January 15, 2002.

Michael, the only poblem shooting portraits with 810 is the limited depth of field. Your subject may sway away from your focus by the time your have have focussed, stopped down, inserted your film holder, pulled the darkslide and exposed. As others have said you will need atleast f32 to get those quick shots. Your other option is to make your subject brings their head back into the focus area before you are about to expose, either by using a string at the end of your camera, or even using some sort of hidden head brace.

-- dave (, January 15, 2002.

Hey Dave...How's it going? Yes, nothing is as frunstrating as doing a 'headshot', lights good, expressions good, eyes and face are 'fuzzy', and the ears are as sharp as can be.

-- Joanthan Brewer (, January 15, 2002.

Yes, there is often the issue of the subject swaying in and out of the thin plane of focus. In the nineteenth century, head brace doodads were in widespread use in portrait studios. We're talking really really long exposures (Julia Margaret Cameron's typical exposures were at least half a minute). Anyhow, one thing to always be on the lookout for is a natural brace of any kind. Examples: Subject is braced on a chair back (you know, the chair is backwards, etc.); subject is belly up to a table; subject is resting chin on hands; subject is leaning on a doorjamb.... Here's something fun to experiment with: As I said, the famous portraitists of the Nineteenth Century were often faced with very long exposure times. This is not all bad! Blinking, for one thing, is simply not picked up in the course of a half-minute exposure. Little momentary vibration and/or minor swaying is picked up, as a matter of fact, as long as the basic posture is solid. I deliberately set up some 90 second to 2 minute exposures of myself and in some instances got quite an interesting sharp-but-not-sharp look. Another point in favor is that it is extremely difficult to maintain any kind of facial pretense for that long.... One other point: The tighter the shot the more you have to also consider the subject swaying laterally out of the middle of the frame (or wherever you've lined them up in the frame). I've largely defeated this for my purposes: Nine out of ten times, I'm having the subject look smack at the lens. Once you throw in the film holder, they can see themselves in the lens and they can see whether they're in the middle. Just let them know what's going on and they'll take care to stay put! -jeff buckels

-- jeff buckels (, January 15, 2002.

One problem though, if you look at some of the expressions of folks on some the old photographs, it was because of the long exposures and uncomfortable devices(braces).

Actors and Actresses, and Models needing a 'head shot' are adept at feeling maybe uncomfortable but holding a position with the right expression for a long period of time. They tend to not drift when you remind them of the issue.

Folks who don't have the 'sense memory' and walk through the door needing a shot are going to move and drift and shift positions even though you tell them 'that's great, hold it right there'. I tend to use the 'butterfly'(key and reflector/flat over and under the lens axis) on these folks as this makes the lighting right no matter where they look relative to the lens. Once you can forget about the lights, you can then keep your focus on the focus.

A portrait is total fiction, you know it, the subject knows it, the viewer knows it, but an engaging/humorous/pleasant/interesting/fresh expression, along with good enough technique, suspends reality for awhile and you get 'sucked into' the subject matter, even though you know it's posed.

I'm always willing to pay the price of several shots being out, to get that 'just right expression', so braces for me are out, but in terms of my 810 stuff, I'll beleive Dave Antons string 'idea' is a great one.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 15, 2002.

Here is an interesting article ... some new things to think about

-- Dave Richhart (, January 15, 2002.

Whenever I see a portrait in a magazine or a book, I put my hand over the subjects nose and mouth so I can look at their eyes, the eyes tell you whether someone is really smiling, or that it's forced.

I've done this over pictures, and you can tell readily that someone is 'showing teeth'(or whatever they're doing), but it's not what they really feel, and this does come across in the photo.

When I do a portrait, this is what I look for number one, everything else, lighting, framing, and so forth is important, but if the expression isn't 'legit', or you can't make it look 'legit', the the portrait is sunk, no matter how 'snazzy' your set-up.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 15, 2002.


The short answer to your question is yes. With the Balcar A5000 power packs. The poweris divided thus Channel A= 2500 w/s Channel B = 1250, Channel C = 1250. You an combine Channel B+C either the divide up the result into two heads or concentrate 2500 w/s into one head. to get the full 5000 w/s out of one head you need a bi-tube head. In addition to this control the pack has a variator on it that lowers the overall out of the pack continuously over a two stop range. Effectively all of this means the pack can output anywhere between 312 w/s (1/4 of 1250 w/s) to 5000 w/s

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, January 15, 2002.

With people trained to pose, I just tell them what's working or not working and why, but I never tell them to smile or look a certain way, rather it better to engage, talk, laugh, while you look for the moods, and reactions you can use. Then when you're stuck, 'can you rethink that' and the best sometimes, 'let's take a break and freshen up'..

-- Joanthan Brewer (, January 15, 2002.

Ellis, I am totally ingnorant on lighting setups, and I am thinking of buying something for a little studio, if you had $2000 to spend, how would you go about it? Mono lights, power packs, what brand, etc...your advice would be greatly aprreciated it.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, January 15, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ