Monolights for table top : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Not specifically large format related but this is a polite and helpful forum, unlike some others. I have been doing some still life and table top photography with my Sinar F2 (just to keep it on topic) and am frustrated by my lighting. I am using flood lights and quartz halogen from a variety of photo and non-photo sources. I have considered tyring an inexpensive monolight (Alien Bees maybe) but am curious how useful and accurate the modeling lights are. I am not expert enough to position my light, diffusers and gobos in the dark which is why I have been using hot lights. Are the modeling lights going to give me an accurate representation of shadows, unwanted reflection from spill and all the other issues? I am concerned that if I set up the shot with the modeling light the extra light from the flash may point out a whole new source of reflections.

-- Dave Schneider (, February 08, 2002


Once the light goes through a diffuser the difference between the modeling light and flash tube position is eliminated. Before I switched from Norman to Balcar I ran into this problem a few times especially when using grid spots. If you get lights that have the modeling lightsurrounded by the flash tube the difference will be minimal.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, February 08, 2002.

Ellis, I am a little confused, I think every strobe I have seen has the modeling lamp in the center with the flash tube surrounding, there may be others I am not aware of. Some appear to have a quartz modeling lamp that protrudes farther out from the body. Does this mean the modeling lamp is not at the focus point of the reflector? Can you comment specifically on the Alien Bees or White Lightning units in this regard?


-- Dave Schneider (, February 08, 2002.

Dave, if your frustrated by your lighting now its not going to change with a change in lights. Hotlights allow you to see exactly what your going to get. Strobes on the other hand may have modeling lights that will either track or not track the strobe output and they may be 250 watts or below. With my monolights, which I use for portraits, there is a high and low range of output. In the low range the maximum modeling light is reduced as is the maximum strobe output. I like to track the strobe so I can see my lighting ratios, so the modeling light is reduced even more. Many times for me this even lower illumination of modeling lighting is too low, especially since I generally turn off all the lights in the room and work by the modeling light itself for posing, camera setup, focusing etc; Of course my eyes are older too. I can of course not track the strobe, giving me a brighter modeling light, but this will not give me the lighting ratio comparsion I like. Now, I don't know how this will effect you, but it may be something to think about. My feeling is that if the output of the strobe is above the modeling light, the shadows will change. Reflections is a guess for me since I don't do products. If you do go with strobes you might consider Polaroids. It seems this is the tool for the job when using strobes, or hot lights for that matter. As an aside, what problems are you having concerning lighting? I'm sure with the talent here in this forum it can be figured out.

-- Wayne Crider (, February 08, 2002.

To try to clarify.

Some flash manufacturers place the flash tube flat parallel to the front of the headwith the modeling light sticking out towards the front of the head.

Lets call this the T design, with the flash tube being the Top of the T and the modeling light being the shaft. Examples: Elinchrom EL monolights, & Norman.

A second type is similar but has the flash Tube more towards the middle of the length of the modeling light. Think of this as the + deign. Usually these have a integrated wide angle reflector. An example of this are the standard Dyna-Lite heads but there are others.

Then there are the OI designs where the bulb shaped modeling light is also part of the diffusion system: examples: Paul C. Buff White Lightnings and derivatives (I have not seen a Zap, X unit or the new Alien Bees , so I may be wrong about those lights), Novatron and Elinchrom S heads.

Then there is the U shaped flash tube with the modeling light inside the U. Balcar uses this design. The bottom of the U faces toward the end of the reflector.

Finally there is the design where the flash tube coils around the modeling light.

Some manufacturers use a frosted pyrex diffusion shell that goes over the flash tube and modeling light assembly so to very accurately integrate the light from modling light and Flash tube. Profoto is the best example of this.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, February 08, 2002.

Wayne, the frustration I have with my current light set up is multi- faceted. I am using a standard round reflector with 250W floods and a 500W halogen worklight for my main source. It is difficult to control the light with these since they are not really designed as a system with convenient barndoors, gel holders and all the other gadgets. Because of the temperature concerns I have to be careful about what I use for light control. I have used a diffuser gel but need to keep it at least 8-10 inches from the light. When I do that I have light spilling past around the diffuser. I fashioned some black foil hoods to try and prevent that problem. Now I may be well served by getting some dedicated photo hot lights such as a Lowel system. That way I could at least mount gels, barndoors and such more conveniently using the Lowel accessories. But if I am going to spend a few hundred dollars on a Lowel Tota Lite kit or something I am wondering if strobes may be a better choice. I am also thinking that I may be happier without the heat on the subjects, even though they are not living things many materials take on a different look after wilting in the glow of a 500W lamp. I could use more light than I have as well. Many exposures run up to a minute or longer. My thought was that a strobe system that could be triggered 2 or 3 times may be easier to manage.

-- Dave Schneider (, February 08, 2002.

I have never used the model light tracking (this is where you dim the modeling light in relation to the power setting for the flash) feature on my strobes to help me visualize the lighting effects. I don't do this for a couple of reasons.

The first is that if I am using a light modifier then I am already losing enough brightness without dimming the light. The second reason is that if I am not using the same modifier or reflector on all of the lights and the lights are not all at the same distance to the subject then the setting isn't accurate without making a lot of measurements and calculationsand I won't waste the time figuring all of those factors into how much each light needs to be dimmed.

Using flash you will need to use Polaroid especially if you are using the light as something other than a broad overall light.

Once you have some experience your need to Polaroid will drop off but it is a great learning tool to get to that point.

Finally, an advantage of using the Alien Bees or other Paul C Buff lights is that they are compatable with the Balcar, and I think, the Comet systems of light modifiers and reflectors.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, February 08, 2002.

Hi Dave, I think this is about budget as much as technique. If you buy a couple of inexpensive monolights and then a couple of softboxes and stands and booms, etc. it will add up to a bit of money. I think you can do what you want with 2 lights, one large and one small softbox. For a pretty standard set up put the big box directly over the object and move the small one around as needed to give direction. You can get the front surface of the boxes to the edge of the frame with no heat problems. I don't really know the look you're after but maybe this helps. Monolights like the White Lightning do track the modeling light to the flash pretty well so will be fairly WYSIWYG but to be sure use Polaroids to check. Polaroids are the answer for ultimate control.

-- Henry Ambrose (, February 08, 2002.

Another thought ... in addition to the lights there is the question of how you are 'staging' your subjet matter. For example, if you are photographing relatiely small objects you can use some sort of an opaque enclosue (I use a Plume/Redwing Cocoon) and thus even out your light a gret deal with minimum effort. My most recent use of this setup is to photograph about 100 pieces of pewter for a catalogue. Thelighting was two Hensel Integra 500w Monolights.

The modeling lights (300 w) gie a good idea of what you will get but the other posters are absolutely right that a polaroid is necessary to check yoru final results.

-- Ted Harris (, February 08, 2002.

Dave, Shutterbug in this months issue, Jan, has a article on product photography using strobes.

BTW, there are heat resistant gels and softboxes available, I use them in video production. Tungsten lights can be dimmed. Strobes will probably be more useful in the long run, but your cost will be in using polaroids to check your lighting as wel as the additional items as noted previous. For a quick fix to get the ball rolling till strobes are bought and used, and gotten use to, get the gels and use a diffusion screen. Material, even plastics, are available at your local cloth store. Try different materials. From what I see a barndoor can be fitted to your lights using screws or metal clamps; Buy gloves!

-- Wayne Crider (, February 09, 2002.

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