Monday, October 4, 2010

Home Studio Trial

So, on Sunday I set up my first edition MacGyver-inspired home photography studio.  Despite the fact that I am a rank-beginner, experimenting with lighting, I had some fairly decent results.  My planning for this set-up centered on two factors:  available light sources, and available space.  For this first factor, since I do not have the cash to throw around (more than I already do) pursuing this activity, I determined I, at minimum, needed three light sources:  a main light, a fill light, and a background light (that I hoped could also provide a little of a kicker).
My lighting needs were met by the most expensive product, my Nikon SB-600 (appx $220) speed-flash.  I determined to use this at the +2FV setting to provide my main light (and since I did not yet have a diffuser, I angled it to bounce off the white ceiling.  My fill light was provided by a 500W halogen work-light, the kind you can pick up at Lowes for around $20.  It has an adjustable-height tripod and is a multi-tasker (perfect for justifying the expense!).  Since the light produced is very harsh and pretty warm (I’d have to play around with the WB levels in post-processing and may try experimenting with the manual settings on the on-camera WB settings), I diffused the light using a cotton-fitted sheet stretched over a clothes-hanger rack purchased from Ikea for $7.  Finally, for the lighting, I used my dining-room ceiling lights for the background.  I have four-independently adjustable low-wattage halogen spot-lights installed in the ceiling.  Because the lights were pretty low-wattage and the light was not very directional, it wasn’t perfect, but it did the job.  I had experimented with placing a small, spot-light type reading lamp on the ground at the base of the backdrop, with varying results as well.  In future iterations, I plan on trying to find a more directional, higher-wattage spot light bulb to put in the ceiling fixture to use as a hair light.
For the available space issue, because I have a pretty narrow row-house, and because I can’t set up a permanent studio, I settled on the dining room as most feasible.  Even then, however, the space issue is difficult to contend with.  Ideally, I would have liked to have had about 15 feet in between the camera and the subject and 10-15 feet between subject and backdrop.  However, my dining room only provided about half that space.  I wanted to have an out-of-focus background, so I did my best to limit the depth-of-focus by using the aperture control mode on the camera and setting it to the lowest f-stop.  For the backdrop, I purchased two paint drop cloths for about $6 each and hung them on the wall with thumb-tacks.  For many of my shots, the speckled drop cloths remained far-too in focus for my liking (hence space is an issue).  I may try to do more reading on making my own backdrop with a more, blurry pattern built in.

One of the things that was a true obstacle was how to trigger my speed-flash.  My SB-600 can only be used wirelessly, which means it triggers its flash optically, responding to another flash.  Therefore, the speed-flash had to be triggered by my in-camera pop-up flash… and as anyone who has studied even a modicum of photography lighting, in-camera flashes are NO-GOs.  So, I fashioned a rig of aluminum foil and secured it to my pop-up flash with a bread-bag twist-tie.  I molded the foil to reflect the in-camera flash away from the subject and onto the speed-flash positioned to the camera’s right.  Voila!  Worked perfectly!

Here is one of the results of my shoot.  Where are the rest of them?  Well, since my readers are mainly family members, they will see the results in due time … or maybe they are just too terrible to use!  :)

Final cost outside of camera, speed-flash, and model fees :)  appx $40.


  1. So cool! What an idea - and I LOVE the photo you came up with!
    Both Tony and I were laughing out loud at the last sentence - funny stuff Josh. Love it.