Need suggestion for basic lighting system for taking portraits at home with DSLR

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Mike, May 24, 2004.

  1. Mike

    Mike Guest


    First - I am just getting started with this hobby, so I appologize for what
    may be simple questions. Anyway, I have just purchased a Canon 9900 wide
    photo printer (which has produced excellent results with scanned film images
    so far), and am about to purchase a digital SLR (probably the Nikon D70).

    One of the things that I would like to do with my setup - and which will
    also help me justify the cost to my wife ;-) - is to be able to take family
    portraits at home. (My wife was complaining about the cost, but then I
    showed her a sample 13" x 19" print from the Canon - that made her stop

    Anyway - I assume that I will need at least a basic lighting system, and
    possibly a backdrop, to take good quality portraits. Can anyone suggest a
    low-cost "kit" (or individual components) that would work for this purpose?
    Can you build a lighting system yourself, using flourescent lights, or
    whatever? Use a sheet for a backdrop? I'd like to limit myself to $200 for
    lighting, if possible (and cheaper would be better.)

    Thanks for any help!!

    Mike, May 24, 2004
    1. Advertisements

  2. 200 may not be realistic. I have some track lights that I am planning to
    strap to some pvc pipe to augment other lights. Other ideas to consider are
    slaves from digislave. Instead of backdrops I got a green screen...then I
    can create whatever backgrounds I want. I have heard of people using those
    high-power work lights with some success.
    Gene Palmiter, May 24, 2004
    1. Advertisements

  3. Mike

    Robertwgross Guest

    I set up a studio with a few 500-watt quartz worklights. Each came on a metal
    stand for $10. That works good in my unheated garage in the winter time. For a
    backdrop, stretch up a queen-size or king-size gray blanket made of thin
    synthetic fleece. I use a medium gray, since it can be illuminated with a
    colored spot to make a color "blotch" behind a subject.

    ---Bob Gross---
    Robertwgross, May 25, 2004
  4. Mike

    Patrick L. Guest

    Smith Victor floods is all you need, you will have to experiment with
    white balance, though.

    You can build a continous lighting system, but you need wattage, around 500
    watts per light is best. Bring fans for your subjects, it gets hot.

    Also, you want a way to diffuse the light to make the light softer, and I
    think Smith Victor has attachable diffusers, or I've seen something like
    this, somewhere.

    I much rather shoot with strobes, no heat to worry about, but a lot more

    Patrick L., May 25, 2004
  5. Well, that pretty much lets out studio flash setups. I paid about
    $2000 for my three monolights, stands, umbrellas, and cases.

    A sheet for a backdrop won't work because the wrinkles and
    irregularties will show. Background paper (for plain) or background
    cloth (for black) or some form of painted backdrop (badly cliched
    IMHO) or use the real environment seem to be the choices.

    I think $200 is badly optimistic for any decent setup. You need good
    stands and good light modifiers (softbox, or at least umbrellas)
    whatever the light sources going into it are like.
    David Dyer-Bennet, May 25, 2004
  6. Umbrellas are good. I'd go with strobes though over continuous light
    Randall Ainsworth, May 25, 2004
  7. Mike

    zeitgeist Guest

    what are your goals here, to spend money on gadgets? to take nice photos of
    your family/kids? to become a professional photog?

    I find it strange that you would spend a couple grand on an image capture
    system but then not enough for the image creating system.

    second, what kind of lighting for the family portraits? Do you intend to
    replicate the same kiddie pix you get at the malls? Would you prefer to
    replicate the lighting in fine art paintings, old masters etc? The best
    qualities of natural lighting?

    Buying the 2 umbrella 'kit' is a formula for the former, the cross light
    kiddie pix.

    Here's a sweet and simple solution. You will need a flash anyway to go with
    the camera as the built in is not enough, so for about $200 you can get an
    SB-28 50 or even an 80. It tilts and swivels, aim it at the side wall,
    look at the area of the wall it covers as you fire it off, wow, it hits a
    whole big area (z spreads his arms wide like a fisherman) You have just
    replicated a very large softbox. If the wall is painted a really weird
    color then pin a white sheet up.

    do you have a garage, one of those suburban double or triple? open the
    door, set your background up at an angle so you are shooting with the light
    'placed' at an appropriate 45' angle, or shoot straight in, now you have a
    BIG WWWIIIIDDDEEE glamour light though the old lady might balk at posing in
    a teddy with the garage door wide open, whatsamatteru...
    zeitgeist, May 25, 2004
  8. Mike

    Mike Guest

    Well, _you_ find it strange because you obviously know what you are talking
    about! ;-)

    But, anyway, my intent is to buy components as I can afford them. I bought
    the high-quality Canon 9900 because I needed an output device of some sort,
    and it seems to be one of the best printers available right now in its price
    range. Ditto for the Nikon D70, although I haven't actually bought that
    yet. Most of my shots will be outdoors, so I don't need studio lights for
    that. But I would like to make high-quality family portraits - which will
    have the side effect of helping to keep my wife from complaining about the
    cost. ;-) And, no, I don't want to become a professional photographer.

    With regards to lighting for portraits, I read something on B&H Photo's
    website about a 3-point lighting system for this purpose. I guess I was
    wondering if I could, for example, get some work lights (as someone else
    suggested), and diffuse the light with some cheap umbrellas. But - assuming
    this would work - what kind of work lights? Halogen? And others mentioned
    the heat generated by continuous lighting - would it be so bad if I just
    turned the lights on right before snapping the picture?

    Regarding the use of an external flash - would this provide good results?
    Because, yeah, I figured I would need to get a good flash before long
    anyway. Are external flashes compatible between camera manufacturers, btw?
    The reason I ask, is that my sister has a Canon Speedlight that I could
    have, if it would work with the Nikon D70.

    Thanks to all for your comments and suggestions, and I do appologize for
    being an idiot!

    Mike, May 25, 2004
  9. That's what irons are for. Besides if you get the subject 6' or so in front of
    the backdrop and use a shallow depth of field, the wrinkles won't be notible.
    For $200, you can get a good generic flash such as Sunpak 383 or Vivitar 285HV
    (~$70-80), 8' light stand (~$40), 15' pc-sync cable (~$10), hot shoe to pc-sync
    converter (~$10), a 45" white umbrella (~$20), umbrella/flash multi-clamp
    (~$20), king size sheets or blankets for the background (~$10-40), and a large
    sheet of foam core you get at crafts stores for use as a reflector (~$2).

    The prices are mostly guesses as what I remember the B&H or Adorama mail order
    prices to be.
    Michael Meissner, May 25, 2004
  10. My experience is that you need the stiffness of background paper to
    get a smooth-looking light background; even an ironed sheet has folds
    and valleys, which show up in studio lighting often.

    I'd love to put my subjects 6' in front, but it takes an awfully big
    backdrop and an awfully big studio to do that and still have the
    background covering all the space behind them and enough space between
    the camera and the subjects.
    I can't come *close* to matching that foam-core price. And you
    haven't provided for a stand and clamps to position it. And there
    isn't enough power in that level flash for a one-light setup. I think
    perhaps you're optimistic on some other prices as well.

    I've never actually tried to do one-light setups, but I guess you can
    do pretty well that way when you learn enough of the tricks.
    David Dyer-Bennet, May 26, 2004
  11. Mike

    zeitgeist Guest

    highly specular lighting (lighting that returns highlights that block up,
    IE: glare off glasses, the shiny foreheads etc) is difficult to learn
    properly, typical usage gives you the kind of 'portraits' you get from the
    usual high volume places like shopping malls and church basements. The two
    umbrellas on either side of the camera give you two highlights on either
    side of the face, little dirty shadows, a lumpy greasy and fat face. its
    not any different than what photogs have been using since the 40's and 50's,
    it was a kludge fix for a problem we really don't have anymore.

    In the z-prophoto mailing list at there is an example of a
    portrait taken with a canon g2 p&s with a canon shoe flash bounced against
    the side wall giving a the effect of a large softbox.
    I don't know, but somehow I suspect that they have microchips inside that
    will only talk to those in their own gang. You may get a flash sync but I
    doubt if you get ttl exposure.
    zeitgeist, May 26, 2004
  12. If you go with a few Sigma DG Super flash units
    ( each comes with their own
    stand which also has a standard tripod mount. They can all be slaved
    together via an internal radio transmitter/receiver for fully TTL
    multi-flash operation (also flash-pulse slavable for use with other
    flash systems). They swivel in all dimensions, have fully automatic
    on-the-fly focal length driven FOV adjustments, and have flip out
    diffusers, and a ton of other gizmos.

    At around $180 each, these can make a nice poor man's studio--portable
    Georgette Preddy, May 27, 2004
  13. Don't use flourescents. First see how whatever you buy does with the flash
    that you buy, Nikon has excellent flash attachments. You may find that
    bouncing it off the wall is enough.

    You could look into MR16 lamps with wide-angle reflectors (these come in a
    variety of wattages, beam angles, and even are available with different
    wavelengths of light. Some fixtures come with diffusers, some with clear
    glass, some with clouded glass. You probably want maybe 6-10 75 watt lamps.

    Bob's suggestion of 500 watt work lamps is good as long as they are a good
    wavelength for photography.
    Steven M. Scharf, May 27, 2004
  14. Download AlbumFamiy software at to help
    With its Image Browser, you can manage your images as easily as you
    can imagine; its Image Viewer shows your images in the most advanced
    Virtual Album; the PhotoEdit and Photofun functions give you wide room
    to adjust your images and make all kinds of prints such as postcards,
    cards, stationery and so on; what's more, the Bundled Functions allow
    you to scan images and send images to your specified destination just
    by a single click. With AlbumFamily, You can establish the most
    beautiful albums for yourself, your family and your friends, you can
    produce your own style stationery on your desk. You will never find
    another application software which fits you so well and satisfy you so
    sunlei6662003, May 28, 2004
  15. Why not go with the Canon Digital Rebel? The few hundred you may save
    can be used for more lights or lenses. That is, if you don't have Nikon
    lenses around that'd be compatible.....
    John McWilliams, May 30, 2004
  16. Mike

    nikki Guest

    You can buy some Hi-power lamps (500w Halogen)at the local building
    supply or even cheaper, since this is summer, go to the flea markets
    and find some used halogen lamps and stands for $20-30. Use with
    difuser(Fireproof)in front and/or use as bounce light off white walls.
    There are multiple articles on this approach(google search). Using
    Custom White Balance will give you very good results. One other
    suggestion is to look at the Canon digital. Both Canon and Nikon make
    great cameras. I like Canon lenses better.
    nikki, May 31, 2004
  17. Mike

    Robertwgross Guest

    Bob's suggestion of 500 watt work lamps is good as long as they are a good
    The 500 watt quartz work lamp is on a metal light stand for $10. You can't get
    any cheaper than that. Light color temperature is not a problem. Do a Custom
    White Balance and you are ready to go.

    ---Bob Gross---
    Robertwgross, May 31, 2004
  18. A simple suggestion... Cheap and effective.
    Subtle side light makes a good portrait. How do you do this with a camera
    Spend the money and buy an off camera flash cord so you can move the flash
    to the side of the camera. Get one of those Stainless steel salad bowls
    nearly every kitchen has and have someone hold the bowl facing the subject
    and with the flash pointing into the bowl. Takes a really nice portrait
    without huge cost.

    I once made a "studio flash" this way using a remote strobe flash. I set it
    off with a small, cheap camera flash which doubled for a fill flash, an
    on-camera flash would do the same as long as the 'pre-flash' (for auto
    focus) is disabled. The one I made had a aluminium bracket to hold the flash
    and a 100 watt BC house lamp was used as a "modelling light". The whole
    thing sat on a spare tripod.

    It might get you started without breaking your marriage!

    Wilder_4_awhile, Jun 3, 2004
  19. Mike

    Skip M Guest

    Hi, I'm rather new here, but I thought I'd jump in, 'cause I just happened
    to be looking at some Smith Victor incandescents, 500w bulbs, 12" reflectors
    and 6' stands, 2 for $139 at a local store.
    Not fancy strobes, just hot lights, but wysiwyg. You can pick up diffusers,
    reflectors and gels pretty inexpensively, too.
    Skip M, Jun 20, 2004
  20. Mike

    Skip M Guest

    Heheh, didn't notice this was so thoroughly cross posted...
    Skip M, Jun 21, 2004
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.