My first studio lighting kit consisted of two White Lightning monolights and various modifiers, including a softbox, not seen here, and with Pocket Wizard remotes
In this post, I will try to touch upon the most common ways you might light your home studio, but have to restrict myself to the systems themselves, and wont talk too much about lighting modifiers, as there are too many of them and that subject merits it's own post.
Generally speaking, the photographer has a choice of four types of system, and one more, battery packs systems, which are primarily intended for location work and won't be discussed here, if for no other reason than I have never used them and have no experience to pass on that would be useful.
1. Natural light
2. Hot lights
3. Off camera portable flash
4. Electronic flash
|This image was shot with diffused natural light and a Lastolite collapsible backdrop in back.|
|Off camera portable flash is increasingly popular for food shots made on-location.|
A big advantage to the hobbyist is that he or she might already own one before deciding to build a home studio. Another huge advantage is that because of their light weight, they can be mounted on small stacker stands like the one in the photo above, and these don't take much space on your studio floor. In order to do so, you need an umbrella swivel adapter and while there are several on the market, I use only the Manfrottos, which come which:
|Another simple food shot made with portable flash and cardboard reflectors.|
A. Don't require that you put a piece of tape on the shoe to keep the flash from shorting and firing automatically and:
B. Have no small screws that can be lost, rendering the device useless.
The Manfrottos cost twice as much as any of the other types, but as far as I'm concerned, they are worth it.
1. Less power and slow recycle time compared to electronic flash.
|I used three off-camera portable flash units to create this image.|
|White Lightning Monolight with softbox,|
|I used two monolights; one with a large softbox to the front and one with a honeycomb grid pointed at the backdrop to create this image.|
|Here's another photo shot with the same equipment during the same session.|
Pack and Head Systems
|This tiny Dynalite pack can distribute up to 1000 joules of energy to as many as three heads in either symmetrical or asymmetrical ratios with a high degree of control. It is much tinier and lighter than other makes of power pack in this power range.|
Pack and head systems are older than monolights, and because of their cost and weight, usually seen only in the hands of professional photographers. In a pack and head system, a single power pack containing a powerful bank of capacitors is used to control multiple flash heads which are directly connected to it by hard, heavy cables. The pack generally allows for more efficient distribution of power to the individual heads than monolights and sits on the ground making it less susceptible to damage, whereas the flash head, really contains only the flash tube, modeling light and sometimes a cooling fan.
|This photo was shot with my Dynalite pack and head system, with some reflectors and a mirror for fill.|
They take more training and practice to understand than monolights, but if you have a good one like my Dynalite kit you'll come to appreciate it for it's versatility. Another of the things I like about them is that since flash heads are generally much lighter than monolights, they are much easier to put on a boom stand and since the pack itself contains the controls and sits on the floor, you don't need climb up on top of something to adjust the settings as you do with most monolights. Another advantage is that if you knock over a light stand or drop a flash head, it is much less likely to suffer expensive-to-repair damage than a much heavier moonlight with all its circuitry and capacitors.
Still another thing I love is that all the heads are connected to the power pack by a solid cable and so then never misfire. With monolights, you either have to have one radio remote connected to each light OR position each light in such a way as its built-in optical sensor-trigger detects the flash from the other lights in order to fire. With a pack, one remote fires every single head controlled by that pack.
|Another image shot with my pack and head system. Many accessories and lighting modifiers are available for both pack systems and monolights.|
|And yet another photo shot with my Dynalite kit.|
One downside of packs versus monolights is that that if you have say three monolights and one fails in the middle of a shoot or needs repair, you just go on working with two instead. If you own only one pack and it fails, none of your heads will work, so pros who depend on them, usually own more than one. They also have a longer flash duration than monolights or portable flash and not very good for flash freezing high-speed motion. Monolights will do a better job of this, so again, many pros will have both types of lights in their studios or on location.