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New Lighting Equipment

Lighting equipment is expensive and so I spend a reasonable amount of time searching out used equipment on Ebay.  Craigslist tends to be too small of a market even in the SF Bay Area to get a good selection of equipment on a regular basis.   I got my favorite lens, the Sony 135mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss, on Ebay for 1/3rd off the nominal price.

About the same time I got the lens, I found a Dyna-Lite set that picked up for $217.  New Dyna-Lite kits are about $2k, but lighting equipment hasn’t dramatically advanced in a long time, so used sets have great potential.  I wasn’t a complete expert on the different makes and models of Dyna-Lites, but it is one of the best brands in the lighting industry and they are made to last forever.

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When I got the kit, it was in great shape but perhaps a bit older than I’d imagined.  This became apparent because there wasn’t power cord.  I thought I’d go grab one from the garage, but three seconds of examination led me to the discover the power cords were more custom long ago and this plug required a special one.  I went to the local lighting store and they stared at it for a bit and said “hmmm, I think this is a 1958 model and I don’t know where you’ll find a plug like that.”

Needless to say that this became a journey.  After visiting about 20 stores, I finally found out what type the plug was called — a twist-lock and if you have seen the bestiary of plugs, it’s worth examining at NEMA.  Of course no one had one of these plugs in-town but  I eventually traced one plug to an electrical supply store in Maine which got it to me for $20.    Then I found that a couple of bulbs were burnt out and Keeble & Shuchat which replaced then for about $30.   Low and behold the lights worked great – immensely bright.

Now I needed light diffusers and finding the right speed ring was a trick, but Keeble & Shuchat gladly helped me at locating the right speed ring and getting me a beautiful Westcott soft box for it.   This entire process took about a year, as it wasn’t high priority and today I did the first quick shoot of my daughter with the new setup.

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It was a two light set up with soft boxes.  The bright one is the new 2’x3′ soft box that I got on the Dyna-Lite and the dimmer one is the old Westcott moonlight  on a 2’x2′ soft box.   I liked the results with the new bright light and can’t wait to use them more.  The long story short is that Dyna-Lites last forever and you can recover these old beautiful systems.

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Simple Two Light Outdoor Headshot

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 7.54.47 PM This is the last of the shots that for the outdoor headshot round. It is a similar to the others in that it is a two light setup with the model in the shade and the background being lit by late-day sun. The two lights are a soft box coming in from the left acting as the key light and exposed to f/8.0 and the fill light being a strip box and coming in from the right and exposed to f/5.6.  I shot at f/3.5 in this case using a neutral density filter to tamp down the light.  You can identify the lighting via the catch lights easily.  The lighting worked out pretty well because there wasn’t any breaking on the highlights of the skin, which can easily happen with lighting when you aren’t using powder. Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 7.53.59 PM If there is one thing that is missing from the shot, it is a good hair light.  His hair is nondescript and not dynamic.  Unlike with people with long hair, you often need a third light coming down from above to really get good highlights on short hair, particularly dark hair. I used f/3.5 because gave me a reasonably narrow depth of field.  I was about 10 feet away from the subject and the background was another 15 feet away.  The depth of field was about 4 inches in this case, plenty wide to get his whole face in tack-sharp focus, but narrow enough that the background would dissolve reasonably well.   If you aren’t familiar with depth of field calculations, there’s a handy website that will let you work it out at Depth Of Field Master.  Zooming in on his shirt and blazer illustrates the fall of focus.  The first crop is near the middle of his shirt and you can see each thread beautifully well, while the second  shows the shirt falling under the blazer and the focus is softening appreciably. Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 8.12.04 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 8.12.18 PM

All-in-all this was a good shoot that came out pretty well, we shot for about an hour doing six rounds of photos.  We took about 250 photos between the six rounds and had lots to choose from.  Everyone got at least one head shot that they liked.  We didn’t have the option to do much scouting for an environment and simply used my backyard.  I was still happy with the shots and enjoyed knocking these out.

Head Shot For Young Professionals

Head Shot Set Shoot

I had a head shot booked Saturday morning with two young, professional twins looking for photos for their workplace websites. I set up the home studio with a simple white backdrop.

I wanted to do a four light set up, a key and fill plus two hair lights to give a symmetric feel for any joint shots with the two twins. I first exposed the hair lights and set the exposure to f/2.8. The hair lights were in strip boxes with speedlites aimed down. I then set up the fill light to f/4.0 with a monolight with a shoot-through umbrella. Finally, I set up a softbox monolight as the key light exposed to f/5.6.

I set the lighting expose on the low side because my home studio has a low ceiling with white paint, which thankfully isn’t gloss. In the past, brighter exposures have had problems with bleed over from light bouncing off the walls and ceilings. I sometimes set up black backdrops on the sides and even the ceiling to control the bounces. But I didn’t want to set up these control measures because they look a bit ghetto, particularly the backdrop covering the ceiling.

After the shoot began, it went pretty fast, we knocked about 200 shots off divided evenly between Ashley, Dana and the pair together.  Throughout the shoot I used an 85mm f/1.4 on a full-frame camera shooting without a tripod and a 135mm f/1.8 on a APS-C crop sensor for an effective focal length of 202.5mm mounted on a tripod. The 85mm came out very well and provided more unique shots because of the free form, but the best shots in the lot were on the 135mm, which is better length for portraits.

I included a crop of the catch-lights. I’d be a bit happier with the catchlights being more symmetric and a bit wider. I am thinking about getting a second softbox and white shoot-through umbrella to be able to get symmetric catchlights.  I like the look when catchlights frame the pupils.  I wasn’t gong for that look here, but I think angling both catchlights wider would have given a better result.

Two Light Set Up

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We had a friend come over for a quick shoot. She’d worked as a model when she was young and boy could she nail looks. We used primarily a soft box key light just off center and then a wide angle shoot-through umbrella 4 stops down as a fill light. Probably should have brought that up a bit and then angled it down to fill in her hair more.

This shot was at f/6.3 with an 85mm lens at 1/200s at ISO100. I was pretty happy with the skin tones and the beautiful catch-light. This shot was an early test shot and has a few stray hairs that I could have photoshopped out. We got a little bit more careful later in the shoot. An extra light on the backdrop could have help lighten that up a bit.

Narrow Depth of Field Portrait


I love big catchlights and narrow depth of field.   The lighting set up is illustrated below

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It was a five light set up with two strip boxes in front, a shoot-through umbrella off to the right and two bare head monolights illuminating the backdrop.

I shoot in my home and it has relatively low clearance, less than 10 feet with white paint, thankfully non-gloss.  When the strobes go off, particularly off a blown out white background, the light ricochets around the room and spills over into the image.  It’s imperative to control this.  So recently, I’ve added two more backdrops to the studio.  I put black muslin and use these to keep the light from bouncing off the walls.  I also drape a third black muslin sheet over the top of the three backdrops to black out the ceiling.  I’m still working on making the backdrops stable, but the results work pretty well.

This was shot with an 85mm f/1.4 Zeiss lens on an APS-C sensor.  The subject was 1.2m from the camera meaning that this shot had 10mm depth of field. It took quite a few shots to get the eyes in sharp focus.   With a few more tries, I could have gotten a bit sharper, but this was pretty good for a test shot.

Felix in the home studio

Felix in the home studio

a quick shoot with a neighbor’s son