From portraits to still lifes to action shots, here's the gear you need in
the studio and on location -- and tips for better lighting.
...And dont forget
For the best results from your lights, accessorize...
Handheld meters that measure flash and ambient light are favored by precise photographers as a quick way to determine a starting exposure. And, with practice, their readings offer confidence that a given exposure won't result in lost highlight or shadow details.
Typical of today's full-featured flash/ambient meters is the Kenko KFM-1100 Autometer ($230, street), a state-of-the-art, mid-level instrument with large LCD readouts that provide exposure data in both 1/2 and 1/10 stops. The Kenko can display the relative contribution of ambient and flash sources to a given exposure, and quickly determine an average exposure from memorized readings.
Raw, unmodified light blasting from a naked bulb is rarely of much use to photographers. It's too harsh to flatter 99 percent of most photo subjects. To finesse and control raw light, we use a number of devices that attach directly to the light head. The most popular include
• Parabolic reflectors. These usually aluminum, bowl-shaped accessories aim light and are designed to produce it evenly, with a minimal central hot spot. Large bowls, sometimes called beauty dishes, throw a broad, soft light that's well-suited to portraits. Diagonally cut bowls such the Interfit 45-degree Background Reflector ($35, street) are cleverly designed to cast a circular halo behind portrait subjects when aimed up from the floor.
• Softboxes. Square or rectangular in a wide range of sizes, these soften light and often mount to the light head using devices called "speed rings." Baffles within softboxes help eliminate central hot spots, and cloth grids (a.k.a. "egg crates") attach to the front diffusion panel to create stronger direction and deeper shadows.
• Umbrellas. Also used to tame harsh light, there are several types. Translucent white "shoot-through" umbrellas soften output while allowing heat to vent, so they're good for hot lights. Black-backed umbrellas produce a strong, directional light that casts a minimum of the "background spill" throughout a studio. (Ambient spill can brighten overall lighting and diminish shadow intensity.) White-, gold-, or silver-lined black umbrellas throw a soft, warm, or spectrally bright output, respectively. Some umbrellas (Lastolite's Umbrella Box, for example) surround the light head, mimicking a softbox.
Wires and cords snake through the average studio, waiting to snare the unsuspecting. To minimize the chance for disaster, wireless flash triggers fire lights using radio signals, not with the sync cords that traditionally connected camera and strobe.
A compact transmitter fits into a camera's hot-shoe and a receiver plugs into the strobe's PC terminal. When the camera's shutter fires, the transmitter sends a signal telling the receiver to pop the strobe. Systems start at under $300.