Here are four strategies for building studio kits that range from mini to mighty
The Stow at Home Studio
Photo: Brian Klutch Photography Inc Brian Klutch lit these sunglasses with Speedotron packs and heads “They’re exceptionally reliable and moderately priced,” he says. He placed a beauty dish above the sunglases “for the dramatic feel that its reflections added to the shot.”
Semi-pro photographers who are serious about lighting and prefer studio to location work typically fall into two groups: Some want studio lighting that they can permanently set up in a dedicated bedroom or basement. Others—and we imagine this includes most of you—want a more temporary lighting solution, one that can be folded up compactly and conveniently slipped into a hall or bedroom closet.
You might be shooting tabletop products or crafts for online auctions or catalogues, taking portraits of children or pets, or selling headshots to actors. But if you’re just starting to get serious about lighting, and aren’t yet sure how much of your home—or budget—to dedicate to gear, there are some important factors to consider.
First, tailor your lighting purchases to suit your subjects. For a closet-based product studio, we like the compact proportions of easily stored LED lights, for example. They’re cool-operating, are a pleasure to work around, and their continuous output lets you evaluate your lighting effects as you work. LEDs are especially well-suited to small and stationary subjects such as these sunglasses.
But if you work with active subjects—young children or pets, for example—you will need the action-stopping capability of instantaneous studio strobes. If action-freezing is important, shop for strobes with extremely short flash durations, such as the 1/6500 sec White Lighting X-Series monolights (paulcbuff.com/whitelightning.php).
The other crucial consideration is, of course, the size of your storage space. In closet-stowed lighting setups, compact and collapsible products are musts. We prefer small, four-section lightstands over stands that have three-section legs, for example, because they fold more compactly.
To make the most of that closet space, New York-based pro Brian Klutch, who shot these sunglasses (brianklutch.com), also recommends hard-sided cases for their stackability.
The good news? Almost every lighting tool under the sun is available in a compact, collapsible closet-storable version. Examples range from Chimera’s collapsible beauty dish (chimeralighting.com; $230, street) to the inflatable EPS El Macho Photo Studio (www.massieraindustries.com; from $1,899, street). This automatically inflates from suitcase-sized to a weather-resistant 15x11x9-foot studio you can set up in your backyard in minutes.
(A) White Tacky Wax ($4, street) is sold in art supply shops and can be used to anchor objects (like the sunglasses in Brian Klutch’s shot) to each other or the tabletop. The way it holds and aims small reflectors makes it a lighting essential.
(B) The Adorama Flashpoint dimmable 500 LED studio light ($200, direct), at about 14x8x3 inches, will fit in a closet, is comfortable to work around, and, unlike most studio LEDs, fits most budgets.
(C) The Lastolite Cubelite Studio Shooting tent ($500, street) is designed for small product photography, folds flat, weighs just 3.5 lbs, and lets you work standing up.
(D) Tenba’s AW-MLC Medium Lighting Case ($618, street) holds up to two power packs and three to five heads, with an internal framework for structure. Klutch stores lighting gear in cases because “the protection they offer is essential.”
(E) Krylon Looking Glass paint ($14, street) lets you make studio reflectors to any size you like: Start by having glass cut at an art supply or framing shop, then spray one side to turn it into a mirror. In about an hour, it is dry enough to become a perfectly-sized reflector.