If you’re independently wealthy and money is no object then please, feel free to skip this article. If you’re more like the 99% of us chasing the dream read on.
You start taking pictures with your point and shoot and find something about it so appealing that you eventually want to buy a better camera. You save your pennies and eventually plunk down the cash on one of them fancy cameras, yeah the kind that you can put those big, long lenses on. You fight this beast of a camera into submission and somewhere along the way get the hang of it, taking pictures that look halfway decent but you want more…
A little time researching on the internet will eventually lead you to off camera lighting. There are a few ways to get that beautiful light, you can go with big studio lights or smaller battery operated lights. Then there are ways to shape that light with umbrellas, softboxes, snoots, reflectors, and the list goes on. All this information and technique can be rolled up into a single word, “strobist”. You’ll hear my friends here, like Brad, talk strobist this, and strobist that, but I can sum it all up in one little word, money. When you chase the light down that rabbit hole you’ll also be running your bank account and credit cards into the ground with you.
A simple setup will involve a battery operated flash, a light stand, an umbrella and somehow to trigger that flash from your camera. There’s some cheap, good gear that you can pick up and the starting point for a simple rig will put you somewhere near $250. Once you start talking multiple lights and remote triggers you’ll quickly find yourself spending thousands of dollars. I can guarantee you two things, a) you will end up frustrated and confused; b) the people selling you the stuff will be extremely excited, because you’ll be back for more.
Whenever possible I like to find the cheapest way of doing something. I’m what you might call a do it yourself-er and love DIY photography. When I needed a longer sync cable I spliced the one I had using some network cable. I’ve made my own ring flash out of a pot and some duct tape, tie-dyed cloth to make backdrops, turned PVC pipe and a bed sheet into a giant reflector. I’ve also found some ways to light a portrait on the cheap.
My mantra, something you’ll hear me say over and over is, “KEEP IT SIMPLE!“
This week, I though I’d share one of my techniques for black and white portraits with you. This isn’t anything ultra technical, nothing I’d call professional, but it works well for me and it may work for you. You can pickup most of the stuff down at the hardware store or find it online and best of all, it’ll get you running for well under $100.
I’ve been using a clamp light with a fluorescent bulb, a standard two bulb shop light, and a make shift reflector. The key element is using a dark background, I’ve putting my subject in front of some black seamless paper but any background would do. I hang the clamp light above my subject about a foot in front of them, this puts a lot of nice light from above highlighting the hair and shoulders with some spill onto the face. I place the shop light to either side of the subject, just out of the cameras view at a 45° angle from the face. I stick my reflector opposite the shop light, this can be white foam, a bed sheet or even a white t-shirt. If you have some light stands perfect, if not then a doorway is a great spot to try this out.
Depending on the bulbs, you’re going to get different temperatures which could screw with your white balance. This is why I typically use this for black and white portraits. If you pay attention when you’re buying the bulbs, look for the temperature rating on the package. If you purchase bulbs with the same rating then set your camera to a custom white balance for that temperature rating, you’ll be shooting perfect color portraits.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with using two clamp lights or two shop lights instead of using one of each. You can mix and match, add a third or fourth light, or toss in a desk lamp and just play. Experimenting is exciting, you just may learn a little something about your camera, and who knows, you could end up with some pretty cool images.
Oh, and this is constant light so it can be used with both digital and analog cameras… BONUS!