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Essential Equipment – Lighting

Essential Equipment – Lighting

The most important element of a photographic studio is of course the lighting system, and again there are a number of choices. The first decision is between continuous and flash lighting. Continuous lighting used to mean powerful 500W incandescent bulbs or halogen floodlights, which use a lot of power and generate a huge amount of heat, making them impractical for home use. However recently high-output low-energy fluorescent lamps have provided a more practical alternative, and there are several systems available based on this technology. They are great for close range still-life and product shots, but they lack the power output and versatility for serious portrait photography.

The most popular choice for the home studio is flash lighting, and there are a number of manufacturers that sell starter kits designed for home use. I recently reviewed the Bowens Gemini 400/400 twin-head flash kit, which is ideal for a basic home portrait studio, but there are similar kits available from Interfit, Elinchrom, Lencarta, Elemental and others.

Although you can shoot portraits with just one flash head and a reflector, its a better idea to start off with a two-head kit. A 200Ws head is adequate for home use, but 400Ws gives you more power to play with and greater versatility. If you buy a third head you should also get a boom-arm stand, so you can use it as a hair light.

Flash systems offer a wide array of accessories, most with specialised uses, but you can start off with just the basics. Two medium reflectors with brolly mounts, two brolly reflectors or one brolly and a 1m softbox, and either a snoot or honeycomb for more directional lighting should be enough to get you started. You can always add more gadgets later. Barn doors are also useful for blocking out unwanted light.

As well as the lighting system a couple of reflectors are always useful. Again the go-to company for these is Lastolite, which makes a range of collapsible reflectors in different sizes, shapes and colours. Start off with a 1m silver/gold round reflector and see how you get on with it.

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Next week I'll discuss setting up your equipment and some basic portrait lighting techniques, so stay tuned for Part 2!
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