How To Create Own Lighting Studio?

I want to be able to take professional looking photographs, or as close to it as I can, of my mannequin for clothing. I have limited financial resources, but a great photographic eye and a really good digital camera. Is there anything I can do to create the right amoutn of light? What kind of bulbs work best, do I attempt to confine or bounce the light? Is what i want to do even possible?

Also, I have the resource of a man who could figure a way to build anything I need - but I do not know what I need.

If what I am asking is stupid, please tell me, but please just tell me something. I realize I am a newcomer and when it comes to the matter of proper lighting, I am a complete idiot. But if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t beg for help I assure you.

I am just lost in the dark with only a vision of the outcome I want guide me, and now I am left to flounder about awkwardly amid the teeming millions hoping for a clue to put this matlock moment of mine, as well as mysef, to bed.

There are a number of books on photographic lighting - sorry I can’t make any specific recommendation - which may be available from your local library.

As for equipment, traditionally studio photographers used high wattage (and very hot) tungsten lamps (known as photofloods) with a variety of reflectors and diffusers to give the required quality of light. You can try small desk lamps if you are working on a small scale but they will not be bright enough for normal studio work. You can start with just a single lamp and use reflectors (such as a large piece of white card) to soften any shadows. Using multiple lamps is a more advanced technique which, if you are not careful, causes unsightly shadows.

Modern studio set-ups use expensive strobe units. The main advantages being that they run much cooler than photofloods yet are brighter and more controlable. You can use some of the more powerful hand held flash units mounted on a stand but, unlike the studio models, they do not have a modelling lamp (a low power photoflood used to show what the light will look like when the flash goes off). As you are using digital and a dummy instead of live models, it would be easy to take test shots but I suggest a lack of modelling lamp would still quickly become a PITA.

Ebay may be a good source of used studio equipment.

Check if there are any studio photo classes in your area. I expect that would be the quickest way to learn.

Sorry Madame, tried to answer earlier but my membership had expired!

You didn’t say how much of a budget you had. Professional studio lights are quite dear, and have a much shorter life than household light bulbs.

I set up a simple light booth for a now-defunct dotcom that sold model cars. I used several (six maybe?) 150-watt flood lights shining through a frame over which had been draped a white bedsheet (open at the front, of course). For a mannequin you may need 8-12. In my case I was trying to keep from getting glare as much of what I was shooting was shiny, so I wanted diffuse light. Your needs may be different, but the general rules I learned were -

1: You can’t have too much light.
2: Who cares if the light source isn’t “balanced” - just edit the colour balance on the computer. Irfanview is free and can do much of the tweaking and cropping (though no actual retouching) that the pay programs can do.
3: Tripod and remote release (or a timer) are essential because of…
4: Slowest shutter speed you can get at the narrowest aperature.
5: Zoom in to about 85% of the camera’s capability, then move the camera forward and back until the shot is properly composed.
6: Single-colour background with no patterns.

These aren’t official photographic rules and some of this may be wrong, but it worked for me. Got some really nice shots this way. Spend lots of time practicing
and note what works. Shoot, shoot, shoot! It’s free (sorta). Took me a while, but after practice I consistently got good results - until the dotcom went toes-up.

Good luck.

Thank you both so very much! I am so grateful for such imformative answers. BTW, my budget is about a thousand - what are thekey components I need to aquire, in order of importance?

Sorry to seem too nitpicky but some of these need a little clarification

Not entirely true. You need the correct amount of light. It’s very difficult to get enough light with tungsten if you’re shooting live people and need fast enough shutter speeds to avoid subject motion blur but not so with flash.

The only time you should do all color balance in post is when shooting raw files with cameras that have that capability. If you try to heavily color correct a JPG you will will potentially lose quality. Always do white balance for the light source and preferably a custom white balance. I take this a step further when shooting portraits as I always take reference shots with a gray card and color chart in the frame where the subject’s face will be so I can set gray point when I’m processing raw files

Smallest aperture (largest number) rarely gives the best quality though it does give the greatest depth of field. Most lenses get best quality around f5.6-8 but this may be a moot point as most consumer digicams don’t have smaller apertures.

A thousand is enough to setup a modest but high quality studio flash system. I use Alien Bees which are reasonably priced but will give the same end product as much more expensive equipment. You can get a basic package with two 160 watt second lights, umbrellas and stands for $600 which leaves enough for a flash meter and some other doodads. I prefer to work with a softbox as it is somewhat more efficient and controls light better than umbrellas but a bit more costly. The power level may seem low but it is roughly the equivalent of more than nine thousand watts hot light at 1/30 second exposure. I have a 640 watt-second Bee but I have never needed full power even when shooting medium format film.

What kind of camera are you shooting with? Does it have an X-sync connector like a PC or an ISO hot shoe? Does it have full manual control of shutter and aperture?

I shoot on motion picture film and video. I have no experience using studio strobes. Having said that, I swear by my Lowel light kits. I have three DP Lights (1kw), a V-Light (500w) and four Pro-Lights (250w) with barndoors, scrims, diffusion, umbrella, stands, gels, blahblahblah. (I have a bunch of other lights too, but I like the Lowels best.)

Being lazy, strobes mystify me. I just haven’t played with them to find out how they work. With the tungsten lights, I can see how it’s going to look.

A really good source of information on lighting can be the forums at dpreview (

As Padeye said, $1000.00 is more than enough to set up a very nice lighting studio, and the Alien Bees have a good reputation. I’m assuming that by “really good digital camera”, you mean an SLR or a “prosumer” high end digital. Most of those will have connectors for external synch cords, although some will only have hot shoe attachments and you’ll have to get an adapter.

If you want to go the bargain basement route, I believe that I’ve heard of people using fluorescent worklights, daylight bulbs and color balancing. For static photos (like mannequins), that might work.

If you want some specifics I’d start with a simple two light setup with a medium and large umbrella. Alien Bees has a setup like this for $600 but no reason you can’t get different brands of stands and umbrellas.

I like Photoflex convertable umbrellas, they have a removable black cover so you can use them as shoot through or bounce with or without the cover on the back to control spill. Get big umbrellas, a 48" and a 60" are good for full length stuff. I only go as small as a 32" for closer portaits unless I want harder light.

I prefer softboxes but that is a little more money. I mainly use a 36x48" box and though it’s a bit small for full length it does a good job. The softbox is very efficient with light in that lots is reflected forward and none spills behind to bounce around and reduce cotrast. I sometimes also use a beauty dish, a 22" metal pan reflector with a white interior for some effects.

I have several Bogen 3086 stands which are lightweight and extend to 8’ tall and are sturdy enough for the softbox though I should probably get a heavier stand for that. I use those for all lights and background bar and have a much heavier stand for use with a boom.

I think a light meter is essential if you want to get consistent results. Digicam histograms are all fine but can be grossly misleading unless you know how to read the graph in the context of the scene. Take the same shot with a change in background and the histogram will change dramatically even though both were lit the same and correctly exposed. I use a Sekonic L358 but any incident flash meter will be adequate.

Well, hoyl crap and THANK YOU! I have quite a bit of reading to do, but feel SO much less lost than last week. As it turns out, I don’t think my camera is all that good afterall.

It is a minolta f-300 (5 mp) and it looks like I may want to start looking at SLRs…although I am hoping my minolta will be ok for a while with the right lighting.

Well, not being able to hitch an external flash to the Minolta is a significant roadblock. You can work around it by using strobes synched to your on-camera flash via photocells, but then you have to worry about false-firings due to red-eye reduction and pre-flashes.

A new camera would not be a bad idea. However you don’t necessarily have to go the full SLR route. Even the low-end Canon (e.g the Rebel XT) and Nikons, while very good, are going to bust your budget once you add the strobe.

You can get a very good camera that’s a generation old (e.g. the Sony F717) for much less. So I guess it depends on just how much photography you’re going to be doing and whether removable lenses will be necessary.

One question – are these photographs for an on-line web catalog or for actual prints? If for a web catalog, then you don’t need very high resolution. If you’re making > 8x10 enlargements, then you’d want as many megapixels as you can get without sacrificing quality.

If you’re going to look at dSLRs, you’re best bang-for-the-buck bet probably will be with the Nikon D70 (going for $750 at Wolf Camera, body only, or just under $1000 with some zoom lens). I just got a D70 last week to supplement my pro gear, and so far, I have to say it’s fantastic. I like it much better than the (more than) twice as expensive Fuji S2Pro.

You can use a slave with the F300 but you must get one specific to digital cameras. I have uses a Digi-Slave SA-10 and Wein has a few digital specific slaves that specifically ignore the pre-flash. This pre-flash is common to just about all digital cameras that don’t have a manual power setting for the flash and it is addition to any red eye reduction pre-flashes.

pulykamell, check out the soon to be available Nikon D50. A somewhat economised D series that should be a good foot in the door to anyone wanting to get a DSLR as it has the same sensor as the D100 I paid twice as much for. If I had to replace my D100 I’d get a D70 but I’m sure a lot of good photos will be taken with the D50.

Finagle, pardon my rant here but don’t get suckered into the myth that more pixels make better pictures. Just the opposite can be true, particularly with small sensor cameras, 2/3" CCDs and smaller like the 1/1.8" sensor in the Minolta F300. Since everything is scaled down to the small sensor size including the lens focal lengh and absolute aperture there is less light to make the same image. Add to that consumer camera sensors that provide a real time LCD display have less usable sensor area because of the way the circuitry has to be designed the image quality, specifically noise and dynamic range, often gets worse when pixel count goes up.

Bigger sensors make better pictures even with low pixel counts. I used to shoot with a Minolta Dimage 7, a 5 megapixel camera with a 2/3" sensor which is the largest found in consumer cameras. When a friend who is a professional photojournalist shot my wedding with a 2.7 megapixel Nikon D1h I was skeptical because of the low pixel count. I was so wrong. She was able to shoot at ISO 1600 and get less noise than my Dimage 7 at ISO 200. The low pixel count image had more detail than I expected because noise didn’t have to be artificially filtered out.

I now shoot with a 6mp D100 which works great because it has a much bigger sensor than a consumer camera. The Canon cameras edge it out at low ISO numbers but that may be in part due to filtering as well as the CMOS sensor but it makes excellent images at ISO 1600 though not quite as good as the lower pixel count D1h and D2h.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a small sensor camera too, a Canon A75, but I know it’as limitations. It makes nice 3mp images at ISO 50 that will print a respectable 8x10 but at ISO 200 the images are unusable garbage. I could have easily gotten a 5mp camera for a similar price but the images would not be better.

You can work with this camera even though it has a few drawbacks. Always shoot with it set to ISO 64, the lowest number for this camera, and if at all possible with the image file set to TIFF rather than JPG. The TIFF may be too much of a hardship though as it will take much longer to write each image to the memory card. If that isn’t workable use JPG but make sure it is set to fine quality.

I would also suggest trying it in 3 megapixel mode but this may take some experimentation. Try shooting the exact same image twice at 5mp and at 3mp. Use a tipod to make sure they are identical. Print both images at the largest size you expect then compare detail and noise. Good luck with this and have fun.

Sounds good, but I kinda got my eye on that D2X…:slight_smile: The specs on the D50 do look pretty impressive. 1/500 flash sync speed, 1/3 stop exposure adjustment, 2.5 frames per second. I don’t like the fact the storage is on SD, though, but for the casual photographer who doesn’t have a dozen CF cards, it shouldn’t matter.
Hmm…this may be the next camera I will recommend for serious amateurs. Although, for the same price at Wolf Camera, you get the D70 which is a much better camera–at least for my demands.