Photographers – What is your studio lighting setup?

My inexpensive and very portable "Portrait kit". Works easily for indoor or out of doors lighting.

My inexpensive and very portable “Portrait kit” works easily for indoor or out of doors lighting.

Last week an online forum in which I participated asked the question, “What is your studio lighting setup?”

Most participants were posting the brand name they used, and how many lights they owned, however, my post was about what I would call “kits”, that I used for each different situation or environment.

My opinion has always been that there are different tools for different jobs, and I have four individual lighting setups that fit particular photographic undertakings.

My “event kit” consists of four TTL hot shoe flashes. My “portrait kit” consists of three older manual hotshoe flashes mounted on wireless receivers. I also have two “studio kits”. The first studio kit, for those situations where I can find power, has a 1000w power pack with four strobe heads. The second kit is a battery-operated 280w strobe that will go anywhere.

Some forum members complained that they would have to wait till they had the money before a home studio lighting situation could be set up. I believe they only paid attention to those responders that included the manufacturer’s names for their expensive studio type lighting setups.

Yes, I agree, if one wants big powerful studio strobes there will be a considerable price attached.  And each manufacturer will hope to sell their own brand of light stands and light modifiers along with the lighting units. Yes indeed, all that will be expensive.

Most home photography studios are in the basement, or in a spare room to be quickly set up for a portrait session. However, the big name brands never discuss light volume or power vs. studio size.

My opinion is, if the room is less than twelve feet high, thirty feet long and only used for small group or single person portraits, those big, powerful, fast recycling, and expensive studio lights might be overkill, and a real hassle when one wants to soften the background by shooting a wide aperture because there is just too much power.

I wrote about the four kits that I use for different situations. The small hotshoe flashes I use for events and portraits, and the bigger less portable units I use with large groups, moving subjects, or when I just want coverage out of doors. I think those photographers intent on setting up small home studios for portraits and small groups don’t need to go to the expense of the brawny, studio type lights. Photographers can easily, and without much initial cost, set up a studio with what I called my “portrait kit”.

My portrait kit only has three hotshoe flashes, each with it’s own wireless receiver and two stands. Depending on the space a client provides for me to use, I use a small shoot-through umbrella, an umbrella brolly box, once in a while I use a soft box, and sometimes include a reflector. And it’s the inexpensive and easily stored “portrait kit” that I would recommend for most first-time, home studio photographers.

Wireless senders and receivers come in all sorts of incarnations, and can be, depending on brand and manufacturer, if one shops around, purchased for prices less than $100 for two receivers and a sender.

I use the inexpensive sender/receivers that fit under my flash, seated on a light stand bracket, and holds an umbrella, a brolly, or sometimes a softbox. And I use three Vivitar 283 flashes dating from the 1970s that I bought used.

My total cost for 3 flashes, the wireless sender & receivers, 2 shoot through umbrellas, stands, and 2 flash/stand brackets, and a small tabletop tripod that I can place behind my portrait subject was under $400 Canadian.  All of this is much less expensive, and a lot easier to store and/or move around than the big. studio-type flash units.

I make lighting tests before the person who I will be photographing arrives to get the correct exposure, and when he/she does show up, I take two or three more test shots as I move the lights for the most flattering effect.

Even if there were a wad of cash burning a hole it your pocket, my advice would be to proceed slowly, and learn how best to photograph a person first. Using hotshoe speedlights off-camera will be perfect for that educational process, and when they are no longer a good fit with your creative growth, the choices as to the next step in lighting equipment will be educated decisions instead of emotional.

As always I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

The In Camera or Post-Processing debate

I wonder at going to far, but with low, flat, grey lifeless light anything helps.

I wonder at going to far, but with low, flat, grey lifeless light anything helps.

Infrared camera with edited contrast.

Infrared camera with edited contrast.

I removed the dim, flat, busy background.

I removed the dim, flat, busy background.

The discussion about manipulating an image, or altering it, from the original capture has been going on ever since I began working as a photographer for the Los Angeles Office of Education in the 1970s.  Nowadays its called “post-processing”, and in the past we just called it “working in the dark room” when the majority of photographers were handing their undeveloped film over to a film lab and hoped the results would be worth keeping.

At that time, and as exists now, there were those who that claimed straight from the camera was the only true photography. I recall being accused of being unfair at a local exhibition around 30 years ago, because I used exotic photographic papers, hand retouched my prints, and mixed my own chemicals.

As I said, the discussion on right out of the camera vs. alteration of the original is still going strong, however, the beauty of this exciting medium is that there is no one-way to capture an image.

Photojournalists and street photographers like Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Dorothea Lange documented events and life as it was at a particular time. As photojournalists and street photographers still are. And as to that type of photography, I absolutely agree, any type of alteration is sacrilege. But I need to introduce those righteous photographers that decry alteration of the negative, print, or digital file, to icons of photography like Andy Warhol, Jerry Uelsmann, and Duane Michals, to name only a few that pioneered different techniques in this ever-changing medium of photography.

Documentary, representational, or candid photography is used to chronicle significant and historical events attempting to capture reality.  Fine art photography is the vision of the photographer or artist. And restrictions as to how the image is finally produced do not, and should not, apply.

Modern technology allows much easier creativity for those who wish to use it. That might be nothing more that purchasing the camera with the best sensor, and mounting the sharpest lens on it, and with patience and practice learning to make exposures that are as close as possible to reality. Or it might be using that same camera is nothing more than the first stage of many in an extended and manipulative process.

As to the debate, should image-editing software be used to alter the image, or should the image be left as an unaltered record of the scene?  I think that depends on the goals of each photographer.

As always, I really appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

A Short Walk on Snowshoes

Photos by Snowshoe 2   Thompson River Valley

windswept snow

Old car in snow

Log building in snow

My snowshoe easily broke through the two feet of snow that covered the well and down I tumbled into the soft snow. My years of experience as a photographer reminded me to “  at all costs”, and although my leg twisted and snow covered me, I held the camera up high and safe from the wet snow.

I should have remembered that hole. It’s not like I hadn’t been there many times over the years photographing the rusting 1930’s car. I would go there spring, summer, fall and winter in the rain, snow, and sunshine. I should have remembered where it was, but as usual, it’s always about the photograph. I had put on my snowshoes and hiked up the rolling hills to a long meadow not far from my home.

I have always liked snowshoeing. In my teens my friends and I would head out cross-country trekking for hours through the deep powder in the mountains.  I remember overnight trips where we dug snow caves to spend the night in (snowshoes also made great doors). Then we’d ski down long valleys and snowshoe up hills as we moved through the snow covered mountains.

My rural home is surrounded by wooded forests and rolling hills that are perfect for walking, or as today, snowshoeing. Each year I look forward to enough snow-pack to snowshoe in, and after another morning of shoveling a path to my chicken coops, to the car and cleaning the driveway, I decided it was time for my first winter hike up to the high meadow above my home.

The day was overcast, but today’s modern cameras easily handle ISOs of 800 and 1600, so the lack of bright reflection and low contrast on a snowy landscape made everything so much easier to see and photograph. And handholding is undemanding as one can keep the shutterspeed way over 1/400th of a second and still achieve lots of depth of field.

I mounted a 24-70mm on my camera and set out to photograph the snow covered hills on the quiet, cloudy day.  I like hiking when the only sound is my footsteps, or in this case, my snowshoes.

I hiked up and, as usual, photographed everything. When I stroll through that long meadow I rarely see animals, but I always feel as though I am being watched. That’s a good thing. This time a crow swooped low and circled me as I photographed the Thompson River valley far below. I am sure it was wondering what I was doing there.

I could see a storm rolling down from the mountains and photographed that also. Soon another crow appeared overhead, and this time cried a warning that I am sure was about the storm. And then it began snowing. There is nothing like standing in a forest meadow during a snowstorm; it’s quiet. The sounds from both the Trans Canada Highway and the CN Railroad alongside disappeared.

Thirty years ago, when I first started wandering that area there were three buildings, two old cars and an apple tree.  Now the struggling tree no longer bears fruit, someone hauled off the better of the two cars, one building fell down, and the last two are just hanging on.

Still, it’s a great place to snowshoe with a camera and I was having fun and the heavy falling snow didn’t bother me, I just kept wiping the water off my camera as I photographed the on-coming storm, the old buildings and the remnants of that old car and that’s when I fell into the well.

I think stumbling, bumping into things and sometimes falling while paying more attention to the subject being photographed than things in the way isn’t that unusual to those of us that participate in the exciting medium of photography.

I was wet, but I was fine, the camera was fine, and the snowshoes were fine, and best of all, I got lot of great winter pictures.

I’d really like to read your comments.

My website is at

My photography Resolutions for 2014

Every year I write about my New Year’s Photography resolutions. I’ll remind readers they aren’t only resolutions, but things I’d been thinking about for some time. This year, as last, I’ll also call them my photography goals as well as my New Year’s resolutions for the year to come.

This year I kept the number at six and mixed them into no real order. Too many goals don’t seem to work for me. However, I included five more I found on the Internet for new photographers.

My first resolution is an easy one that I recommend to all serious photographers. The resolution is to get together with other photographers. Collaborate with like-minded enthusiasts, plan an outing or just get together for refreshments and talk at some local spot.

My second resolution is to plan several photographer vacations this year.  I’ll be sure to make them about photography, not those rushing trips where one just grabs a picture now and then on a tiny point and shoot camera. These will be the kind of excursions that allow me look at the world in new ways and inspire me to use the equipment, knowledge, and talents I have.

My third resolution is to continue my ongoing, and seemly never-ending quest to organize my old photographic slides.  I make this resolution every year.

My fourth resolution is to upgrade my computer, well actually, to purchase a new computer. Gosh, I’d do almost anything to skip this one, but I suppose I must be resolute in this resolution.

My fifth resolution is to add a lens this year. Not that I really require anything, but there are a couple that are intriguing.  Nevertheless, because I prefer to purchase used equipment, I am always on the look out for bargains that fit the kind of photography I do.

My sixth resolution is to attend a photographic workshop. The subject doesn’t really matter; I always learn something whether it’s from the leader or from my classmates. I regularly buy books on different photographic subjects and I am an avid reader of many online bloggers and teachers, but the experience of being part of a class offers so much more.

I decided to search for other photographer’s New Year Resolutions and found a list by I changed their order and selected five that I think will benefit those readers new to this exciting medium in the year to come.

Their first New Year’s resolution is to, “Use filters”.

The second resolution, “Never use Auto mode” I do like that, but I think I would change it to “learn when and where to use Auto modes”, because I look at cameras and their functions as multipurpose tools.

The third resolution, “Shoot more in RAW” surprises me. Not the resolution, but that any serious photographer, even a beginner, wouldn’t prefer RAW.

The fourth, “Take control of your flash” might just be my favourite resolution. Anyone familiar with my photography knows how much I like flash.

For the fifth and last resolution for 2014.  I’ll just smile and nod my head, “Stop the car”.

I am sure readers will make their own resolutions for the year we have just begun.  What could they be? I can only imagine.  Let me know.

I wish you and yours the best in the New Year.

My website is at