Once again, the Prince of Cheap is here to save you from the dollar!
The following is a list of studio lighting items that will help you save dollars and help you grab some quick and effective lighting that will allow to you create better photographs!
#1) The first one is my all time favorite: the Light Panel/Flash Wall. This tool is one of the easiest to build and also one of the most useful.
If you have a heavy duty flash or a bunch of hot shoe flashes laying around you can build one of these in 10 minutes with a hacksaw and about 5 dollars worth of PVC pipe from your local hardware store. I recommend using Schedule 40 1/2 inch wide because that stuff is tougher than the larger piping. It is so simple that you could put one together in about 180 seconds (3 minutes) and break it down in even less time. In panel mode you attach some white rip-stop nylon and fire your flashes through it. In flash wall mode placing some white rip-stop nylon backed with a black sheet on the other side (so the light wont pass through it) allows it to be used like a portable wall to bounce light off of. Flash wall orientation reduces light spill that could recolor your images. I use a flash wall in a pinch in a small spaces or for corporate portraits where I want a very soft light. I’ve had even softer results using white satin fabric instead of white rip-stop nylon (its surface diffuses the light that hits it a little better). Here is a photo of my home made diffusion panel in action:
This is a super simple design. You can even make legs so that you wont need your light stands to hold it up! How cool is that? Just build an upside-down “T” and you’ve got legs!
#2) My second favorite is the “The Prince of Cheap” Quadgrip Reflector. It’s amazing what happens when you have a 99 cent store that sells foam board, some double-sided tape, and box cutters!
Measure the width of your hand and use the box cutter to cut a rectangular hole for your fingers to allow you to grip the board… BAM, instant secure grip! You take also sandwich together a black piece and a white piece back to back with double sided tape to get a very sturdy quadgrip reflector with a white reflector on one side and a gobo (light blocker) on the other! I’ve been using this while holding my Sony Alpha A100 cross-handed during modeling sessions (Thank God for image stabilization)! Here’s a photo:
#3) The eBay Softbox. This pretty little object made the list because, well… its CHEAP! For $60.00 you can get a 31×47 inch softbox that comes with a universal mount. You simply turn screws on a caster and it uses pressure to hold itself onto your strobe. Also note, you can purchase a 47×47 inch octagonal softbox from an Ebay seller! After testing this unit I found that it is cheap but the light is very usable! I was unable to find a grid to reduce spill, but we’re talking $60.00 for a softbox that can be used to do full bodies shots!
I call that a lotta softbox for $60.00! Its bigger than my son!
#4) 60 inch White Convertible Umbrella. Probably the most used tool in photographic history besides the camera and flash itself! Umbrellas are cheap soft light producers!
You can get a Photoflex 60 inch Convertible Satin White Shoot through umbrella with a removable cover for only $ 39.99 at Adorama.com. To use it, simply remove the cover and your strobes reflector for ultra – ultra soft light. Put the cover on to get soft yet slightly directed, specular light. Put it very close and remove the reflector from your flash head and you have a super wrap around effect that can be as soft as silk!
Add a reflector below the subject and get this:
#5) The “ebay Species” Trigrip Reflector. This little tool is perfect except for one the grip sliding around in the frame making it hard to hold. The good news is that with a little modification it can be perfectly firm. I cut the foam grip off and wrapped duct tape around it until it made a solid handle. for only $20 on Ebay you can get a silver/gold double-sided reflector that’ll help you get glamor light all day and night!
P.S. They also have silver/white models! – Ebay Seller Dream2maker
#6) Britek – Flash lighting that is cheap, usable, fairly color consistent, and did I mention cheap? Think of it this way: I bought a $51.00 BB-200 (200 watts of pop) with a 1 second recycle time for just $51. For just a bit more, I bought the HS-2000 (440 watts of blast) with a 1 second recycle time ($190). Then I added a $75 PS-200 (125 watts). I still hadn’t hit $350.00 and I have 3 flash units that can serve me for nearly setup. The downside to these tools is that there’s only 3 power settings on the HS and BB models (half, full, and quarter). There are only 2 settings on the PS model (half and full).
Of course, you are buying variety of imported strobes whose reputation gets called into question at times, but if price tag is your only consideration, they are an option – look around and read for more opinions! This doesn’t mean that If I had the money I’d choose them over the AlienBees monolights. It’s just that when you cant afford the big toys you gotta start somewhere, and I’ve managed to get some very good quality images out of mine! The Britek line of cheap flashes – www.briteklight.com
#7) Sigma EF 500 DG Superflash. OK, it’s more than 50 bucks, but this flash has it all! Wireless optical slave, high speed sync (as long as your camera supports the feature), bounce, swivel, manual power control, TTL for your camera brand, multi-flash support, and most important. IT’S VERSATILE!! Best of all, it’s still far less expensive than the camera brand flash units. For a review, go here http://shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/lighting_equipment/1101sb_sigma/.
#8) The Brolly Box. Its a softbox, its an umbrella, no – no – its – its… the Broooooollly Booooxxx! This tool is similar to a softbox because light bounces around inside and leaves through the front panel. The front, however, is curved like a shoot through umbrella. The resulting light is similar to light from a beauty dish. The brolly box contains the light but it allows the light to go out in a 180 degree surface. As a single light source – in a single light setup, this tool works great! The best part is that since its design is that of an umbrella you can use it with virtually any flash source and it folds for easy storage and transport.
This model comes from Alien Bees for $29.95. A similar model can also be found on Ebay (look for “umbrella softbox”) for a bit less – Ebay Seller Mrstudio1.
#9) Neutral Density Fabric. Now, here’s CHEAP! What do you get when you take 4 layers of black wedding dress fabric called tulle and place it between your light source and subject? Neutral Density fabric -1 Stop! When layered 4 times, this fabric reduces strobe or natural light output like a scrim or neutral density filter! Stretch 1-2 layers over your lens and what do you have? An “old timers delight” – a soft focus filter! What do you have when you place 4 stapled layers over a softbox whose flash doesn’t have enough power options? A neutral density filter thats helps you control your light output! Here you can see it in use:
There it is, draped over the box. Because of this I am able to take my flash down to low power, place it very close and get very, very soft wraparound lighting using only the covered light as my main light as shown here. You can get this fabric at just about any fabric store.
#10) The AlienBees Vagabond II. I once hailed the Innovatronix Tronix Explorer 1200 as the single best deal out there in order to have a portable lighting solution for your studio flashes. Then this gem comes along and changes things! Thanks Mr. Buff!
This one doesn’t exactly come in under 60 dollars either, but I had to mention it! This tool gives you 2 outlets (For monolights, NOT your computer or any other constant drain device) to plug in your strobes and have on-location power! Think of it… use your flashes to get natural looking images outdoors in the afternoon!
Go the Alien Bees web site to see more of see this great new product. http://www.alienbees.com/VIIsystem.html
With these great deals, you’ve go no excuse to experiment, so get ta shootin!
-The Prince of Cheap