Where are my Photos?

Friday, November 9, 2012

What I learned about cheap studio lighting for beginners

First a disclaimer,

I don't know much about flash photography and after reading this (if you get to the end) you might be in whole hearted agreement.

But I wanted to record what I learned in putting together a cheap lighting setup for a portrait and group gig my daughter and I need to do.

First my gear: I have: A Canon 1D-X, Canon 580 EX II Speedlite. I also have a selection of lenses that should do the job. My daughter has a 60D and a 320 EX Speedlite.

What I didn't have: A backdrop, any way to defuse the flash light and a way to trigger the flashes off camera.

I don't really like portrait photography. I guess this is mainly because I'm not that good at it so I didn't want to spend a fortune on stuff that I might not get a lot of use out of. The short part of a long story is that this shoot is for my other daughter's dance school and parents are expecting a semi professional result so certainly wanted to give this my best shot. (no pun intended).

After searching ebay for a background I settled on a 2m x 2m frame and white background. I'm hoping to get a high key look by overexposing the backdrop with a Speedlite behind the subject.

Lesson: Be skeptical about buying stuff on ebay. I usually am very careful but for AUD 36.00 I thought not much to risk. Sure enough the frame was as expected cheap but functional. The backdrop was about 1.5m x 2.0m nothing like the picture on ebay and next to useless. I agreed with the seller to a AUD 10.00 refund and I keep the backdrop. So for AUD 26.00 I have a 2m x 2m frame. I paid another  AUD 33.00 for a much larger background that will curve at the bottom.

Next I bought an umbrella setup from DCW (Digital Camera Wharehouse) http://www.digitalcamerawarehouse.com.au for AUD 175.00 It's a pretty good setup that allows you to mount hot shoe flashes on the stands and reflective umbrellas to defuse the light.

I wanted a left and right flash to light the subject and another light for the background. I already had the 580EX II and my daughter's 320 EX so I bought (again on ebay) another 320 EX to match my daugther's. These Speedlites can act as a slave not a master. The Flash cost AUD 209.00

I still need a way to fire the Speedlites so after some research I settled on a Yongnuo ST-E2 remote trigger. This is a rip off of the Canon trigger at half the price. There was some concern that the Yongnuo would not fire the 320 EX but I couldn't see any reason why so I took a punt (that's a bet or gamble for my non-Aussie readers) and bought it. Well it fired the 320 EX fine but would not sync properly with the Canon 1D-X I found out later that the unit does not work with the 1D-X or the 5D Mk III. The seller willingly agreed this was reason enough to take it back and agreed to a full refund. The Yongnuo unit was AUD 132.00

Plan B. I thought I'd try the Hahnel Tuff TTL transmitter / receiver. My setup though required 3 receivers which was starting to push the budget. So an idea formed in my ignorant brain that I could use the Hahnel to trigger the 580 EX II in Master mode and as Master it would trigger the 2 Canon 320 EX's. I called DCW twice to ask if this would work. One said "yes" the other "no" so that wasn't going to help. I took another punt and put down the AUD 156.00 for the transmitter receiver kit. Sure enough it works fine. The Hahnel fires the 580 EX II which is set to master and in turn fires the 2 x 320 EX's. An added bonus with the Tuff TTL kit is that it takes AA batteries the same as the flash units. Job done.

The 580 EX II seems to blow out the background for the high key effect which is what I wanted so we are all set for the shoot.

In the end I got a background kit, new Canon 320EX flash, 2 strobe umbrella lighting lit and a wireless trigger system for AUD 566.00 - I'm happy with that.

So what did I learn?

1. eBay is OK for buying gear but a reasonable element of skepticism is required. Buyer beware.
2. The Yongnuo ST-E2, although a good unit that seems to work as designed, does not work with the Canon 1D-X. The flashes will fire but are out of sync so its is effectively useless for 1D-X owners.
3. The Hahnel Tuff TTL transmitter works well and I can confirm if one of your flashes can act as a master then it will fire other slaves so you don't need more receivers. I cannot confirm that you get all the E-TTL functionality across the system so advanced users may not be satisfied. So far I am.

I'll let you know after the shoot.