The Right Lights: Our Top Photography Lighting Tools
by Theano Nikitas
April 14, 2014 —
Whether you’re just starting to build your photo studio, have already accumulated a wealth of lighting gear or are expanding your offerings by venturing into video, it may be time to take stock of today’s lighting products. To help you figure out which right lights are for you, we’ve created a roundup of some of our favorite lighting tools and gadgets from the past year.
Adorama Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolights
An aluminum housing keeps them lightweight—averaging around 2 pounds each—and measuring between 7.75 x 7 x 4 inches (120 w/s) to 9 x 7 x 4.25 inches (300 w/s). With flash durations ranging from 1/2000th second to 1/800th second, they’re not the fastest lights on the market, but, combined with a four-stop output range, they’re more than sufficient for standard shoots. Recycle time measures between 0.5 and 2 seconds, with audio and LED alerts that indicate when they’re good to go. If your studio is in your home, no worries—a modest amp draw means no blown fuses on regular household electrical circuits.
The lights are equipped with a pre-flash test button, optical slave/master setting with LED indicator, a 5A fuse-protected circuit, replaceable flash tube and an umbrella shaft lock. And if you’re starting from scratch, you can purchase any of the monolights in kit form, with a 40-inch white/black umbrella with a removable black layer and a 6-foot, three-section light stand. And if you want to take them on the road, Adorama also offers a portable power pack, the Flashpoint Power Station. These monolights and kits are a really good deal and they ship for free in the U.S.—you can’t beat that.
Price: 120 w/s, $50/$90 (kit);160 w/s, $70/$110 (kit); 300 w/s, $100/$140 (kit); Flashpoint Power Station, $900
Dynalite XP-800 Pure Sine Wave Inverter
Price: XP-800, $999; spare battery, $359
Manfrotto Spectra LED Lights
The five models include the basic 500S—which offers a fixed 5600K color temperature and a 30-inch beam angle—and the highest end 900FT with color temperature adjustment from 3200 to 5600K and a 50-inch beam angle. Other than the 900FT, which is best suited for location shooting where lighting conditions vary, the others offer fixed color temperatures at 5600K or 5000K. All come with a trio of filters (shown above)—1/4 CTO warming, full CTO warming and Opal diffusion, which can be used individually or stacked—so you can easily tweak the color balance.
Broncolor Softboxes and Move Outdoor Kit 2
Photo © Lara Jade
Fashion and beauty photographer Lara Jade is a big fan of the bron Octa 150. She uses the Octabox paired with the Senso A4 on almost all of her studio shoots, either as a single light source or paired with a second light for fill and background. “I find that the 5-foot Octa is ideal for providing a soft but strong light source that is great for mimicking natural light in the studio,” Jade says. She also notes its versatility: “I can change the shape or contrast of the light by simply feathering the light or adding another diffusion cloth inside the octabox itself.”
But perhaps the ultimate portable lighting product from bron is its Move Outdoor Kit 2, which our sister publication PDN tested last year with photographer Jordan Matter. Matter, whose bestselling book, Dancers Among Us, featured more than 200 dancers in everyday situations around the country [see Rangefinder’s Editor’s Pick, November 2013], considers himself a “run-and-gun” photographer. Although part of the charm of his images is that they are completely “unplanned and spontaneous,” the process has its disadvantages. “Most notably,” he says, “I always rely on available light, which can be limiting, especially at night.”
Photo © Jordan Matter
Shooting with the Move kit on the streets of New York City at night was Matter’s first time photographing dancers on location with lighting. “We wasted no time on setup so I could shoot quickly and keep my high energy,” he says. “The kit is lightweight so my assistant could move it easily as I changed the composition.” Perhaps most importantly, Matter adds, “The light was just enough to freeze the action without looking artificial. I’ve never been able to get sharp jumps and leg kicks at night until this shoot.”
If you shoot on location, the bron Move kit is ideal. Available in different configurations, Matter used the Move Outdoor Kit 2, which consists of the Move 1200L power pack, two MobiLED lamps, one softbox, one umbrella, one RFS 2 transmitter set, one MobiLED continuous light adapter, a waterproof power pack soft case and an outdoor trolley backpack.
Price: Octa 150, $362 (other softboxes from $214); Move Outdoor Kit 2, $7,195
Limelite Mosaic Bi-Color LED Panel
The Limelite Mosaics use a standard V-lock battery but are available with an optional Anton/Bauer battery and are equipped with an onboard digital control panel with full DMX in and out, so the lights can be operated remotely. Because the Limelite Mosaics are modular, you can add an optional mounting kit to create two- and four-panel light banks as well, and, with standard RJ45 Ethernet cables, control them from a single panel. While the panel’s features are ideal for video capture, like other LEDs, it can easily be used to light still photo shoots as well. But unlike most LEDs, the Mosaics offer a special mode that displays the light output in f/stops on the control panel, so you’re good to go regardless of how you’re using these ultra-versatile lights. More detailed specs are available on the Limelite website.
Price: $1,119 (with V-mount or Anton/Bauer battery plate)
The C-500 ProDigi Color meter is designed specifically for digital photography (although it works for film photography, too). It’s compact but sophisticated, with readings displayed for brightness (LUX or foot-candle), color temperature and LB/CC indices to simplify filter selection. You can simultaneously measure the color of flash and ambient lights, and the meter is programmed with 19 presets for color compensation adjustments. You can quickly set a target color temperature in Kelvin. It’s compact, lightweight and runs on AA batteries. There are plenty of detailed specs on the Sekonic site, so visit them for additional information. There’s even a model, the C-500R, that has built-in wireless triggering capabilities.
Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash and Deep L Umbrella
Photo © Michael Mueller
I’ve only seen the B1 in action once, but Rangefinder/PDN senior technology editor Dan Havlik and photographer David DuPuy have already tested the light. Meanwhile, DuPuy gave us some feedback about his experience with the B1, saying that this new light “seems to be a template for the future of flash photography.” Not only is it extremely portable, but the B1 is “easy to work with, feels solidly built and,” he adds, “makes a good impression with clients. Mine asked a number of questions, which helped create a good energy for the shoot.” DuPuy says the B1 is “reliable, consistent and enables a greater level of creative freedom and risk-taking during the shoot. I think if you take the B1 out on assignment, you may be surprised where you end up!”
The B1 is also compatible with all of Profoto’s light-shaping tools, including the company’s relatively new set of umbrellas. While Swedish photographer Klara G didn’t test the B1, she’s a huge fan of umbrellas in general to create her signature style images and has been working with Profoto’s Deep L umbrellas more recently. Klara G explains, “I love to be able to work fast, and on set there is rarely a lot of time to spend, so I don’t want to take time away from working with my model. With umbrellas, I can put up a really simple yet beautiful light in minutes.” She points out, “They are also easy to bring to any shoot, easy to store and inexpensive compared to other equipment and accessories.”
Photo © Klara G
But the main reason she loves umbrellas is that “they give you natural and elegant light.” With the Profoto Deep L, Klara G explains, “Since it’s deeper than other umbrellas, the light is captured in an embracing way and bounces in a more concentrated way. It makes your subject even more mystical and interesting.” The depth of the umbrella also provides greater control over how the light is shaped.
The Deep L is available in large (51-inch diameter) and extra-large (65-inch diameter) sizes. Silver, white and translucent options allows photographers to choose the most appropriate material for his or her shooting style. Profoto also offers optional diffusers to further customize the Deep L’s lighting capabilities. And, as a bonus, the B1 can be used with all 120 of Profoto’s light-shaping tools, including the Deep L, so be sure to check out the Profoto site for the full list of accessories.
Price: B1, $1,995; Deep L umbrellas, $249 (large), $349 (XL)
Lighting Design Tips for Video Productions
By Eduardo Angel
You can make a film without sound, without color and without a single camera movement, but you could never make a film without light. Here are a few tips to help you improve your video lighting skills and deliver a higher production value to your clients.
1. Use continuous light, not natural light
2. Find the balance
3. Use adjustable LEDs to balance mixed lighting
4. Harness and control sunlight when shooting outdoors/diffuse sunlight
5. Control lighting direction with barn doors
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