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Q&A: What portable lighting should I get?

Q&A: What portable lighting should I get?

I’ve been getting some question sent to me lately on the blog, Facebook and Twitter, which is brilliant. It means I can turn them into posts so everyone can hopefully benefit from the answers.

First up was Matt with a question about lighting:

Hi Simon

I found your site originally when I was looking into light painting, then I ended up here again when I was looking into different portable lighting systems. Impressive work all around! It’s definitely inspiring me more to give lighting a proper go too.I firstly ended up looking into Alien Bees or Einsteins, but once they’re imported to the UK the cheap price point quickly disappears.Anyway – I’m just curious, would you still recommend the Quadras you have? I’ve been looking into Profoto and Bowens too, it’s just tricky to decide between them all. I’ve found a couple companies that seem to be designing similar ones to Paul C Buffs lights, or at least at that price-point, but there’s practically no reviews for them and I don’t really fancy being the first to try them either.

There’s plenty of people aswell as yourself that love Quadras, so that’ll definitely make it easier to part with the cash in the future.

Cheers! Matt

Hi Matt

I know what you mean about the Paul C Buff stuff. I’d love a Vagabond Mini and a couple of Einsteins but you’re right, by the time you get them to the UK the price is far less attractive.

In answer to your question, yes, I still love my Quadras, there’s so much about them to like. They are small and light, pack a decent punch and the built-in Skyport radio triggers are very handy. The Profoto packs and a heads are gorgeous but I just couldn’t (and still can’t!) justify the cost. And to be honest they aren’t as compact and portable.

If you are just getting in to lighting though, I’d say start small. Buy some used hot shoe flashes and some cheap eBay wireless triggers and learn to use them in manual. Then, when you run out of power and find yourself limited, step up to something bigger.

Bear in mind you can use any constant light source to light paint with though. It’s a great chance to get all McGuyver with a torch!

Hope that helps, Simon

Photo of the Week – Light Painted A1

Photo of the Week – Light Painted A1

Today’s Photo of the Week is dedicated to Stephen Dowset who sent me a message on Facebook asking how this image was made. In camera or in Photoshop?

_PP_1028

The answer is: Both.

EXIT dataI have a more detailed write up on light painting cars and to be honest, the technique on this one is pretty much the same. The only real difference was the ambient light in the scene which dictated my shutter speed. 13 seconds at f/14 was the sweet spot and gave me time to cover about a quarter of the car per exposure. The main thing to remember is that you need to need to light the roof of the car from behind to stop it blending in with the darker background and to take more images than you think you need so you have plenty to chose from in post production. So after many clicks of the shutter and lots of running around waving a Quadra head (with modelling light on) I was left with a selection of images to sort through in Lightroom and layer up in Photoshop.

In this case I was shooting from a tripod so the images were already aligned but Photoshop is very good at auto-aligning layers if you are working freehand and have an assistant to move your lightsource.

Separates

Once in Photoshop, it was simply a case of switching all but the bottom layer to ‘Lighten’ blend mode (so only areas that are lighter than the layer below show up) and adding a few layer masks to cover up where my light, rather than it’s reflection in the car, had been captured. You’ll notice I left one of those “mistakes” in as I like how the light trail seems to come off the car and drift away.

The final contrast tweaks on the brickwork and the car were added in Lightroom.

 

Light Painting A Car

Light Painting A Car

I’m lucky enough to have access to what can loosely be called some studio space (a huge empty room, large enough to get a car in that gives me completely control of the ambient light) so last night I tried a little automotive light painting.

So armed with nothing more than a camera, tripod and an Elinchrom Quadra with the modelling light on although any constant light source would do though.

I’d like to say that was all done in camera but it’s not. There are 3 individual shots that have been composited to make that final shot. Firstly, because of their brightness relative to the Quadra’s LED modelling light, I shot the headlights.

Then it was time to light the car. After a few tests with various softboxes I found the most even coverage came from simply walking around the car with just the Quadra head and 18cm reflector. A 13 second exposure at f/8 gave me time to walk fairly slowly around the car. The first shot below is a lap with the light held fairly low to get light onto the doors and the second was as high as I could reach to bounce some light of the car roof.

For this pass (another 13 second exposure) the light was held higher to thrown light onto the roof of the car.

Once in Photoshop, I layered the 3 images in Lighten mode and did a little burning to darken down the walls in the background. I also added and masked a desaturation layer to remove the slight yellow tinge from the fog lights and remove a colour cast from the wheels and floor. The result:

For a first attempt a light painting a car I am pleased, although looking at the final image, I see a few things I’ll look out for next time.