Thursday, November 13, 2008

Studio Undergrad Work

I mentioned in previous posts (HERE and HERE) that I am experimenting with a studio setup in my basement. I have done this with essentially no cash outlay, using on-hand equipment as much as possible.

I bought fabric for a backdrop, and hung it on a cord with clothes pins. I only have one tripod, so my lights are mounted on telescoping tent poles. I secure the tent poles by extending them from the floor to small, shallow holes drilled every foot or so in my ceiling joists. The lights themselves are old 1980's clip lights with a variety of lightbulbs. I also have one $6.00 halogen spot lamp. My total investment so far is under $100.00.

Here is a recent shot:

Don Wearing Beanie

View this photo LARGE On Black.

The setup for the shot was the most complicated I have tried to date. I used three light sources:

1. a 75 watt compact fluorescant bulb in a clip lamp mounted about 18-20 inches away on Don's front left. I used a plastic tube from a dryer vent as a snoot to keep the light tight. A bit of white foam packing sheet softened the light, sort of my try at a poor-man's soft box.
2. a 25 watt "stained glass" bulb that actually looks like stained glass and throws blue, green, and red light. This was also in a clip lamp, mounted about 20 inches away on Don's right, maybe slightly from the front. I think it helped the beard stand out a bit.
3. a 65 watt halogen lamp sitting on a plinth (an old speaker stand) directly behind Don about two feet, aimed at the back of his head. I wanted to have his head rimmed on some of the shots. In this one, it lights up his right eye, and I am not sure it helps. In some of the other shots, it illuminates the edge of his beard perfectly.

I had one fairly dim ceiling light on behind me also, but that did not have much effect on the overall lighting.

The camera was on a tripod about four feet in front of Don, who was seated on a stool positioned about three feet in front of the backdrop. The settings on the camera were as follows:

Nikon D40 set on aperture priority. No flash. Shutter: 1/13th second. Aperture: f/1.4 ISO: 200 White Balance: Custom, read from a grey card held in front of Don's face. (With that crazy mish-mash of lights, that was my only option for white balance. Anything else would have yielded truly weird results.) The lens was a Sigma 30mm prime. And because I was curious and looked, this image was the 18,948th shutter release for this camera which was purchased new July 1, 2007.

All this goes to show that you can achieve pretty nice results without spending a ton of money. I'm sure that by spending a ton of money everything is easier. However, this process has been really rewarding, and I am learning a lot about what works (or does not work) and why. I try to think about it as completing my undergrad work at a community college. Once I have some solid basics under me, I will be ready for some grad courses in the form of a seminar or one of those cool spend-a-week-with-a-pro workshops in some amazing place.

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