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Stormtrooper Helmet with R2-D2 Mouse Ears

R2-DTrooper - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

I started a project this weekend to enhance my home studio. My starting point was this very useful tutorial on White Seamless photography by Zack Arias. As I read the tutorial, it all seems so simple, easy, and straight-forward. I imagine it is, once you've been through it a few times and worked through some of the nuances.  As you can tell from the shot above, it's not quite there yet, but I think I'll get there with time, practice…and more money spent.

My incentive for getting this to work comes from my new project to show conceptual photos on Wednesday. Sometimes I can go out and find something that communicates an idea, but other times, I'll need to create it.  I came up with an idea and had to buy some props, but I also wanted to present it in a simple manner.  A white seamless shot seemed appropriate for it.

Zack's tutorial uses three lights – two to light the background and one for the subject. The concept is to separate the lighting between background & subject, which gives you a bit more flexibility in creating different looks to present your subject. Since my project is table-top, I had some options to explore.

I made a trip to Home Depot to get supplies mentioned in the tutorial. For about a hundred bucks, I came home with two bi-fold doors and a sheet of white tileboard.  I had the guy at Home Depot cut it into three 30″ sections, giving me 30×48 boards to use on my table.  The others can be back-up or perhaps bounce cards for fill if I ever need it.

I have four lights – Two Elinchrom BXRi 500 studio lights, a Nikon SB-800 & SB-600 Speedlights. Since I don't have three studio lights, I thought I may use one for the main light and put the Speedlights on either side.  One key problem is how to trigger them. The Elinchrom lights use SkyPort radio transceivers and I didn't have any of those for the Speedlights. I thought I could put the Speedlights into Optical Slave mode, but I then discovered that the SB-600 doesn't support that mode.  Have I mentioned how much I hate the SB-600?  Since this is table-top photography using 53″ White Seamless paper, I decided I could use only one of the Elinchrom BXRi 500's to sufficiently light the background, and it works.

For now, I only needed one bi-fold door. It's still good to have the pair for when I end up with more lights and transition to larger projects.

I have a table, but I'm missing supports for the roll of white seamless.  For now, I'm limited to attaching the paper directly to my wall with gaffer tape. It's a bit annoying to do that way, but it holds well once in place and it doesn't damage the paint when I'm ready to take it down. My plan is to get a pair of these Avenger C-Stands and another pair of SuperClamps for supports. That leaves me still needing a bar to hold the roll of paper, but I can get that on another trip to Home Depot.

I've discovered that I really do prefer the Elinchrom studio lights compared to the Nikon Speedlights.  That's not to say that you can't get a good pop of power from Speedlights. My friend John Francis created a very useful blog post comparing the power of his various lighting gear. Did you expect that a Nikon SB-900 zoomed out to 200 would be as powerful as an Alien Bees AB800? Maybe some when you consider the cost of that SB-900. In any case, My Elinchrom lights come with built-in SkyPort transceivers. I'd also have to buy Pocket Wizards or Radio Poppers to reliably use the Speedlights when CLS wasn't viable, and I like the light modifiers I have from Elinchrom. It's just a matter of preference and maximizing the utility of what I've already bought.

What this means to me is that I still need to buy more Elinchrom lights.  Whether that means getting another kit of BXRi 500's, a pair of Quadra's or a single Ranger is a topic for another time, but I need at least three good studio lights to make the expansion I have in mind. In other words, another grand or two on lighting gear.

All of those issues are surmountable, though.  I can save money to buy more gear.  The real trick is going to be finding enough space to setup this environment.  Zack mentions in part of the tutorial that his subject is about ten feet forward from the background. Now consider the room you need to compose your shot, particularly if you like using longer focal lengths, like a 70-200mm lens. I don't have a place in my house with enough runway space to make that happen.  Clearly, I need to buy a bigger house.

At this point, I've determined that my new home studio will cost me about $500K. Photography is expensive.

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