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Beauty dish and reflector good enough for glamour?

Paul Sincoff , May 26, 2006; 03:13 a.m.

Thinking about getting an Alien Bees 22" beauty dish with a B800 flash and their 5-in-1 reflector. I know this isn't the ultimate glamour set-up but would it be a good starter? I'm on a tight budget. Could I take this to the beach and do a full body shot? Right now I have an elan 7n, a 430ex speedlite, a 45" umbrella and haven't been able to use it b/c I can't decide on an STe2 transmitter or 15' paramount sync cord. Do I sink $200 in the cord/transmmitter or put that into a real light? Teaching myself as I go, there seems to be 10,000 opinions on everything when it comes to any aspect of photography. Thx for any help.

Responses

Jeff Callen - Chicago, IL , May 26, 2006; 11:09 a.m.

Aargh, there's alot going on in your post. My take on this is to get one light and one diffuser and practice till you know it, then get annother as knowlege and lighting intuition is more important than gear. Experience is a great thing here... and if you have willing models, or even plastic heads to practice on, that's a really good thing.

See if you can borrow or rent a digital EOS SLR for one day, when you have a willing model or plastic head, then you can see the immediate results of your tests, and you'll learn much faster.

Before you buy lots of gear, I'd buy some DVD's and/or books, then if you leaned what you need to learn, sell them on Ebay.

Note beginners often assume pro's use either softboxes or diffusion panels or umbrellas or beauty dishes, most of the studio's I've been in have a mix and match approach aided by years of experience, i.e. use 2 softboxes and a few panels + a reflector.

I'd do the beach shot AFTER spending lots of time testing with somebody you trust... and bring them to the beach with you! It's too ambitious to start with.... Beach shots can be challenging with the wind blowing things around, lots of people staring at you,etc... try to do it NOT near 12:00, as the light will be difficult. If you feel not-so-confident, people may feed upon you like sharks... I've seen this happen to other photographers. You'll REALLY want an assistant to hold flash, reflectors, keep track of stuff and talk to people who walk up so you can pay attention to the model and your shot.
Note that beach shots often use diffusers and reflectors, the diffuser (scrim) is held by an assistant between the sun and the model to soften the light. A large diffuser can have a frame you can make with pipes from Home Depot after you get diffusion material from Calumet or similar place for $20-40.

There are some good tutorials at www.shootsmarter.com, but they may convince you that you need insane amounts of gear... not always the case.... and they usually shoot indoors commercial stuff.

TO START:
Indoors, you can get used to shooting by bouncing your flash off a white wall and having your model hold a reflector as if she's holding a dinner plate, and after lots of tests, you'll get used to some more work. You can get a VERY CHEAP reflector to start with by going to Pep Boys or similar car parts shop and spend $5 on a window cover reflector that rolls up. You can use a rubber band and notecard on the back of your flash and aim it at the wall or ceiling, that way you'll get less of a racoon eye effect. You'd be surprised at what you can get with this setup and 200ISO or 400 ISO and a digital camera. Try shooting model faces at telephoto and having her turn head slightly every shot, you'll find minor head movements result in very different looks, that way you'll get used to seeing how faces and angles look flattering and which don't, this is very important.

If you intend on working on location and keeping your 430EX, I'd spend $30-40 on a bunch of NIMH rechargable batteries and a fast charger,

NOTEOn the beach, you'd need an Alien Bees portable battery pack ($300+) in order to power that B800, so you may not want to do that yet. Monolights are mainly meant for places with extension cords, the portable battery packs are a recent addition. The studio light way of working is nice, because you have modeling lights, but very different from the portable light way of working, which is always an improvisation.

The beauty dish is usually used for indoor face shots, maybe a bit more but not full body. The 45 inch umbrella is better for that, but I'd really try to do full body shots later, first start on head and shoulders, maybe a bit more, then gradually do more once you're comfortable. The general rule is that the larger the subject, the larger the light unless you want only part of the body lit. For Full Body, you may want a 60 inch light source.

Softboxes are harder to setup and more expensive than umbrellas, but they give light without hot spots and are a bit more controllable.

Yes, there are 10,000 opinions, for portable stuff at 5-15 foot range, the EOS wireless system is pretty good, rather than get the STe2, I'd really look at a 550EX from B&H or Ebay. That way, you can use Canon's wireless flash system, with a fill light on the camera. Your 430EX could be aimed at an umbrella, and your 550EX could be on camera as fill, dialed down 1.5 stops or so. You can control the ratio's from the 550EX mounted on camera. Yes, it takes practice, but this sort of setup (with an assistant to hold the other flash) is far easier to deal with on a beach than monolights and portable battery boxes. Note also that the High Speed Sync option can be used nicely here, as you can setup your camera to underexpose the ambient light by 1-2 stops, say you're shooting at 3pm with F4 and 2000th, and your flashes are set at HS sync, one to the side at +1.5 and one on camera at -1, you may also want to use an orange gell on the flash for warmth.

Good luck, don't go crazy, and yes, your 45 inch umbrella + 550EX + 430EX + an assistant or stand + adapter could do good work once you get comfortable with it all. Get comfortable with one piece of gear before you buy more.

Jeff Callen - Chicago, IL , May 26, 2006; 11:23 a.m.

3 things I forgot to add:

1.Outdoors near dusk, you will want to put an orange CTO or similar warm Gel on your flash, you can get these for $5 from a pro shop.

2. Makup can be waaaaaaay more important than people think, if you can work with an experienced model, ask her if she can recommend a makup artist, as makup for photo can be much different than makup for ordinary life.

3. Read this Gary Bernstein article He uses one umbrella + one reflector + makup artist + model and of course, his own ingenuity.

Paul Sincoff , May 26, 2006; 12:24 p.m.

Jeff, holy mother of God that was a great answer! Thank you for taking the time, a lot of great knowledge in there. For some reason I've not thought about the other speedlite, the 430 has stymied me and the thought of having another one frightens me! Bottom line is I have to learn it. If I get the 580, shouldn't that be the one on the umbrella with my 430 on camera as fill? i.e. shouldn't the more powerful flash be the main light? My umbrella is one of those "shoot-throughs", too, for the light I'd lose going through the fabric, might the 580 be the better idea for that? Or no because that's the master flash? What you're saying though makes total sense. Should I set my on camera flash on a bracket for more flattering light, or put it right on the hot shoe? Thank you Jeff, best answer I've ever seen on an posting yet.

Jeff Callen - Chicago, IL , May 26, 2006; 08:44 p.m.

The 580 or 550 has to be a master flash on camera. The shoot through umbrella should be pretty close to the subject. Good luck! Try and borrow a digital camera to test!

Vince Callaway , May 26, 2006; 10:19 p.m.

What a great answer. I'll just toss in a bit of info to add.

You can accomplish a lot with a bit of ingenuity. Many years ago when I first started I made up a bunch of frames using 1/2" pvc pipe and used white drafting paper. I used those as both reflectors and shoot throughs for the lights. It is inexpensive and gives you great flexibility.

Now it's been 20 years and I still make them up from time to time. I've even made up softboxes using white foam core and drafting paper.

Jeff Callen - Chicago, IL , May 27, 2006; 05:43 p.m.

RE: Bracket and on-camera fill -- If you're shooting vertical with a fill flash at the camera, yes you probably want a bracket, so light is vertically parallel to the camera lens. You can also do this with an off-camera shoe cord and hand-holding the flash above the camera carefully. You may also want to diffuse the on-camera fill a bit by getting a Lumiquest, Fong or similar diffuser. I use the off-camera shoe cord + a Quick Flip 35 bracket for my EOS digitals sometimes.

RE: Above suggestion of piping and scrims - great Idea, I still do that, sometimes I scrub off the home depot lettering on the pipes for clients eyes.... Diffusion panels are great, an unsung hero of lighting.

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