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High Key Studio – What I Use and Why

girls2If you follow my posts, you’ll know that I have a studio. At the moment, I mostly do high-key sessions with children. High-key is something that many photographers try to imitate and sometimes fail miserably simply because of a lack of understanding about light (and I only know this because I am one of those people!) Out of necessity, my photographic evolution has been a fast one and I laugh to think that only a few short months ago, I was in torrents of frustration and tears because I just couldn’t manage to take photos like the ones I was seeing from amazing studios such as Venture.

I’d like to write a post soon about exactly how I went from hobbyist to pro so I’ll save that story for another day. But in terms of studio, I started out borrowing a friend’s set-up to photograph a school. He’s a filmmaker, so the equipment wasn’t ideal for photography. It consisted of  a roll of white background paper, two continuous lights on softboxes in the front and two lighting the background. It was a bit of a horrible experience now that I look back on it! The light temp from these lights was way orange/yellow and they were HOT HOT HOT. Even with diligent and time consuming post production work, the colours were dark and muddy and the kids were sweating like crazy which didn’t put them in such a great mood. Excellent learning experience.

After that, I began getting a lot of requests for studio work without any equipment of my own so I spoke to a studio lighting consultant who helped me make sense of it all and decide on the set-up I needed for the type of work I wanted to produce. Which as luck would have it was top-of-the-line and cost a pretty penny.

There are much more affordable versions of the set-up I chose, but I didn’t want it to be something where I found myself outgrowing the equipment and wanting something better before I had even broken even on what I’d purchased. So this is my kit and why I chose them:

bowens-750-wattTwo Bowens Gemini 750 Lights – Powerful bursts of light mean I can capture action with precision and since I photograph kids, this is a must. Extremely fast recycle times mean I can take a photo every second without missing a shot. There are battery packs available which means I could use these on location should I so choose.
bowens-400-wattTwo Bowens Gemini 400 Lights – Less powerful, but I only use them in the background so I decided to keep the extra £800 and go for something more ‘entry level’ for the backlights.
 umbrellaUmbrellas – Three umbrellas in two different sizes. Sometimes I use my front lights with two reflector umbrellas.
 softboxSoftbox – A massive soft box usually used on my main light.
 vinyl-rollLastolite Vinyl Roll – I started with cheap rolls of white paper but soon found that I was cutting it all away to get rid of dirt, playdoh, cake, etc. (I like messy shoots!) So I opted for a vinyl roll. It’s H-E-A-V-Y but washable and beautifully reflective so the background can be crisp and not only white, but glowing. It’s fantastic.
 background-supportHeavy duty background support system – You can’t use the heavy vinyl roll without heavy duty support. I also have some heavy duty grips from a hardware store to keep the vinyl from unrolling all the way and then falling right off it’s steel centre.
radio-trigger Bowens Radio Triggers – these trigger the lights by radio signal. One attaches to the camera, one to one of the lights. When one of the lights flashes, it immediately triggers the other lights because they are on ‘slave’ which means the other three follow the light of the one attached to the trigger.

So that’s my set-up! Watch this space for a post on how I actually set up my studio.

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Elizabeth Halford
Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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