A week ago this past Monday I had a group portrait to do for the women of a hair dressing salon in Oak Harbor. It was to be done indoors and then they wanted it to be done outside. This was a reshoot and I had problems with the outdoor lighting on the faces. The solution is fill flash. Enter the Flash Monster — my antique Flexaret Va and an old (but only now going out of production) Vivitar 283. You can pick up a Vivitar 283 for $25 on eBay. A great automatic flash.
The Flexaret has a leaf shutter. Trying to use flash with a focal plane shutter is an exercise in futility. They are only synched at one speed. A leaf shutter is synched at all speeds. This makes it easy to do fill flash. Set the exposure for the background and let the flash fill in the foreground. Simple and effective. You can fool the flash by setting it to a faster f stop than you actually are shooting with so that the flash isn't too noticable. John Brownlow did some interesting street photography with a rig similar to this. A long exposure to get a smeared background and the flash freezes the foreground subject. Fun!
I did some tests with a Lumiquest SoftBox and you hardly notice that fill flash is being used. They can be had for under $30. Fun to play with.
Shooting outside this time of year can be a pretty sporty proposition so I had to do something for lighting an inside location as a backup. I've been using a Lowel Tota-Light hot light and a reflector. It puts out a lot of light but not enough for the space I would need to illuminate. Hot lights are much cheaper than strobes and it's easy to see what the lights are doing. I needed something cheaper that a Tota-Light, thought. James Luckett and Ace Hardware came to the rescue.
That's my basement studio, aka the dungeon. The Tota-Light is on the right with an umbrella. The lights on the left are Ace Hardware work lights that were on sale for $30. The white panel is a 20x24" sheet of Roscolux #111 Filter - Tough Rolux. It's a plastic diffusion panel that can handle the heat of hot lights. B&H sells it for $5.50. I built the frame out of some scrap lumber. James linked to the site that turned me on to Tough Rolux. It has some other good tips on cheap lighting:
DIY Photography on the cheap
The Ace lights are pretty amazing. They use the same quartz lamps that the Tota-Light does. Actually, the lamps they come with are junk but you can order some 500 watt FDN lamps or 300 watt EHZ lamps that are color balanced for 3200 deg K. (I use Fuji tungsten film.) There are two lamp heads that can take up to 500 watts each for 1,000 watts total. The Tota-Light can take a 750 watt lamp. Let there be light! The Ace lights don't have as broad a illuminated area but the do fine for the price. The Ace lights also come off and store in the cage underneath which has wheels for moving. I will be playing around with this.
Which did I use for the shoot? Neither. It was too windy to shoot outside and when I got to the salon there was another room with plenty of it's own light. That's the nature of shooting on location — improvise.