Help me choose hot lights! JTL Superlight or Fancierstudio

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by justin_n|1, Aug 6, 2014.

  1. Hi!
    I operate a vintage bicycle shop ( and need some better studio lights for taking pics of bikes. I currently run two junky Home Depot garage shop halogen lights rated at 1000w each, bounced off a white card on the ceiling. I'm using a gray background. I need better lights!
    My two choices:
    These appear to be nearly pro quality (?) but have few reviews anywhere. Comes with air cushioned stands.
    Claimed 4200w, 5-bulb florescent heads. Quality appears questionable, but higher wattage.
    What do you guys think? Or do you have a link to other kits/lights that would be better? $300 is about my max, but maybe a bit more if you can sell me on it
  2. Those 36" and 28" soft boxes are too small for shooting bicycles no matter what lights you use them with and $300 is not enough budget.
  3. Hi, I don't think either of those lights is your answer. Your current setup with quartz-halogen lamps and white reflector panels can give surprisingly good results, provided you understand what you are doing. To me, the main problem is that there is no easy way to change the power of your lamps. And that their "color" is not ideal nor especially stable. And unless your workshop needs heating, all that electrical power can be a problem.
    If it were me, I'd rather have several electronic flash units with manually-adjustable power settings. But unless I wanted to spend a lot of money on very large, perhaps tubular softboxes, I'd stay with the white-panel reflectors. I don't think that the softboxes you are looking at are large enough to handle complete bicycles, although they could be good for partial views or components.
    When you photograph things with glossy paint and shiny metal, a lot of what you want to be doing is putting in large specular reflections in the right places. And large white reflector panels are pretty ideal for this sort of thing. Looking at your website, I think you could improve quite a bit even with the lights that you already own. I would suggest that your best money, right now, would be spent on this book:, or have a look at your local library.
  4. Not a bicycle shot but this motorcycle shot illustrates the size of light modifiers you'll need to produce those long, clean specular highlights on tubular and rounded surfaces.
    The bike was lit with a single flash from above in a 3'x4' soft box pushing through an overhead 6'5" square diffusion panel. A second light on the floor lit the background. A 4'x8' white foam-core panel down in front provided fill and secondary specular highlights on the bike.
  5. And here is the setup..
  6. Brooks is showing a nice example of black-on-black, which is a bit difficult to do. Even though he shows a lot of detail in the tubes (you can clearly see the big fat MIG welds where the tubes join) you still "know" that they're black. Everything has to be just right to get this effect. So it's pretty clear that Brook knows his way around lighting even before you see his setup.
    Those wide, luxurious-looking highlights on the black tubes are the result of semi-specular reflections of the large white sources. I think for a bicycle, you might want thinner, harder reflections to emphasize the glossiness of the paint, but that's sort of an artistic call. At any rate, large sources/reflectors in the proper locations are the key to this.
    You might note the elaborate overhead light Brooks uses, a fair-sized softbox feeding into a larger scrim stretched over a frame. I would think that you could get a very similar effect with an overhead white reflector board, being properly illuminated from below (you need the right sort of reflectors, etc., on the lamp to put light where you want it).
    But I think the main point is that those smaller softboxes you are considering are not really large enough to get good results from such things as bikes or motorcycles.
  7. Thanks for the tips guys! Ok, staying away from softboxes. So what I need are just more durable lights. I have two of the lights in the link below. They're not quite bright enough for every shot, but close. Problem is they're absolute junk....bulbs keep blowing, one of the lens glass's shattered just from the heat of it's own light.
    Can anyone suggest a good light to replace these that won't fall apart on me?
    Also, what's a good source for large reflecting boards? I'm using a few white poster boards, but a bigger/more solid one would be helpful for sure.
  8. Also, here's a shot of my "studio". you can see the white poster boards directly above the lights. They're slightly angled towards the background. Is there a better location for them maybe?
  9. and don't worry, I'm not using those incandescent side lights anymore!!
  10. Justin, It's not that you should stay away from soft boxes, it's that you need a soft box that's larger than the subject you are photographing.
    You can substitute a large diffusion panel like I did for my motorcycle shot but even that wasn't large enough to light the entire bike. That's why the photography is shot as a crop of the bike.
    If I were you, I'd make a large diffusion panel 6'x4' out of schedule 40 PVC pipe and cover it with rip-stop nylon or a frosted white shower curtain. Pull the fabric tightly across the PVC frame and support it with two light stands and clamps, one on each side.
    I'd then position that diffusion frame horizontally above the bike and lower it as close to the bike as possible, so it is just outside of the image. You can suspend it from the ceiling with rope and pulleys at each corner. Raise and lower it as needed.
    Clamp several clamp lights with 200w bulbs to the ceiling beams above the diffusion panel so they shine down and light the entire panel.
    Add a 4'x8' sheet of white foam-core horizontally in front of the bike and raise the side that's near the camera as high as you can before it shows in the viewfinder.
    Before you do any of that setup, position the bike at the front edge of the background paper so it's at least 4-5 ft. in front of the hanging background. Use a tripod, low ISO, a decent f/stop for sharpness, a slightly telephoto lens and as long of a shutter speed as needed for the correct exposure. If you want to make it much easier, shoot tethered to a laptop so you can see the image at a viewable size.
  11. Hmm, interesting idea Brooks! Do you have an example of these clamp lights you're talking about?
  12. Right here...
    You can also find them at most hardware stores, Home Depot, Lowes etc.
  13. Ok cool. Do you think CFL or incandescent bulbs are better? Sorry for the probably simple questions
  14. CFL have an incomplete color spectrum. Tungsten lights are easier to color balance. Strobes are the best choice but why spend real money when you're photographing and selling $1,000.00 bikes? :)
  15. well, I do sell upwards of $5000 bikes :) so eventually I want to get a REAL photo setup. But in my current location I am very limited in space/useable space for a studio, so I'm going to do it on the cheap, learn what I'm doing, and get some good stuff once I'm in a better spot. Tungsten lights it is!
  16. A bit late with this response, but there is no difference in the quality of light you'll get from "bouncing" light off a white reflector or from using a large diffuser like Brooks showed so well.
    Two or four small hotshoe flash units on stands could light a large reflector like that easily, and will throw out a lot more light than any hotlight that you might want to afford or use. They're not called hot lights for nothing, and will push up your electric bills and studio temperature needlessly. IMHO small flashes are the way to go. 300 bucks will easily buy you 4 decent used flashguns and stands to put them on. You'll probably have enough left over for a set of cheap radio triggers too.
    OK you can't see the results quite so readily, but once set up, it's not difficult to get a feel for what the light will look like. You'll probably want to use a standard setup anyway. Same with exposure. And bikes don't vary that much in size or the way they need to be lit.
    Maybe the reason you're set on continuous lights is that your camera won't synch with external flash. In which case you need a better camera.
  17. If you're going to go with hot lights, the most popular professional units are Lowel, You can get a Lowel Tota light for around $150 new and stands (any brand will do) around $50. Umbrellas are much cheaper than softboxes, starting at about $20. You can also buy all of this used on ebay for half that, and it's gear that's safe to buy used since there aren't that many things in it to go bad.

    There are lots of fancy things you can do if you want to be a professional bike photographer. But if you're just trying to take good pictures of what you're trying to sell, keep it simple.

    Personally, I would use flash rather than hot lights, but that's another conversation.

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