Choosing your Lighting Equipment

Lighting Equipment

Let’s talk about lighting equipment.  This is as important as the camera.  Without light, you’re dead in the water.  Think of the camera as your canvas, and the light as your paintbrush.  You can completely change the way something looks just by changing the light.  It’s an art.

I’ll tell you my thoughts about choosing good lights to create awesome rotating 360º views of products.

Small Budget

“Continuous lighting” are the kind of lights that are used for small and affordable photography studios.  These lights don’t flash when your camera takes a picture; they just stay on at one continuous brightness.  You have a few choices: Tungsten lights or fluorescent lights.  Tungsten is generally cheaper than fluorescent; however, fluorescent lights require less electricity.  The advantage continuous lights have over strobes (which flash when your camera fires) is that you don’t need to sync your camera with the lights.  Continuous lights just stay on the entire time, like a desk lamp.  Getting a set of 3 or 4 continuous lights gives you plenty of versatility when lighting your subject.  When you find a good set of lights you like, read as many customer reviews as possible!  I always encourage supporting local camera shops, but if they don’t have what I’m looking for I usually turn to B&H Photo Video, Adorama, or Sammy’s Camera.  ‘’Continuous lights” is the official category name for those types of lights, so you can use that keyword for searching online.

Medium & Big Budget

If you’re using a DSLR, I suggest not using continuous lighting for making your 360º product images.  Continuous lights are very weak when compared with a strobe light.  Also, continuous lighting makes your images have motion blur if your rotating product spins too quickly while the photo is being taken.  Strobes fire fast, very fast.  In fact, the time it takes for them to go from 0% to 100% and back to 0%  is about 1/1000th of a second.  Sometimes is even faster.  Because they fire so fast, you can continuously spin your product without stopping while taking the pictures! And you will not see any motion blur in the photos (unless you spin it REALLY fast).  For example, I use strobe lighting with my custom-made 360º turntable, and I can take pictures of product continuously rotating at a speed of about 2.5 rotations per minute, and the images always come out razor sharp with no motion blur.  Pure awesomeness.  Also, because strobes are significantly brighter than continuous lights, you can use a higher aperture value on your camera.  That will naturally increase your depth of field and make more of your subject in-focus.

I hear you ask, what strobes should I get?  We'll let's dive into that question right now.

Since 2009, I've been using some strobes are called “Alienbees”.  They’re made by a guy named Paul C. Buff, here’s a link to their website.  I love Alienbees.  Do I get paid by Alienbees to tell the world how much they kick ass?  Hell no.  I just love their stuff.  With that out of the way, Alienbees are good, reliable strobes that are very adequate for professional photography studios.  The only “downside” is that they are relatively inexpensive (yes, inexpensive!) so it might feel like there’s a catch.  So far, I haven’t found a catch.  This company, in my opinion, delivers a lot of bang for the buck without cutting back on the engineering or build quality.  As far as I know, all their stuff in made in the USA.  I first discovered Alienbees after friend of mine, bought a set of Alienbees B400′s and let me test them out. They worked great. After I read a seemingly independent blogpost by a guy who who thoroughly tore an Alienbees unit a part and did a pretty extensive rundown on it, I was sold!

I used Dynalite strobes for about 2 years before using Alienbees.  Dynalite feels and looks more durable and fancy, and they held up well for most of the time.  There was one frightening Dynalite experience I had, though.  I was shooting a product and then the power pack started to wildly spark and smoke and eventually die.  It got sent back to Dynalite, as it was within warranty.  They fixed it and shipped it back, but they must have given it a curse because it came back with random auto-firing issues that never got fully resolved.  Oddly enough, the older (discontinued) Dynalite power packs I used worked remarkably well without a single problem.

My Set-up

For my basic set-up, I use two Alienbee B800s to light the subject I’m making 360º images of, and I use one B1600 to light the large 12’ white paper backdrop.  Three light stands are used to mount each strobe light (the stands I got from Alienbees for about $25 each + shipping).  I use 2 softboxes on each of the B800s, and I use this thing called a “barn door” on the B1600 to control the light hitting the white background.  Soon (yes, very very soon!) I’ll make post that describes my studio setup in fine-detail, with a video and lots of photos.

In the next post, I’ll talk about choosing a good tripod. 

Got your own set up that you swear by? Need extra advice before purchasing equipment? Leave a comment below and I'd be happy to help you out!