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01-01-2019, 11:28 PM - 2 Likes   #1
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School Photography Equipment List

So looks like I'm doing the shots for our local small school this coming term, and so begins my modest collection of gear to assist with the job on the day. What I want help with is not technical camera setting stuff but rather if I am missing any pieces of gear that I really should collect to get the job done properly. Hopefully a few of you around here know my work, where my current competence level is at, I have done some studio stuff before, but in different settings and different environments. This would be my first real 'intense studio' shoot, so I'm drawing on my previous experience and trying to add to it.

Ok... so first things first, my current equipment list;
  • K-1
  • KP
  • FA77
  • FA43
  • SMC-A 24/2.8
  • Sigma 10-20/4-5.6
  • CPL for 49mm only
  • 2 light stands
  • two tripods
  • 1x Cactus RF60x
  • 1x Pentax AF360FGZII
  • 2x V6ii (Tx and a Rx for the 360)
  • 1x very cheap and basic strip softbox
  • Various Magmod gear, sphere, bounce, grids and gels

What I need and have ordered or going to order;
  • Suitable Backdrop for portraits, I ordered this; Studio Essentials Pop-Up Reversible¬*Background PB303 B&H
  • A suitable continuous LED light source that can be run all day from mains, perhaps diffused in my current cheap strip box, this one is at the top of the buy list; Yongnuo YN360 II LED Light Wand (3200-5500K) YN360 IIC B&H Photo
  • A battery pack for the flashes, more recharagables as well, not sure currently what to get here, perhaps the official Cactus ones or something else... <needs advice>
  • More batteries for the cameras. I've bought non branded/generic Pentax batteries for the KP and K-1 are they are not holding up well at all (compared to the original stock ones). I am yet to buy a battery grip but might consider one if it really helps with things, but my understanding it was a convenience thing rather than extending life? I will be shooting a lot in LV mode with Face Detection, this I find the best accuracy for sharp eyes etc and can link samples below where it was used. IMO far less retakes in this regard however it does drain battery life more.
  • A proper softbox. I'm wanting a large 'non-portable' softbox for shoots like this, the kind that you're set up for most of the day and not one really for taking 'into the field'. I dunno if that makes sense but one that could take 2-3 speedlights and offer 1-2 panels of diffusion, perhaps a good 100cm or more wide etc, octagon shaped bla bla bla. <needs advice>

I'm thinking the RF60x is in the large softbox (yet to be bought), triggered by the V6ii on camera. The 360II behind the kid with V6ii in Rx mode to give some hair lights (I tried optically triggered before but found it unreliable). And the fill light from the continuous LED wand inside the strip softbox.

Current 'studio' portrait examples;










Outdoors wise (for class shots and staff) I shall perhaps just use the FA43 or A24 and produce hopefully similar shots to this;



This shot was using the RF60x and 360II bare, to the left and right of me, on a hot summers day (full power). So I know they can assist with a shot like that, and if it's overcast a bit then even easier. I'm kinda surprised I can get away with the FA43 for such a large amount of people. On the day the kids will be on benches etc, but yeah, should be manageable. The amount of adults in this shot pretty much covers the staff, this is a small school 20-25kids per class, 120kids in the entire school etc.


Now you might think from those images I look like I know what I'm doing, but there's a big difference to doing casual 'verandah studio' fun shots vs actual traditional school shooting, and for what will take most of the morning to complete. I don't think I will have stressed my gear in quite the same way with this task that I am up for.

I mean yes, I could have better lenses for the job and other stuff, but I really have to make do with what I have and spend as least as possible, I can't continually spend all the money that I will earn from the gig, eventually I need to derive a profit from my work!

I appreciate all and any input.


TIA!

Bruce

01-01-2019, 11:39 PM - 1 Like   #2
Ash
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QuoteOriginally posted by BruceBanner Quote
Now you might think from those images I look like I know what I'm doing, but there's a big difference to doing casual 'verandah studio' fun shots vs actual traditional school shooting
I still think you've got everything you need AND you know what you're doing.
It is MUCH easier doing portrait photography in a controlled light setting than it is doing it outdoors.
The first family portrait set up with soft box and kick light is just about all you would need to get it right everytime in the studio.
The lighting in #2 is great also, even if slightly flat, it's appropriate for school portrait shots.
Don't stress. You've got this.
01-02-2019, 02:03 AM - 1 Like   #3
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Bruce,

I’d agree with Ash, you already have what you need, and you know how it works.

When I did school portraits, I used the FA 77, it is the best lens IMO for the job. I did however, have a two light set up, which was triggered by a radio trigger from my camera hot shoe. They were regular studio lights with large umbrellas, so I didn’t need to worry about batteries or packs, just an outlet nearby. I did have two AF540 FGZ for fill or hair lights if I wanted, and for outdoor group shots.

I would spend a few minutes with my assistant beforehand, setting up and dialing in the power of my lights. She enjoyed having the free shots.

I didn’t use live view, so camera batteries was never an issue.

Good luck, I think you’re on the right path and are producing great images!
01-02-2019, 02:59 AM - 2 Likes   #4
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I would always say that just before an important shoot is not the time to get or try to use any new gear! Best to stick with your tried and tested techniques and equipment. And you've already done more than your share of trying and testing!

I'm sure you'll do better than our schools professional company, who always produce the same bland, whitewashed, contrastless look, with a glaring background. Some tone and contrast makes all the difference.

If it was me, with my non-professional grade lighting gear, my main concerns would be about durability, stability (stuff not falling, collapsing) and battery replacing /charging..... I'm thinking for you, with your cameras, then I would increase the ISO by a couple of stops, to 800 say, in order to boost battery performance ....I doubt the IQ hit would be significant for you.

Finally my advice would be to use sensible apertures, to ensure reliable focus .... At least F6.7, maybe up to 9.5 to be sure. Good luck with it, it's great that you're going ahead with this, and if you can get your own kids in to get some example pics to post that would be great. I'd like to see a pull back shot of the set up also please!

01-02-2019, 03:24 AM - 1 Like   #5
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And I'm sure you already know this, but using manual settings on each piece of equipment (camera on M, flashlights on fixed settings) ensures you get reproducible results each time, so you don't even have to think about how the image will turn out student-to-student.
All the best in it.
01-02-2019, 04:45 AM   #6
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If you are going to take a lot of pictures, the battery powered flashes could run out of juice. Is this a one day thing or will the exercise be repeated throughout the year?

If it is only an annual thing, you can rent a mains powered studio flash setup for the day. This would also include the soft boxes that you currently lack. The rental guys will point you in the right direction for setting up as well. Modelling lights are another bonus.

If you will be doing it on a regular basis, I would suggest lots of extra batteries. Another flash will give you more power and options in terms of lighting the background. And a "proper" softbox will help. They are expensive, but the results will be worth it. Or you could just roll with shoot though umbrellas.
01-02-2019, 07:36 AM - 1 Like   #7
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I don't think your flash equipment is sufficient. Your battery powered flash units are at best back ups to the back ups that you should have.
When I was shooting schools, I had two complete light sets with me, I was using box and cable sets, not monolights, and my kit was 2 power packs, 6 heads (two were back ups, 4 were used), and I always had an extra light stand. Ditch the zooms and go with a couple of different primes. Your back up camera should be as close to identical as your front line one, different formats is a bad idea. A normal lens for groups and a short tele for individual or a couple of people is all that is needed, but back up lenses are a good idea. Another K1 and even a kit zoom should be on your shopping list, along with at least a full light kit that can plug into a wall.
01-02-2019, 09:33 AM - 1 Like   #8
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Number of expected shots over time is unclear. If your school is small enough you may be ok if you have sufficient batteries but a mains powered studio lighting setup is probably a good idea an option you can use if you need it. Making that work with the v6 triggers may be an issue. While having identical gear is best if you are comfortable enough and have enough options to use the crop as a backup to the K-1 I don't think it is essential as I suspect this is being done on a shoestring budget.

EDIT:
Personally if your pace and number of shots per minute is within range I'd just get more batteries if you think this can be done with the flashes you know already.


Last edited by UncleVanya; 01-02-2019 at 10:26 AM.
01-02-2019, 09:57 AM   #9
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There's plenty of things we should and could have, in that ideal world ....or we just give up and don't do things. Knowing Bruce here a little, he's going to do it! My concern is that launching a new flash gear quest (which I'm assuming he probably can't pay for) and diving into pro-grade studio lights, may well end up being an even less reliable and secure choice, at least for the immediate commitments.

He's got flash gear that is good, but not suited to an intense, professional environment ..... But at least he knows it all works together and he can get it set up and firing reliably. Or really is it best to not do it at all .....?

Everything is changing so quickly nowadays ..... People can buy pro grade cameras and watch a bunch of YouTube videos, and then pitch for professional work. I'll admit I'm not supporting the "real pro" options with my kids school photos..... I find the results bland and not worth the money (about £50 for a small selection of prints, no digital copies allowed). It's possible that the parents at Bruce's school won't pay any more than he will charge also? They may have to be patient then if he takes longer or gets variable results, or has equipment failure and needs to reshoot.....
01-02-2019, 01:51 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by twilhelm Quote
Bruce,

Iíd agree with Ash, you already have what you need, and you know how it works.

When I did school portraits, I used the FA 77, it is the best lens IMO for the job. I did however, have a two light set up, which was triggered by a radio trigger from my camera hot shoe. They were regular studio lights with large umbrellas, so I didnít need to worry about batteries or packs, just an outlet nearby. I did have two AF540 FGZ for fill or hair lights if I wanted, and for outdoor group shots.

I would spend a few minutes with my assistant beforehand, setting up and dialing in the power of my lights. She enjoyed having the free shots.

I didnít use live view, so camera batteries was never an issue.

Good luck, I think youíre on the right path and are producing great images!
Thus far I have not properly researched any 'studio lights' options, only that certain kinda lights (the cheaper ones) can be hard to dim, overly hot, and make your subject wince a little (kids more so). Any pointers in this regard would be welcome.


QuoteOriginally posted by mcgregni Quote
I would always say that just before an important shoot is not the time to get or try to use any new gear! Best to stick with your tried and tested techniques and equipment. And you've already done more than your share of trying and testing!

I'm sure you'll do better than our schools professional company, who always produce the same bland, whitewashed, contrastless look, with a glaring background. Some tone and contrast makes all the difference.

If it was me, with my non-professional grade lighting gear, my main concerns would be about durability, stability (stuff not falling, collapsing) and battery replacing /charging..... I'm thinking for you, with your cameras, then I would increase the ISO by a couple of stops, to 800 say, in order to boost battery performance ....I doubt the IQ hit would be significant for you.

Finally my advice would be to use sensible apertures, to ensure reliable focus .... At least F6.7, maybe up to 9.5 to be sure. Good luck with it, it's great that you're going ahead with this, and if you can get your own kids in to get some example pics to post that would be great. I'd like to see a pull back shot of the set up also please!
We're in Aussie Summer School holidays here, school doesn't resume beginning of Feb, so I have some time to get used to some additional gear, but really at this point in time it's about trying not to spend too much on new stuff. Eventually I may jump across to Godox and their triggers and AD200's, but for now my concerns are centred around perhaps being caught off guard on a shoot for not having enough battery life or something like that.

I read elsewhere just a few days ago that it can be advisable even from a flash recycle time to bump the ISO up, so I think I will be around 400-800 even if it means I can spam the shutter and get 5-6 shots per kid quickly vs only 1-2 in the same amount of time. As you say the additional noise is not an issue, kids eyes and hair can remain at that ISO 400-800 (with perhaps a little more careful sharpening) and their skin can get 'denoised' to make things look gentler anyway, so yeah would probably go into the shoot with that intention.

But yeah the current company that does the shots sound just like you have explained, flat, lifeless, looks like it was taken with an old iphone lol, nothing at all about the images suggest professional gear used at all! I haven't quite decided on an aperture yet but yeah this is not a time to be doing f2 with a 77, even I'm sensible to know that
There will be sibling shots as well, and what I want the most is a consistency to the images across the day, so they always say stop down for additional people in the shot, so if I'm at f4-5.6 for the sibling shots it will likely mean I am staying at that aperture for the solo shots too.

Yeah I'll be snapping my daughter so I can at least guarantee one image for Permission to Publish lol, and I'll make sure to take a BTS shot as well (proper BTS), I'd be doing that for building my own portfolio/website imagery etc.


QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
And I'm sure you already know this, but using manual settings on each piece of equipment (camera on M, flashlights on fixed settings) ensures you get reproducible results each time, so you don't even have to think about how the image will turn out student-to-student.
All the best in it.
Yeah, I pretty much shoot PTTL only when running and gunning. The attraction of a job like this is for the synchronisation of images in post, I want things to stay as consistent as possible, pen and pad to take down settings used on all gear and all that kinda stuff in case battery changes and any other tech issues wipes settings bla bla.


QuoteOriginally posted by Wheatfield Quote
I don't think your flash equipment is sufficient. Your battery powered flash units are at best back ups to the back ups that you should have.
When I was shooting schools, I had two complete light sets with me, I was using box and cable sets, not monolights, and my kit was 2 power packs, 6 heads (two were back ups, 4 were used), and I always had an extra light stand. Ditch the zooms and go with a couple of different primes. Your back up camera should be as close to identical as your front line one, different formats is a bad idea. A normal lens for groups and a short tele for individual or a couple of people is all that is needed, but back up lenses are a good idea. Another K1 and even a kit zoom should be on your shopping list, along with at least a full light kit that can plug into a wall.
Thanks for that, you are echoing my inner thoughts in most of your comments (except the part about 'ditch the zooms' lol, I pretty much have only primes hehe). Part of the problem here is that I never intended to do school photography, I was/am a hobbiest shooter first which led to doing certain paid work to eventually being begged to do the school photos. So I'm going in with subpar set up, even I can see that. Hopefully I can wing it to a certain degree with less than ideal equipment, perhaps longer term I can address most of your valid points, for now perhaps we can focus on the feasible ones.

I have a KP and not a second K-1 as I couldn't afford two K-1's. On other jobs having a crop and a full sensor camera I actually find advantageous (more lenses to choose from and a different FoV with the same lens being used on different systems (such as turning a FA77 into a 'FA115' when on the KP (ha! yes I know that's not really what's happening, but you get my drift). It's just for this job having two different bodies is not ideal, I get that, but alas I think I will be stuck with that scenario unless I can pretty much swap my KP with a K-1 user locally and not lose out financially on that transaction...

I too am concerned about my lighting setup. Can you recommend at all what light sets might be suitable for a small job like this (I do mean small, 100kids in total, our current tog has done the entire shoot by lunch time easily)?
I'll be using the Gym Hall for the shoot itself (portrait ones, classes typically outside, perhaps inside if weather is really bad), but the hall can be very dim and dark, especially if I choose to not use the roof lights at all, hence why I need some kind of continuous light for the shoot (would use as key or fill light even), but I'm not sure what to really aim for. I read LED can be better, in terms of heat AND controlling the WB temp and are cooler in physical temperature. The LED wand I linked comes well recommended, in a strip soft box I was thinking would be sufficient, but if there is an alternative better choice to be had at around $140AUD then please I'm all ears!


QuoteOriginally posted by UncleVanya Quote
Number of expected shots over time is unclear. If your school is small enough you may be ok if you have sufficient batteries but a mains powered studio lighting setup is probably a good idea an option you can use if you need it. Making that work with the v6 triggers may be an issue. While having identical gear is best if you are comfortable enough and have enough options to use the crop as a backup to the K-1 I don't think it is essential as I suspect this is being done on a shoestring budget.

EDIT:
Personally if your pace and number of shots per minute is within range I'd just get more batteries if you think this can be done with the flashes you know already.
I'm aiming for hopefully around 5 shots per kid for the solo's, so around 600 shots for that phase, there'll be siblings ones too so that might be another 100-200 shots at 5 shots per sibling. Then the group classroom ones (again a few shots taken here so that I can use different shots to fix closed eyes and poor face expressions etc, the group shot above I linked for example is actually a composite of 4 different frames taken to fix faces etc). I think around 800-850 shots in total is to be expected.

What I have discovered is that I find the V6ii connected to the 360II can be slightly annoying in terms of keying in Manual Power in relation to the RF60x. I can't quite get my head around the power differences so thus far I am doing a lot of chimping to get the lighting from both lights working the way I want. If I don't end up getting a proper budget studio lighting (powered from mains) for the shoot I am thinking of adding one more RF60x, just so that from the single V6ii in Tx mode I am more comfortable with the power figures and what they actually translate to when trying to get the kinda look I want.

One thing I was going to ask...

Pretend I am using a 360II at 'x' power, and then it dies, and I need to use a backup RF60x to replace what it was doing, but also I want to just get on with the job and not chimp and get the RF60x to put out EXACTLY the same power output that the 360II was managing, what then can I do? Is there a simple formula I can use and doing some maths will allow me to make that change over quicker?

For example, the 360II is being used as a hair light, it's currently at 1/128, it dies, I replace with a RF60x, if I too have it set to 1/128 it will be more powerful than the 360II at the same setting, no? This is why I'm thinking of getting a second RF60x, just to take some of that headache away...


QuoteOriginally posted by mcgregni Quote
There's plenty of things we should and could have, in that ideal world ....or we just give up and don't do things. Knowing Bruce here a little, he's going to do it! My concern is that launching a new flash gear quest (which I'm assuming he probably can't pay for) and diving into pro-grade studio lights, may well end up being an even less reliable and secure choice, at least for the immediate commitments.

He's got flash gear that is good, but not suited to an intense, professional environment ..... But at least he knows it all works together and he can get it set up and firing reliably. Or really is it best to not do it at all .....?

Everything is changing so quickly nowadays ..... People can buy pro grade cameras and watch a bunch of YouTube videos, and then pitch for professional work. I'll admit I'm not supporting the "real pro" options with my kids school photos..... I find the results bland and not worth the money (about £50 for a small selection of prints, no digital copies allowed). It's possible that the parents at Bruce's school won't pay any more than he will charge also? They may have to be patient then if he takes longer or gets variable results, or has equipment failure and needs to reshoot.....
^^ I think you've hit the nail on the head here, this is quite realistic for what has transpired. I work in our school as a Janitor and Teacher's Aide, and I have been doing all their event photography (P&C events as well as school events) and social media work for them, the only thing I haven't done for them is the official school mug shots. The current company is just that, a large umbrella company that might even hire a student or someone like me to do the job, they charge a fortune $45-60 for the shots and barely any of our parents can afford that (demography of the school) as well as obviously then being disheartened by the results. I've done family shoots for some and generally I am very well received, I think I could stuff up the whole day and they would still love me lol. But... I of course want to do my very best for them, as this could also prove to be a viable avenue to work towards by hitting other schools with my sample shots from this shoot, but what I can't currently afford is $5-6k of gear changing and run a loss, I am literally too financially weak to cope with that currently. It is what it is.

I'm not against ditching the Speed light route and move towards mains powered lighting (and I need to sort the softbox and/or umbrella situation also), but if I do that what's my options? Do budget ones exist?

My gut feeling is this time round just stick with speed lights and bring plenty of AA's, like PLENTY..., but I am ignorant if the RF60x or even the 360II can take some kind of heavy duty battery pack that is not just something with more AA's inside (like the EP-1)...

I think grabbing one more RF60x, even so I can leave the 360II out as a backup and also have an additional V6ii as a backup for Tx mode (or even speed things up by having that sit on the KP ready to be used for other group shots etc), might not be a bad idea...

But what about continuous light source, something gentle but warming and inviting to not scare the kiddies or make them wince lol. Is the LED Wand a bad idea? I'm attracted to it for the other stuff (as you can see above I like playing with vibrant colours), but for the shoot I wouldn't be using the RGB and it can run off mains all day, it can go crazy bright, the only real criticism seems to be that it can output a harsh light, and hence thinking I'd put it in my pre existing softbox (it can also be controlled via BT from a phone app).
01-02-2019, 02:14 PM   #11
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There's a lot to go over there, and I'm sure others will bring more experience to bear, but my instinct would be to avoid any sort of budget continuous lighting option ..... The main reason for you I think is to not introduce ambient / flash exposure balancing into the mix. You've already told us you have enough going on with the power settings to worry about..... Trying to set up and balance ambient and flash exposure values is just going to complicated it. You want to shoot at 1/200th for maximum stability and movement freezing, and won't want to slow that down to get light in from an LED light.
01-02-2019, 02:22 PM - 1 Like   #12
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The AF360 series has a guide number of 36, the RF60x has a guide number of 60. So you have about 1 2/3 stops more light with the RF60. You can adjust the power down by a stop from 1/16 to 1/32 and lower ISO by 2/3rds or any combination of similar things. Be forewarned it isn't a perfect solution since the position and zoom affect the effective light on the subject - assuming you get most everything on the money it will be close. However a pair of RF60x's is probably a better solution than mixing the flashes. In theory you can setup your V6 (at least with version 1 in the pseudo manual mode) triggers to compensate for flash differences and try to dial in the compensation needed. But it's typically easier to do without that complexity.
01-02-2019, 02:39 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by mcgregni Quote
There's a lot to go over there, and I'm sure others will bring more experience to bear, but my instinct would be to avoid any sort of budget continuous lighting option ..... The main reason for you I think is to not introduce ambient / flash exposure balancing into the mix. You've already told us you have enough going on with the power settings to worry about..... Trying to set up and balance ambient and flash exposure values is just going to complicated it. You want to shoot at 1/200th for maximum stability and movement freezing, and won't want to slow that down to get light in from an LED light.
But there's ALWAYS ambient light, I mean unless shooting at night in pitch black lol.

My concern is that the school hall, without ceiling lights on the ceiling is VERY dark, if I skip my own LED ambient light (or whatever I opt for) I am left at the mercy of the ceiling lights of which I cannot control power, temp or output at all. I was hoping to control as much as possible, hence leave them off and only use flash+ 1-2 continuous sources of light (the other being what little available daylight there will be coming in from the small slit windows).

All my sample shots above are mixed lighting to a certain degree, some of which is daylight, others is the ceiling light, so you just have to balance it anyway the way I see it. I do agree with 1/200, I shall be using X mode I think because it gives a clear image on the rear of the LV screen regardless of settings which is handy for taking the shot. As long as I can control the power of the LED light I'm hoping all will be well...
01-02-2019, 02:41 PM   #14
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The idea of using two RF60x flashes together as the main and hair / fill lights is good .... Removing the extra V6II as a receiver reduces complexity and frees it as a backup Tx, also a good idea.

Regarding your softbox ..... The "large umbrella companies" do have an advantage in that the subject is flooded with wide lighting, and so small positioning innacuracies and subject movements don't matter. I know, working with a 60x60cm softbox and kids, just how exact the subject placement and head / shoulder angles need to be in order to keep the light nicely falling as you want.

So really you want large softboxes or umbrellas, and filling those evenly with a single hotshoe flash is difficult. I'd try to put your Magmod dome onto the flash inside the softbox to see if that softens and spreads the light better. For large diffusers you may be looking at doubling up the flashes to get a wide enough spread.

Responding to your last post now ..... It's not about whether there is any ambient light or not, it's about whether your exposure settings will actually record any of it or not. If you shoot at 1/200th and F8, ISO 400-800, I think you'll be needing rather powerful LEDs to make much impact. I'm not experienced with LEDs, so feel free to ignore me here (you have done before! LOL) , but I honestly think for this task you should stick to flash lights only, and just wipe out any ambient light for simplicities sake ..... And we haven't even thought about white balance and colour issues yet.

Last edited by mcgregni; 01-02-2019 at 02:47 PM.
01-02-2019, 06:39 PM - 1 Like   #15
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Bruce,

My evolving into doing school portraits was similar to what you are doing. I started out in the days of film shooting stock photography with some assignments. That evolved into doing primarily "run and gun" shooting events and then doing a lot of family vacation beach portraiture (I live in Florida). At the time, my wife was taking classes at the college and got to know several teachers at another school. They were very unhappy with the company doing their portraits, and the cost had been going up yearly. With some pressure from the wife (I wasn't sure I really wanted to do it) I agreed to take over the school portraits.

I didn't want to invest a large amount of money, (we were raising 5 children at the time) but I realized my flash units with AA batteries could be my weakest link and most likely point of failure at the most in-opportune time. At the time, I think I spent in the neighborhood of $600 for lights, backdrops, trigger and all the stands I needed. Prices have gone up a bit since then, but I never had a lighting issue. Here's a link to a similar light kit to what I have.

Something like this has enough power that I didn't worry about leaving a couple of overhead lights on to work by and keep whatever room they gave me light enough to work. The strobes overpowered the overhead fluorescent lights.

I did enjoy doing the work for the 5 years I did it. Good luck and enjoy!
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