What's the best cheap studio lighting?
June 1, 2015 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I take pictures of snakes (and, occasionally, a lizard). What's the best studio lighting?

I've been taking pictures of my pet snakes (and lizard) with a lightbox and a Nikon D7100 for years now. It's worked, but provides very little light, so I've had to jury-rig up some more work lights with extra massive CFLs - and the larger animals don't fit very well in the box (it is not super large). I'd like something more elegant - the caveat is that I simply do not have the space to set up full muslins down to the floor, even if I could put them away again.

I wanted to get this, but it's out of stock. (Boo! Super boo!) Now I see that this is on sale. Would this A) make any appreciable difference and B) be usable with a lightbox? If not, what should I be looking for? Are strobes better for this purpose than continuous lighting?

Snowflakes: I am broke, so the price must stay under $200. It must be small and portable - space is extremely limited; I have enough room for a card table that the lightbox sits on and that's about it. It must provide enough light to capture pictures of fast-moving small-ish animals. And it must be available in Canada, as US -> Canada shipping is pretty awful. Bonus points for having, uh, easily-cleaned backdrops; sometimes snakes gotta do what snakes gotta do.
posted by Nyx to Technology (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tried Henry's?

Since you said you've been getting by with jury-rigged CFLs as supplemental lighting, what about lightweight compact LED camera lighting, which is getting cheaper, if you need to add to your existing light setup?

They have some lightbox kits that might fit into your price range (though that one looks small). Henry's does free shipping for orders over $99 in Canada.

Awesome pics, BTW!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:56 AM on June 1, 2015

I have done a fair amount of small product photography. At the end the easiest solution was a large sheet of light grey vinyl propped against a wall so it forms a gently curve down to the table.
Setup next to a window catching indirect sunlight. Place a while reflector on the opposite side to fill the shadows if needed. Over expose on the light grey vinyl by 1 - 2 stops and you are set.
Of course use a tripod with remote shutter release and capture in RAW format.
posted by Mac-Expert at 9:57 AM on June 1, 2015

Best answer: If you're feeling ambitious, make your own LED panel for $70. Read the comments for extra tips, though.
posted by Huck500 at 10:15 AM on June 1, 2015

Would this work?

All the stuff I can think of are automotive lights and they are not really suitable for photography or are any cheaper.
posted by kschang at 10:46 AM on June 1, 2015

You could probably manage 2 flash guns, a radio transmitter, and a reflector for that budget if you shop used. You can also use white foam core as a cheap reflector (put foil/spray paint gold on one side for multiple kinds of effects). With two off camera flashes, a window for sunlight, and a reflector or two you can pretty much do anything. You can get that seamless white background effect with a big roll of paper, which is not durable but is at least cheap.
posted by cubby at 12:17 PM on June 1, 2015

The problem with CFL's is that the color spectrum is off. Even if they claim to be daylight the colors aren't right.
posted by Mac-Expert at 5:42 PM on June 1, 2015

Response by poster: Just to reiterate a question I think I buried, I am asking (aside from "suggest me another light source/studio product") which would get me better results for the kind of photography I'm doing: strobes, or continuous lighting, bearing in mind that while this resembles product photography, snakes move around a lot more than your average piece of jewelry? I would like to be able to shoot at a lower ISO (under 200), at 300mm, handheld with a reasonably high shutter speed (1/500 or more).

If it helps, this is the lightbox I'm currently using, with two work lights in the side reflectors and one on top (or around, as needed).
posted by Nyx at 6:07 PM on June 1, 2015

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