Your photos look dull? Maybe it is the setting

Location, location, location

While real estate agents tell you this makes all the difference in price, it also makes a different in photography.

We can take the same subject and put them in different settings and what a difference it can make.

Get your subject on the edge of the shade of trees or overhangs outside and not deep inside where the light falls off.  Use the open sky to light the subject.

Darker backgrounds verses lighter backgrounds makes a huge difference. Out of focus highlights go from just a small dot to a huge out of focus round ball.

Color choices also make a huge difference in a photo. Complementary colors or the same colors work great. They give you a totally different look and feel.

While you will hear often to watch your backgrounds, it is just as important to watch those foregrounds as well.

My preference is to have darker backgrounds and even as possible.

Remove the color

When you convert the photos to black and white you can see how the light values affect the photo much easier.  This is where keeping a light or dark background really becomes more apparent. My preference here is the darker background. You have the subject leap off the screen in comparison.

With the lighter background now the background pulls your eye away from the subject way too much. This also means your subject’s face will be most likely in the shadows.

All those green leaves and pink flowers now are just a muted grey.

Tips:

Choose your location wisely. If you are shooting portfolio shots and you have models pick a great spot. Shooting photos of a bride as a simple church setting gives a totally different feel than the same bride at a cathedral.

Walk around the subject. Once you have the subject in a location, take the time to walk around the subject exploring the backgrounds and foregrounds.

Bring the subject to the edge of the shade.  By keeping the subject just on the edge you can use the open sky to help light their faces and keep the backgrounds darker. Also, since they are not in the direct sunlight they will not be squinting.

Photographers: How to Avoid Obsolescence

We need an overview of the industry and beyond it to be able to make decisions on how to proceed in building a successful business model that is sustainable.

Three elements in visual communication:

  1. Message
  2. Messenger
  3. Audience
Message: There are many ways this can exist. This could be everything thing from an individual person, a group of people, a topic, an industry to many descriptors.

Messenger: For this blog we are talking about he Photographer or Visual Communicator

Audience: This is the group for which the images are being created to communicate the message.

My advice is to explore each of these three for all the possibilities. 

Become an expert on the subject—This can be everything from a formal education on the subject to immersion into the subject. The more you know about the subject the better you will be at finding those tiny bits of information that is important to an audience.

Become an expert on the audience—The more you know about your audience you understand what they need and want. It will be much easier for you to plug your subject into the audience when you know how it impacts them in their daily lives.

Become an expert messenger—You master not just photography but all the possible communication tools to help you reach the audience with the message and vice versa.

Common Mistakes

In response to my earlier blog “Photographers are becoming obsolete, unless …” many of the comments were way to linear and short sighted.

Here is one comment that was typical of others:

“… the only thing saving us professionals is a better ability to understand/use composition and lighting.”

The key thing I want to point out is how too many people are focusing on one thing, which is in my opinion what is a sure way to obsolescence.

Just taking this comment I can see the person has no clue as to understanding anything about the subjects they are taking photos of or the audience. Making an incredible photo of a subject that the audience has no interest is not sustainable.

I believe there are a few things that will happen over the career of the extremely successful visual communicator. As they grow in understanding of subjects, visual communication tools and their audience they will make changes.

Changes you may need to make

Message—I want you to think of this as your subject of the photograph. Over time you may discover that the subject has a shrinking market. In other words you will discover from your expertise on your audiences that few people have an interest in your subject. This is when you need to find another subject or subjects to sustain your career.

Audience—Some great examples of how this is changing is just looking at how the web has impacted communication outlets. You may have only been able to shoot for a local newspaper in the past and today you may have a very successful worldwide audience due to online blogs, forums or social media outlets. Some of the publications [audiences] have gone out of business and therefore you must change.

Messenger/Medium—You as a professional visual communicator need to make changes due to the mediums we have available are changing. You made changes from film to digital and now are making changes from older digital devices to newer ones.

Mediums and Audience are blurring 

Just a few years ago a professional visual communicator would consider a publication as an audience. This is because they didn’t have control over it. Today blogs are a great example of how the medium is now closer to you and thus bringing audiences ever closer to you. You are able to interact in a dialogue with your audience.

Today the connectivity we have between all of this is opening up new avenues for communication. It is no longer one way as in the past. Your audience will tell you what they want and comment on what you are giving them in real time. You don’t have to do focus groups to find out what the readership thinks—they are commenting in the social media and if you allow it on your packages online.

If you are focusing on mastering photography and how to light things and compositionally capture something alone, then you are on your way to obsolescence.

Those who are growing their business are expanding their horizons and learning more about the world in which they live. They are becoming experts on subjects and learning more about what people are interested.

As you grow in your knowledge of the message, the messenger and the audience you will have eureka moments like Steve Jobs, who brought us devices we didn’t even know we needed.

Bicycle Wheel as a Metaphor

I like to think in visuals and so my visual for going forward is a bicycle wheel. My focus is on the spokes that when are equal and have the appropriate tension help keep the wheel true and wobble free.

I see each of the spokes as another way you can strengthen your business. 

How many spokes?

The number of spokes in a bicycle affects its performance. Fewer spokes tend to have aerodynamic advantages. More spokes usually means more strength and durability.

I see those new faces in the industry that are getting a lot of visibility as having fewer strokes. I am seeing those who have long sustaining careers as those with more spokes.

My advice

Master a subject. Master a medium. Master an audience.

After you have done this then add another subject, medium and audience.

If life is pretty wobbly right now your spokes may need some adjustment.

Photographers are becoming obsolete, unless …


How we are becoming obsolete

Professional photographers are becoming more and more obsolete because their work is becoming a commodity. In addition, technology advances have made it easier for one to make a photograph. Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress.

Let’s just look at some of the advances in photography:

  • Auto focus
  • Auto Exposure
  • Auto Image Stabilizer
  • Auto ISO
  • Auto red eye reduction
Increasingly we are seeing photography becoming driven by algorithms. These advances in camera technology are without question giving photographers more images that are pretty acceptable.

When I teach photography many students are really asking me, just tell me which button to push. Now we are hearing more about which app to use on their phone to make it all happen for them.

No longer is photography intimidating for the masses, but actually quite easy to produce an image. Kodak’s founder George Eastman created the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.”

When he said this it was quite difficult to produce a print that you can hold and cherish forever. However, today the consumer can now press the button and see it immediately.

CPI that ran the photo studios in Sears, Walmart and Babies “R” Us closed April 5, 2013 after 60 years in business. You could get a portrait done for $9.99 plus prints, so thee prices didn’t put them out of business.

In the LA Times I thought these statements were telling:

“The whole digital world has changed everything so much,” said Chris Gampat, editor in chief of photography blog the Phoblogapher. “People are very happy taking pictures of themselves with their iPhones and putting them on Instagram and sharing them instantly on Facebook and Twitter.”

Gampat, 26, also said that more consumers are buying the digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, cameras once used nearly exclusively by professional photographers for top-quality images.

Consumer Demand has changed

Photographers need to understand the market place as much as they understand photography to survive.

Consumers of professional photography in years past have not stopped enjoying pictures they just are no longer paying photographers to produce them when they can do it themselves.

How photography looked years ago for the professional.
How many think photography is today

The example assumes that while there are many people now taking photos the number of those making a good living is about the same. 

I no longer believe that is the case. I think the number of professionals making a living is actually shrinking as well.
Tips on how to avoid becoming obsolete
Today, people are letting technology handle so much of the process that we have diminished our abilities of observations, creativity and interpretation.

Pictures without context and compassion are dull.

Photographers must work even harder than in the past to survive. They must be always observing, working on their creativity and interpreting situations so that they are out performing the logarithms of today’s modern cameras.
You cannot make a full-time living today as a photographer because you know how to use camera gear to produce an image. You must be offering something more.
  1. Produce images that auto everything camera cannot 
  2. Become a hybrid photographer. This is where you combine with other skills to create a package. This might be writing, video, audio, web design or something that moves you from just pictures to a package.
  3. Consider working with other professionals to create packages. Maybe you need to delegate some of the pieces of projects to other professionals. Maybe work with a writer, video editor or someone else and together offer something you cannot do alone.
  4. Become an expert on something other than camera gear. If you are an expert on a subject then you can use your photography to help you carve a career in that subject matter using photography. A great example of this is Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who was able to do a great deal of photography and film due to his knowledge of marine biology.
  5. Be a lifelong learner. An unquenchable thirst for knowledge will drive you to seek-out new ways to communicate using visuals. This will possibly lead you to be not a follower, but an innovator.  
  6. Workshops and seminars. You need to continue to go to venues where you can be exposed to what is going on in the field of photography and outside of photography in your niche.
  7. Create your own projects. To get that first paying gig you had to have a portfolio. To continue to propel your career you must always being creating a new portfolio.  You will seldom have the opportunity to create a new approach for a client. They tend to hire you based on what you have produced.

You may think of more things to keep your career moving forward. When you stop growing is the day you start dying.  

Psalm 19:1

The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

God reveals Himself to the world by His work. Through natural revelation, God’s existence is made known to every person on earth. Thus, work reveals something about the one doing the work. It exposes underlying character, motivations, skills, abilities, and personality traits.

Ephesians 4:28

… let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

Work is done not just to profit the worker, but others according to the Bible. We need to do work that is not just for us but for those we serve through our photography.

Fashion Show

Fashion Show

These are some of my photos from this past Saturday of a fashion show my daughter participated in. I was there just as a proud parent and took some photos.

http://www.StanleyLearyStoryteller.com/Pure-Fashion/index.html
I found a seat that I liked the angle from and just stayed put to enjoy the show.

I used my Nikon 28-300mm lens on my Nikon D4 primarily. It gave me the most flexibility to get closeup shots and overall shots of the runway for the models.

I also have my 14-24mm on another Nikon D4 camera, which I just used a few times.

Hope you enjoy the show as much as I did.

By the way this is my daughter Chelle. I think she looked great. She looks so much like her mother.

Shooting a photo package on a person

http://www.StanleyLearystoryteller.com/Fisk-Gallery/index.html

Take a moment and see some of the photos I turned into the editor in the slide show above.

Shooting a package

This is the bread and butter assignment for the editorial/photojournalist. You get a call from an editor and they have have a story on a person and want some photos to go along with the story.

While it would be great to just hangout with a person for a week and then pick the best images, the budget is just not there for those type of coverages. What is typical is to talk with a subject about all that they are doing and to stay focused on what the story is all about.

A health clubs national office contacted me and wanted me to show how their health club was helping people in the community live healthier lives since becoming involved with the club.

The environmental portrait

I photographed this engineering professor at Georgia Tech. We wanted to show that their clients have great leadership positions in the community. I knew I needed something that read Georgia Tech quickly. Having the sign behind the professor seemed to be just the thing to work.

I also photographed him at one of the icons for the campus, a steam engine, located in the center of campus.

I wanted to also show you that I shot some available light like this vertical shot here. I also wanted you to see why it is so important to use off camera flash as I did in the first two photos. The off camera flash really separates my work from so many GWCs [Guy With Camera].

At Work

I made several photos of the subject at work. Here he is in a team meeting with some colleagues. If you look at the slide show you can see some others as well.

At the Gym

I photographed the subject working out. I turned in photos from each thing he does at the gym. Now mind you I shot literally hundreds of photos and then had to go through those and eliminate all the ones where face expressions were just not good, or something may have blocked a good view of his face.

By the way to be sure these images were the best color I used strobes in the gym to help with color, but also freeze him and get the sharpest images I could of him working out. Notice the detail in the clothing of the instructor wearing all black. That is the clue this was not available light.

Click on this to see larger

I turned into the client 391 images in two folders: 1) Edits & 2) All the photos. They will probably only use three images; 1) portrait, 2) At work shot, and 3) workout photo.  By shooting as many photos and narrowing down to capture the best expressions and best moments I am able to give the art director choices and they feel like they can then have some variety to show in the end to their audience.

In the contact sheet above you just see a very small number of photos that I turned in. I wanted you to see this is after I have already eliminated all the blinks and funny expressions. Hopefully this will let you know how important it is to shoot enough photos to be able to have a selection that shows off the subject in the best way possible.

Only Photography can capture the “Microexpressions”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXytQOkNaq4]
Microexpressions

Lie to Me is the hit TV [January 21, 2009 to January 31, 2011] series based on the research of Dr. Paul Ekman. Haggard and Isascs are credited with the discovery of Micro Expressions in the 1960s. Paul Ekman created a coding system for microexpressions and in 2001 he was named by the American Psychological Association as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.

A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression shown on the face of humans according to emotions experienced.  They are very brief in duration, lasting only 1/25 to 1/15 of a second. The 1/25 second was determined because back in 1960 this is how they slowed down a film that ran at 1/25 frame rate.

Even in the TV show Lie to Me you see that when a microexpression is detected they must investigate further, because one must not conclude that someone is lying if a microexpression is detected but that there is more to the story than is being told.

While some people are natural at seeing microexpressions many people learn how to detect them through training.  What is important it is much harder to detect a microexpression on people in person or within video.

The easiest tool to practice detecting micro expressions are photographs. So as you will see if you watch the TV show Lie to Me, which you can get on Netflix, is they use photographs to isolate and show the facial expressions.

The major emotions-how surprise, fear, anger, disgust, sadness, and happiness are registered by changes in the forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, cheeks, nose, lips, and chin. These help as there are not just one type of each expression. For example the emotion of surprise has many different expressions; questioning surprise, dumbfounded surprise, dazed surprise, slight, moderate, and extreme surprise. The intricacies of facial expressions are more easily read in photographs of how various emotions can blend or create different expressions.

Charles Darwin believed that facial expressions were universal. Through the years many have disagreed with Darwin.

Dr. David Matsumoto however agreed with Darwin basked on his research during the 2004 Olympics.  He studied both the sighted and blind Olympians during the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

What is important is how he conducted the research. He studied the thousands of photographs and compared the facial expressions of sighted and blind judo athletes, including individuals who were born blind. All competitors displayed the same expressions in response to winning and losing. So it is not something learned, but innate.


Take away

I believe that the power of the still image is because it can capture the microexpression that video cannot do. Sure you can argue that if you slow down video you can see a microexpression, but you are then trying to stop the video and thus creating a still image.

Today we can record up to 200 million frames per second, but the most common used high speed cameras record around 1000 frames per second. Television series such as MythBusters and Time Warp often use high-speed cameras to show their tests in slow motion.

We use these high speed cameras for seeking the truth and helping us scientifically build safer cars for example.

So if we want to understand something and get to the truth as in TV shows like MythBusters we must examine things in fractions of a second. This is where the still photographer has worked for decades.

My take away from all this about the microexpression is the the power of the photograph is it’s ability to freeze the moment for us to truly understand. For most people microexpressions are not controlled and therefore when we see these expressions tend to hold them as truthful moments.

It is important to point out that some people are born able to control their expressions (such as pathological liars), while others are trained, for example actors. “Natural liars” know about their ability to control microexpressions, and so do those who know them well. They have been getting away with things since childhood, fooling their parents, teachers, and friends when they wanted to.

Photojournalists are very aware of “The Decisive Moment” and what I believe is that microexpressions is more about that moment. This research and material published on microexpressions is great content for the photojournalist. Understanding microexpressions will make you a better photojournalist in my opinion.

It is all about perspective

I learned about this phenomenon from Jay Maisel. Look at this photo, which way does the foot print go? In or out?

How about this foot print? Is it in or out?

Actually they are the same photo, just flipped. Your eye expects patterns a certain way and flipping the photo can change the topography.

The above photo of me is how most everyone sees me. I really never felt like it looks like me.

This is the photo as I see myself. What is the difference, it is just flipped or the mirror image that I see each morning in the mirror.

I suggest taking a digital photo of yourself and flip it and see if it feels more like yourself.

I showed this to a few of the students I was teaching lighting to in Kona, Hawaii and they all were amazed. 

If Photographers had union like the musicians …

Pam Goldsmith, world renowned violist, works with my daughter giving her tips to improve her playing.

I am in Los Angeles this week on our family vacation. We stopped by our family friend Pam Goldsmith’s for a visit.

I was sharing about how photographers talk about the triangle for describing those working as pros. Many years ago that triangle base was not as wide as it is today. The tip still is small and many believe it to be smaller for those really earning a living as a full-time photographer.

Pam Goldsmith then shared how in the Professional Musicians Local 47 they have about 13,000 members of which less than a 1,000 are doing enough gigs to be making a living full-time as a professional musician.

She went on to say she thinks this number is actually smaller than the 1,000 and smaller group than years ago.

If photographers had a union

I am not advocating forming a union for the primary purpose of knowing how many of us are working, but the reason the union was formed was to help people get work in the music industry and for a fair wage.

I think if we had a union we would have similar numbers if not even more members than 13,000. Even if we too helped with regulating rates we still would have dismal numbers of those who have invested time and money to pursue this as a career.

My daughter, wife and I visited with Richard Bugg who works with Meyer Sound. Their sound systems is what was used in the Beijing Olympics and other major productions throughout the world.

Later in the day we went to Richard Bugg’s home office studio where my daughter was getting to see what it is like to do sound mixing.  Richard had the Broadway musical Wicked tracks and letting my daughter listen to the different orchestra parts and vocals and how they can be mixed.

What we learned from Richard was to stay employed he had to continue to be flexible and adapt to new situations and apply his problem solving skills to a new situation.

My take away from today

After visiting not just average professionals in the entertainment industry, but the top in their respective fields each of them talked about to get jobs they had to be the best they could be.

Pam talked to us about when playing in orchestra there is a different approach than when in the recording studio for a movie. With the movie you have to be so exact because the editors have the scenes timed down to Milli-seconds. She had to be 110% accurate with the beat.

Richard shared about equipment breaking and fixing equipment in pressure situations.

Richard also talked about how he and my wife’s brother Richard Zvonar determined that laptops have stage fright.  They would have sound systems running with their laptops and everything worked great in rehearsal and then they would crash during a performance.

This led them to help design systems that ran separate from the laptops.

Too many times Apple would upgrade an operating system which would crash their software. They would spend so much time trying to fix the problem that this is why the separate systems were designed to work sound design systems. They don’t fail.

Again, I hope you see the importance of not just people but equipment must be the best and perfect.

If we had unions photographers would be even more aware of how many call themselves professional photographers and how few really are making it. The difference is in the nuances of details.

Famous Photographers: Nature or Nurture?

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 10,000, ƒ/2.8, 1/60 @ 7:07 am at the Chattahoochee Nature Center located in Roswell, Georgia.

Too many times when I meet people they assume that the reason I take good photographs is one of two reasons.

First they assume my camera gear is why I get great photos. The second reason is they assume I was born with this talent.

The one thing they rarely if ever talk about is how much work and study is necessary to make great photographs.

Nikon D100, 16mm, ISO 400, ƒ/6.7, 1/160

In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular… sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
Ansel Adams

Previsualization

Visualization is a central topic in Ansel Adams’ writings about photography, where he defines it as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.  You may see some people holding up an empty frame or even putting their hands together to create a frame to look at a scene before ever picking up a camera.

In the movies storyboarding was done to help visualize what would happen so that all those involved would be able to make it happen, from lighting, camera and blocking of the talent for example.

For me to make the photograph of the basketball players I had to visualize this long before it actually would happen.

When I was on staff at Georgia Tech I installed the Ultra White Lightning system. The Alienbees are what I put up once I started doing freelance full-time.

I arrived early and put four strobes onto the catwalk to light the court. I needed the light to get the depth-of-field necessary to be sure the players were in focus.  You cannot shoot this at ƒ/1.4 and expect that the player will look sharp.

Arriving early means getting to the venue early in the morning for a night time game. It takes about two to three hours to put the lights up and be sure everything is working. I really needed to do this when no one is on the court. Approximately a few hours before the game it is quite common for the teams to be practicing, so you must arrive early or you may not have enough time.

I had to also attach a remote camera behind the backboard. This had to be fired by a radio remote and also use a radio remote to fire the flashes at the same time. Framing of the image I knew from playing basketball for years. I normally get an assistant to do a few layups to help me make the frame loose enough to capture most any play on this side of the basket.

Then I had to wait until during the game the players would be in place for me to fire the shot. Now at the time I did this I could only fire the camera once every three to four seconds. The flashes needed to recycle and any faster would give me underexposed images.

I had to anticipate the moment that would capture the peak action. Too soon or too late and the photo is not as dramatic.

As you can see from this photo, I did not pop out of my mothers womb and just have the innate skills to capture this moment.

In the very first photo at the Chattahoochee Nature Center I had to get up before sunrise to capture this moment. Also, I knew the sky would look blue even tho it looked black to the naked eye. This is capturing something that your eye doesn’t even see.

Both of the examples I have given here are not what talent would see and just click a button to make it happen. Both took years of training and understanding about many technological gear to make them happen.

You don’t make the photo above in the middle of a parking lot in the dark with pure talent. You must know from years of experience where to place the lights to get this effect.  How do you get a Rembrandt lighting affect on a punk rock bank? You just have to know how to do this from learning how to make it happen.

What about nature?

There is no question that some people have an innate ability to see and create wonderful work, but for the most part talent that goes under developed is no match for someone with persistence and willingness to put in the time and effort.

If the opportunity avails itself then a person with talent will have a good chance to make an incredible image. However, from my life experience it is the person who anticipates that gets the best image.

Nikon D2Xs, 600mm, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1500

Anticipation

The reason great photographs are made is because the photographer anticipated the moment. If you wait till you see it and push the shutter button then you will have missed it.

Sports photographers know the teams and players so well they can almost tell you the next play. They get into position that gives them the best opportunity to get the moment.

Many sports photographers will put up multiple remote cameras to anticipate that something or someone may black their view and by having it covered from multiple angles will have the game winning shot.

Even the portrait photographer will talk with the subject and get their reaction to something. Just mentioning certain topics with a subject can elicit a good moment. It is said that Yousuf Karsh grabbed Winston Churchill’s cigar from him to get that famous photo of him. He knew it would get a reaction.

Nature & Nurture

I believe it is the combination of nature and nurture that makes for the great photographers. What this means is that those who work hard and learn to plan for their photos will make some great ones, whereas those who just think they will just shoot whatever they see will rarely make great photos.

The Making of an Expert

According to K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely published paper in the Harvard Business Review in 2007:

New research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.

Lighting Setup: Table-top Product Photography

White or even clear objects on a white background is very difficult to do and can become quite frustrating for even the experienced photographer.

This is a basic setup for a catalog photo shoot where the object needs to be stand out. 

I have couple of examples here. Next you will have the lighting diagram of the setup and finally there is a list of what I used.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, 1/160, ƒ/20

Lighting Ratio

The trick in this lighting setup is the ratio of the background to the subject. I recommend you put 1 ƒ-stop more light on the background than on the subject.

How you measure this is with a flash meter. Always start with the light on the subject. I measured the light at ƒ/22 on the subject and then measured it on the background at ƒ/32. I then bracketed shots from ƒ/16 to ƒ/32 and pulled them up in Lightroom. After carefully looking at the detail in the subject and the background I chose to shoot at ƒ/20.

I also recommend evenly lighting the object for this type of catalog photography. This is why there are two 32″ x 40″ soft boxes at 45º angles from the camera to help wrap the object in light.

The middle 30″ x 60″ soft box in the diagram below is suspended flat over the table using the Manfrotto boom arm.

To avoid lens flare in this setup be sure the camera is ever so slightly not perpendicular to the background. Straight on can give you a lens flare.

Supplies

Here is a list of the supplies I used to make the photo.

I recommend using a vinyl floor or you can use
Sequentia 1/8-in x 4-ft x 8-ft White Fiberglass Reinforced Wall Panel that I bought at Lowes.  I use the backside which is smooth for the photos. You can also roll this up for storage.

To hold the background in place I recommend BESSEY 2-in Metal Spring Clamps.  I have a bag of these I have handy for projects. They sell for just under $3 each.

You need something to hold up that background. You can get the Savage Background Port-A-Stand Kit for about $110.

The primary light for product work is a soft box. I have the 30″ x 60″ soft box from Paul C. Buff.  I like it for many reasons, but one of the reasons is how easy it is to setup and take down.

It works like an umbrella and has a lock that you screw tight to hold it in place.

I use the Alienbees B1600 monoblocs for my work. I like that the power is controlled with each head and I do not have to do math in my head as I did for power pack that split the power to different head. The Alienbees B1600 sell for $359.95 each. Since you are buying the directly from the manufacturer the price break is significant as compared to other lights that you buy from distributors.

Manfrotto 024B Boom is used to hang the large 30 x 60 soft box over objects. It sells for about $149.95 and comes with a 10 lb counterweight. I have a variety of other light stands I use. I put this on my JTL1200 Chrome Air Cushioned Stand (5016) which sells for $69.99.

Sekonic L-308S Flashmate – Digital Incident, Reflected and Flash Light Meter sells for $233.