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    Dallas

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    The very first lighting kit I ever bought some 20 years ago was a pair of Bowens Esprit 250 monolights. I thought they were sooo cool. I used them for a while, but then fell out of love with the idea of studio photography and they got stored under my bed for a few years until I decided to sell them for some other gear I couldn't live without (I can't recall what it was). 

     

    Fast forward about a decade from 2002 and I found myself buying a pair of Broncolor 600W monolights from a retiring product photographer. They were also pretty good, but finding modifiers for them required parting with human organs or bonding yourself to Satan for eternity. So I sold those too and after a short while I ended up buying 4 new 500W Chinese brand Menik lights, which had a Bowens mount. They were OK and I used them for a long time. I actually ended up selling 3 of them recently and still have a solitary unit lying in my gear storage cabinet. While they were fine to use, the fans were really noisy and about a year ago I started using constant lights for pack shots instead of the strobes. I've been shooting that way happily ever since. 

     

    However, the problem with shooting constant lights in my little studio is that in the summer time (now) I have to draw the blackout curtains and with some 500W of CFL lighting burning during a shoot, not only do I need to strip close to naked to survive the heat, my electricity bill is also not that happy with the idea. 

     

    So I decided to look into shooting with flash again, but these days you can become easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice available. It seems that Chinese brand Godox is one of the top options because they have a very useful wireless system and of course are also using the ubiquitous Bowens mount for modifiers which are easily found for little money these days. But... I hesitated to go there because while I have two Godox TT600 speedlights, the interface for the X-Pro trigger system is a little confusing to me and I think the only real benefit is if you need to remotely adjust power settings often, or use the high speed sync features. I am a "set it and forget it" type of photographer, especially in studio with the pack shots, so that wasn't a big deal for me. If I was going to get more a/c powered strobes I would probably have gotten a couple of their 300W or 400W units. Not as cheap as I thought they would be, unfortunately. I definitely wasn't considering the battery powered options, which although convenient will leave you with useless hardware when they decide to stop making the batteries in a few years to force you to upgrade to the latest models. Screw that. 

     

    Then I remembered that a very kind lady I bought some LEE 216 diffusion material from last year had a couple of older 500W Bowens Esprit lights that she was selling off too, so I got touch a couple of weeks ago and she still had them, along with some Godox softboxes. I bought them all. She actually had a third 500W unit that she included at no extra cost because it had suffered a fall onto the power supply unit and while it still worked, it was held together with gaffer tape. And you couldn't just remove the power cable easily. I got this stuff for a really ridiculously low asking price; 3 x 500W Bowens Esprit units, 2 x Godox 1000x700mm softboxes and a 1200mm octabox for a shade over $180 including shipping from Cape Town to Durban. Bonanza! 

     

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    The lights arrived last week and I hooked up one of them to the new Godox Octabox for the 4th batch of a big catalog job I am doing. These units are fanless and in spite of running for hours on end in my little hotbox studio I had no overheating issues with the unit at all. This has now prompted me to source another wall mounted boom arm (pictured lying on the table above) which I will install tomorrow and connect a second Bowens unit to (for fill use), or maybe to easily switch between the constant lights and the strobe lights without any fuss. 

     

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    Oh yes, I also "fixed" the broken unit's power supply with some good old fashioned South African Pratley's Quickset Putty. Not the most elegant repair, but it is working 100% and removing the power cable is now just as easy as it is with the other units. If I can find some black acrylic I will paint the putty to make it look less conspicuous. 

     

    Have you ever used studio flash? Let me know your experiences in the comments below. 


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    Dear Dallas,
    You have all my compliment for finding these Bowens gems at a , I must say in the good way, a ridiculous price. Bravo! 
    My (long away) past experience in studio, mainly for portrait and illustrating purpose, was during my in-house photographer years at the Montreal Olympic Stadium for the sport federations. We have a permanent photo-video studio installation with Ionira tungsten lights for video and Courtenay electronic flashes for photo. These Courtenay monobloc units ( 2 X 300w/s and 1 X 600w/s) have been bought from a closed private studio and I had the chance to know the Canadian representative of the brand who help me to find the additional  accessories I need to complete the installation. They were fine products but a bit massive to operate and oriented. We were using the main unit cabled to the camera, usually our Mamiya RZ67 mounted on a Linhof Studiomaster stand, the others units been trigged by their internal slave unit. Exposure was determined by a Sekonic flashmeter and Polaroid test shoots.
    What was the big advantages of using electronic studio flashes were the control of the modeling different light intensity to create volume and natural dramatic effect of the subject and also, very important, for the density of the exposure obtained on the analog film with low ISO. We even use the Courtenays on outside location in special occasion although it was a cumbersome experience each time (I did the mondial Microsoft convention one time in Montreal, all expenses covered and very nice helping personal!).
    Yes the studio flash experiences have given me very good memories by now that it is over! (We tend to have a selective memory with time).  

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    I remember also having to invest in a flash meter for my first set of lights, although by that time I was already shooting a DSLR, so it wasn’t very necessary. I think it was a Minolta unit? Later I also got one of the little Sekonic jobs who’s model number escapes my memory. I don’t use one at all now. 

     

    If I am honest, working in a studio doing still life makes me happy. This pack shot business is really starting to show signs of flourishing and if it continues I can see myself getting a bigger place and expanding the studio. 

     

    The best things I have done in my space was invest in those wall mounted boom arms. They truly make like so much easier when you’re not having to put up light stands everywhere around your set. 

     

    Oh yes, I nearly forgot, in the second shot you can see my LEE 216 diffusion scrim I made hanging from the wall. This was made with a pine frame and initially I used duct tape to hold the paper to the frame (a la Karl Taylor). It got so hot in the room that the duct tape literally peeled away from the frame! I then doubled up with gaffer tape on top of the duct tape and also used an industrial stapler to make sure it didn’t peel away again. So far it’s held up through the summer. :) 

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    12 hours ago, Dallas said:

    If I am honest, working in a studio doing still life makes me happy. This pack shot business is really starting to show signs of flourishing and if it continues I can see myself getting a bigger place and expanding the studio. 

     

    The best things I have done in my space was invest in those wall mounted boom arms. They truly make like so much easier when you’re not having to put up light stands everywhere around your set. 

     

    Hi Dallas,
    I think you have found the sweet spot for your specialized photographic professional domain that you are mastering with success. 
    Your boom arm installation reminds me the extensive use we made at the studio of many fine Manfrotto support like rolling light stands (the bigger ones), some of them equipped with boom and counterweigh, Autopoles and wall mounted Expansion background system. 
    With film-analog technology, light and exposure setting was a bit difficult because instant accurate result reviews were almost impossible and the dynamic of the recording material was, let say, limited. Moreover the try and compare method was expensive in time and money. Sometimes experience was your better bet to rely on. This is why I cherish the digital photographic introduction.

     

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    Well, the installation of the Hylow wall mounting boom arm didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped. 

     

    Out here in South Africa we mostly live in brick and mortar houses. This makes you feel quite safe from the elements, but when it comes to drilling holes into the walls it isn’t always an easy task. In this house about 70% of the time I will find the mortar between the bricks when drilling. If I don’t find mortar I will find some impenetrable substance that either wants to break my drill or force me off my ladder. This is what happened with yesterday’s arm installation. First hole went into the mortar like a hot knife through butter. Then I found one brick, but so help me two of the other holes were also like butter. Not good.

     

    Eventually I just went for it with the holes I had made and tried to mount the arm with rawl bolts (these are expanding metal sleeves), only to discover that my drill bit wasn’t the right size for the bolts I had bought. Off to the hardware shop, dripping in sweat (still summer here) to buy a 12mm bit so I could enlarge the holes. They didn’t have any. So I ended up buying smaller rawl bolts and 2 other bits, a 9mm and an 11mm. Just in case.

     

    Eventually I got the bloody plate securely fastened into the wall but only after 2 of the rawl bolts had failed when I tried to tighten them (I suspect some Chinaman is laughing at me somewhere on the other side of the world). So now the plate is on the wall, but for some reason the arm that I had separated from the plate will no longer line up with the protrusions on the plate. What the hell? So off comes the plate and the next 2 hours are spent trying to figure out how to re-attach the two items. I succeeded in doing that (I think) and after another session of cussing I get the whole apparatus onto the wall. 

     

    But now to complete the job I need to assemble my new Godox softbox. If you have ever assembled a softbox you will know that it can be quite challenging in its own right, however my levels of fortitude, having been bolstered by the adversity of mounting the arm to the wall, were at sufficiently high levels for this to be not such a difficult task. Except of course that during the assembly I managed to drop the softbox ring right onto my big toe. 

     

    Yup. I may have been blessed with many skills, but handyman work is not among them. I will post some pictures of the new hardware as soon as I can rouse myself out of bed today…

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    Here's another iPhone snapshot showing the new arm I mentioned above. It's quite a beast of a thing and it has an adjustable tip, which is what those big wheels are for on the main arm. You can adjust the angle of the head by a significant amount without having to get up on a ladder to do it manually, which I can tell you is quite a blessing. 

     

    The only thing I don't like is that it is pitch black in colour which against the off-white walls of the room makes it stick out like a sore thumb. The other two arms I have installed are aluminium and black. I do have a notion to paint the walls a charcoal grey colour soon, but I have to run that by my landlord first. 

     

    Once I have everything in position for my next shoot I will take more photos and produce an update to the studio tours I have done on this blog previously. For now what you see in the bottom of the frame is my tethering station, which is a cheap Samsung monitor on an adjustable monitor arm (so I can position it where I need it when shooting) and my ancient, but still very functional 2010 Mac Mini. That computer was brought over to me by Ann Shelbourne on our first safari to Sabi Sabi in 2010 and I am truly amazed that it can still run most of the software I need to use to tether. 

     

     

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