Get the most out of your Nikon D5200 in your Home Studio

The Nikon D5200 will be a perfect studio camera

Many users of the new Nikon D5200 will want to use their camera for intimate portraits and still life shots. In many cases the photographer will rely on available light with fill-in flash, or a positioned flash gun fired remotely. But what if you want to go one step further? Setting up a home studio is not as expensive – or inconvenient – as it once was.

Space is the first concern. If you are going to take full length portraits you need to have a high ceiling and at least 5 meters between the camera and the subject. You will also need a good supply of electrical sockets. If the space is going to be used exclusively for your photography, then paint the walls black and put blackout curtains over any windows. Failing that, gray walls would be fine, and perhaps more acceptable to other users of the room. If all else fails, try to get some large sheets of blackout material that you can put up against the walls when you are shooting. Of course the background doesn’t need to be black – you can get colored backdrops pretty easily.

The reason photographers work so hard to exclude natural/variable light is so that they can control lighting conditions themselves. When buying lights you will first need to choose between continuous or strobe (flash) lighting. The former comes in two kinds – tungsten or fluorescent – and the choice is largely a matter of personal taste.

Tungsten lights are sometimes referred to as “hot lights” because they emit heat (this can be a problem if your subject is going to be sitting underneath them  for a long time). They tend to glow with a warmer light and so give a ‘reddish’ result which can be great for skin tones and natural looking images.

Fluorescent lights have a more blueish tinge and give the sort of light most associated with pack shots or realistic still lifes. They tend not to emit so much heat as the tungstens.

Of course, any light can be corrected with white balance, but ideally you want to work with the lighting rather than trying to compensate against it all the time. Setting white balance is another thing to think about and sooner or later you will forget to do it and find yourself  trying to photoshop it in.

The main benefit of continuous lighting is that you can easily see how it affects the subject as you set it up. This means that there are fewer surprises through the viewfinder and it allows you to worry about content and composition rather than wondering if the flash just went off or not. However, it isn’t really compatible with action shots, where the subject may be moving around. And they do give off quite a bit of heat. It is most appropriate for portrait and still-life photography – and also video.

Strobe lighting can offer much more flexibility. You can adjust the intensity of your light to suit your needs, which means that you have more control over your shutter speeds. However, because of the blast that comes out of  the strobes, they do take a short time to recharge, which can be frustrating.

When using two lights as a home studio, I would use the softbox as my main light and use the other light to light the background, you might be wise to get a set of inexpensive barn doors to use on your background light as this will stop the light from spilling onto your subject.

Set up your trigger on one of your lights and make sure you have a trigger for both of the lights so they fire in sync, the more expensive flash systems have built in slaves.
Be sure to keep your main light at least 6ft away from subject so you dont burn out any details and about 3ft away from background so you can get a nice even spread of light. I would be shooting at ISO 200, 125/ f8. It is a great starting point as you will get good graduation from lower ISO and F8 is about the optimum aperture for most lenses. If you put the light at 45 degrees angle to the subject you will get good shadow detail on the face but always be careful where the shadow falls and make sure it doesn’t go across the nose as this is very unflattering. If this is happening bring the light back towards you (and the camera) and it will go away. Always go for the main types of shot first, full length then half length and head and shoulders, you can start to vary your shots once you get into the shoot. Having your subject standing square to the camera is often not very flattering, just a slight angle tends to work better. When you get more aquainted and confident with your set up then you can start to add more lights, adding a hair light/ backlight/ and using a 3 to 1 lighting ratio will be the next step for you.

Here are some good lighting systems to start off with:

Interfit INT182 EX150 Mark II Two Head Kit

Approx $350 / £220

Interfit INT182 EX150 Mark II Two Head Kit for the nikon d5200

This is a really good kit for beginners. The DVD which comes with it gives some great tips on setting up. The lamps don’t last too long, but apart from that, they are pretty reliable and have a sturdy feel to them. As with all stands, you need to make sure they are firmly in position. It isn’t supplied with a carry bag, which could make storage fiddly.

Interfit INT456 Stellar XD 300 Two Head Softbox / Umbrella Kit

Approx $790 / £650

Interfit INT456 Stellar XD 300 Two Head Softbox Umbrella Kit for the nikon d5200

This kit gives out twice as much power (300 watts) and so allows you to get much more creative. The units are pretty sturdy aluminium. The softbox and umbrella combination kit is ideally suited for portrait and fashion work or more detailed product photography. The units also feature fan cooling which keeps the flash capacitors and circuitry at the ideal temperature. It also has  an improved mechanism, Auto Power Dumping and Auto Modelling Lamp Dimming (only during flash exposure).

Elinchrom D-lite IT 2/4 Umbrella kit

Approx $800 / £470

Elinchrom D-lite IT 2:4 Umbrella kit for the nikon d5200

This kit consists of 1 D-Lite 200 IT and 1 D-Lite 400 head, stands, and umbrellas. It is worth noting that the light power is asymetrical and can sometimes be a problem to balance if your studio is very small. They are quite light and portable and the cases are pretty tough. Recycle time is fast – on reduced power the ready delay is almost non-existent. These units also have built-in fans, which means that they won’t overheat when using softboxes or over extended use times. This kit comes with a cut-down version of the Skyport trigger, which is useful, especially if you don’t already have a wireless trigger set. These multi-voltage D-Lite IT’s are targeted at photographers who do portraiture, still life, product and architectural photography.

Bowens Gemini 500R Pulsar Tx Twin Head Kit

Approx $1250 / £899

Bowens Gemini 500R Pulsar Tx Twin Head Kit for the nikon d5200

This is the sort of lighting kit used in professional studios throughout the country. It is very sturdy and well made. The new twin-dial power control system allows adjustments in either full stops or 1/10th increments and so offers the accuracy of digital controls and precision adjustments. The Pulsar Tx Kit (Tx Transmitter and Rx Receiver Card) lets you to operate the lights without the need for a sync lead from up to 25m away, which is really handy for fashion or shoots where both you and the subject need to move around.