Photo Basics 3-Light Kit Review
One of the main problems that many people have when starting off is getting their lighting to look right. Westcott is one of the biggest and oldest lighting companies around and recently they came up with the idea of a lighting kit for beginners. By creating color coded lights, a floor mat to help with placement, and even an instructional DVD, can learning lighting this way actually help you to get good results? We decided to try it our and follow the instructions to the T and see if we could really learn anything from this affordable new kit.
The kit comes with three light heads that are actually identical except for the color. The color difference is just to help you with the placement when following the directions for setting them up. Two 500w bulbs are included for use with the key and fill lights while a 100w buld is included for the background light. Each lamp has an included reflector and two silver umbrellas. Two full size lights are included for the key and fill light while a mini light stand is for the background light. The kit also contains a nice slate colored background with hooks that can be attached and removed from a wall easily. The two things that really set the kit apart from any other kit are the DVD and the floor mat. The DVD contains two hours of tutorials that walk you through using the kit as well as camera techniques and shooting ideas. To work with the DVD is a unique floor mat that helps you lay out the lights and the subjects. All this fits nicely into a well fabricated carrying case.
1-Yellow constant light
1-Red constant light
1-Blue constant light
2-7.5′ non air cushioned light stands
1- 3′ Backlight stands
2-45″ Silver/White Umbrellas
1-Modeling Lamp 100-watt
1-5′X8′ Slate Gray Background with bag
2- 3M Command Strips
1-Floor positioning Mat
1-Floor Mat Insructional Card
The floormat uses a unique design that has different shapes and pictures that are used to help you lay out the lights. The DVD instructs you to put the key light to the left of the camera positioned one foot above the subject’s head with the umbrella shaft pointed at the subject’s nose. The fill light then goes to the right of the camera with light at the same height as the camera, again with the umbrella shaft pointed at the subject. The background light is then positioned behind the subject to add some contrast betwen the subject and the background. This certainly makes setting up the lights a no-brainer. If the results are good, then this just may well be a useful setup.
So let’s take a look at some very simple shots of myself to see the effects of the different lights.
Key Light Only
Let’s start with the main key light. As you can see, the one side of the face has some nice light angles but it falls off fast to the right of the image and fades into the background. While you may actually want to accomplish this more dramatic look on purpose, what we want to get to is a really nice professional looking headshot and this does not accomplish what we are looking for.
Key and Fill
Once we add the fill light we now get some real even lighting and nice highlights. The only real issue here is that the subject (me) is not the most attractive model around. Secondly, there is no real detail t0 the background so there isn’t any depth to the image because the subject appears flat against the background.
All three lights
With all three lights on now the subject is now seperated from the background and the picture looks much better. While the Photo Basics Three-Light kit can’t help you get more attractive models, it certainly can help you take better pictures. Since the lights are constant-lights and not flashes, the kit can be used with with any camera from a professional DSLR to your basic point and shoot camera.
As we have discussed in the past, getting a good white balance is very important to cut down on your post processing. If you are used to flash or outdoor lighting, your pictures may turn out with an orange color cast to them. This can occur if your white balance is set for strobe or sunlight and is not set properly for the bulbs that come with the kit. If you don’t have a gray card or a white balance cap to set your white balance, then try manually setting your white balance to 3000 kelvin if you can.
While the Photo Basics product line may be designed for beginners, it is a division of Westcott so the lights use standard speed ring attachments so you can easily swap out the reflector dishes for other accessories such as soft boxes and snoots. This really makes the kit a lot more flexible and allows you to grow along with the kit.
The DVD may not have the production quality of The Bourne Ultimatum but it does provide a ton of useful information to help make the most out of your kit. The DVD has beginner, intermediate, and advanced tutorials for camera operation, and the light kit as well as a section on using the 5-in-1 reflector. If you are the type of person that this kit is targeted for, then the DVD will be an excellent resource of information to help you learn the basics of lighting. Used along with the positioning floor mat, you are virtually guaranteed to get good results.
These lights get HOT, seriously hot. These are 500 watt bulbs and can cause some serious burns. Every time you use hot lights you should always have a fire extinquisher handy. Another caution I want to give even though the DVD will contridict this, is that I highly recommend you never touch the bulbs with your bare fingers, even when cold. Touching the bulbs with your hands will transfer oils from your hands to the bulbs and then the bulbs get hot there is a chance that this can contribute to the bulbs popping. Wether its from age, oils, bumping, or even just bad karma, there is always a risk of hot bulbs popping and sending hot glass flying. Because of this risk, never point the lights with the bulbs facing people or animals. Always point away and use a reflecting umbrella or shoot towards the subject through a shoot-through umbrella or softbox so that if a bulb were to burst, it would be caught by the umbrella or softbox.
Lighting can be tricky to get right but with the floor mat and DVD even a first timer can get excellent results. This is exactly what the entire Photo Basics line is designed for, to bring easy-to-use, simple-to-learn, and affordable lighting products to beginners and intermediate level photographers. If we have one complaint at all it would be that the lights have nice distinctive Photo Basics logos on them which may not look too professional if you go on to doing paid photo shoots. Other than that, there is nothing not to like about the Photo Basics kits. If you are starting off, this is an excellent lighting kit and the price is as good as it can get.