Search This Blog

Artists's Essential Tool Guide: Cheap Studio Lighting

One of the problems associated with an improved studio environment is the lack of proper lighting for serious still life painting and portraiture. OEM rigs, like the one provided by, shown in this post by Grand Central Academy alumni A. Cunningham, can run over $150.00 before the bulbs are exchanged by full spectrum replacements. One of the main complaints for this particular model by customer review is the lack of lighting area for more than one sitter if posed slightly apart. Although I am sure it serves well for sitting poses and the like, I wanted to procure a lighting rig that can serve both my immediate still life needs and grow with me in the future.
One of the absolute musts was the ability to have full ceiling height available to provide a variety of light intensities.

I did consider a home built solution by wiring up to 9 different bulbs together through a auto switch panel but this seemed a lot of work and ended up being at or above the price point of the photography equipment shown above.

I decided to take the middle road; modifying a lighting setup sold by Harbor Freight would serve well for my purpose.  The base unit cost just under $30 (it was on sale).  My pole extension cost $7.99 and was cut down to my specification (whatever fits in your studio or appropriate to your project) for free.  To sturdy the new height, I used a #12-24 x 1/2" screw and hex nut.  A set of 5 cost $1.99.  The spray paint I already had but I recall it was about $3.  Total I spent less than $46.00 including taxes!

This setup may not be appropriate for those wanting exacting full spectrum lighting out of the box or those working on large compositions with numerous figures spread across an area larger than 5' x 5' but it is ideal for still lives and probably a full nude.  One could always add more rigs due to the great savings over OEM expenses.  One of the best features is the ability to flip the lights from what you see on the box to an under-slung position to light both subject and your work station, palette and easel with the same light!  The heads also rotate about 150 degrees.

Some versions of this same model are completely yellow.  Fortunately mine was dark grey with yellow knobs.

So far, the warmth of the bulb is well suited for the still life due to the height of the modification.
I'm sure if used at a lower level, the bulbs would need changing to something more like Northern, natural light.

This is the unit built per instructions; ridiculous height even fully extended.
I removed the lens grille protectors as they produce feint spider-web of shadows.
Be warned, the heads become extremely hot so never leave this light unattended!

Here is the unit extended with a 1" electrical pipe.  The pipe was cut to 8' from 9'10".  It cost a whopping $7.99.
 I especially like how the cord hangs almost exactly at a wall's lower plug height level.

A day later I spray painted the pipe flat black for a finished look.

It was necessary for saftey to replace the small screw at the lights base with a sturdier version.  This required some drilling. 
I used a #12-24 x 1/2" machine screw along with a matching hex nut to better secure the pole to the base to mitigate any dangerous leaning.
I also rolled a small piece of paper around the top coupler area to make a tighter fit.  This helped tremendously.