A Cheap DIY Alternative To Peter Hurley's Kino Flo Lighting

Everyone knows Peter Hurley uses fairly expensive Kino Flo lights to give his clients nice soft beauty lighting. Fstoppers reader Tristan Penner decided to build a portable and inexpensive alternative to Peter's setup using standard Fluorescent lights. The setup might not improve too much on the portability but the quality of light does look really nice. What's really cool is Tristan is able to travel to people's homes with this setup bypassing the expensive overhead that comes with owning/renting a studio space.

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Overall pretty good quality.  Didn't look like he used a reflector on the bottom which I think would have helped the images even more.  This is cool because I was actually building my own version of this in my garage.

Jeff Luke's picture

That was informative!  Given that I have never purchased any fluorescent bulbs before, but that I assume they are generally pretty harsh, would you/can you purchase better quality daylight balanced bulbs?

as long as they are all the same color temperature, then you wouldn't have to worry about getting daylight balanced bulbs.  just set a custom white balance (or just use the florescent preset).  the only problem with this setup, and the reason kinoflos are so expensive, is the 60hz AC frequency we have here in America. this makes normal florescent lamps flicker 60 times a second and forces you to shoot at 1/60 second or slower.

That has to do with the ballast.  You can go to Home Depot and buy an good quality electronic ballast for about $25.  It wont flicker and it will act exactly as a kino.  If you want to go the extra mile, just make a remote ballast from a project box and wire it to the fixure useing some connectors, this way you can create a very light-weight fixture like the kinos.

I'm in the process of building my own kinos and the hardest part so far was finding a descent reflector.  Unlike kinos I'm also using T8 bulbs which provide more output and efficiency compared to the T12 Kinos.

wow, i didn't know about those! off to Lowes...

Ken Yee's picture

 What's a "good" ballast?  Is the T5HO fixture mentioned below good enough to reduce flicker?

svella voom's picture

Um, no. T8 refers tot he size (diameter) Output depends on the model (the other numbers on the tube, PAR, Lumens). as far as 'concentration' of light, yes, you get more bang from the real-estate, but hardly more efficient.
and dont forget, ballast, ballast, ballast... makes all the difference in efficiency.
A new T8 vs an old, crappy , utility-shed T12 ballast- is not a apples to apples comparison.


Can you send me an e-mail with detailed information how to build what you are building and where the buy the various things and how to set it up during shots and everything else I might be missing.

This means so much to me. Thank you ahead of time for your time and effort.

Best regards,
Rahul Maitra

Is that why he shoots at 1/60th of a second?

You could always opt to use T5HO fixtures and ballast, this will effectively double maybe even triple the amount of light for not much more cash using a good reflector. T5's also have readily available parabolic aluminum reflectors from most online aquarium hobby shops like the link below.


Sean Shimmel's picture

Take a look at these links. Cheap, beautiful lighting and detailed instructions down to the very nuts and bolts:

1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtsKPaLMP7o&feature=player_embedded
2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MmsLGqS-rY&feature=player_embedded

this post from Ben VonWong was actually linked here a month ago and references Joe Edelmen's build. http://www.vonwong.com/blog/diy-vonstudio/
they went WAY over budget somehow and didn't get much more for it.

link on the kino flo's seems broken Patrick 

Make sure you are using high-CRI (color rendering index) bulbs.

Yes.  Good point, forgot to mention that.  Check out Philips TL950.  Color balanced and a VERY high CRI.

Yeah there were a few points a reflector would have helped pop some light into the corner of her eyes.  I like how the dudes trigger was all busted and only half there.  That's my kind of photographer, make what you have work.  

Tristan Shea Penner's picture

The trigger stopped working just before shooting. Sigh... But I fixed it and off we went.

I agree that the eyes did seem a big dull especially if youre going to try to emulate Peter Hurley. I think that if we used a prime lens or even 2.8 lens he could've brought more light into the eyes but overall a great idea and execution. 

Really like the feeling of achieving something good with simple methods. Good job. 


John Godwin's picture

This is more like it, Patrick. Great post. 

I think the issue with not enough catchlights in the eyes is due to the size of the light frame.  You're getting the reflections you want but they are falling outside of the iris of the eye because the frame is so large.  Hurley's Kino make a smaller opening from what I recall.  You could emulate by backing the frame away from the subject more, but then you start to get a lot of light drop off.

I totally agree with Chris here... If he'd made the frame of this lighting setup a smaller 'shoot-through' area, much better results would have been had. a 4 foot light is just too big for a portable unit. I noticed all the slams he took of the actual vimeo site.. Talk about weiners !

Lights notwithstanding, Hurley's method/sucess of shooting comes down to his gift for gab and the spcheel he has developed over time to achieve a look HE thinks works best, the people paying him thinks works best and so on... The lighting is the easy part here, the gift of gab and the script Peter runs on people is something that you either have... Or you don't.

awerllow's picture

Hey guys.... So basically, you can achieve a kino-like result with a fixture like this? 

Why was there a flash going off if you were using a constant light source? I assume that it was just for behind the scene shots and not of the model herself.
Also, you mention that you shot for three hours. Does that include set up time?

I believe he was firing the strobe to blow out the background

Tristan Shea Penner's picture


Tristan Shea Penner's picture

That did not include the set-up time.

Derek matarangas's picture

Why not just purchase the real kino flo's ? Its about the same price as one alien bee head.

awerllow's picture

Wow! Really?  I didn't know one alien bee head is about $1000. Here's one light Kino kit.... 

Derek matarangas's picture

Okay one profoto head :) 

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