More Proof That Expensive Gear Does Not Equal Good Pictures

I created the iPhone Fashion Shoot to attempt to prove this point. 50% of the people who saw it "got" it and the other 50% claimed that it only looked good because I used $10,000 worth of light. Well I've always said "light is light" and all those expensive light modifiers do is make the light source bigger or smaller. Don't believe me? Bert Stephani will take over where I left off shooting with these work lights (the same ones that I used for part of the iPhone shoot) and a shower curtain.

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ckBren's picture

Bert is a great photographer and teacher, thanks for sharing this.

JustinH's picture

I was already planning to DIY studio by using that halogen spotlights
but I do plan to give a slight mod to the halogen lights to give a more cooler lights

This is great stuffs! :)

at least i can get an idea for a texture background :)

Lee Morris's picture

@JustinH, If you want help with backgrounds there is only one video you should watch


Anonymous Coward's picture

Because nothing instills confidence in a client like a pair of shower curtains and $30 work lights.

The next video should be of a guy doing a shoot without any lights or camera, to prove how you can create beautiful imagery using nothing but words.

I'm just kidding guys. Nice photos at the end and that's what really matters..

Brian's picture

WAIT! He can afford an entire SHOWER CURTAIN?! You know, we're not all made out of money, right?


I guess I was part of the 50% that got it the first time. I guess it's just hard for some people to accept that the problem with their photographs might NOT be their equipment, after all....

Thanks for posting. You know, there's another whole blog that shows this kind of stuff all the time. It's a great resource for on-the-cheap solutions.

Richard Flores's picture

Nice Video..!

Dave's picture

This is exactly the equipment I use to shoot hdslr video on pure black with no post production.

I have a double worklight to camera right as a key, single worklight to camera left as a fill and I flag them off (tin foil snoots basically) to keep them from spilling on the background. I have a black bedsheet hanging about 3 feet behind the subject and I'm done.

Simple. Zero work in post. Life is good. You can check a quick sample at

Wayne Leone's picture

I agree with the sentiment. Your clients may not unless your prices reflect your setup.

Carlo's picture

It's not the camera, it's the photographer...and the hair stylist...and the makeup artist...and the wardrobe stylist..and the...

Derek's picture

I would also just like to say nice video. However I feel I must also (after reading some of the comments), say that your clients do not necessarily need to know that the shower curtains are indeed shower curtains and that your lighting is what it is. The results are amazing!

Dale Richards's picture

I would love to see you re-shoot the iPhone fashion shoot using Berts budget set up =]

Alvin Toro's picture

Oh this great! I really hope it spreads like wildfire in Hatersville. We need to become better at creating now with what we have than thinking what we could create later with what we don't.

Dj's picture

no one mentioned the heat its gonna generate... its specially not comfortable being a model in front of those constant lit harsh lights.
Some things must be done right by getting the right equipment.
i don't recommend this method :(

Carlos Bruno's picture

OK ... WHY? WHYYYYYYYYYYYY Bert, on IN CONFESSIONS OF A PHOTOGRAPHER you do an amazing job like this but in your DVD you did "THAT"? WHY????

Kevin's picture

I'll grant you that yes, it works and you can make pretty pictures with shop lights. And I like the DIY ethic as much as anyone. But did you notice that at one point he had 1000watts of light five feet from her face? That's hot. When you're melting your model's face off to get a decent shutter speed, is it really worth it? You can get a cheap off camera speed light kit for $150, shoot all day and have a comfortable model in front of your camera.

Wayne Leone's picture

@Dj - I have to agree with you. 90% of the time I would not use this for paid work despite the results (I'm a fan of Bert's work). The same way I wouldn't call to someones house and stick my head in their sink for them to wash and cut my hair no matter how good they are. :)

Nathan Padilla Bowen's picture

LMAO @ Wayne Leone

So true.

Juan Hernandez's picture

He said "inner MacGyver"

Nikhil Ramkarran's picture

I'm guessing it doesn't hurt to have a great photographer to go along with what every lights you can find :)

shawn sandy's picture

The discussion on gear is becoming very pointless, we all get that the gear does make the photographer or the photographs, so stop preaching to the choir... Fact is this kind of shoot requires some very fast glass (gear) expensive gear!!! Dammm even the iPad ain't exactly cheap :)

People really need to start focusing more on what gear does what GEEEEEEEEEEZ...

Anyway love the idea!

The Luong Exposure's picture

I've done some shoots with halogens. Really great light source for fraction of the price. Watching this was awesome, just as watching the iphone video. Sure nice, expensive equipment is great, but like I've come to learn, "a poor mechanic blames his tools."

Dj's picture

btw... i dont know if i am permitted to do this, but here it goes : you can find relatively innovative and functional and cheap gear at

Remy Musser's picture

Whatever I shoot I shoot ISO 100
So if I would use this kind of lightning in studio I would have to shoot in my underwear and my models would melt...

joop's picture

1k watt lights! think of the environment! :o

August Young's picture

A true artist can make something out of nothing.

Travis Harris's picture

Hi everyone..

I think the tittle of this is a bit wrong. "more proof that expensive gear does not equal good pictures". I think most photographers would disagree. I think nice gear "enables" the photographer to make cutting edge images.

Maybe it's just me.. or my "style", but all the mind blowing images have always been produced with the leading gear. The photographers sites that I bookmark, and watch are in fact using some top grade gear.. and in order to replicate that level of work.. yep, you need that. (again, speaking of a specific style.) Now, if your making a living from shooting from "sub standard" tools.. then by all means, more power to you. Sure, you don't need tons of gear to take a nice lit picture.. but for some, photography is a business, or it;s a journey to become better and better.. and from this point.. you will need all the gear, and money you can get your hands on.

From experience, I quit my job.. and followed my passion. I make more now then ever before.. and I could not have done it without a TON of money upfront.. and people who believed in me, among myself first. It goes to the old saying.. it takes money to make money. It takes a great photographer and the right tools. period.

- Travis

C.D.EMBREY's picture

1,000 WATTS IS NOTHING! Many strobes have 250 watt modeling lights (Einsteins and Profoto both use 250 watt modeling lights). If you are doing a typical "white background" you have 2-4 lights for the background, a hair light, a fill light and a key. That's 1250-1750 watts and you model or portrait client didn't melt.

Work lights a little too crude for you? Than get Lowel Tota-lights (about $130.00) Never had a client complain, and I started using them in the 1970s. Scott and I pooled our Tota's (total of 8) for a video shoot of his a couple of weeks ago. No complaints!

I started using real "shower curtains' before Rosco and Lee started making frost.

I own Profoto strobes, but they are not always the right tool for the job. Sometimes tungsten and HMI hot lights work best.

Greg Brave's picture

Sorry, I don't buy it. First of all what about his expensive camera and iPad? And regarding the lighting setup:
1. I tried to use these halogen lights - they heat the shit out of the place, and you can't also touch them to adjust because they get incredibly hot. Eventually your model will get sweaty because of that heat. The guy also used stands for his diffusers. These stands alone can cost more than 70 EUR. Yes, he said that you can use whatever to hold the diffuser, but have you ever tried? If you hang it from the ceiling - it is a permanent solution, but if you have no money, then you also don't have space for permanent studio etc. etc. I am speaking here from personal experience, so please stop it with your "no money needed" approach. It simply doesn't work. If you want to have a good setup you will have to spend money. Of course creativity and talent are most important, but you can't fix your car with an axe, and you can't shoot a model without proper tools.

Jim's picture

There are some angry and self-absorbed people commenting here. Lighten up! (Pun intended)

Actually, I'm kind of surprised nobody commented that the photos only looked good because he used a $10,000/day model. :P

It's true that top-notch photographers will want to use top-notch gear. But if pro-rated gear was all that was required to create a stunning image, then I know some doctors and lawyers who are photo enthusiasts and who should theoretically be shooting on par with Gregory Heisler.

They're not. Instead, they're using Hasselblad H4Ds to create little more than snapshots. Like it or not, the saying is true; it's not the camera that makes the image, it's the photographer. Personally, I'd rather hire a guy who could make outstanding images with a $2500 camera and $200 of lighting than someone who craps out mediocrity with a $35,000 camera and $15,000 worth of Elinchroms. The client won't give a shit about your fancy gear if your photos are flat and lifeless.

There also needs to be a touch of reality here. People are commenting on how clients would react to this set up. If you're restricted to using something like this, face it, you're not shooting for a multi-million or billion dollar company. You're probably doing some low-end product photography or headshots. That level of clientele probably won't give a damn about your set up.(For people bitching about the iPad, he didn't say it was NECESSARY, he just happened to have one so he used it to show the model the photos. You could do the same thing using the LCD on the back of your camera.)

To be fair, I've shot video using the exact lights he's demonstrating. They're not pleasant to work with. The above comments that mention how hot they get are dead on. The things become untouchable, and DO NOT get anything flammable near them. Put four of those things in a room and you can melt the paint off the walls. We blew fuses like crazy, too. But the lights fit the budget at the time and they got the job done. If I had to do it all over again I'd buy some cheap hotlights from Impact or something, but the point of the video above (which still seems to be lost on many) is that you don't have to let your budget kill your ideas. He presented some possible solutions, nothing more.

Being a photographer is about problem solving, not just tripping a shutter.

Sa Jamil's picture

I think this is my fave post by far!!

Remy Musser's picture

If I want to shoot isolated and get f/16 @ISO 100 on my background with that kind of lights I would need about a minimum of 16 lights for the background and 8 for the foreground 12k power. To hand these 24 lights I would need a few power clamps and lightstands...
in the end I would spend over 1.000 EUR and I'm not talking about the electric bill.

C.D.EMBREY my strobes have indeed 250w modeling lamps and I use 6 of them, but I still have the luxury to turn them off and still be able to take the shot.
By using cheap gears you will end up spending way more more than buying the proper equipment right away.

Patrick Hall's picture

@Remy Musser, shoot isolate at f/16? What does that mean? You'd probably need an HMI which unfortunately are very expensive.

c.d.embrey's picture

@ Greg Brave. When I was in film school I gaffer taped a white sheet to the ceiling. When the shot was done I took it down - no big deal!
@ Remy Musser. 24/7/365 somewhere in the world they are photographing movies, television shows and commercials using hot lights. And as long as they are shooting the lights stay on. And I've never saw an actor melt.
@ Jim. "Being a photographer is about problem solving, not just tripping a shutter." Got that right! Solving simple problems like wearing gloves when working with hot lights :D

c.d.embrey's picture

BTW Profoto is making both Tungsten and HMI lights Profoto wouldn't be making these lights unless there was demand from Pro Photographers.

Jeremi Blurton's picture

This is mostly for video and of course they can be used as hot lights also; and there's a reason they are called hot lights. With DSLR video shooting being so popular right now everyone and their mother is jumping into the market. Lighting is one of the areas that has a ton of room for growth.

Patrick Hall's picture

@c.d.embrey, but how much are those lights? I think the point is HMI are extremely expensive lights. How much are these Profotos? Looks like BH doesn't have them yet.

c.d.embrey's picture

@ Jeremi, Profoto was making Tungsten and HMI lights long before V-DSLR cameras were on the market. Ever hear of scanning backs?
Continuous light is still popular with some product shooters. Also some real fashion shooters.
I just posted this video of Benjamin Kanarek using Studio Strobes, HMIs and Tungsten lights

Oliver's picture

Thanks Lee, I just love fstoppers, you guys are a real inspiration, especially when i feel i bit low in photographic inspiration. Keep up the awesome work!

Carlo Parducho's picture

Can anyone enlighten me on the slower shutter speed = more organic look thing at 1:42?

What's the "organic" look anyway? Someone told me that before - that I always want my work to look organic. I'm like.... um????

Carlo Parducho's picture

BTW I like his voice.

I liked the 1st photo too.

Isaace's picture

You know what?, everybody shut the heck up. All you do is complain.
And I think the only thing you need to shoot good photos is to be a good photographer. If you have a shitty eye and you never practice and experiment, of course you're going to be mediocre.

Lee Morris's picture

You've said what I was holding back :)

3rdstringjedi's picture

Very cool. It's easy to get caught up in new, high-dollar (or Euro) gear. Thanks for bringing it all back to Earth with simple, creative solutions.

c.d.embrey's picture

@ Patrick Hall said:" ... but how much are those lights? I think the point is HMI are extremely expensive lights. ..."
NO, everybody's point seems to be "ooh, ooh they are so hot that the model will MELT - and I will burn my hands because I don't know enough to wear gloves.
MY POINT is that PROs have been using Hot Lights (both HMI and Tungsten) for a very loang time. The Model doesn't MELT, they don't start FIRES.
In the video, Bert Stephni shows what can be done with inexpensive hot lights. Here's a quote from his blog "In time, I might replace the work lights with some really nice photo/video lights. But apart from being safer, easier to handle and better looking, light is just light."
That's right " ... light is just light" A Better Solution is the $130.00 Lowel Tota-light. I've been using them since the 1970s. I also use HMIs when they are the right light for the job!
To Answer Your Question about the cost of a Profoto ProDaylight Air, you can buy two of them for the price of one Profoto 8a 2400 pack.

Benjamin Kanarek's picture

All of the lights were rented. The strobes and tungsten were part of the studio rental fee and we had to rent the 2 1200 watt HMI's for the day. When I see, I mean the client.

Remy Musser's picture

I am not saying that it's not possible to use hot lights.
But with that particular lighning setup that Bert used he might have shot at ISO800 F/2.8...

I am in general shooting model @ISO100 F/11 , and I don't see how my models or myself would feel comfortable with 10k or more power in studio.
I had in January a TV crew making a documentary about my work and after 1 hour of filming (using 4k power of hot light) I had to turn all heaters off.
I have been invited to 4 TV shows in February and the temperature on the sets was for sure over 35 degrees Celsius.

Of course HMIs would do the job but then it's a matter of choice... So I'll stick to my strobes

Donnie Bell Design's picture

Equipment can cover up a lot of cracks, but essentially, it's your eye and creativity.