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Thursday, 26 March 2015


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The flip side of this is that setting up small strobes with digital is much easier than setting up strobes with film cameras, because you can chimp the setup.

So you:

1. Put the lights in places.

2. Set power on them.

3. Take a few shots. Adjust camera aperture/iso/strobe power etc. Repeat until the room looks right.

4. Now put people into the picture and shoot away.

The same argument for high ISO etc apply to make you conclude that small flashes can take the place of big strobes. And they are probably cheaper than the higher quality light panels. But who knows.

Lots of people are using Alien Bees with portable power sources for roller derby photography. I think it's a low-end professional indoor sports thing, though, not something broad or general. The short strobe duration is needed to freeze action. And I don't think the big pros who shoot pro basketball even bring their own flashes, I think there are systems built into those arenas that they get to use.

In this connection you need to mention David Hobby and the Strobist blog and movement. Lots of people are blending natural light with light from small battery-powered flashes, and there are still big benefits to being independent of power lines. I don't think they're losing lots of converts to continuous lighting methods.

I do a fair amount of insect photography. If I have a specimen indoors, a monoblock flash is a great help. The modeling light lets me focus, and the flash stops the insect in motion. I can get similar results by combining a hot light (or LED) with an off-camera battery-operated flash, but it's a little less convenient, and recycling times are a lot slower. By the time you augment the battery-operated flash with an external power source and a separate light to allow focus (forget modeling) you've spent more than a couple of Alien Bees for less performance. Canon's current top-of-the-line speedlight costs more than twice what an Alien Bee 400 does, gives less light, and recyles slower.

I'm also pretty much an available light shooter, but there is one thing strobes permit that continuous light doesn't-stop action. I first met strobes in the early 1960's, when they had little use outside the laboratory. At that time, pix of liquid drop splashes were still 'new'. Edgerton had only recently made them available for general use, and most people didn't know what they were. In the lab they were popular for things like freezing rotational machines at various points of the rotation for engineering analysis. Later, as their price dropped, and more versions became available they became the go-to studio and location lights. But its still true that even the high shutter speeds allowed by f1.2 lenses and ISO 25000 cameras in some cases it still takes a strobe to stop the action.

I've used softbox+off-camera-strobes for a few years for environmental portraits, and I'd argue that the combination has several advantages over continuous lighting, and only a single disadvantage.

The advantages: I power everything with a few AA batteries; the whole lighting kit is very lightweight for easy travel without a car (think: subway); and even inexpensive strobes like the Nikon SB-600 are (as far as I know) much more powerful than similarly inexpensive and lightweight continuous light options.

The disadvantage, as you noted, is that you can't easily visualize the light, but digital cameras have almost solved that issue: with some experience under your belt, you'll have a good idea of the approximate setup and settings you want, and then just a couple of test shots and a glance at the camera's LCD and you're all set. I routinely sit in for my subject for 30 seconds worth of lighting tests, triggering my shutter with a remote and running over to the camera to check the results, so I don't even have to subject my subject to the final tweaking. (Pocket Wizards have also made strobes easy to use.)

I'm no expert because I've never used continuous lighting or studio strobes, so I'm happy to be corrected on these details or pointed in a better direction.

I was astounded when I first picked up and used an LED light bulb in an ordinary house lamp. After "burning" for hours, there was no, zero, -0-, heat coming off it. I could wrap my hand around it and feel nothing. I thought this had to be the most efficient form of lighting ever invented, and I liked the color of the light. I got a small LED panel of lights to use for indoor shooting, and never looked back. I'm sure there are things it cannot do, but for the average, non-pro (or maybe even pro), why look any further?

Very difficult to light a HS gym bright enough to stop action without strobes. Most schools would not allow the brightness you need. Buff and other strobes make it easy to do. His Einstein units are excellent.
Add in stopping action for a number of types of shooting and you still have a good case for strobes.

Then we have group photos both inside and out. Much easier to do with strobes than LED's. Instant feedback on camera screens or tethered monitors makes it easier than when we relied on Polaroids.

I've been eyeing some LED lights, but it seems that quality lights that put out significant amounts of power and manage to look good still cost several hundred dollars for the entry level. Strobes still have the advantage that for one or two person setups one can manage with an entry level setup in terms of power and strobe light quality is good. Portability is another consideration, though both strobes and LEDs have their points.

Some of the more recent monolight strobes offer radio remote control of output, which is really handy when the lights are not easy to reach. They also have 7 or more stops of dimming.

I agree about needing less output power and use a 300ws unit that has been more than enough if not trying to overpower the sun. I also agree about the potential for LEDs, but they still have some evolving to do.

As a studio portraitist I'm trying now to find agruments for and against continuous light. One thing is that iso 800 and beyond of modern cameras is far from spotless, unless the only thing you're going to do with your photos is print them postcard-sized, or upload to facebook/flickr/wherever. Another is the sheer amount of light you need to get high f-numbers for big depth of field (should you need and/or want it ofcourse) might make the photoshoot a tad bit unpleasant experience for your sitter. Film shooters will have problems with continuous lighting, exactly as you described yourself. And most film shooters I know are amateurs. Pros embraced digital long ago.
Also, re Tom Kwas comment: I think the lighting quality downslide, at least in portraiture, started with the introduction of softboxes for strobes. The ubiquitous, no-shadow-super-smooth lighting did worlds of bad to the art of photographic portrait. Starting with rooting out any character from it.

A handful of reasons I love a big* pack and a bunch of heads.

1) Strobes are like tripods, they make any lens look sharper.

2) Tungsten uses up a lot of the dynamic range of digital unless you use a blue filter.

3) Non specialized fluorescents and LEDs flicker, so a photo taken at 1/1000 with a focal plane shutter is going to have stripes. The ones that don't flicker are expensive, never mind HMIs

4) I find that it's easier to put up a lot of light and then set flags until I have eliminated all the light I don't want. Sort of like environment mapping in computer graphics.

5) Now that everyone has a big honking DSLR , nothing says "professional photographer, don't try this at home" than a big buzzing stack of packs recycling.

So A big norman (I still use the set I bought 30 years ago and they are cheap on ebay) and a few heads still seem like the way to go.

*or a small one and a bunch of heads. Every time you double the number of heads on a given pack or bank of a pack you cut the exposure time in half. The old pro packs have a longish flash duration with a single head to stay within the reciprocity limits of E6 film.

Can I complain about the leisurely flash sync speeds on most interchangeable lens cameras here?

Small flashes definitely put a dent into the studio strobe market - folks like David Hobby and Zack Arias certainly helped with that, providing a low-cost way to make great lighting. But it seemed that while the amateur use of strobes dropped off, the easy access to Alien Bees and Einsteins was what separated the weekend pro from Uncle Bob. It's likely also another sad result of the dearth of local photo stores, until you get a chance the see how much more light a strobe puts out versus a hotshot flash, it doesn't seem like a good bargain.

Seems to me one of the most important spec's for LED camera lights would be CRI, but I don't find that listed for them.

As studios and photography schools close up, there are absolute steals to be had in BIG lights. I bought two, one literally new from an art school speedotron 4 light setups, one with a 500w/s head and the other without a head, but no big deal I bought a 1600w/s head from adorama for $75. that had a bad $5. switch. So its great having Big lights to play with when I need them.

I have a set of Elinchrom mono-blocks and a range of useful modifiers. However, you can now buy an attachment ring for light stands which allows you to use camera flash with the same modifiers.

This makes for a very portable setup, perfect for location - esp outdoors. But it also works well in a studio. A complete set of Yongnuo flashes with a wireless controller is cheap as chips and works great. You don't even need to walk around to change the flash settings.

Yes, I am considering selling the Elinchrom heads, though the market is already tanking! Should have seen that one coming.

Quite like mixing ambient and flash too. You can get interesting effects using a strobe with a long exposure in low ambient light or continuous source (for instance a targeted anglepoise).

I'm not a studio photographer by any means (well, except that I shoot panoramas of movie studios sometimes), but when I need to do the odd product shot, I genuflect toward David Hobby and drag out the speedlights.

Continuous lighting was very attractive to compensate for my lack of skill, at first, but I quickly realized fluorescents are too weak, LEDs aren't full spectrum, and the old "hot lights" are, well, hot. Pixels are cheap and plentiful, and my products don't mind sitting there while I (slowly) learn how to light them, flash by flash. Studio strobes, unfortunately, are too big and bulky for a dabbler like me who doesn't have a permanent "home studio" to leave them in.

I used to do commercial studio work with larger packs and heads but for the past 7-8 years nearly all of my lit photos have been done with a couple Lowel Totalights (500w Halogen, about $100 per unit) because they allow me to focus the 4x5 under bright light and have enough umph to give me 1/60 @ f/8 with Portra 400. Perfect for individual portraits, not enough for groups or stopping action.

It would thousands to replicate in LED. Halogens do get hot but that is why there is a switch... you turn them on and off if it gets too warm. Given the Winter, it is actually kind of nice to bask in their glow ;-p

I don't really see that digital has killed studio strobes. They never were amateurs lights anyway. Continuous LED panels are a new alternative that is still evolving rapidly. I think many things are at play. Yes, digital needs less light. That, and the evolving technology, in both LED panels and in small TTL strobes has made them into a reasonable alternative in some uses. The cost of top end TTL flash is not cheap and there are brackets that allow one to use three or more behind one umbrella to get proper power out of them. Sounds like an invention by the marleting arm of Canon or Nikon Speedlignt department. Surely a proper mono block unit would be better value for money, though you would then lose the TTL control of exposure. With digital you don't even have to have a flash meter since you can check the exposure and histogram on the screen.
Surely f/8 and ISO100 gives better results even on digital with a proper, powerful enough flash, than trying to cope wide open at ISO800 with a LED panel.

I have used every light source I am aware of, from small maglights to HMI monsters, and other than natural light, flash is by far the most practical, consistent, fast, versatile, efficient light source there is for photography, be it film or digital.
However if you ask me, I go for natural/available light first. I also love tungsten, and dislike HMI, but use flash almost on all my gigs when natural or available light is not an option.

I think some of this depends on what you know and how comfortable you are working in a particular way. For instance, if I am lighting a group portrait indoors, where folks are standing more than one row deep, those little LEDs are just not going to cut it in terms of output. I bought some, (LEDs, I mean) after reading some of Kirk Tuck's writing on the subject. For tabletop stuff they work, and they are great for certain kinds of still lifes. As said above: they would not be my first choice for daylight balanced photography or work where motion must be stopped. Can you imagine Lois Greenfeild's dance work with LED's? Nah, not really.


So I have an indoor stobe set up, including some lights from Alien Bees. I use it infrequently enough that I expect attrition from rough handling or an accident before I expect the strobes to wear out.

Light is the most important element in photography, let there be no doubt about that. As a matter of fact, photography is just writing with light.
I always wondered why so many photographers are obsessed by their camera system, and in particular the lenses, more than 'digging' into the light gear.
Right, things should not become an obsession, but a little bit can do no harm…
This is why I added a page to my website, just to show how 'deep' I am willing to go on the quest for the right light for the right subject.
I used to work with a rather comprehensive studio flash set: 3 Multiblitz 3200 J generators and 3 Multiblitz 1000 J mono blocks and a ton of different flash heads.
Now everything has changed, LED lights freed me from these heavy wight Multiblitz kit and the wonderful ROSCO Litepad Gaffer's kit, consisting of six pairs of different light sources, came as a valuable and flexible substitute.
Then I realised that digital photography was much more 'pleased' with continuos lightning: dynamic range and colour rendition was much more broaden than with flash light.
This does not mean that I completely rejected flash light, certainly not, both systems hav their rights and place in my workflow.
Have a look here: http://www.photoeil.be/the_making_of.html

Recently did my first ever portrait shoot for a neighbour starting her own management consulting business. We used a continuous light source provided by a 15' x 6' reflector (i.e., the massive snowbank outside her patio doors) for some wonderful, soft side light. So, in this case, you could say that I don't use hot lights, but rather cold lights, if you'll pardon the reprehensible humour.

For the last fifteen years preceding my retirement as a museum photographer, nearly all of my work was done on location.....setting up a portable studio in collectors' homes, museums and galleries, basements, attics, living rooms, construction sites, and even in the public hallway of a convention center. Clients would frequently caution me in advance of my visit, "There are windows, skylights, patio doors, there's no way to turn off the security lights, gallery lights", etc. Strobes, of course, were the way to overcome any existing light that was beyond my control.

And they were durable, compact for travel, reliable, and affordable monolights from Paul C. Buff! First White Lightning, followed by Ultra Zaps, and most recently some Alien Bees. They seldom failed, and when they did, I became acquainted with their most excellent customer service, and had the pleasure of speaking with Glenda on the phone.

Sorry to hear of Paul's passing....glad the company will carry on.

I'm not an amateur but I am only in my thirties. I guess that I shoot the way I do because I learned from an old timer. But I use Speedatrons(pack and head) in my studio and Travelites(monoblocs) on location. I use my Canon flashes in the "strobist style" occasionally but I can't imagine not having the option to light up a grided softbox when I want too - LED or Speelites just can't do that.

I'm a big fan of the Paul C. Buff gear, had it for years, hasn't failed yet and the one and only question I had of them was answered promptly and pleasantly. What a great shop.

I think the death of studio strobes for amateurs is still reasonably far away. Continuous lights are well and good, plenty of advantages to them, but when you want to stop motion, then lights like the Einstein E640 give you a lot of options beyond what your shutter can do.

Having said that, with so much emphasis on video these days, there's a lot to be said for the low power draw of LED continuous lights. I have the Phillips Hue bulbs in my home office for fun lighting and if they can improve that particular technology to the point that you can reliably set color temperature and strength, then I think the days of the strobe for all but specialized uses are numbered.

I am not a professional photographer. I was a wedding photographer in the past. Now, I am what you might call an enthusiast. I just did a portrait shoot using 125w flood through an umbrella a simple set-up. The light cost $20 and the photo flood fixture $16. There were several advantages right off. Cost, you can't beat the price. Basically the same color temperature as flash (4750K vs 5000K. I manually set the white balance with an Expodisc and the color is perfect or as close as the sensor can get it. I did set the ISO for 800, not problem for my Pentax K-5 and I was able to shoot at 6 frames per second (you can't do that with strobe). I didn't have to have batteries. The light stayed cool all of the time. The LED flood is designed to last 23 years of regular usage!

I think every who commented above has a valid reason for using strobes. I dig strobes and I know how to use them, but when you are indoors shooting still life or portraits, LEDs are going to be another "go to" tool.

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