« Good Weekend | Main | Bare Bulbs »

Monday, 08 January 2018


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I first started using lighting really seriously when I was shooting portraits in one of the darkest environments I've ever worked in: movie theater projection booths. https://josephholmes.io/The-Souls-of-Machines/The-Booth-(2012)/25 Talk about shooting in the dark!

But I didn't use the lights to illuminate the rooms. That would have looked phony (they rooms are supposed to look dark!) plus I ran the risk of having the flash spill into the auditorium during a movie. Instead it was all about illuminating the portrait subject, and in a way that looked natural under the existing booth illumination.

When I started the project, my lighting was fairly primitive, but after shooting the project for two years I had learned a lot and had gotten more subtle and realistic by using multiple strobes, softboxes, and Pocket Wizards.

Adding lighting to my work was at first scary and unpredictable, but nowadays it feels really fun. I'm no longer at the mercy of whatever crappy existing light I've got. Making good lighting from scratch is wonderful creative challenge.

The cost of monolights has always kept me using speed lights and small soft boxes, but with the price of moonlights coming down like this Flashpoint model you recommended, I'll want to consider one next time I have a project to justify one. Or maybe I'll have to dream up a project to justify one...

When I started, we were using Speedotron Black Line Power Packs, and "piggy-packing" them to 6400 watt seconds or better! We were shooting "liquid pours" on 8X10 and 4X5. I also remember when you would work at studios that had Ascor Studio Strobes, with oil capacitors you would stack in a tower, depending on how much power you could use. I was told that it was possible to get 40,000 watt seconds out of one head, but I never did!

It's no great piece of news that digital has changed all that, if you photograph people, on a DSLR 35mm frame digital, a nice little 400 watt second unit is all you would need!

I have a selection of monoblocs and don't particularly care for them. The deficiency lies in the tube quality, size, and design. I've been saying this for years! The tiny circular tube sitting back in the back of a monobloc is really quite ugly a light, and falls flat filling up a softbox with even light! A "long-tube" head, like the Speedotron 102, or the new Dynalight Baja (with a frosted tube, maybe); go a lot farther towards shooting light out to the sides, and bouncing off the sides of the softbox to give a more even light output. Those single circle tubes in the bottom of a strobe head, monobloc or otherwise, don't even reflect out to the sides when mounted on a softbox, they basically just shoot hard light straight out.

Those who don't think this is a "thing" (and believe me, I'm tired defending what was standard knowledge 30 years ago against the "know-nothings" of today), should know that back in the 80's, Calumet photo actually had charts in their catalogs, where they tested various strobe heads mounted in softboxes, and gave light reading of the drop-off on the face from the center to the edge, with the understanding that not dropping off much, meant the head was filling up the box with light more, and improving the ability of the box to exhibit "wrap-around" window light.

Strobeheads like the Dynalight standard head is just shooting a round spot onto a softbox screen, which is just acting like a diffuser for a hard light. I don't even get the Profoto heads, how is the light getting sideways out of the head to fill up a box?, and what was with those unbalanced heads that mounted on one side of the stand, and hung over waiting to fall. Whata mess, I never understood peoples defense of Profoto, really poor design!

The perfect monobloc? "Long-tube" heads, like the tube in the Baja, only lightly frosted. Decent balanced stand mounting. Positive locking system for the accessories, that makes sure the tube is well into a softbox when mounted. Built-in radio strobe release. Batteries contained, but able to be used plugged in. No more than 400 watt seconds (I'm constantly using an 800 watt second monobloc turned down almost all the way, like 100 watt seconds!). Smallest package you can put a fan-cooled 400 watt second electronics package and batteries into.

I have used monolights (mostly Photogenics) in my photo club's studio. I always found the modelling lights too dim. In addition, for wider apertures like f8 to render some of the background soft, one is working at the bottom of the power output scale, like 1/16 power, and optical triggering of secondary flashes become a bit hit and miss. For my portable studio, I carry a pile of Nikon Sb-800 speedlights, some stands and umbrellas. Everything can be adjusted and triggered wirelessly from the master flash on the camera, and I have never not had enough light. I tend to drop and break about one speedlight a year, but since the Sb-800 was superceded, replacements on the used market are quite affordable.

If I do portraits, I unpack my heavy 1980s Norman P2000 strobe pack and heads because I already own it. But each time I do, I wish that I had a set of compact monolights with lower power output. I believe that some sort of strobe + modeling light is optimal for lighting portraits, but for small tabletops, I'd also consider LED light panels.

What's the saying about light, direction, quality and amount. Kinda hard to do with iso alone, but granted you need less powerful lights today due to iso. I use old Speedotron Blackline packs and heads. Nobody wants them anymore and used are inexpensive.

"All I'll say is that once you have one, it's surprising the number of things you can think of to do with it."

Tell us more!

As usual, I'm totally with you, Mike.

Yes, it's generally possible to get a usable exposure using available light, and yes it's surprising the number in interesting shots we can create using monolights and modifiers/flags.

My question is whether my next purchase will be one of these or a continuous LED.

I agree with Crabby Umbo. I still own a bunch of Dynalite studio gear. It's small and good when traveling but, the ring flash tube can be an issue when wanting even light in a soft box. Dynlite made a quad head using helical flash tubes. With four generators you get 3200-4000 W/s depending on the model. The ring flash works fine into umbrellas.

As for monolights at the top of 20 foot stands, small studio heads are smaller but, the 20 feet of cable out weighs the monolight.

Good luck with your books Mike!

I have used 500ws Photogenic Powerlights for years for product photography and some portraits. I like them, since I used to do a lot of location work. They're easier to carry and set up without a heavy power pack than traditional pack systems.

Most of the cheap monolights being sold today are not powerful enough. Once you put them in a big softbox, there's not enough power for small apertures, which are often needed for product work to get everything in focus. The 500ws Photogenics have rarely let me down; they have more power than needed most of the time, but the extra is great for when its needed.

Aargh! Lights are for "serious" photographers. I just want to play, and lights would get in the way.

So, how's the book coming?

[I don't know, I'd say lights are all about playing. Experimenting, at least, which can be play if you're playful about it. I used to have a whole set of gobos and scrims and diffusers and such that I made stands for out of PVC pipe, and I could play for hours with various setups. It *is* fun. --Mike]

Love this post. Thank you. Once upon a time I had 16000 watts of Big Norman Packs. I photographed big stuff. That was fun. 15 years ago or so I sold all this and bought 5 800 watt Norman packs, one for each head, plus 2 202 packs. Much more versatile. I love flash. I never liked monoblocks. Found Crabbys post interesting. Now I am looking at led panels. I have built big fluorescent lights, I like those too. I like lights, period. Funny, Kirk Tuck talked about lights today.

A few years ago I bought three older 800 watt Dynalites with six heads for $150, all but one head worked but the replacement flash tube would have cost as much as the entire package.

Contrast that to 30 years ago when RIT photo graduates stalled their professional careers because they couldn’t afford to purchase the same lights.

The Dyna-Lite bare bulb head solves the softbox evenness question. I've been working with a photographer who uses Profoto monolights on location, and I have to say, those are great. My Dyna-lites (as well as they have served me) compared to the Profotos are like a VW Beetle in comparison to a new GTI.

I used to use Bowen’s monolights. They were not lightweight but would put out a reasonable amount of light. Also, I could buy them one at a time rather than break the bank to buy a pack and head.
Other advantages included independence from long by dedicated cables to each head, power ratios set at each head rather than trying to ratio the flashes. Also when one flash died, I didn’t lose all my flashes.
Now, I no longer work as a photographer and I use a couple of speed light with pocket wizards.
The new Godox flashes do look tempting if I had the need.

The main reason for using monolights must surely be the quality of the light they produce. When Nikon started heavily promoting their small on camera flashes that talk to one another I attended a seminar given by a moderately well known professional but I walked out (as unobtrusively as possible)when the first pictures of the model flashed up on the screen behind him with lovely crossed shadows! It did spawn a cottage industry producing light modifiers for your on camera flash for a while. I happen to use Elinchrom (no connection with them) and have virtually every light modifier they make or even known to humanity! The biggest innovation as far as I'm concerned was electronic power control as I work in a very small space and 400w/s can be too much in these digital days. Forget TTL if you want expressive lighting, a good flash meter is what you need, but I guess I'm just a dinosaur! Radio sync is useful though as it one less trailing cable!

We live in an embarrassment of riches including accessories. In days past I always carried a speed light turned subjects so the face was in shadow and filled with flash. Now I can see carrying a small battery monobloc for more power! Great times to make images.

I agree with your comment to MikeR comment. Lights are fun. Modifiers are actually as important as the lights. I too have made many modifiers out of pvc, foam core, bubble wrap, sheet plastic, shower curtains. Great fun finding what works. So to be posting so much, I love the subject.


I happen to be totally clueless about how one could use it. Been shooting 17 years, total black hole when I see these things.I'm a bit stuck in the available light credo :-/. I imagine something like a strobe?
I could google it but by any chance, could you show your or feature a few examples???


Mike, Years back, SunPak made a bare bulb head Google 120J that was very versatile. Now Quantum Instruments makes about the best bare bulb head, and Godox does a knock off.
Milton Rogovin used Bare bulb a lot but I think they were Flash bulbs.
Now the ubiquitous Tuperware dome does a decent but pale impression of "Bare bulb" although it is neither bare or a bulb.

The trick with on camera flash is a 3 foot coiled extension so you can aim it anywhere but at your subject.

Like Crabby, my first studio Job was working with the Ascor Sunlight system. 16, 65 pound 800 W/S oil filled Capacitor boxes ,that were put in or out of series through physically moving 1" diameter 'Jumper cables' ,energized by a separate fast or slow charger though a single flash tube 3" diameter and 18" long of coiled glass flash tube.
They were used for pour shots because of their short flash duration
And yes a full pop could ignite newsprint and about 1 foot.
Many 8x10 f./45 (non-pour) shots required Multiple Pops

Ironically, digital is also responsible for the kinds of lighting we have today. Computer control is what makes lights like the Godox, Buff, and others with 8 stops or more of precise attenuation possible and affordable.

The word "Thyristor" brings back memories to 1980 when a photo dealer who sold me my first serious flash (made by Metz which many at that time believe is closest to daylight in terms of colour temperature) spoke much about its merits.
I wonder if flash units still have Thyristor units?

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007