How to Start out with Flash Lighting
If continuous lighting (see Part I) is not ideal for you and you decide that flash lighting would work better, then what? Well now you have to decide between studio strobes or on-camera flash (speedlights) , which can also be used off camera. Both work great, and once you have mastered one you can get the same results from the other. So, what are the things to consider before you decide?
I personally love studio strobes. First of all, they make great lights to learn lighting with, thanks to the modeling lamp. The modeling lamp allows you to see your light as a continuous source and therefore get some understanding of what it is doing before the flash pops. This helps demonstrate how to use your light and angles. They have basic controls, and you can learn how to use one pretty fast.
So why look any further?
Well, strobes are bulky to transport. If you don’t have a battery pack then you need to be close to a power outlet, and battery packs can be expensive and complicated. Strobe lights are fragile, and need to be transported with care. Actually, I am embarrassed to tell you how many modeling bulbs I have burnt out by accidentally touching the bulbs.
Speedlights are mounted to the hot shoe of your camera or can be used fairly easily off your camera as portable lights. Light modifiers are available for them now, so you can do a lot with them. However,a steeper learning curve makes these more challenging. But don’t worry, it can be done! You may have to practice and study them more than any of the other lights. Their manuals a three times thicker than strobe manuals, with a lot of technical lingo that can be intimidating. Without a modeling light you have to rely on trial and error, until you are proficient.
So, how do you decide on which to use? Well, here’s what I suggest:
If you shoot weddings, lifestyle photography, and are outdoors most of the time, then a speedlight is the way to go. Speedlights are quick to set-up and offer a great back-up option if your light is crummy. They can be used as a main light or as fill, by bouncing them off a wall or ceiling, depending on the situation.
If you are primarily a studio photographer, then get a strobe. They are easy and quick to adjust output. Start with one and invest in a quality, and versatile, light modifier.
The above image was taken outdoors in a forest setting with fading light. The senior wanted to wear a costume and so I used my on-camera flash to add some pop and drama to the image to go with the theme.
The above image was taken in the studio and backlit using a strobe light and a large softbox.
When starting out with artificial light, invest in one really good light source. Don’t let cost be the main factor. Get a quality light that you will be happy learning and shooting with, and a versatile light modifier. Learn by practicing until you discover what else would benefit you most. I was able to do a lot with a single studio light, a speedlight, and daylight. I use one as the main source and then fill in using natural light if I have windows in the room. Or, I will use my studio light as the main light and then use my speedlight a secondary hair or rim light.
Tushna Lehman is an acclaimed designer who has gone back to her first love, photography. Her studio, T-elle Photography has evolved into a successful lifestyle and portrait photography studio serving the greater Seattle area. She also offers boudoir photography to her clients.