Speedlights vs. Monolights for portraits

Discussion in 'Articles of Interest' started by adamhiram, Nov 10, 2019.

  1. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,316
    Likes Received:
    17,268
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    2326-13-try6SpottedQuikFixA.jpg 19715708.1980sChicHairstyle.JPG 3270620047_9c11a6ffa7_b.jpg I only have these three speedlight-lit location portraits on my new phone, and the first two of the three of the three are quite old, having been shot in the late 1980s on Kodacolor Gold 200 film. The mini Christmas lights background shot was shot on digital in 2007 using a Vivitar 285HV in a 43 inch umbrella box as the only flash light.


     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
  2. cgw

    cgw No longer a newbie, moving up!

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2013
    Messages:
    1,708
    Likes Received:
    397
    Location:
    Toronto
    The key binary here that's getting fudged a bit is "studio" vs "location" flash equipment. That's what the Strobist and others made clear by bringing effectively a new look to life with Speedlit outdoor location shots with leaf shutter cameras like the little Fuji X-100 series. Horses for courses?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2016
    Messages:
    11,184
    Likes Received:
    5,245
    Location:
    Alabama
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    I've also watched many of Gavin Hoey's videos. They're excellent hands on, and easy to follow. One theme of his throughout seems to be "use what you have". His "studio" is a small converted storage bldg in his backyard, but there's nothing small about the creative results he churns out in it.

    The OP's title and refrenced link are as @cgw pointed out above different circumstances. If you're on location, then "Use what you have", applies to lighting. Studio strobes, speedlights, natural light, street lights, LEDs, candle light, even car headlights, can provide creative applications in the right situation. It's up to the photographer to see the light and determine how to best use it. Another good source of information on location photography is Nick Fancher's https://www.amazon.com/Studio-Anywhere-Photographers-Unconventional-Locations/dp/0134084179 this is the first of two that he's done, both are great hands on type reads from start to finish. Recognizing and using what you have on location is a far better option then worrying over which is better strobes or speedlights.

    In studio, a strobe (mono or pack) will always perform better. As @Derrel pointed out, options are available both new and used that you can build on. If you buy quality equipment it will serve you well for many years.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
  4. cgw

    cgw No longer a newbie, moving up!

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2013
    Messages:
    1,708
    Likes Received:
    397
    Location:
    Toronto
  5. Braineack

    Braineack Been spending a lot of time on here!

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2013
    Messages:
    12,731
    Likes Received:
    5,308
    Location:
    NoVA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    My biggest point to my post was about the recycle time vs. the power output.

    I'm almost at the point where I'd like to ditch all my speedlights for eVOLV200s. Lots of strobe for the price in such a compact package.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  6. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2015
    Messages:
    474
    Likes Received:
    300
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    A little off-topic from the original post, but really enjoying the discussion! Something I've wondered for a while is just how important it is to have modeling lights. Obviously they are useful for seeing how light and shadows fall on the subject and positioning lights quicker and more accurately, but how much is this worth?
    • Most working photographers I know primarily do event and location work, and use mostly Evolv200s, which don’t have any modeling light.
    • I recall hearing complaints that its big brother, the first-gen Xplor600, had a pretty dim modeling light (is it really that dim, or is it still pretty usable?). I know Godox addressed this in the "Pro" version, but now we're talking about a large unit that weighs 6lbs and costs $900
    • I've had several opportunities to shoot in a professional studio with 500Ws Profoto lights, and nobody really used them other than initial positioning. If I recall correctly, on at least one occasion the model said it was too bright and they generated a lot of heat over time, and the other photographers didn't seem to find it that useful. They were more experienced than me, but that's not really saying much...
    My other questions had to do with the point @Derrel made about pupil size. This definitely makes sense, and I've read a few articles about it in recent years, but in my limited experience it seems like there are factors other than the modeling light that have just as much of an impact here.
    • Unless someone wanted the subject to have large pupils, why would they shoot in total darkness? Even in my home studio space with the blinds open and sunlight streaming in, I can shoot at 1/250s, ISO 100, at f/8 or smaller and kill all ambient light. With the blinds closed, I can still shoot at 1/250s, ISO 400, f/4 with indirect lights on with no issues, which is 4 extra stops of light without having to sit in the dark.
    • Wouldn’t the subject’s pupils shrink after firing off a few flash pops anyway? I took at look at some recent studio shoots I did with speedlights in soft boxes, and at least half of them have very small pupils - especially high key setups with lots of light.
    • Even in the examples @Derrel shared showing work he’s done with studio strobes vs. speedlights, I didn’t see much difference in pupil size, but perhaps I’m missing something
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
  7. Braineack

    Braineack Been spending a lot of time on here!

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2013
    Messages:
    12,731
    Likes Received:
    5,308
    Location:
    NoVA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    they actually do.

    see my image above, it's pretty damn bright -- especially if you're shooting in a darker studio setting.

    look up the new XPLOR400 Pro - 400w/s in the pro model, but a good in between price. really small form factor.

    It's really helpful for positioning, not vital, but adding a rim/hair is no longer guess and check. Super handy for still life.

    I usually knock out ambient, so I've never really had a problem with this.
     
  8. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,316
    Likes Received:
    17,268
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    You ask some very insightful questions about modeling lights. How important are they? They are very important especially with regard to setting the exact height in the exact placement of your lights. The more experience you have the less critcal the need for modeling lights becomes, at least in basic situations.

    As you develop familiarity with your equipment you can get by with no modeling lamps, especially in rather generic lighting situations . But for example let's say we are trying to establish exactly where a reflection falls on a piece of glassware or where the nose Shadow Falls, or where exactly the highlights are placed on a person's eyeball, or more importantly, where the reflection falls on someone's eyeglasses. I used to shoot family portraits every day for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and I personally think that modeling lights are the separator between great work and good work. Or between good work and poor work. It's quite easy to slap up a light stand and umbrella and fire away, but let's say you are trying to position a kicker light or a hair light and you want the highlight to be placed "just so". When you have a modeling light the model or portrait sitter can "feel the light" and how it shines upon their eyes and face, and you the photographer can see when a person has moved or turned so that the light is no longer in the ideal placement. Modeling lights come into play in difficult and demanding situations, whereas shooting with speedlights you have no modeling lights and are going upon immediate-but-still-after-the-shot feedback. With modeling lights you are kept apprised of exactly where the light is falling,at every second, before and after the shot, and the subject can feel how the light is hitting them. When you shoot without modeling lamps you are basically shooting based upon experience and review of the images, but at the margins you are prone to falling into making shots in which the light is no longer ideal and its placement is "just okay", as opposed to excellent or optimal.

    One might say that modeling lights are a lot like seatbelts. Lots of people do not use them, or whine about them, but when you need them, they're really good to have.

    When you are shooting in dark environments people's pupils will become quite wide. I have always been aware of this and have always tried to keep ambient light levels high enough to avoid the cow eye look, but when you're in a dark studio, shooting with speedlight flashes, you will often see really large black eyes, which have very little color, and which look to me like heroin addict eyes or cow eyes-- this is why the Paul C. Buff Einstein monolight has such bright and fully adjustable modeling lamps. People who are expert and demanding at studio lighting look at the eyes as a matter of course, and work that looks good to some people will be unacceptable to demanding clients who are used to seeing photos done by master-level photographers and in high-end publications. These days, and in the past, bright modeling lights in professional level studio flash allowed for easier focusing especially with a view camera stopped down, and of course you can also shoot with the lamps using tungsten based film, or a white balance achieved with a custom setting while shooting either digital video or digital still images.


    The other unstated advantage to modeling lamps is the ability to preview your lighting setup in terms of ratio, in a WYSIWYG way. The modeling lamp gives you a visual clue as to how lights interact with one another. Most newer systems use quite a bit of adjustability in terms of flash power and have modeling lamps which proportionally track the power output of the flash, so you can see, literally see, in a WYSIWYG way, the effect of one light in relation to another light based upon what you visually see---- there is no guesswork. This allows you to work quickly and fluidly and to make changes without the need to constantly take flash meter readings or test photos.

    One can literally see the effect of a light and the modeling lamp will show you the relative strength of the flash burst you will get when the picture is made, in advance of taking a shot.

    When you work with speedlights you have to keep in mind , "Oh, that light's more powerful than that one", as you look at little black boxes and mentally keep track of the power settings.Modeling lamps turn what is a mathematical nightmare into regular everyday seeing.

    Bright, powerful modeling lamps can also turn dark interiors and locations into more brightly-lighted places, and you can also pick up a little bit of warmth by using a somewhat slower shutter speed than the maximum synchronization speed.

    No, a few flash pops will not cause a person's eyes to constrict, that is not how the human eye works. If you want small pupils, you need to keep the ambient light High and in the past I have used a 75 watt work lamp as a focusing aid, and to keep my subjects out of the dark and with their eyes constricted somewhat. The problem really occurs in the traditional photo studio, in which most extraneous light has been eliminated. It is in this traditional "studio environment" that Speedlight formal portraiture looks so different from work which has been done with modeling lamps. For example, with the top end lights from Speedo ,you have 250 watt quartz lamps, which cause the pupils to be very small. This is seen most often in high-end fashion and lifestyle magazine work, in which you see very small pupils and colorful eyes.

    When I see a formal portrait, meaning a studio-type portrait with great big, black eyeballs, I immediately think shoestring budget, speedlights pressed into where they are not the right tool for the job.

    We are talking about a specific look. The difference is between an eye which is inviting to look at, and one which looks like a big cow eyeball. If the environment is even relatively bright, people's eyes will look okay. Regarding this black eyeball or cow eye look , I am speaking mostly of dark Studio work, but it can occur on location as well especially in darkish interior settings. One always has to be aware of how people look. Look for lint balls, necklaces out of adjustment, rings turned so that the gemstone is off to the side,shirts unbuttoned, neckties crooked, lapels badly adjusted, shirt collars out of whack, and yes, eyeballs which look like they belong to cave explorers.

    I think as I mentioned, the more experience you have the more you can compensate. But let me tell you this, when I was a working family portrait photographer we used roller base stands, which allowed us to easily move the light through an arc on the floor so that we could determine by visual evidence the exact, best placement of the main light. There is a difference between predicting or estimating and actually moving the light. This ( actually moving the light and evaluating its placement in real time) is quite a bit different from plopping down a light standand and umbrella and setting it to 20 or 30 degrees to one side or the other of the subject and just firing away.

    When you are doing Paramount or modified Loop lighting, one of your biggest concerns is the exact length of the nose shadow, and the angle of said shadow. The shadow should be close to but not touching the upper lip of the subject. When you actually take the time to set the main light's height and angle, before the shot is made, your photos will be better,or maybe tremendously better. If however you just plop down a light on a stand and set a rough angle you will have to work out the details based upon what you see upon review of your shots. One method is the old school way, and other method is how people who are less than expert shoot when they get their hands on some studio lighting gear.

    People who whine about the brightness of modeling lamps are typically not in front of the camera very often. Models, even amateur models, have developed or should develop a sense of finding and feeling the light. This is perhaps the biggest thing you can help your subjects with, especially if they have aspirations of becoming a model; they need to learn how to sense when the light is hitting their face in an attractive way, and modeling lamps help do this. You can literally _see the effects_ of your lights upon your subjects as they are move about the shooting area.The word modeling lamp is in itself a clue as to what the lights are there for.

    Modeling lamps show you both how the light models the features of the subject and they let models understand how to interact with said light. The fact that you have seen people who turn off the lights does not mean that the lights have no value, but that the people who were using lights do not fully understand what the lights are designed to do, or that at certain times there is much value in having additional light besides what is ambient.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
    • Winner Winner x 1
  9. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,316
    Likes Received:
    17,268
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    You asked how much is a modeling light worth. How much is a seatbelt worth when you crash into an oak tree at 65 miles an hour? How much is a net worth when you slip on the high wire? How much is a surgeon worth when you severely cut yourself wide open with a power saw in your home shop?

    Have you seen any AC-powered flash units designed for studio photography that feature no modeling lamp?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  10. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2016
    Messages:
    11,184
    Likes Received:
    5,245
    Location:
    Alabama
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    Man @Derrel got the keyboard humming today! Think he gave a pretty detailed answer to your question. I'll add that once you start really using the modeling lights you quickly see the validity of everything he said. Adding to something Derrel said, with experience you might stand a good chance of setting a one light setup, maybe even three, but try guessing a four, five or six light setup.

    Lighting is not just about adding light but subtracting it as well. The more sources, the more difficult control becomes. It takes just over a 4 stops difference in the "reflective reading" between the subject and the background to change a white background to black or a black backround to white, by decreasing the difference you can get any shade of gray in between, with repeatable results, no guessing required. Add gels and you can make any color you want, again repeatable results. You cant do that with sunlight streaming in or lamps on, not to mention the headaches with color temperature.

    If your're using modeling lights in a darkened studio you see first hand the shadows and highlights, again you don't have to guess. My AB's and controller allow me to turn on/off individual modeling lights, set the light to track with the setting (really nice feature because you see the effect of changes in real time) or set a defined power independently of light setting.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,316
    Likes Received:
    17,268
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    WYSIWYG. The old school way of achieving beautiful lighting often involved using three or four or five or six lights of equal power and changing the distance among the lights to achieve the desired lighting effect. This is known as symmetrical power distribution.

    Using asymmetrical power distribution, it is common to use a main light which is more powerful than the fill light, and varying the power of background and accent lights as desired.

    When all of your lights are at 100 or 200 Watt-Seconds, it is pretty easy to adjust the light distances so that you get the desired effect, and you can see the lighting effect at all times before the shot, during the shot, and after the shot. WYSIWYG. Think three eyeglass wearers in a family portrait group of seven people.

    With modeling lamps set to on , you can pretty much be assured of full-time, real-time feedback over the entirety of a session. When you shoot without modeling lamps, you only see what you got after the shot has been made. Let me put it this way. If I set up four lights all in symmetrical mode with each flash firing at 100 watt seconds, I can set up a main light, a fill light, a background light with an 11.5 inch parabolic metal 50-degree reflector, and a grid-and -diffuser-and-barn door hair light, and I can adjust their height, angle, and distance visually,without need of light meter readings constantly, and see exactly what my lighting effects will be before I even fire a shot. I can see what my lighting is if a subject turns to his or her left or right 10 degrees or 50 degrees, and I can see before I even waste a shot,or a pose,or a joke, or a cajole, what my lighting looks like. I can ask a subject to crouch down or to stand up, and I can see what my light is doing----- BEFORE I take a shot. If you are shooting small format film, a shot costs you about $0.85 ...if you are shooting large format (4 x 5 inch) film a shot costs from $3 to $7 a shot.

    In this era of setting up a huge softbox or flooding a set with light from a 7-foot umbrella, in this era of a "huge wash of light", the importance of making precise decisions about how high and at what angle and how far a light should be placed has become lost on most people. If however you work with smaller light sources, or have more critical discernment, then you start to appreciate why every single AC powered studio light has some type of modeling lamp which is either switchable to high or low, or to proportional tracking, or to off.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
  12. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,316
    Likes Received:
    17,268
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit


    There has also been a tremendous amount of development of high speed sync capable flashes, both speed light and powerful battery- powered monolight-style such as the Elinchrom Quadra and even a new development called high synch ( somewhat different from high-speed synchronization, and too complicated to go into here).

    A few years ago there was a young photographer who wrote some really good articles for Fstoppers on how to shoot basically at F /1.8 or F/2 to take control over backgrounds, using high speed sync flash and fast shutter speeds,such as 1/1000 to 1/8000.

    He had some really good results using a fabric under-chin reflector and a high-speed synchronization capable speedlight flash. The difference in background appearance between f/1.8 and between f/8 at 1/250 was quite remarkable. This shooting technique was very amazing, and was one of his specialties, and I am sure that one can still find links to his articles and videos.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019

Share This Page