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Day 767 of 365 Again.

I’ve always hated flash photography. In truth, I still do. I have this little Canon Speedlite 430EX that I use in emergencies, but in general I’d much rather use my hot lights or the good old fashioned sun. The warmness of the light just suits me so much better.

But I’ve been looking at more strobes lately. I’ve found myself wanting to travel with acceptable lights more and more often lately. And while I’m capable of doing that with the hot lights (and have) I will have occasional need to travel somewhere that power won’t be available. *sigh* So I guess rather be lightless, I should probably have a couple strobes on umbrellas.

So here’s your chance, strobist fanatics (as freaky as you may be). Give me recommendations on your favorite lights (keeping in mind that I’m not going to go too crazy here because I seriously won’t use them as much as I do the hot lights).

365 days

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20 comments for “9-16-08

  1. September 17, 2008 at 9:02 am

    No such thing as strobes not being warm… white balance and modify just like you do with hot lights and it exactly the same :-). But i’ll get back with you on a few reccomendations soon!

  2. September 17, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Well now, that DOES make an interesting shot though. Doesn’t it?

  3. September 17, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I’m thinking of getting some strobes, too. Can’t wait to see the recommendations.

  4. September 17, 2008 at 9:52 am

    cool shot~ love the flash! … i can’t t take a decent shot without day light….i don’t work well with the flash! lol

  5. September 17, 2008 at 10:19 am

    @Stephen Poff: yes and no. Obviously if I wanted truly natural skin tones, then I could do that, and in fact most hot light photographers will tweak the WB up to get there (just like most strobe photographers tweak the WB way down). The problem is, if you look closely at any of my studio photography you’ll start to notice that I don’t actually WB "correctly" most of the time. I intentionally under tweak to keep the light on the warmer part of spectrum, thus creating a more golden hour sunrise effect with the light. It’s subtle and probably most people never notice, but it’s very important to what I do, particularly in any glamour work. Compare these two shots of Nikki and Holly:

    The first is in the studio with two 500 watt softboxes at 45 degrees camera left, A hair light on a boom above them and to the left and 500 watt lamp reflected off an umbrella at maybe 60 degrees camera right for fill.

    The second is outside under natural lighting with the midday (3pm, during the summer) sun, relatively clear, and at maybe 50-60 degrees camera right. No fill, though I should have, but I was lazy (I also have been meaning to buy some reflectors and haven’t gotten around to it yet… that and an assistant, you’re lucky to have one, despite it having taken 14 years to train her. 😉 )

    The second photo probably gives you a much more accurate feeling of what the girls’ skin tones ACTUALLY look like to the naked eye most of the time. But if you look at them together you’ll see the range that I normally tweak people into.

    Of course there are other ways I could do this, I could use strobes with gels, but that’s a pain in the ass. Or, since I shoot RAW, I could tweak the strobe WB even lower and go into the golden range, but that tends to disrupt the color balance across stuff OTHER than the skin tones. Which of course I could fix with further color correction, but again, that’s a pain, especially since I’m usually doing a series of photos with a model instead of just a couple quick portraits, and I really don’t want my workflow slowed down that much when I can just get the effect I like in camera.

    The other problem with strobes is they have the drawback of more blinking, which really sucks if a model happens to blink during that one perfect shot. They have advantages too, of course. Even my little 430EX speedlight throws a TON of light. Way more than a single hot lamp. So I can get a lot sharper pictures with it since I can set the aperture a lot tighter and the shutter much faster. But in a controlled environment like my studio, that’s much less of an issue. I have the luxury of time to get the shot right and I generally actually prefer the softer focus of a wider aperture. I do sometimes wish I had the light to be able to adequately use my longer lenses in the studio, but I don’t really have the space to be shooting with a 300mm at home anyway.

    wow… most people who read this aren’t going to understan ANY of that.

    @lrayholly: thanks. I thought it’d be pretty cool.

  6. September 17, 2008 at 10:22 am

    @JoeRich: well, there are a few I am looking at, and I’m sure Stephen will have some good suggestions (starting almost certainly with the Alien Bees B800, which I know he uses, and which I’ve had my eye on for quite a while).

    @*Kristene: well, to be completely fair to all the strobists out there, it really just takes practice, just like anything else. And I have practiced with mine some. My reasons for not liking them are mostly very subtle diffferences with their technical merits that I tried to detail in my response to Stephen above.

  7. September 17, 2008 at 11:46 am

    It’s still a matter of white balance and exposure, trust me on this one. Look at (most) of your favorite pro photographers photos and they’re all using strobes. That said, would you say that their photos lack warmth? Technically you could gel them… (and I have gels specifically cut and velcro’d so they attach MUCH quicker than it even takes to set up a softbox or umbrella) but that’s not even needed as long as your balanced properly.

    With strobes you can vary the intensity of each light without altering the color temperature of the light (and what I mean by that is… yes you can dim a tungsten light, but it’s color temperture will not remain consistent).

    They also do not heat up a room thus making your model sweat.

    And as far as the blinking issue, if you shoot at high enough shutter speeds, rest assured that your model cannot blink at 125th of a second, so by the time that she sees the light and blinks, your shutter is already closed.

    Seriously, it just takes a bit of practice to figure them out, but when you do, the difference is dramatic.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like continuous light for certain things. I work in video production and I couldn’t live without them, but believe me that there’s no difference in "warmth" when you have your camera balanced properly.

    Now… if you are shooting models with porcelein skin… then that’s soemthing different altogether… You can either switch to models with a tan, learn to love their whiteness… or do what I do with my skin, tweak it slightly in PS.

  8. September 17, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Okay, I can only really speak from experience, but here’s a kit similar to the first set that I bought:

    I actually still use all of this in addition to my newer stuff. I know you have most of this stuff already (stands, umbrellas, softboxes) so that recommendation is for anyone else looking as well.

    My favorite is the Alien Bees B800 which will put out enough light from 6ft to stop you down to f22 at iso 100… not bad.

    I see that you have a cactus wireless unit, so what you can do is use that reciever to trigger your 430ex and it will trigger all the other strobes when it goes off. So if you bought an Alien Bees, it would work well with the strobe you already have, then you might want to get a cheaper SP Studios strobe for something like hair lights or what not.

    Hope that helps.

  9. September 17, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    @Stephen Poff: Actually, yes, I find most photographers work too cold for my tastes. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s "bad," but yeah, I can tell. I’m trying to remember which photography book I learned about using hot lights to adjust for that from. At work now and don’t remember off the top of my head.

    Also, yes, I do work with a lot of "extremely" fair skinned models. Amaya, for instance might as well be an albino (and in fact, i color her as such in Hellcats, even though she really isn’t. She’s just extremely pale). Like I said, i "could" do the color tweaking in PS, but that’s way more work than just having it come out that way automatically. Sometimes I do, but if I have to process 40 photos of her for a set for something, it’s just too much of a pain.

    Light is light and sensors are sensors, so yes, you can always rebalance, but its a question of how far you have to tweak that balance in order to get the effect you want. I generally like my photos in the 2500-3500 kelvin range. Canon’s default tungsten WB setting is something like 2850(can’t look at work right now), which matches a couple 500 watt soft white bulbs quite warmly. For a more "natural" look, I could push it up to around 3500-3600. Conversely, Canon’s flash preset is somewhere around 8000-9000 Kelvin (again, I forget), which is actually really good for the built-in or the speedlite. I can get warmer tones by pushing it down to say 5000-6000 or so, but by the time I get to feel I want, I’ve disrupted the natural color of the scene. Which of course I could fix in color correction but at that point I’ve just made more work for myself.

    You can get any effect either way. It’s just a matter of where you want to spend your energy.

    (for those trying to follow this who have no idea what Stephen and I are talking about, here’s a brief description of tweaking whtie balance and light temperature)

    As for the actual physical heat, remember, I tend to shoot mostly half naked girls. The extra heat in the room, even to the level of sweating, is actually preferable. I want them to sweat.

  10. September 17, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    @Stephen Poff: oh… and thanks for the recommendation. Will look into it later.

  11. September 17, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I would not usually debate this… cause I’m pretty sure I’m not going to change your mind, but I know people will read this and I don’t want beginners to be discouraged by something I believe to be misunderstood.

    There are standards that you can count on with both strobes/daylight and incandecent lighting. I know this because when you’re shooting video all day, you need to be sure that you are on the correct setting cause you don’t want to have to correct the color when you’re on a deadline.

    The standards are flash or daylight (direct sunlight)=5600k and Incandecent/tungsten (lightbulbs in general)=3200k. This is pretty much a constant. But even so, the easiest way to correct for any change in color temperature (as long all the light sources are the same) is to white balance against a grey or white card.

    Now, your point about Amaya being extremely white and having to "correct" her to look "normal", that is another story. But you are still a bit off base on this. What you are saying is that you are shooting the wrong white balance to warm her up. I understand that. But to say that shooting the wrong white balance "in camera" isn’t affecting the rest of the scene is just not true. Whether you warm it up in camera or in camera RAW, it affects the entire color spectrum.

    Now, if you shoot correct white balance and then use and adjustment layer in PS, then you can simply mask out her skin and leave the rest of the scene unchanged, but that is the only way to do that.

  12. September 17, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    @Stephen Poff: of course it effects the rest of the scene. that’s my entire point. Correcting white balance in either direction is going to effect the entire color spectrum. But a small tweak of 500 degrees kelvin is a lot simpler to deal with than a large tweak of 3000-6000 degrees. That’s my entire point.

    if you look at shots I have of Amaya (or with Sarah, who is also pretty pale, though not quite as much so) alone, you’ll see I generally process her skin much tanner than I do of shots with her with other models, as then I’d have to mask her out of their processing as you describe, and that’s just way too much work for a large shoot if I can avoid it. Ideally, I’d want to take a shot and not have to correct anything at all. I don’t want to have to deal with masks. I can kind of cheat the process by just using warmer lights in studio, because it doesn’t matter if the background is unnaturally colored. Especially if I’m using the solid black backdrop that I use most of the time. But even on a more natural setting, since you don’t know what color the wall, or her clothes or whatever actually are, if it’s off by a little, that’s fine. And in fact, that would more or less work with flashes too, at least on the black backdrop. But anyway, the difference in her skin tone is ESPECIALLY prevalent in any shot she’s in with me, since I have to light for my much darker skin and she gets way washed out.

    But if I use a flash and warm the entire scene to where I like it those changes are more pronounced. Things like her lips, or hair, which are much more saturated than her skin, move into a much oranger tone that, I don’t like as much. It’s all about finding that sweet spot, and that’s much easier to hit on a small tweak than a large one.

    Again, I’m by no means saying you can’t hit it. Just that for the things I like to do, it’s easier for me to hit it with warmer light (takes much less post processing).

    There’s also the blinking issue. No matter what the shutter speed, when the light goes off, the model is likely to blink. Stephen is right, on a quick speed, you’re likely to miss it, but I’ve used strobe studios, and sometimes I do catch it, and that’s annoying. Also, there’s recovery time. I frequently tell a model to move a certain way and fire off 10-15 shots in rapid succession. Depending on how fast "rapid" is and how many shots, the strobe either can’t keep up, or it’s such quick flashing that you are even more likely to catch the blink.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out the drawbacks to the hot lights. I need either a much wider aperture or a slower shutterspeed to get the kind of exposure I want. This means either a shallower depth of field or possible motion blur. If one looks closely, you might see that the majority of Stephen’s shots will be far sharper than mine. That’s because he gets far more light and can shoot around ƒ8 or higher (as he said, he can use ƒ22 with is B800). I shoot most of my stuff between ƒ1.8 and ƒ4.5 (ƒ6 is really tight for me and I almost never go above ƒ8). Luckily this isn’t as big a deal for me because I actually prefer the softer focus, and in fact sometimes add a subtle Gaussian Blur in photoshop when I think things are too crisp. But it’s an issue to be wary of when using Tungsten as your primary light source. There’s also the heat issue Stephen mentioned in the earlier comment. When I have all the lights in my studio on (rare that I want that much light), that’s 5000 watts beating down on the model, and it’s like being in a tanning salon. You’re going to sweat. Especially if you’re wearing heavier clothes. Again, not an issue for me, because I prefer a little bit of glisten on the skin for glamour work (and in some cases, add it artificially with oil) but it’s something to be aware of if you’re on a long shoot. And finally, it’s a lot easier to adjust the light power on the strobes than it is on hot lights. My lights are either on or off. I get my power adjustment by either using more lights, or moving them closer or farther away. All of which have other side-effects. Stephen adjusts his output by turning a knob.

    There’s other stuff too, but those are some good basics. For any podcast fans out there, congratulations, you’re basically getting a bonus show here.

  13. September 17, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    For anyone still following along: this is a picture taken with a double strobe setup in a friend’s studio, which is processed more along the lines Stephen is talking about. Still possible to get the tones, just more work for me.

    There are always multiple ways to get just about any effect. (just about)

  14. September 17, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    LOL… I didn’t even think about the podcast fans… Well here’s more to the lesson.

    I totally get you wanting to get it right in camera… I get that. But what I’m saying is, there is not a 3000-6000 degree tweak. Contrary to your previous post, flash is NOT 8000k-9000k, it is balanced with Daylight at 5200k-5600k so that it can be used as daylight fill, just the same as and HMI is used in motion picture cinematography to match daylight. So either way, if your if your camera is white balanced for flash (5600k) or Tungsten (3200k) then it is going to display the same color.

    Now if you shift your cameras white balance towards the redder spectrum (warmer) while using either flash or tungsten, it’s gonna do the exact same thing and in addition it’s going to shift the whole spectrum on everything in the photo. On the Rebel XTI (which we both use), there is a control for shifting this.

    So what I’m saying is what you’re trying to do can be done with either light source in exactly the same way… and if you’re buying some strobes you can be rest assured that you can do the same thing in camera without having to do anything more than setting your white balance to either the daylight or flash setting and if you like…. shifting the WB by a FEW degrees and not THOUSANDS of degrees.

    Also, they make CTO (color temperature orange) gels in full, 1/2 and 1/4 and it’s pretty easy to add some velcro to attach it to your flash and warm it up in any degree desirable. Also, the Alien Bees heads have a little clamp on each side to attach gels to.

    Now I’m wondering if anyone else is reading this… or wants to jump in here 😉

  15. September 17, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Yes, I’m reading this. Can we just agree to disagree? Y’all are going to get me fired for sitting here reading all of this! How can I possibly pay attention to issues like payroll and progressive discipline when I could be sitting here reading geeky stuff about strobes and hotboxes!? It even sounds sexy!


  16. September 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    @Stephen Poff: You’re right. it’s 5600 Kelvin. 8000-9000 is sky, not strobe. I had to look it up. Like I said, I was doing it from memory).

    That said, it’s still a matter of shifting down more than I’d shift up to hit the same range (which is in the 2750-3000k range for me). As to whether this matters or not. It’s the difference between midday sun (the 5600K Stephen is talking about) and sunrise which starts at 2000ish and goes to something like 4000K). For anyone trying to follow along at home, what I’m getting at here is the difference between the way colors of your skin, grass, the sky or anything else look to the naked eye at 5am and and at noon.

    As to whether warm shifting in camera (stephen’s way) vs. in lighting (my way) to get that effect is the same thing or not, I don’t think we’re gonna agree here, so it’s left as an exercise to the reader. To be fair to Stephen, he really is in the majority opinion as a flash photographer. Tungsten users like myself are a dying breed. It’s like those people who think that they can get good old fashioned bar-b-que flavor on a gas grill, where us purists know that it’s not properly called bbq unless you have a heaping mound of charcoal, and enough lighter fluid to burn down a rain forest on a bed of the ashes of previous bbq fires going back at least 5 years.

    Since I listed the advantages Stephen gets with the strobes I might as well point out the main advantages that most people turn to hot lights for. Aside from the temperature, physical heat (an advantage or a detriment, depending on who you are), the speed of recovery and lack of blink (since the lights never flash, there is no recovery) and the key one being that hot lights are WYSIWYG. Strobes (or at least good ones) have modeling lights to help you kinda figure out where the shadows are going to fall and such. But they’re lower intensity, so that requires metering to get things right, and even and taking test shots. RAW alleviates this a bit, since it means even if your WB isn’t right, you can just fix it later, and to a lesser extent fix your exposure too, but it’s not quite the same as having your aperture set correctly in the first place. And there are no surprises. If you see a shadow cast with your eye, it’s gonna be there when you click the shutter. If you don’t see it, it won’t be. The difference in power between a strobe and the modeling light means you have to understand your setup a lot better to predict things.

    It’s really very much a matter of preference. But there are definite advantages and disadvantages to both. I don’t think either of us will disagree there (its more about what you consider to be an advantage and not).

  17. September 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    @lrayholly: well, you know… you could not read…. 😉

  18. September 17, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Okay… Here’s a visual aid:

    The top two photos are taken with a strobe. The bottom two were taken with a hot light. I shot both of them at ISO 400, f8 at 125th of a second. I then matched the strobes output to the hotlight. The photos were taken in JPG mode and are straight out of camera.

    On the first photo of each light, I white balanced and then took the photo. As you can see, the RGB numbers are exactly the same for each channel. Any time the numbers are the same it means that camera was balanced and that white and black are neutral (anyone who is curious can download the photo and test it yourself).

    So this means that it does not matter which light you use, if you white balance, it’ll look exactly the same.

    So my "model" Shelley has a fair complexion as well. And as you can see, shooting her with a "correct" white balance might mean that she doesn’t look "normal". Well, the only way to truly correct her skin is by careful manipulation in photoshop, cause looking at the back of the LCD to do that isn’t really fair to her… IMO. But for the sake of the argument, I bumped up the WB shift towards the warmer spectrum.

    As you can see, doing this sort of thing in camera produces the same results either way… but it also shifts the color balance the same… either way. There is no difference. The numbers show that. That’s all I’m really trying to say… Flash does not equal cooler and Continuous light does not always mean warmer… UNLESS you are talking about the actual heat they put out ;-).

    Now… I will concede that there are differences between the two types of light sources and am comfortable using both on a daily basis. There is a WYSIWYG quality to continuous light, but after a week or so of practice with strobes, it becomes second nature.

    And you’re right… 8,000k-9,000k is overcast sky.

  19. September 17, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Very educational, thanks.

  20. October 1, 2008 at 6:27 am

    Whoa. Faved this to come back and read

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