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DPChallenge Forums >> Hardware and Software >> I'm done with studio strobes!
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08/23/2010 12:30:04 PM · #1
I was shooting with studio strobes over the weekend and grew increasing frustrated as I struggled to capture the light I wanted. I was working with modeling lights and would think things were just right and then POW, the nuances I had seen were gone in a huge flash of light. I could get closer with some trial and error, but the light was never exactly as I wanted.

I do realize that studio strobes are the standard and many people get extraordinary results with them, but that doesn't mean there aren't other approaches that could work just as well or maybe better. I'm thinking about kicking off some experiments with DIY fluorescent lighting to see just how far I can go with them in comparison to my strobes. I'm curious if anybody else has opinions or would be interested in the possibilities?
08/23/2010 12:35:16 PM · #2
I don't own any strobes.

I do however, own a plethora of clip on light fixtures (think daylight CFLs) and a couple of 500W halogen work lights.

Even when I'm really just being lazy and quick, I can still get pretty nice results.

For me, hot lights are the ticket, no guess work, just make it look great then shoot..
08/23/2010 02:32:38 PM · #3
David... I'd like to see what you're getting and what you think is wrong.

Working with strobes is not terribly difficult, but a good light meter does help.
08/23/2010 02:41:37 PM · #4
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08/23/2010 02:46:17 PM · #5
Modeling lights can give you an idea, but are not generally precise enough (and if they are tracking strobe settings, and you are running wide aperture and low power on the strobes, you might not even have enough light to focus with!). One thing to try is setting up by shooting one light at a time. Set up your main, only. Shoot that until you get it right. Then turn it off, turn on the fill, dial it in with some shots. Rim/kicker light, same thing. This is helpful in a number of ways--you know exactly what each individual light's contribution to the set up is, where and how much it is hitting the subject. Setting up and adjusting a rim light is MUCH easier when it is all you see in the shot. You can see subtle changes in power or position that are harder to detect otherwise.

08/23/2010 03:29:40 PM · #6
I can get a "standard" portrait pretty easy, it's when I try to push for something more delicate that things get more challenging. This past weekend I had just this wisp of light coming across my subject's cheek bone and I thought it looked real cool. But I could never get the same feel to it when the strobes were firing. The strobes are 3 alien bee 400's with the same halogen modeling lamp in each. I had a softbox for the main and then the standard 7" reflector with 20 degree grid for a rim light. I'm pretty sure it was the light with the grid giving me the hard time. I keep thinking if it would have been continuous light rather than strobe I would have it it just the way I wanted. I'll dig up one of the images to at least show what I was trying to do.
08/23/2010 03:33:31 PM · #7
Are you kidding me? you are an AMAZING portrait photographer and have produced superb stuff using your speedlights. Obviously you just need to adjust to more powerful lights without getting frustrated along the way. Perhaps your lights are too powerful for the size of your room? Perhaps you are used to single light set-up? may be your walls are to light in color and are reflecting unwanted light? are you measuring light ratios with your flash meter? are you using grids to control spillage?. Hot lights are too tough on everybody, mainly your models.
08/23/2010 04:10:46 PM · #8
Could stray light be bouncing off studio walls to obliterate your delicate wisp?

I'm always very frustrated at having only a very small room, full of crap, to shoot in. Light bounces everywhere. I curse. I get drunk.
08/23/2010 04:27:16 PM · #9
Originally posted by Strikeslip:

Could stray light be bouncing off studio walls to obliterate your delicate wisp?

It could be... but I would like the light to get obliterated with the modeling lamps as well so I can tell what's going to happen. The trial and error part is what's frustrating me. I might as well use my hot shoe flashes with no modeling lights... but then I guess the room would be really darn and the camera would never focus.

Message edited by author 2010-08-23 16:27:45.
08/23/2010 04:38:07 PM · #10
David, you are talented, you know how to pose, and you mastered photoshop processing.
I know strobing can get a bet frustrating, specially if you are doing it on the run '' try changing strobes tons of times in a wedding ''. My advice is .. practice practice practice ..
There are 8 DVDs done by David Hobby, which completely took my photography to another level. I received a precious advice to purchase those DVDs which take you step by step, starting from gear and modifiers to one light setup, two light setup, multiple light setups and some real examples.
If you want to take your photography to another level, which according to what I saw at your portfolio would be a master level, you can't simply give up on strobing.
Find more about those DVDs on Strobist.com
Best of luck,
08/23/2010 04:45:13 PM · #11
Originally posted by senor_kasper:

Are you kidding me? you are an AMAZING portrait photographer and have produced superb stuff using your speedlights. Obviously you just need to adjust to more powerful lights without getting frustrated along the way. Perhaps your lights are too powerful for the size of your room? Perhaps you are used to single light set-up? may be your walls are to light in color and are reflecting unwanted light? are you measuring light ratios with your flash meter? are you using grids to control spillage?. Hot lights are too tough on everybody, mainly your models.


To be fair, there is a huge difference in the nature and feel of a home-built hot light that uses daylight CFL bulbs in place of older technologies...

1 of my 500W halogens can get a room cooking hot in just a few minutes, however I can turn on 10 100W equiv. daylight CFL's (2x the light compared to the halogen), and there is little, if any, noticeable difference in ambient temperature.

Unless of course, you're just referring to the fact that you have 1000's of watt's of lights blasting about, and in that case, well.. Yeah, I guess strobes are about the only solution.

I guess it's just that I don't have any strobe equipment, and I was able to assemble a pretty nice lighting setup for about $200. Both facts bias me quite heavily towards hot lights.
08/23/2010 04:45:21 PM · #12
I usually end up taking the main modeling light off tracking and use brighter for focusing reasons. If you are already used to using speedlights with no modeling lights, studio strobes can, of course, be used the same way.

On the AB strobes, the modeling light is just not suited (in my opinion) for matching what the strobe light will do: shape is different, extends further into the umbrella, reflector, etc. Also, I don't think it "closely" tracks as the strobe power is adjusted It is suitable for noticing bad shadows from nose, etc. when posing the model, or she is moving from shot to shot.

With the Einsteins, they fixed the mismatch problem--both the modeling bulb and flash tube are inside a pyrex dome.

I don't really know anyone who relies on modeling lights, though. A light meter at set-up, plus the nail one light at a time set up procedure is the preferred method. Modeling lights help you identify that the model is in the right position, or moving out of it, and such like that so that, once the lights are dialed in at the outset, you don't need to chimp every shot, as you can be reasonably assured by what you see in the viewfinder.

But small spaces can certainly mess with you: a kicker/rim light might look great on its own, but if the main is bouncing all over the room, when it is added back in it will wash it out. I suspect, though, if small spaces & unwanted bounce were the issue, you might have the same issues when using your speedlights....
08/23/2010 05:09:37 PM · #13
Originally posted by AmeedEl-Ghoul:

...you can't simply give up on strobing.

Oh I'm not giving up on strobing. I love my hot shoe flashes and working to blend them in with existing light. My challenge at the moment is getting the light I want in the studio. My thinking, when I wrote this post, was that we have more options for cool light these days and shooting at an ISO above 100 isn't much of an issue with newer DSLRs. Maybe there is a way to get great light that is easy to manage without using studio strobes. I don't have an answer of any kind but felt like experimenting a bit and figured this is the place to bounce around ideas.
08/23/2010 05:20:00 PM · #14
It's a PITA at first because you expect results quickly. Keep at it and you'll find your way. Don't give up so easily.
Some photographs are shot with strobes but you'd think it was natural light. Diffuse diffuse and diffuse your lighting to get some soft lighting going. I know you know this but sometimes it's worth repeating when you're just starting out with strobes. So much can be done with them.
08/26/2010 05:34:28 PM · #15
Last year at Photoshop World, I got to play around with some Westcott Spiderlite TD5s and was really impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I have since rented them a few times from my local rental equip. camera shop for some headshot and product sessions. They seem, in my opinion, to do very well for soft, subtle lighting -- they don't have a lot of "uumph" or high-power, but the certainly have the difficult-to-describe "look" to the light that sets them apart. And being hot lights, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, and after being used to working with strobes, hot-lights are pretty fun in that sense. From what I've seen, they have a love-it or hate-it reaction from many photographers... Quite pricy, in my opinion, but affordable to rent (at least where I live).

Just another alternative to consider. They are hot lights, but honest I never saw any real issues with heat, and I left them on for several hours at a time. You certainly need to leave them alone for a while to cool down before disassembly or handling. If you can borrow or rent them somewhere, I'd say you should check them out - they might give you that subtleness you're looking for.

There are also several DIY and aftermarket solutions out there, too -- but, as far as I know, the Westcott is either the "first" or at least the "best known" for that particular configuration.
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