Do Different Strobe/Modifier Brands Create Distinct "Qualities Of Light?" I Don't Think So

Do Different Strobe/Modifier Brands Create Distinct "Qualities Of Light?" I Don't Think So

I remember meeting Peter Hurley for the first time. I walked into his studio and saw him shooting a client's headshot with 4 Kino Flo hot lights (normally used for video). I asked him why and he said "The quality of light is just better than strobe. It fills the pores on a human face differently." At the time I was intrigued, but I no longer believe it. 

As photographers we are always obsessed with our gear, constantly looking for the next best thing, that magic camera, lens, or light that will completely change our photographs and take our work to the "next level." I'm the first to admit that I enjoy having new toys but I must admit that I often find ways to justify buying things that I really don't need. 

A wedding photographer buddy of mine called me a few months ago excited that he had swapped all of his SB-910s for Lumidines. He first brought up the point that he thought they were twice as powerful as a speedlight. I argued that using 2 speedlights is still more convenient than using a Lumidine battery pack system. His argument then changed directions. "The quality of light is simply better than a speedlight," he said. 

What in the world do photographers mean when they say "quality of light?" In most cases we don't mean anything specifically. We just mean that we like the image that it produced. The more I prodded my friend to explain what he meant by "quality of light" the more we both realized he didn't have any idea. 

Let's first break down a 2 actual differences in the "quality of light" that comes out of strobes and then we will take a closer look at the biggest difference, light modifiers. 



The color of light that a strobe or hot light produces is potentially the biggest difference in "quality of light." Strobes, and HMIs tend to produce a "white" light similar to daylight at around 5000-5600 kelvin. Peter's Kino Flos can change temperature based on the bulb but I believe he was using 5500k truematch bulbs which match the color of strobes. Incandescent blubs (like a standard light bulb) produce much warmer (red) color.

To complicate things a bit, there is also a green-magenta "shift" or "tint" which can be measured independently of the standard temperature rating. I personally am not very knowledgeable in this area, but normally these shifts can easily be fixed in camera or in post. I have only ever had an issue with this color cast from one strobe and that was the original AlienBee. When we used that strobe outside it seemed to cause a magenta/pink color shift on our subjects that was difficult (but not impossible) to remove in post. Neither the Einstein unit nor any other strobe I've ever used has caused that problem again for me. 

So other than the old AlienBee strobes, every other light I've used has been easy to for me to color balance. Some lights may require a manual white balance setting to produce "correct" colors and most photographers probably do not know this. On Nikon cameras you can take a "PRE" reading off of a white/grey card to get a perfect setting or you can set the kelvin temperature yourself and then go into the menu to add or remove a green/magenta to perfect the setting. Obviously if you shoot in raw, all of this can be fixed in post as well. 

If you correctly white balance your scene I would argue that the slight color shifts of different light brands aren't worth arguing about and certainly isn't worth switching lighting systems over. 


Flash Duration

Flash duration is a big deal for certain types of photography which require ultra sharp images of moving subjects. If you were photographing an ice cube being dropped into a drink, you would want every single drop of water to be perfectly defined. Flash duration is one major reason why some strobes cost significantly more than others. Luckily speedlights and Einsteins have extremely fast flash duration at a very reasonable price. 

Most photographers would never place "flash duration" under the heading of "quality of light;" they would specifically mention a slow or a fast flash duration, but it is certainly worth considering when purchasing a light. 


So that's it. Color and Flash Duration. So many photographers will argue that there is something else which is "changing the quality of light" but nobody can actually explain to me what it is. Even if there was some sort of magic flash tube that could make images look "better," wouldn't that "magic" be lost when you put it behind a modifier?  

Light Modifiers

I would argue that the light produced from slightly different bulbs or tubes don't have a "unique quality," but the lighting modifiers do, to an extent. The reason that Peter Hurley likes his Kino Flos so much is not because they do something that no other light can, I think he likes the quality of the images produced because the shape of the giant Kinos super close to a person's face produce a very unique image. I believe that any light that size would produce the exact same "look." Obviously a 4 foot florescent bulb will produce a completely different "quality of light" than a 1 inch strobe light. Luckily we have modifiers that we can add to our lights to change their size and shape. 

There's a lot of hocus pocus flying around the internet about flash modifiers and for the most part I think it's pretty silly. 

For the most part, quality of light can be effected in 2 ways: 
1. The size of the light source
2. The distance from the light source to your subject

The shape of a light source can help as well but it isn't as important as many people make it out to be. 



Softboxes are the standard modifier that I will compare everything else to. At it's core, a softbox is simply used to turn a small light source into a larger light source. You can buy totally different sizes of softboxes in a range of different shapes but I would argue that their size is the biggest defining feature. Most softboxes have inner baffles that "soften" the light even more. This simply means that your light will leave the front of the softbox more evenly from edge to edge. I've had photographers argue with me that softboxes need to have white interiors rather than silver or that they only use Softlighters because the light is "so much softer" and I'm not buying it. If you want "softer light" simply use a bigger light source. If you want more contrast in your lighting, move your light closer to your subject. 

The Fstoppers FlashDisc is simply a mini softbox for a speedlight. I've read reviews online of people saying that the "quality of light out of the FlashDisc is incredible." Although I appreciate the glowing reviews, there isn't any magic going on, it's simply making your light source slightly larger than a standard speedlight head. It's convenient, and helpful in certain situations, but it will produce an almost identical "quality of light" to any other flash modifier that is about that size. 



Umbrellas come in 2 basic types, bounce and shoot through. In most cases shoot through umbrellas will produce "softer" light because the entire umbrella is lighting your subject and "bounce" umbrellas will produce slightly "harder" light because they have a tendency to light your subject with the center of the umbrella. White umbrellas will produce slightly softer light than silver umbrellas because white umbrellas will "fill" with light and then reflect it back at your subject while silver umbrellas have a tendency to "reflect" light directly, from the center of the umbrella, at your subject (like a mirror). 

The biggest difference between an umbrella and a softbox is that softboxes contain the light spill a bit better. Umbrellas tend to throw light all over the room but I would argue that it is possible to take an almost identical image with either a softbox or an umbrella of similar sizes. 


Beauty dishes and Molas

Dishes are a unique lighting modifier because they are changing the size of the light but they are also changing the edge of the light or the "light falloff." A standard beauty dish uses a center plate to reflect light back toward the dish. The light then reflects off of the sides of the dish and hits the subject. The sharp edge of a beauty dish can be used to produce unique shadows on your subject but the lighting itself is very similar to a medium softbox with the front diffusion panel removed.  Adding a "sock" to the front of a beauty dish makes it "softer" and even more similar to a standard softbox. 

Molas are very unique and expensive brand of beauty dishes. Many of them have very unique shapes which add to their intrigue. We put these units to the test with Peter Hurley in our "Illuminating The Face" tutorial and we found that these modifiers produced an almost identical result to similarly sized octabanks without front diffusion panels. They are certainly impressive to look at and they produce unique catch lights in your subjects eyes but other than that, there isn't any magic going on. 



Grids are used to change the "throw" or "spill" of light without effecting the size of a light source. You could put a grid on a flash directly for a very "small" and "hard" light source or you could put a grid on a 7 foot octabank which is "large" and "soft." The grid will help you direct which parts of your scene are being illuminated without changing the size of your light source. 


Reflectors could be considered light sources too. The size and distance of your reflector to your subject works exactly the same as a softbox. The shape of some reflectors allow you to craft the light in a way that would be difficult to do with softboxes, but in many cases could be replicated with a piece of white foam core


Where did this "light quality" crap come from? 

So then what is this "quality of light" that photographers like talking about? Perhaps one of the reasons that we are constantly confused by lighting equipment is that we are comparing our unedited work to highly edited images online. We see a picture and assume that it looks amazing because it was photographed with a Profoto Beauty Dish when in reality it has a unique "look" that was produced in Photoshop. If you tried to reproduce the original raw file you would find that any similarly sized light source would be capable of producing an almost identical shot. 

I remember years ago trying to reproduce the lighting in the StarTrek movie poster. I could not figure out how in the world the photographer was able to produce highlights on the side of his subjects face and then dark shadows on the cheek bones.  

We spent hours in the studio trying to reproduce this shot with lighting alone and finally gave up. I ended up creating a similar look in Photoshop by simply burning in the shadows on my forehead, nose, and cheek. I always felt like I had "cheated" but I was able to create a similar looking shot. 

A year later I ran across the original image of Chris Pine from this shoot. Guess what? It looked exactly like my attempt. Those shadows that seemed so impossible to reproduce were in fact impossible to reproduce in camera.  

I thought that the photographer knew something I didn't. I thought the photographer must have owned some type of specialized light to produce such unique shadows. He didn't. He used 2 lights in the back and a medium softbox or reflector from below. The "magic" was added in Photoshop. 

No matter how much we want to believe it, there really isn't any piece of gear that is going to automatically take your photography to the next level. You can take a horrible or incredible shot with almost any camera or lighting brand, new or old. Lighting is certainly still important, perhaps the most important thing, but the brand name isn't going to make a difference. I'm now using Profoto D1s and B1s. I absolutely love the convenience air remote system, the size and weight of the monolights, the simplicity of Profotos speedring, and the quality and range of their modifier line but I can't tell any difference in the "quality of light"  that comes out of Profoto flashtubes compared to my speedlights, or the old Dyna-Lites that I used to own. I believe that the "quality of light" argument is bullshit. I think we make stuff like this up to justify buying new gear that we don't necessarily need but I would love to be proven wrong. Feel free to let me know just how wrong I am in the comments below. 

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Previous comments

"All it really does is bounce it around" hahah best comment ever.

Michael Kormos's picture

Peter likes his Kino Flos because, like many fashion photographers who use continuous lighting, it lets him preview the final image. That's the whole reason for modeling lamps on strobes. The only difference is that Kino Flos are actual powerful enough to light the final image whereas modeling lamps are there to give you but a glimpse. There ain't no difference between a bank of fluorescent tubes and an equally sized soft box. If anything, the color rendering index (CRI) is probably better on strobes vs. the tri-phosphor fluorescent tubes on these Kino Flos. Peter is an unusual guy, and his choice in lighting gear is neither portable, flexible, nor affordable for most. As such, it shouldn't be used as an example.

Now, lower your chin, turn your head slightly, and look up with your eyes.

Patrick Hall's picture

Peter may have made a change in his stance but being a great friend of Peter and having had this same conversation time and time again with him, he would still argue that the Kino Flows do infact look different than strip boxes. I can't speak 100% for him now but he has personally told me this enough times to confidently say it is true. He claims the light fills in the pores differently than natural window light and even strobed strip boxes.

The 2 MAIN reasons he uses Kinos is to prevent the interruption of his shooting caused by the flashes popping and also he likes his subjects eyes constricted to allow more color in them. With strobes in low light situations, your subject's eyes will always be dialated which causes them to be more black than colored.

Andre Goulet's picture

Pupil dilation is the number 1 reason I use strobes with 250w modelling lamps. Between that and a little chrome strip, I make eyes look fantastic.

Rex Larsen's picture

Great subject ! I don't think a Profoto or Broncolor through a soft box is going to look different than an Einstein through the same soft box. Profoto has a variety of great reflectors with their unique zoom function that are head and shoulders above PC Buff reflectors. I'm curious about comparisons between Rotalux and other premium octoboxes to budget brands. Buff told consumers knockoff brands copying his PLM added significant color casts due to "inferior fabric." High-priced Plume Wafer octos and soft boxes are promoted as superior high tech modifiers and priced as such. I'd love to know if the Mola beauty dish mystique is truly based on superior light quality. Like Lee wrote, you add processing and retouching into the equation and the quality comparisons go out the window.

Alright I'm the hater everyone is waiting for and I really like this article, truly a helpful well thought out article!
So many reasons to use different brands of gear, Profoto is my choice in rental studio and Buff einstein is my choice when no one is paying me. I have speed rings in both mounts for all the modifiers that I can do that with. I really love my Balcar Prisma light boxes that fit the Buff mount but have made a profoto adaptor for it.
I have been known to rent a Bron Para just because I knew a client would be impressed but when I put the diffusion on the front it was the same light as a similar size Deep Rotalux Octa. With out the diffusion it is truly one of a kind but I needed the diffusion.

While I understand Lee's view on color I believe that this is one very over looked area of photography when I see great color photography its usually by someone who was shooting chrome film 20 years ago and knows how to use a color meter, matching your strobe to the color of the available light , knowing how to cool off the color of a white cyc to make it look like natural light is a true art lost by 99% of young photographers.

Great article!

Charles Lynn's picture

Sadly to say, a lot of photographer are not well-educated, they prefer myth than proof. So those manufactures can always "invent" "magic" products to exploit them. Like Gary Fong, he can sell so much cheap plastic in such high price.


Marko Šolić's picture

I think you're spot on, this is exactly what I asked Lara Jade on Broncolor's Facebook when she was impressed with the new Siros's quality of light. To be honest I'm not sure what her reply was - I was too impressed with seeing that Lara Jade had replied to my comment, and then Von Wong joined in on the discussion. :D
However, there are a couple of exceptions:

1. Shot-to-shot variation. In your Jinbei or Quantuum or whatever studio flash the color temperature can easily vary +/- 500 or even more Kelvins between the shots. So in Lightroom you can adjust everything for the first shot, but you can't sync the rest of the images. With Profoto or Broncolor you most definitely can.

2. LED lights. Flash lights usually all have the color spectrum pretty similar to the spectrum of the Sun (which is itself not a perfect spectrum, but it's close enough). LED light, especially the cheaper ones, tend to have serious gaps in their spectra, and that can quite noticeably mess up the colors on the photo, beyond the point of easy post-production recovery.

3. Softness of the light depends on the relative size-to-distance from the subject, but a parabolic modifier will be more effective in transffering the same amount of light from the flash to the subject in comparison to a softbox. You'll need less flash power with it, so that means more battery power and probably faster recycle times.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I'll throw my pennies worth in the hat...

With respect to colour, some lights have better colour rendition than others. Natural daylight is very smooth as we know - producing an even spectrum of light with no horrible bumps. Good old fashioned tungsten is just about as perfect but stills cameras seem not to enjoy that end of the spectrum quite as much.

True Kinoflo tubes have an excellent TLCI rating (a bit like CRI, but a far better way of measuring colour spectrum quality), but not quite as smooth - the naked eye isn't going to notice.

Peter H. has said in the past that he wanted to move to HMI's and this is where I realised his knowledge of lighting sources requires perhaps a little fine tuning... HMI's are not known for their absolute smoothness in the colour spectrum. They're not bad but if you want the best then they're not the way to go. They do have a huge output to power ratio and they're daylight coloured - hence the popularity with filming, but as portrait lights go, they're not so great a choice.

Quality strobe lamps can give excellent spectrum results although not as perfect as natural daylight, but the advantages so far outweigh other options that when they're needed we don't worry. I challenge anyone to see any lack spectral smoothness with the naked eye.

Moving down the LED route we find a small, select range of LED lamps that give excellent colour rendition but unless you're spending reasonable sums of £££ (In excess of £1000 per light) then many show a poor TLCI rating. (Although the small Rotolight Neo's for just £300 are extremely good for colour - but just a bit small...)

With colour quality it is all about the smoothness of spectrum. Poorer quality lights produce narrow spikes (typically in the greens) which are extremely difficult to remove. Colour balancing in camera or in post is like using a wide brush, where removing these troublesome spike requires microsurgery. The overall colour may be fine, but green spikes on skin can give a sickly quality to the subjects pallor.

With respect to modifiers I've used Bowens and Profoto in the main, along with a few 3rd party options and I can say they make a huge difference.

Earlier I started with Bowens and bought a couple of cheap 3rd party beauty dishes. They were built like all dishes but the results were lacking in character. When Bowens brought out their newer beauty dishes I was almost the first in the UK to get one. Wow... what a difference... There was a wonderfull character to the light that I'd never had before. It almost added a new dimension to my portraits, and with such ease.

When I made the move to Profoto my earlier experiences with the D1's and the Profoto BD were a disaster. Without modification, this combination just doesn't work well at all, and explains why we see so many people pointing their D1/BD combo in such odd directions. (How many times do we see them so only the bottom part of the light hits the subject with the dish almost pointed at the top of the head...?) Try it yourself on a blank wall. The light pattern is frighteningly horrible. Funny thing is that I had a Profoto person at my studio and his eyes were somewhat opened when we made the comparisons..

Heck it's a BD, and it's Profoto... so it but be beautiful... Not so. Now take a regular Profoto Pro head and a BD - now there is a thing of beauty and it's how the modifier got it's fine reputation.

So the D1 / BD solution... Use the frosted dome AND the opaque disc for the BD. This gives a different result to a Pro head and an unmodified BD, but pointed right it can be even more useful. There is a doughnut pattern to the output which at the right distance gives a gentle fall off just where the neck and cheekbones are, and then brightens up again for the body. Less forgiving, but very helpful. This would be a case where the character of the light plays a huge part if used correctly.

Softboxes have their own character too. A good box will have a very even spread of light thrown forward. This requires good inner baffles, excellent inner-bounce qualities of the inner materials and the ability to impart and even hit of light across the whole front surface. Ideally the light will be traveling forward rather than in random directions when it hits that front panel to get an even "wrap" of light with great direction control. Could be why so many people like a BD with a sock. It's partly why I love my 3'x3' Profoto box because it's a little deeper than most which helps that directional light ability.

A lack of hotspots on a softbox allow it to work properly, but a box which has these hotspots can give great results too - if you use that uneven output to effect. (Chances are that such a box will scatter the light randomly so much of that hotspot effect will be evened out by the time it hits the subject - so same overall exposure but without the benefits of an even directional "wrap.")

The humble brolly has seen a few developments in recent years. Traditionally something to throw light everywhere (nothing wrong with that), we now have different materials and shapes. Without getting into reflected or translucent debates, there is a huge difference between reflecting from shallower or deeper umbrellas or white and silver. I've a range of brollies from high silver, soft silver and white and a few of the Profoto "Deep" range. In testing I found I could get some wonderful results with the silver versions by positioning the light in or out of the brolly. This was most effective with the silvers and you can get a wonderful punch and gentle fall off for portraits - even with the large sizes. So yes, here I would say the modifiers make a huge difference.

For those that have more £££ tan most of us there are the wonderful big parabolics. I used to wonder if they really made a difference until I watched a few tutorials. The level of control and surprising results when you turn the light made me a fan. You're not just paying for light quality with these beasts - you are paying for speed and ultimate control. Pity they'd not fit in my little studio...

When it comes to strobe reflectors and grids I find less difference. Certainly the build quality of my Profoto grids makes my heart sing (clearly it doesn't take much), but I find the zoom control of their reflectors less of an advantage on my D1 / B1 heads, even when using with a frosted dome. Maybe it's more of a thing with their Pro heads. I can't say I found other reflector brands good or bad - but then we're often using them in perhaps less critical ways.

I do find the repeatability of quality strobes give me batter results. Less time fixing in post. I can happily use 6 strobes on a portrait and if they're firing with tiny variants between them, well it can get frustrating. I found the move to consistent strobes made me "feel" better about my OOC shots, and that goes a long way to making me "feel" that the quality of output is better.

I do find it funny that when photographers are discussing which light has been used for a shot, we often look at the eye reflections for clues. It's almost as if the actual light or modifier isn't giving us enough of a clue - and that has to say a lot.

Possibly the light or modifier used has less of an effect on the finished image than we'd prefer - but the choice of what we use allows us to get to that place easier and quicker.

(Darn... I do seem to write a lot for just a few pennies...)


Anders Madsen's picture

I basically agree with everything Lee Christiansen wrote - although the differences may be small, there are definitely some that are visible in the final image from time to time.

In some cases I think that this relates to how the modifier makes the light interact with the surroundings. I've noticed that my Elinchrom Rotalux softboxes creates a slightly different look than my Menik softboxes because the Menik has a small "lip" outside the diffuser that flags the light a bit, compared to the Rotalux which have the diffuser at the edge of the softbox. The "lip" can be purchased separately for the Rotalux for a small fortune, though....

Especially when shooting on a white seamless and near white walls, the Rotalux seems to cause more reflected light to hit the model since it hit the white surfaces more to the front of the model than the Menik boxes, creating a light that is slightly less contrasty. It's not much, but I could imagine that it would be one of those cases where you could be tempted to talk about different qualities of light from similar modifiers, although the light hitting the model directly from the modifier probably is identical - it's the light reflected by the surroundings, that is different.

Like Lee, I have also noticed a huge difference in the light from beauty dishes, especially at the edge of the light. My Elinchrom has a much more pleasing transition from light to shadow than my Menik, which has a weird set of stripes running along the edge of the light. It can be used for effect, but in general I really don't want the edge of the light from the Menik to be visible in the image.

There is another issue I'd like to tag on to the list made by Lee in the above, and it's the matter of color cast introduced by the modifier. Lee Morris talked briefly about color with regard to the actual flash unit, but did not touch this when talking about the modifiers.

I have three different brands of modifiers: Menik (a Chinese brand), Lastolite (one step up, quality wise, from the Menik) and Elinchrom (another step up). The Lastolite and Elinchrom are identical in color temperature, at least to a point where any difference is invisible in the final image, but the Menik modifiers is another story:

Standard reflector - neutral (same as Elinchrom and Lastolite)
Beauty dish, bare or grid - blue color cast
Beauty dish, sock - slightly warm color cast
Strip box, no diffusion - slightly blue color cast
Strip box, full diffusion - blue color cast
145 cm two-in-one umbrella, white interior or shoot-through - blue color cast
145 cm two-in-one umbrella, silver interior - slightly blue color cast

As you can imagine, this is pure hell if I want to use the Menik modifiers and the Elinchrom or Lastolite modifiers in the same image, and to be honest I simply don't.

I've tried it, and I either end up with shadows with a blue cast on the opposite side of the Menik modifier or with very warm tones where the light from the Elinchrom or Lastolite modifiers is prevalent, and I really don't have the time to mess with this in post production.

I'm not sure that color cast is normally considered a part of the "quality of light" discussion, though - personally I think of it as two separate issues, but it is definitely something to be aware of.

My Profoto brand softboxes definitely change the color of my Profoto heads a bit. Certainly not enough to be a problem but still not perfect.

luke pickering's picture

Other thing photographers commonly say : "That image is Tack or Pin sharp" (I assume they mean the image has been sharpened correctly)
"I'm a self taught photographer" (we all learn from somewhere or someone - books, online tutorials etc. I would prefer to hear "self directed study" or something less vague that does not imply that they are the invetor of photography.)

Ross Floyd's picture

Actually Luke, a lot of times better quality lenses are sharper. So are prime lens vs zooms.

One thing that affects sharpness can be affected f stop as well. (not talking about bokeh, critical focus or depth of field) I mean the in focus subject will be sharper at certain apertures.

Just by the nature of the physics of optics, f/11 will almost always be sharpest corner to corner.

Give it a shot! do some tests!

Mac MacDonald's picture

Good stuff, Lee. I used to be a sponsored pro shooter (USPSA, 3-gun, USCA 2-Gun) for 5 years prior to photography. I would always show up, with a stock Glock I personally modified, and only had like $1k in the gun. Other guys were always showing up to matches with $5-6k SVI handguns (custom "race guns") and I'd beat their asses handily. The prob was, these guys were trying to buy talent and skill.

I put in the work training and getting to know every nuance of my craft. It was stupid hard. Like 40 hours a week, with a full time job on top of it hard. Like dragging my ass out of bed, before work, and shooting 500 rounds every other day hard. I never thought for a second a $5k gun would make me better. An expensive tool is simply a paperweight in the hands of those who refuse to put in the work to understand what their holding.

The same goes for photography. Guys are trying to buy talent. It's not gonna happen. You have to put in the work, with what you have, and the results will come. That Westcott light modifier may not be glamorous but if you put in the time with it, understanding its unique characteristics, it'll show in the delivered product.

Ross Floyd's picture

If you can't see the difference - you don't need them.

To be fair this is a high contrast and my opinion, although popular - the ugliest lighting scenario in existence. Its also processed in black and white.

More expensive pro systems give you more power, light, stability and reliability - also their color temperature is more consistent from low power to high power.

I work in a large studio with all profoto, because time = money and if I can get closer in camera to what my clients want, they are happier and I pay less for a retoucher.

The detail in your jawbone is blown out - not in the other guys - there is way more information in his because they were able to control light more than you could.

Very true about reliability. Keep in mind that my attempt at the star trek look took place years ago and was not an attempt to totally copy the shot. I was intrigued by the shadows directly next to highlights on the original image and I wanted to figure out how they did it (at the time I thought it was all done in camera). I didn't try to match the tones or the color grade afterwards exactly. I was just going for a similar "vibe." In fact, I think we shot the picture of me with my Dyna-lite modeling lamps and not the strobes.

Ross Floyd's picture

Lee, doesn't that kind of make your images misleading in correspondence with the article?

I think this article strikes a chord with your readers because of the collective frustration about how expensive photo equipment is and misses a point that could actually help them.

Its not really a question of better but different qualities of light, and the only way to figure that out is by experience. Beg, borrow, rent as many different systems as you can to figure out the best way to make the image you want to make.

I have shot with everything from bare 100watt light bulbs to profoto 8as - the major difference is that the high end stuff provides more neutrally colored light at any power and from my experience they tend to be more contrasty without modifiers.

This is so you can have a more neural starting point in and can have more variety of light when you add modifiers, that way you have more control over you images though shaping light and and you don't have to "correct" so much to have a neutral image in post.

Your complaint is the same as someone who has never used A medium format back before and says their images look better coming out of a nikon or canon.

The image is more neutral and NEEDs to be altered/process in a creative direction but needs no "correction"

No one piece of equipment is a magic bullet - yes I use profoto, but I use all sorts of modfiers, tough spun, gels etc. whatever takes to get the shot.

If a keychain LED is the right solution I will and have used that. It just takes the humility and experience to know that your ingenuity and problem solving skills are the most important "gear" gear that you own.

I'm not sure I understand your point. The point of the photos were to show that shadows that I thought were produced with a fancy light were in fact created in Photoshop.

Ross Floyd's picture

Even with fancy gear, there is always a little modification that has to happen.

You're solution with photoshop wasn't wrong, but neither was thinking it was and additional light.

The same affect could be achieved with a compact mirror reflecting light into the subject's face. a rather lo-tech solution in combination with "fancy" lights.

Because you used photoshop, you didn't really test modifiers to see if they achieved that effect that way.

Not being critical, I just think it would be more relevant if you had found a lighting solution to the problem where the "Pro" photographer didn't bother. - that would have kept it in the lighting/modifier argument presented in the title of you article.

Ross Floyd's picture

Thats the fun of it I suppose, new problems = discovering new solutions. Keeps things interesting.

Felix Wu's picture

Exactly what I was going to say. Shocking to see the poor lighting in the unedited original. This lighting effect could be achieved via a proper setup or it could have been completely shot in natural light and photoshop the hack out of it. Do we conclude that we don't need lighting? I don't think so. It's just different ways to achieving the look. I always admire photographers who get things right in photoshoot even in advertising product shoots, rather than shooting the digital way - shooting components then photoshop them together. Both get the job done and perhaps faster with PS, but hats of to those get it in one shot. There are just too many "digital artists" these days.

We tried every modifier we owned. I don't think a mirror or snoot would work but I would be more than happy to be proven wrong.

Anonymous's picture

I believe Mr Morris this is one of your best post about light. Candid, honest and straight talk. I am not able to do my projects full time. I am self taught in many ways at this craft and happy with what I have learned and the skills have improved. I too have "chased the rabbit" looking for the "perfect lights? Time and resources do not permit me to add a light at will. I use the elinchrom system, truth is, because Joe McNally uses it. And I am very pleased with the lights. I wish I had saved my money and gone for ProFoto. or gone the other way and bought Eisenstein, saved money and do lovely work......I have used profoto for about 9 months in a contract I took and I must say, killer lights. Thank you so much, you gave the answer I have been searching for.
The below shot I used 2 strobes, on left and right, did some burn in post with Photoshop. Lights were ProFoto

Kind regards,

Ken Lawson

Leigh Smith's picture

Thank you! Great write up. I've had this complaint for quite awhile now.

Thanks, Lee….. This is probably one of the most single truthful and powerful articles on FStoppers!

Mark Fore's picture

I own the einstein flashes and used them as my main set up for years, Now I work almost exclusively with Profoto gear and I can tell you even with the same size modifiers and distance from the subject their is a difference in the "quality of light".
Also you came close but I'm pretty sure that the photographer was using a profoto hardbox on each side for the highlights on the side of his face you can tell by the falloff that he gets.

Please elaborate. What do you mean by "quality of light?"

Mark Fore's picture

By quality I mean color of course, einsteins shoot at 5600k and profotos at 5400k even with the camera dialed exactly to the temperatures their is a distinct difference in color shifts.

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

I'd love to see side by side samples if possible

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