Using Speedlights Versus Monolights for Location Portraits

Using artificial lighting for on-location portraits can go a long way to balancing out the exposure of your images and improving the look of your photos. But are speedlights or monolights the right choice? This great video examines the usage of both to help you decide the right one for your work.

Coming to you from Gavin Hoey with Adorama TV, this great video examines the usage of speedlights and monolights for on-location portraits. The problem when working outside is that you have to compete with the sun, and depending on the look you are going for, you may need a good amount of power to take the sun out of the equation or to at least balance it out. This is where a dedicated monolight may be a better choice, simply because it will be able to put out a lot more power than a speedlight and will offer you a lot more versatility. On the other hand, monolights are both more expensive and tend to be bulkier and more complex to set up and use. That being said, it is certainly not impossible to get great images using speedlights, particularly if you pay careful attention to the fundamentals, like the distance of the light source from the subject. Check out the video above to see the full comparison. 

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12 Comments

Denis Trudeau's picture

This is a well done a very instructive video

eran yardeni's picture

nice video, however, overpowering the sun on a bright day would be a totally different story

Greg Desiatov's picture

Yep, very easy to do. The suns rays averaged over the entire planet is approximately 340 watts per square meter.

Using any strobe wattage above that and you obviously overpower the sun

I love it but these days all the models want are the hipster no flash shot on sony/fuji style looks with blown out background/windows ect

Stephen Holmes's picture

Gavin is excellent as always. Clear, practical and fun! Great stuff!

Motti Bembaron's picture

As always, simple and well explained.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Where are all the strobe zombies?

Power is Power- at some point - when you need more WS the game is over for the speed light. A bit of fill on an overcast day or indoors you are fine... But you can't do this with a speed light- (and yes- the artificial double shadow was my intention- it is a ballet dancer in a tutu in NYC- def not 'reality'!!) - https://nypics.smugmug.com/Dance/Allie-Marie-Hutchins-Roosevelt-Island/i...

Anders Madsen's picture

Well, there is a lot of things that you cannot do with a speedlight when comparing it to a monolight or a generator flash - but the reverse is definitely also true. The WS game is very much a game of displacement and weight as well, so more power equals larger and heavier lights, which in terms limits the places where you can hide your light if needed.

I think Gavins purpose was to show that "only" having a speedlight isn't necessarily limiting you in what you can do when it comes to making images in broad daylight and preventing the surroundings from blowing out, and that there is a big overlap in functionality between monolights and speedlights, especially if you are aware of the limitations (like the overheating and the recycle times) - and I think he did that very successfully.

Arun Hegden's picture

Gavin is Awesome. Always love his reviews. :)

Mike Dochterman's picture

who started using the term 'speedlight' anyway? they used to be called 'flashes'. I reach for my Luger when I see the term 'speedlight'