Why Constant Lights Are Better for Studio Work

Constant lights are traditionally used for video work. But I think they make for the perfect solution for a photography studio. 

Now, before we jump into why I chose constant lights, I want to preemptively say that I am no stranger to using flash. I use it all the time for wedding work as well as for portraits on location. And in all honesty, had I simply stuck with using flash in the studio, I wouldn't have had to buy a single piece of gear.

As for the general setup of my space, I have one wall that has a simple gray curtain hanging up that I can use as a backdrop and this curtain is totally inspired by some of the work by Phil Sharp, so you should definitely check him out. But from here, my main backdrop is a hand-painted drop from a company called Backdrops by Jeremy Ellsworth. I actually had him custom-paint this one for me to give some concrete wall vibes, and I absolutely love the way it turned out. From here, I'll talk more about the lights themselves later in the video, but for ease of use, I have them all on top of these rolling pistol grip stands from Cheetah Stand. It just makes it super easy to move lights around the space as well as accurately position everything. Then, because the space is small, I have two V-flats from V-Flat World just to help with control. I can use the white side to help fill in shadows when I need, or I can use the black side to help remove any unwanted fill from nearby walls. 

And while this studio space isn't going to be a full-time shooting location for me, I wanted to build it out in a way that I could tackle most studio-type jobs I’d be willing to take within the space. For example, I feel I could shoot any type of individual portrait or headshots in here and even small families. But for larger families or things like sports teams, I just couldn't make that work in this small of a space. But for me, the primary use is probably going to be high school seniors, headshots, and kids. And for me, kids are a big reason why I went with constant lights over flash. 

One of the biggest headaches, at least for me, when working with children and off-camera flash, is the time it takes to pull a kid's attention away from all the things around them and get them to look at the camera or even to just look in a certain direction. They walk into the studio and their eyes are jumping from light stands to softboxes, to v-flats, and the list goes on. So, you finally draw them away from the visual chaos and they look at your camera. Then, pop goes the flash, and they quickly revert their gaze back to the lights. And the process starts all over again. And this even happens with adults. I've been photographing a group before and then realized that one of the adults was almost like a deer in headlights staring at the flashing softbox. But with adults, it's at least easy to direct them and get them to do what you need. But this process is already hard enough with children. It's even more difficult when you add in distractions that are almost custom-designed to pull their attention away from you. 

But with constant lights, they are just on all the time. So yes, you still have that initial shock and awe as the subject enters the room. But after a little while, the lights tend to just fade into the background noise of everything else. And not too long into the session, these lights are no different than a floor lamp in the corner of a living room.   

From here, I feel like constant lights have a small edge over flash because of their see-what-you-get quality. The idea of being able to make finite adjustments when setting things up, without having to take test images, is really nice to have. You can visually see how shadows are falling and if your light needs to go up an inch or down an inch. You can see if one light is too bright or not bright enough. And if you want to play with color, which I do, you can see how the different light colors are interacting with one another. Because of this, I chose to go with the Aputure 600C Pro as my main light. This light gives me a ton of power while also giving me endless color possibilities. It has more than 300 built-in color gel options and the ability to use HSI to set any color you want. It also has 600 watts of power, which I touch on more later, but this amount has always been more than enough.

Then for my second light, I have the Aputure Lightstorm 300X. This light is a bi-color light that can be adjusted from 2,700 K to 6,500 K. I went with the 300X because it's enough power for any type of rim or kicker light while also being enough power to use as a main light if I'm using the 600C Pro to maybe fill a scene with color. And the color adjustments on the 300X still give me room to play with color, even though it's not full RGB. And these two lights can give me a pretty good range in versatility, though I do think I'll need to add another light or two. For those, I have my eye set on the new Amaran 300C. While not as powerful as the 300X, I think having the full-color ability would be really nice to have for some more creative work. There are also some headshot setups that I want to start using that require a couple more lights. And while it would be ideal to just have all 600C pro lights, that price range isn't really feasible given that this space isn't going to be in full-time use. Though if the studio part of my work sort of takes over, I do think that could be a future option. 

But this brings me to power. And power is one of the main talking points when comparing flash to continuous lights. And I get it, you will never get enough bang for your buck in terms of power when comparing continuous lights to flash. It's just a matter of where the technology is. But with a studio space, I find that you don't really need a ton of power. You generally have total control of your space, so you can easily block out ambient light. And I prefer a more shallow depth of field look anyway, so I'm almost always shooting at wide-open apertures. And for reference, in all the images you see as part of this post, I never once had my Aputure 600C Pro higher than about 75% power (and that's simply because of the big double-diffused softbox I was using with it). For the 300X, I never need this higher than half-power unless I'm using my Strobepro optical snoot. And that's simply because this specific modifier eats up a ton of power. I’m pretty sure that the Aputure optical snoots have a more specific design to work well with each light, so using one of those probably wouldn't cause as much light loss. So, if you're looking to get one, I’d get one of the Aputure offerings that match the light you get.  


But from here, I want to touch on one more aspect of constant light that really puts this system over the edge for me. And that's the inspiration potential. I am a very in-the-moment type of photographer, where I don't like having a plan, and even if I do have a plan, I almost always prefer the images I take that are inspired by something in the moment. And using constant lights gives me way more potential for this type of inspiration. Because as the lights are on and you are adjusting things, you can see the way the light plays off a piece of fabric or the subject's face. As you move the light, you can see how that light might interact with something. You can see it causing an interesting highlight or shadow. You can then use this to gather an idea that you maybe never would have had in the first place. And it's an idea that you never would have had the chance to see with just the quick pop of a flash. 

Those are the main reasons I prefer constant lights over flash in a studio environment. And this is ignoring the fact that they can also be used for video and content creation, such as the above YouTube video. So, if that's also something you have on your list of things to do, constant lights might make even more sense to add to your arsenal of gear. But as always, if you have any questions, drop them in the comments. 

Jason Vinson's picture

Jason Vinson is a wedding and portrait photographer for Vinson Images based out of Bentonville, Arkansas. Ranked one of the Top 100 Wedding photographers in the World, he has a passion for educating and sharing his craft.

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I've found that if you don't require using goof-ball colored lighting you can use any kind of bulb that puts out white light. LED, halogen, incandescent, etc, etc,. All you need is a Data-Color or similar color chart to get the correct temperature in camera or post.

Totally! Light is light no matter the source! You just gain control, reliability, and functionality with higher-end sources.

I find it curious that you think kids are more comfortable being under bright constant light versus strobe. I have never found that to be a problem in shooting all ages from infant through adult with literally years of shooting studio work with kids fashion and advertising. I find that working in a brighter room lessens the 'shock' of a strobe even though the strobe is completely overpowering the ambient light.

While I have several hot light sources, I make the choice to use strobes more than 9 times out of 10. I more frequently am torn between using strobe or natural light, it is rare that I pull out hot fixtures for still photos. I would say even less often shooting kids.

Add to that freezing action, power and color control advantages of strobes, I simply don't agree with your headline and it's not even a close call.

Isn't it fun how people can have different opinions? :) Also I'd have to say my constant lights have way more color control than flash.

I just came across your work for the first time from this article and I just wanted to drop a note that it's absolutely beautiful! Before becoming a commercial photographer, I shot weddings for about 8 years and I can see the work and complexity in many of your images. Though I prefer strobe over continuous lights, I thought this article was fantastically written and I enjoyed it.

Ah thank you so much!!