When looking at lighting, you have a lot of choices with companies like Profoto, Broncolor, Elinchrom, Paul C. Buff, Godox, and others. Have you asked yourself if the lights from those companies fit how and where you shoot? Does it makes sense to buy that $2,000 strobe or would a couple cheap speedlites achieve your vision?
When having to light people in dynamic situations, nothing helps more than using additive light, more commonly referred to as strobes and flash. For those that are photographing people, being able to control lighting in a multitude of situations makes creating imagery a whole lot easier when shooting portraits, families, weddings, or events. The big questions are how much light do you need and what circumstances are you going to encounter using those lights?
For the past year, I’ve really tried to take the plunge with a strobe set, preferably a three-light setup for on-location work and large groups of people. If you’re like me, you’ve added up the costs of the modifiers and the lighting and cringed a bit. Maybe those pieces will need battery packs and you’ll need get heavier duty stands just to make sure your investment doesn’t hit the pavement during their day-today work. Do you photograph subjects that require 600 watt-seconds of power? Will your modifiers be useful in the situations you envision? Are there other choices that will accomplish your goals?
I decided I needed to take a really intense look at the needs I have and the goals for my future work. I also needed to look at the expense of the equipment and the real-world likelihood of failure or breakdown of that equipment, then add up all the scenarios that us photographers hate dealing with but if you’ve shot long enough, know will eventually happen. These are things like shooting a wedding, when a drunk person decides your lighting stand is a great thing to lean on (there goes a speed light). What if you need to light up a room half the size of a football field but only have three lights (because you went all strobe) and then need to move those lights for dances and portraits? How easy is it to pull a replacement light out and fix the problem on the go? How about a mixed lighting system of strobes and speedlites? But now you have different modifier mounts and a system?
The choices are daunting and I personally didn’t feel good about any of the options plus the cost commitment to the new system and modifiers. Most strobe work is not done at full power. You are many times balancing ambient light with a nuanced touch of directional light. I'm rarely shooting people and groups in venues at very closed down apertures like f/8 or f/11. The backgrounds are muddy and distracting and I want to show my subjects separate from those scenes, so I use light and a thinner field of focus so the viewer looks where I want them to. Even groups of people in two rows at a mid aperture like f/5.6 when backed up enough will have enough depth of field to be in focus, and I can already achieve that with only one speedlite bounced off a wall. I can double that power and gain an extra stop of light to stop down more or lower the power on my flashes together to stop motion with one additional speed light on a light stand next to me using the exact same technique.
So, what about shooting in midday sun? You need those power outputs when shooting in that, right? Maybe. I went through my work the past three years and couldn’t find an instance where I had to shoot outside and compete with direct sunlight. Where I am, I can work around it with open shade from buildings and trees. I can use high speed sync or a neutral density filter and put two umbrellas overlapping one another, and I now have a larger light source with about 100 watt-seconds of power. This way, I can balance my ambient and directional light for a portrait even if it’s full length. I can use an octabox with a three-light bracket and have even more power with less chance of wind knocking things down. Though very rare, I can work around the predicament where a more powerful strobe would make that type of shoot easier. There are limits, but like everything with photography, you are working within your tool set to make the most from what it has to offer.
My setup currently is four Canon 600EX-RT speedlites and three Yongnuo YN600EX-RT speedlites. I primarily use the Canon brand for on-camera flash and the built-in triggers because the infrared beam focuses faster than the Yongnuo version speedlites. The Canons were expensive to get fixed when they were damaged and averaged about $200 each time. Every time this has happened was when my flashes were off camera, so I now only use the Yongnuo speed lights for OCF, because I can buy a brand new speedlite for almost half the cost of repairing the Canon. Besides basic umbrellas, I’ve used Westcott brand modifiers like the Apollo Orb and Rapid Box Light Kit. For the look of larger lights, I can always shoot through a scrim that's included in the Impact 5-in-1 Oval Reflector. Expo Imaging Rogue Gels have been a mainstay in my kit for a long time, and I’ve used the Expo Imaging Rogue FlashBender as a directional key light.
I am purchasing an addition to continue to take advantage of the kit I have decided to keep, and that’s the MagMod system. Without the worries of spending a considerable sum on new lights and the modifiers to fit those lights, it made sense to have a system that could be added to my kit that may make creating imagery faster. It made sense when thinking of creating dynamic scenes and the time savings when comparing the Magmod modifiers to the cost of new lights, soft boxes, beauty dishes, gels, and grids. My shooting style is fast-paced, and my modifiers are great, but not necessarily for those situations and have slowed me down sometimes. I’ll see how these new modifiers work over time, but shooting a wedding yesterday and using the Magmod tools was faster and easier than some of my current kit.
If you’re looking for new lights or modifiers, have you looked at your shooting style first? Are you intrigued by the idea of new equipment and the possibilities it can offer? Are you trying to improve the work and lighting system you currently have, or are you maybe looking for a problem that isn’t really there?