Rob Mank Photography » Leading Newborn Baby Photographer providing fine art images in Yorkshire

Studio Flash – What to buy?

 

Buying new equipment can be so daunting and confusing when theres so much choice out there! So if you’re looking to move into flash for your work I’ve put together a few recommendations to help you.

A lot of people ask which is better, studio light, constant or natural light. To be honest they are all the same in principle and all have their advantages and disadvantages. I prefer to use Studio flash so I have complete control of the light. Natural light can look so beautiful, soft and has an airy feel to it. But it can also be inconsistent, harsh and colour can shift quite a lot. Constant light can be good to add a bit more additional lighting when shooting ‘natural light’ when theres just not enough light available but it doesn’t really have the power like flash does to get use out of a wide range of modifiers.

When choosing equipment have a think about what you want out of it. Are you wanting that dreamy shallow depth of field and soft light? Or do you want a lot in focus and more direct harder light? Neither is right or wrong, its just a personal choice but you’ll need the right kit to get the look you want.

Studio flashes are often named by their power output but its important to look at the power range of the unit. Some will have a smaller range of output meaning you may need to get a less/more power head to suit your needs or some have a large output range meaning you can utilise the low power settings as well as a high power for when needed.

Things to think about when purchasing a piece of equipment are:
Flexibility, durability, quality, cost.

Below are some recommendations with the above in mind.

Elinchrom D-Lite RX one 

A nice little compact and reasonably cheap flash head. Only 100w at maximum power and right down to 6w at minimum power (this is the important bit for wanting that shallow dreamy look), with a nice modifier this produces a low power of light allowing you to shoot at wider apertures to get that shallow look many newborn photographers love.
A cheaper flash head will obviously have its drawbacks, those costs have to be cut from somewhere after all! It does take longer to recycle its power meaning you have to wait a second or 2 before it’ll fire off again, ok for newborns but if you have toddlers or cake smashes it could mean missing that spilt second expression you get right after firing your shot! (we’ve all been there!) The other thing with cheaper flashes is colour consistency over the power range, colour can shift as you change the power which can create more work in post processing if you forget to take a grey card image every time you change the power. Its low power also means you don’t get as much oomph out of it, making it a bit more specialised. So not ideal if you’re wanting to shoot a lot of family and big groups as it can struggle to get the power needed for higher apertures (unless you compromise on ISO), making this flash head less flexible.
Elinchrom do have other power flashes in the range too if you did want something a bit more powerful.

As for durability and quality over all its pretty good. I’ve known a couple of people who’ve had issues with fuses blowing and modelling lamps blowing but these are pretty much serviceable items anyway. I’d expect its life expectancy to be lower given its price point but I’d be happy to replace it after 5 years of use at the price point it comes in at.
Overall a nice little cheap flash head which is great for newborn photographers and people wanting to get into flash without spending too much money!

You can pick one up from Wex or the Flash Centre for around £140

Broncolor Siros

Heres a review on the Siros from Karl Taylor Photography:

Broncolor are a market leader when it comes to flash technology, they have the heritage and are known for making high quality equipment. The Siros is Broncolors new monolight flash head a little more affordable to their usual flash equipment.

They come in 400w and 800w variations. I use the 400w version myself. They have a huge power range from as little as 2w right up to 400w (on the 400w version) which compared to the Elinchrom d-lite one above you can see it quite a difference (6w to 100w). This gives me the flexibility to shoot as low as f1.4 if I wanted to create a really shallow depth of field but also allows me to turn the power right up and shoot bigger families and groups without needing to change to a different flash head or compromise on my ISO. You also get much more consistency with the Siros, the colour never shifts at any power setting giving you nice consistent colours whatever you choose to shoot at, making post processing much easier and faster. They recycle incredibly fast too, as quick as 0.02 seconds, meaning if I need to shoot quickly to capture whats happening in front of me I know I can do so in confidence.  They also have a super fast flash duration meaning they have the ability to freeze fast moving objects (technology taken from their much much more expensive equipment).
One handy feature of the Siros too is they have an app you can use to control your flash heads. The flash heads set up their own wifi network which you can control from your phone or tablet, each head is colour coded with a light on the back to show you which head you are controlling. You can turn them on and off from the app, control the power output independently or as a group. Which is incredibly handy when your flash is up high on a light stand or hard to access.
Overall this is a high quality flash head with lots of flexibility and usability, however this does come at a cost. They aren’t the cheapest flash heads out there. But personally, I see them as an investment as much as my camera and lenses.

The 400s Wifi head is available for just under £1100 but you’re better off buying a kit from Broncolor themselves as it works out a better deal. I’d recommend going through Broncolor UK which is run through Hasselblad Broncolor UK

They are other brands out their available but these recommendations are based on kit I have used and have experience with. Other brands to look at are Bowens, Profoto, Lencarta etc… my advice would be to look at power ranges when choosing a light and not just the maximum power quoted.

Modifiers

Modifiers come in lots of different shapes and sizes! Many ask whats the ‘best’. The answer to that depends on the application you’re after. A bigger soft box will give you softer light and a bigger spread. Where as a smaller soft box will give a harder light and tighter spread of light.
Then you get shapes, which is better? Octagonal, square, rectangular, strip etc…? The difference between octagonal and square/rectangular is pretty much the shape of the catchlight, some prefer the rounder looking shape of a octagonal soft box as it follows the same shape as the eye. Where as a square/rectangular can look more like window. In terms of quality of light from them, theres not much difference. A rectangular can be little more versatile (depending on the size of it) as it can be used in landscape orientation which can give a bit more wrap to help fill in or can be used feathered off to give the effect of a smaller soft box and can also be rotated to portrait orientation if you’re wanting a more full length shot to provide a bit more spread of light from top to bottom. Where as strip lights are really good to use for separation and tighter control, especially with a grid. Great for those low key maternity shots when you just want a touch light to define the shape of the bump.

As with everything you buy, there’s products at different price points. Generally I’d try and spend as much as you can on a modifier. Size of modifier depends on the size you’re working in. I’ve been able to fit a 120cm Octabox in pretty much every space I’ve worked in (and I’ve worked in some tight spaces). If you are mobile I’d take a look at soft boxes with umbrella type function (they fold away making them easier to put up and down). Lencarta actually do a very decent 120cm folding octabox: 120cm Soft box (dont forget to get the right fitment for your flash head)

Lastolite also make some very good portable soft boxes. Look at their Ezy Box range, they’re easy to assemble, well made and pack down quite small. They can also be used with speed lights with a different adaptor too, making these a great soft box for location work too. I own a 120cm Octa box and its very good quality and gives a lovely quality of light too.

Elinchrom’s Rotalux soft boxes are very high quality and worth considering if you purchase a Elinchrom flash head.

I use Broncolor soft boxes to go with my Siros heads and find them excellent quality, they provide a lovely quality of light and a nice spread throughout the soft box.

Some cheaper soft boxes use very thin diffusion material of not great quality which effects the quality of light, it ends up being more spot light effect and can be a lot more contrasty. Something to keep in mind when choosing a softbox.

Bessel provide soft boxes at much more of the budget end, but personally I just dont think the quality is there.

If you’re shooting mainly newborns I’d recommend going for as big as you can fit in your space and invest in something good. I use a 180x120cm rectangular soft box myself as well as a strip box too.

How many lights do you need?

Honestly, for most things you can get away with just one. Yep, just one. The majority of my work I only use one light, once you learn how to control and position your light effectively one light can go very far!

I have 2 lights myself and looking to add a 3rd. Its good to have more than one light in your kit if only as a back up. I’d hate to cancel a session because I had an issue with my light during a shoot. Once you’ve learnt how to control one light you can start to add more lights in to build your image and add more dimension (not to make it flat as a pancake). I’d recommend getting a nice sized octabox or rectangular softbox for your key light and possibly add a couple of strip boxes with grids for when you want to get a bit more creative!

What else do you need?

Triggers!

You’ll need something to fire your studio lights. Elinchorm make their own trigger which is very good and reliable! I’d recommend purchasing their Skyport trigger which talks to their own flash heads: Skyport Trigger

Broncolor also make their own which is included with the kit (which I’d recommend purchasing over buying the heads separately)

I also use Yongnuo RF602 triggers which are great manual triggers, they work with my flash guns when I’m out on location and make a great back up to have in my bag which are so cheap. Theres loads on eBay!

Light meter

I’d be lost without mine; Its always in my bag where ever I go! I think its an essential piece of kit, especially when you start to introduce additional lights. Its important to know what one is doing in reference to the other, so you can start to work your ratios. Many things effect the exposure of light that hits your subject. The modifier used, the distance from the subject etc… not just the power output from the flash head.

A Sekonic L308 Sekonic L308 is a cheap and cheerful little light meter and should do the job fine in a studio. I use a Sekonic L758 Sekonic L758 as it’s much more reliable when out on location in strong sunlight. I found the little L308 struggled to pick up the flash when in bright ambient conditions but there is quite a price difference!

Grey card

Want consistent colours in your work? Get yourself a grey card!! Flash is pretty consistent in colour (especially if you invest in a good flash head like we talked about earlier). Flash outputs at a certain temperature, you can use your grey card to set up a custom white balance and forget about your WB then. You can also take a shot of your grey card in position and use LR or PS to pick from it later to set your WB (and tweak to taste of course) but I never have headaches over colour any more. Just simply set it and forget about it!

You can get a small simple one from 7dayshop or you can get a bigger one (which is better for setting custom WB) from Lastolite: Grey Card

 

If you have any questions or would like further help advice, please drop me an email: rob@robmankphotography.co.uk

  • Sarah Roberts-nee Jennings - Thank you for this post…it is a great help :)ReplyCancel