Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why Strobes?

I received this question via Flickr mail (phrased somewhat differently) and I thought I would answer it here. Without question, strobes are difficult to use and many photographers shun them. They are expensive, hard to visualize and to the beginner metering strobes appears to be an arcane art. So why do we put up with them? Here’s a few reasons:

1. Power. They are the most powerful light sources available. Even small AA battery powered units can exceed the brightness of the sun at close range and high powered studio units can turn noon into midnight. A battery powered strobe can easily give you f/11 at ISO 100; with a comparable battery powered continuous light you are lucky to get f/2.8 at ISO 800.
2. Efficiency. High powered continuous lighting generates a lot of heat. High powered strobes can be used without the risk of fire or overheating your model.
3. Color. Strobes have a consistent color temperature near daylight resulting in lively full spectrum color in the final image.
4. Portability. The high energy efficiency of strobes means one (or several) small battery powered units can go with you anywhere.

I certainly spend many years as a photographer terrified of strobes. I had one, but the moment I put it in the hot shoe, I put the camera in full auto mode and hoped for the best. Today, though, with the instant feed back of digital cameras it is easier than is ever has been to learn how to use strobes. If you haven’t done so, pick up a strobe with manual power controls and take some time to play with it. There is no better way to learn than setting both your camera and strobe in full manual mode and experimenting. A little bit of reading and a few hours with the camera and the mysteries of the strobes will start to make sense.

To get started and an infinite amount of inspiration, here are some great resources:

Strobist 101
EOS Flash
Light, Science and Magic
Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers

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