Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Continuous vs Flash, which lights are best.

When it comes to choosing studio lighting there are many choices open to a photographer. Let's kick off with the obvious things, like which manufacturer do you choose, how many lights will you need and finally, should you buy flash or continuous lighting?

The first two have always seemed to be a very personal choice. There are lots of excellent brands around. I use Elinchrom in my studio and have been very happy with the results, but a good friend of mine swears his Bowens lights are superior. One thing we both agree on is the need for at least two (or better still four) lights as a minimum.

The last point has always been a "no brainer". For me flash has always beaten continuous lighting for three reasons.
1 Flash is far brighter then continuous lighting.
2 Flash doesn't make a models pupils go really small.
3 Flash is far less hot for the model.

But recently I had a chance to try some of the modern alternatives to traditional tungsten continuous lights. They’re based on low energy fluorescent bulbs and the results really surprised me. Let’s look at those three points again.

1 Flash is far brighter then continuous lighting.
Well this is still true. I used a twin continuous light kit which punched out 1000w of light each. Even with the lights very close to the subject and using a nice wide aperture, I was getting shutter speeds of 1/60th sec at ISO100.

2 Flash doesn't make a models pupils go really small.
No change here. Not surprisingly 2000w of light in your face will always cause your pupils to shirk right down..

3 Flash is far less hot for the model.
Not with the modern fluorescent bulbs. These things produce more light then heat. Yes they get warm, but no more then the modelling lamps on my flash heads. Plus they're daylight colour balanced, so no strange colour problems.

Another thing to consider is the size of these modern fluorescent bulbs. They range from big to huge. To give you some idea, have a look at this image.

To give you a guide, the 20w bulb is from my office light and pushes out the equivalent of 100w. The 50w bulb produces the equivalent of 250w and the massive 105w bulb punches out just over 500w of light. Wow!

So, on to the big questions.

Would I still recommend flash over continuous? Yes (see below for exceptions), flash still wins in my opinion. Whilst the new bread of continuous lights are a vast improvement over the hot tungsten lights of my youth, they still have some issues to resolve.

Why did I buy continuous lights? In a word, video. I'm spending more time producing video content for a number of different companies and I need some better lights. So, if like me, you’re thinking about combining video and stills photography continuous lighting make total sense.

Will I be using continuous for still photography? Yes. Despite all I've said there's still one big advantage to continuous lights. What you see is what you get. So for product photography where shutter speed isn't an issue, they're amazingly good. I'm also planning to try them in my next photo session when I want to very shallow depth of field. I’ll let you know the results.

For more details on continuous lights check out http://www.fjwestcott.com/ (North Amarica) or http://www.smick.co.uk/ (UK)


Luis said...

Hi! How are you? I am with BIG doubts regarding this issue, I guess continuous are much cheaper than flash, important also! I want to buy a kit that would give me nice results for studio objects, food, etc..! Should I go for continuous? I am seeing a kit from Smick, around 140pouds..! What lights should I buy? the 105w or the 125w for the extra 8pounds?? How about the softboxs size and shape? I am going to shoot objects on a 32' inch tent!

Sorry for all questions ok?

thanks and best regards,

Gavin Hoey Training said...


For product photography where shutter speed isn't a factor (assuming the product isn't moving) then continuous lights are the perfect choice.

125w is a better bet.

If you're using a tent the soft box size really doesn't matter that much, The tent will become a softbox.

Luis said...

Ah ok..! So should I get ride of the softboxes?? Just the stands and lights?.. The softboxes would just be nice with portraits?

thanks a lot,

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