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Strobe vs Continuous Lighting - your opinions?

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Androniques
832 posts
60
Message edited at 11/27/2012, 11:55:50 AM by Androniques
Hi all,

It's again that time of year, when we all prepare for some magic.
Well, of course, I do not mean asking you about the magic tricks,
everyone knows their own ones...

To the point, though, I am again asked to do some photo-sessions
with kids in schools and also by the Christmas trees (indoors).

Since I am fed up doing "my own tricks" on site, with loose background
and improvised lights/umbrellas taped to the note-stands, and a couple
of optically triggered flashes which tend to flash after the shot (or not flash
at all, arghhh; by now you perhaps wonder why they still ask me! :))
...anyways, I am about to buy at last a proper lighting kit to bring with me.

So, the question is should I go for strobe/flash or continuous softboxes?

I know, some will tell me: it depends... OK, I presume also, as it is about
kids photography, I should probably prefer continuous lighting, not to scare the kids,
not to have their eyes closed or half-closed because they might blink at the flashes...
As a matter of fact, I did not have much of a blinking issue before, because
I would still use one continuous source in front of them, and the flashes
would be turned up or sidewise...

Still, I am wondering what more experienced photographers have to say about
the pro's and con's of having either type of lighting? - I am especially interested
in learning the issues related to balancing the background lighting with the front
lighting in both cases. What I see on sale, normally, (for the price I am prepared
to pay, ~£150-200) is two/three umbrellas/softboxes with a background stand
(supplied with white/green/black tissues). Is it really enough to provide sufficient
light for both the bg and fg? Maybe, I will have to buy and use additional flashes
(I have two) from behind the stand?

Will appreciate your responses, and likely even report on my experience and outcomes
after I made my mind and bought the lights eventually.

Thank you in advance!
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Lauriey
364 posts
81
Message posted at 11/27/2012, 15:18:31 PM by Lauriey
Continuous
Benefits: You can see how the light is falling in real time, makes it easier to position the lights/subject for the best lighting.
Generally cheaper.
Downsides: Tends to have less power then strobes. Runs hotter (although I hear the LED versions are not as hot).
The extra light also causes the pupils to close down (smaller).. most people think larger pupils are more appealing.

Strobes
Benefits: Freezes subjects easier due to the power (stronger them ambient).
Downsides: Harder to visualize the lighting before the shot. Need to shoot at 1/250 or slower (due to the shutter synch speed). But some lights (like alien bees) have a 'model mode' which use a lower power light that is continuous so you can kinda see where the light is falling, and also helps the camera to focus in low light situations (where cameras would search for focus).

Strobes are actually really great for kids who can move fast. And I haven't had problems using these with kids. Babies and toddlers, kids of all ages. I've been using strobes for my studio style work for years. With continuous you have to worry about the heat, including hot bulbs if they knock them down.

Strobes tend to cost a bit more, but most photographers I've heard who had/have continuous lighting end up switching (or planning to). Some are happy with continuous though, especially with adult models or 'still life' subjects.
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Bogdanzagan
288 posts
78
Message posted at 11/27/2012, 15:39:36 PM by Bogdanzagan
If you consider strobes take a look at Gary Fong tutorials and get some cloud diffusers, they are really good and they are saving you a lot of space.
Photography I use Nikon 105mm F2.8G, Nikon 35mm F1.8G, Nikon...

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Androniques
832 posts
60
Message edited at 11/27/2012, 17:04:48 PM by Androniques
Thank you, guys!

I did my search too, and it seems that the opinions do converge mostly to the strobe softboxes (with model mode), unless one is doing something very specific in a big well-ventilated studio and... with well-behaved/prepared models :)

Lauriey, thank you for your detailed reply, I was actually forgetting to consider the heat and the power consumption of the constant lights, let aside their "burnt" smell after being heated up for a while... So I do look into stobes now, no question: size, more power at less consumption, more versatile and portable etc.

Bogdanzagan, I will certainly follow your advice too, let me first decide on the affordable (for me) kit, again I have to stay within £200, +bits, maybe.

Please, do not kill me for asking you to look at these two sets I found on ebay:
this one and another one

You see, I am only slightly initiated yet, but it seems to me that the fist one might be preferable, as (if I am not mistaken) it has square area, not like the rectangular area in the second one. Also, is 750W sufficient? - how big room would one properly light with such lights?

I understand that branded professional lights with model mode are very efficient and convenient, but I can't go there right now :( OK, I can actually, but my wife will kill me! ;)

Update: phew, I just found out this - if you happened to be logged off after typing in a long post, and forgot to safe-copy the text before posting (the DT system does not allow you to post the just typed-in post), you can safely recover it! - open your profile in another tab/window, by right-clicking on any link on the current (logged-off) page, then in that new tab/window login, and return to the page where you were typing the post, then press "back" button in your browser and confirm resubmission of the data (well, you may also need to press "forward" button, if you see the empty field for posting a message).
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Lauriey
364 posts
81
Message posted at 11/27/2012, 16:59:38 PM by Lauriey
I don't know anything about those kits. I started off with the AB's. One 800 (overkill for most tings) and added one 400 later. One light and reflector is fine unless yo have a large family/group.

I will say I know someone who got a cheapo kit (off ebay I think), and it broke in less then a year... But it is a cheap way to start out and see if you even like studio.... just realize if this is something you want to do in the longrun that you might want to invest in quality gear that will last.

Also, generic lights often have the issue of finding softboxes that fit/attach. The kits come with some, but if you wanted to add more (different sizes) then that may be an issue in the future.

Do you mean square vs rectangle softboxes? It would depend on what you are shooting, I use rectangle generally, I like the shape of catchlights in the eyes... more natural/window shaped.
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Androniques
832 posts
60
Message edited at 11/27/2012, 17:43:35 PM by Androniques
Lauriey, thanks again! I am not comfortable with ebay either, this would be in fact my first purchase from there. Still, for my rather occasional needs those sets seem sufficient, provided they work as specified... As far as I see, AB's x400 (which I can buy) has model mode on top of just flash, yet it's only 160Ws, and you say it might be powerful enough for most needs in a small room?

Could you further comment on this: I have two flashes (optically triggered - by Nikon's SB600 - most often working well, with manual control and power regulation - forget my jokes above) and two umbrellas for them, plus some reflectors (white/silver/gold), now if I add one powerful softbox, would you say this setup is alright?

My concern is that with those two flashes I never managed, for example, to fill the background properly for the seamless effect. (yes, I do not need this for photographing pupils, but I am thinking of the seamless too).

update: forgot to say that I liked your comment on the rectangular shaped softboxes. Indeed I never liked seeing umbrella's shapes in the eyes of people on portraits, even though it is said to be "professional look".
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Lauriey
364 posts
81
Message posted at 11/27/2012, 18:08:35 PM by Lauriey
I have a SB600 and an SB900 - the 900 because it was simpler to scroll through the menus.

What do you mean by filling the background? Do you mean lighting the background evenly?
With any light you will have light falloff... so the background won't be as bright as the closer subject... the further your subjects from the background the darker the background will be (unless separate lighting)... but also less shadow from the subjects as well. With subjects close to the background you will have harsh (ugly) shadows.

You could add another flash unit to light the background if that is the problem, or even try using a reflector (even a large white board) to make the main flash also into a fill, and use another for the background.
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Androniques
832 posts
60
Message edited at 11/27/2012, 18:40:12 PM by Androniques
OK, I see your points. I usually have people about 1.5-2 m away from the background (bg) and, if the side lights are at similar distance from bg and/or the subject (the flash on the camera pointing mostly upwards, the ceiling is white), any shadows are very soft. But, yes, the bg happens to be lit unevenly, because one flash fills it more than the other (used as the front light). Again, most often it's fine, and normally one would not need perfectly even bg.

However, to reduce the work on isolation (on white), one needs to overexpose bg with respect to fg. So, I thought a couple of powerful softboxes on the sides or behind the back-drop might help.
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Bogdanzagan
288 posts
78
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 00:32:15 AM by Bogdanzagan
Well, I have two flashes... one is for the subject and is ttl and one is manual, on full power and is intended to light the white background. The slave is on optical mode and does not know ttl.

That cloud diffuser gives me a lot of creative choices without having a big softbox... because the bigger the softbox is more evenly the light will be diffused. Also a big softbox cost a lot and takes some important amount of space.

You can add to your gear a snoot (or do it yourself) and you got everything you need for stock photography studio.

The light stand is a good idea but think of it as a support for your backdrop and not for supporting the softboxes.

Ebay does not have great prices on this kind of items, I did my research... try local shops, they have discounts and you will find a better deal.
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Parkinsonsniper
1093 posts
72
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 04:30:19 AM by Parkinsonsniper
Paraflashes and flash guns act differently when it comes to freeze the movement and react to shutter speed. Flash guns always give the same exposure and perfectly freezed pictures, while paraflashes have a much longer "burn" time (I don't know the right word for it, but I'm sure you understand what I mean) and the exposure is effected by the shutter speed (not because of ambient light, because the burn time is much longer) (I think I try to say to incandescence time LOL) so if you want to freeze motion, you should go for a head flash. 1/250 might not be enough for fast movements.

On the other hand, continuous light will free you from 1/250 and you will have the chance to go up as much as your camera allows you. But the power will be a problem. Too powerful lights will torture the model (I tried it and it is really difficult to concentrate with such a powerful light source in front of you) and the heat is a real problem, especially during indoor shots. It's hard to use softboxes because of fire problems LOL I'm serious. But you can always consider about high quality fluorescent lights. I worked with them for months and they can create wonders :)

The paraflashes you found on ebay, will be enough to lighten a large area and you can use them later for your stock shots. They are a little harder to use, when compared to con. light source.

If you want the lights for just one shot, then go for 1 or 2 head flashes. One on-camera and the other is off camera with a sensor-trigger. But if you want a permanent photographic equipment, to be useful in long term, you should grab the paraflash set. That's what I can say :)

For the naturally isolated images, I use this and it works perfectly. It's much harder to lighten the background from the front side, because it mostly creates an unwanted degradation. You need at least 2 lights (which I don't have). I use a simple and cheap bulb flash. They have on-board photo-sensors and very useful for such purposes.

I didn't see you for a while, I hope you and your family are ok :)
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Androniques
832 posts
60
Message edited at 11/28/2012, 05:36:00 AM by Androniques
Parkinsonsniper, Good to see you here and have your insightful advice! I read on some photo-forums that there is a difference in flash-cycles of speedlight-heads and softboxed but never properly understood it, now I think I do :)

Regarding the setup you pointed out in the link, I wonder if you use some special semitransparent back-drop, or is it a common cotton tissue? I think I am looking for exactly this setting! (ps: yes, we are fine, except I did not do much photography lately, but the kids are after me these days, so I think "I'll be back" :)))

As a matter of fact, I've ordered already this 900Ws set which must be good enough for any need I imagine I could face in the nearest future (a couple of years)... hopefully it will work as they describe, and (fingers crossed) won't put me down by failing within a year (the seller has a top-seller rating with over 99% positive reviews, so there is a hope).

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion!
When the kit arrives and I have had some experience of using it, I will return here with my insights. :)

LOL, I am serious
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Parkinsonsniper
1093 posts
72
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 06:53:37 AM by Parkinsonsniper
Sure we can't compare them with the top brands of paraflash but they look fine to me :) have fun with your new toys...

Here is what I did; I took a 2m x 8m pure white and thick tissue. I went to a blacksmith (!) and grab two iron sticks, each 2,15 meters long and thinner than a finger (human finger LOL). I asked my mom to sticth the iron sticks in the tissue, one on the short side and one to the middle. I hanged two hooks on the ceiling. Now I hang the tissue from the ceiling, first iron stick holds the tissue perfectly in place, and second one works as a weight to keep the tissue curve free. it is easy to remove and hide it in the house. (my english is so funny at the moment, I can't remember any words, so try to understand me please hahahh)

a semi-transparent backdrop will show the background and the light source, so it's not useful in this backlighting technique.

I don't upload anything since 2 months, either. I should restart to shoot, to write blogs etc...
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Sijohnsen
109 posts
77
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 10:48:18 AM by Sijohnsen
I bought one of the sets you originally linked to as a cheap supplement to the lights I already had, I have to say they aren't the best quality, a bit plasticky build wise, the stands dont seem as steady as they could be and fitting the soft boxes is a lot easier with the 's' type fittings I normally use, but for the money I can't say I expected much more, so overall not a bad starter set for those on a budget, just expect to pay out again for better quality if you get serious.
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Peanutroaster
1513 posts
67
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 11:58:58 AM by Peanutroaster
I started trying to do things cheap. But in the end it was a waste of money. Studio is great when the weather turns cold.

Ended up with an Alien Bees 800 which is over the top for my small studio space but it was only a bit more so got it. Then I got myself some huge soft-boxes.
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Peanutroaster
1513 posts
67
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 12:00:00 PM by Peanutroaster
BTW - after my Alien Bee I got a set of dirt cheap smaller strobes that seem to work just fine.
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Nospmisk
364 posts
61
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 12:08:00 PM by Nospmisk
I prefer to use flash over continous.
I like having the ambient control along with stop motion depending on the shot.

This shot was taken in my brightly lit kitchen, strobes killed the ambient and froze the motion:
   Water Punch   

This is another shot taken in daylight:
   Rain Rose   

Try those with continous.
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Androniques
832 posts
60
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 13:03:38 PM by Androniques

Originally posted by Peanutroaster:
Quoted Message: BTW - after my Alien Bee I got a set of dirt cheap smaller strobes that seem to work just fine.


I really liked this comment! Sort of warmed me up a bit, after my order has been paid already and all the talks about AB stuff... :)

Nospmisk, Great shots! Provided I have some time during the X-mas holidays (and the strobe kit arrives in time and works!), I might try something like that... if you hint me on how to do it :) well, I know the web/google are at hand too...
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Nospmisk
364 posts
61
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 13:17:57 PM by Nospmisk
Strobist.com
Start with lighting 101
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Bradcalkins
2544 posts
84
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 14:06:39 PM by Bradcalkins
I've been playing around with some smaller LED continuous lights and they are very cool (temperature wise) to work with. I think they will be very nice to work with for still life where the lights are quite close to the subject and you can very precisely adjust things to get just the right look. Especially handy for shiny objects where you want to control specular highlights and so on.

Further back or through softbox modifiers, however, you'd have to spend a lot of money to get the same brightness. I find that you'd need to rack up ISO to get anything at f/8, and even then you'd have a hard or impossible time stopping moving subjects. Another negative of the continuous lights is that they are very bright for the subject, and ambient light plays a role that you then have to take into account. With my limited experience so far, strobes are much easier to use for portrait photography - unless you start getting into a lot of video :)
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Androniques
832 posts
60
Message posted at 11/28/2012, 18:17:18 PM by Androniques
Nice to see more good advices popping up! Thank you, everyone!

It's a pity I cannot comment properly and reply every message, but I am sure the readers of this thread will appreciate.
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