I have enjoyed learning the craft of photography from many mentors throughout my life. Each and every one of them has helped shape the way I see light and create my art. Now that we shoot digital, the funny thing is, I find a lot of photographers (myself included) straying from those lessons sometimes. With digital, it’s so easy to let the new breed of technology do all of the heavy lifting. It makes us lazy…. This trust can also get us in trouble.
A long time ago, my friend John Harris told me; “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I think this also applies if one wishes to be a ProActive Photographer.
The other day, another photographer asked me what I thought the best light modifier was. I thought about it, and replied with “It depends.” It depends on what kind of emotion you wish to evoke from your subject and the viewing audience. There is no “best” light modifier that will do everything for you. Kind’a like saying a straight blade screwdriver is the best. Not good if you need a Phillips Head!
This also runs true when I have photographers ask me; what is the best lighting system to purchase? The two biggest variables to consider are; Budget, and how & where will it be used. How much money do you want to spend? There are some fabulous systems available, starting around a few hundred dollars and going up into the multiple thousand dollars per light range. Are you primarily lighting portraits and events? Then you may never need the extra features such as consistent color temp throughout the power range and ultra-short flash duration. Also with portraiture, more power is not necessarily better. Like to use large apertures for that beautiful creamy bokeh (and less retouching)? A lower output system used closer will give you nicer light than a light that has to be moved quite a distance from your subject to become usable at f/2.8!
I usually recommend renting the lights you are thinking of purchasing before dropping all of your hard earned lucre right away. If you are new to off camera lighting, try to keep it simple and rent only one or two lights and see how they handle. You can always use reflectors and panels to create the look of more lights (and it will help hone your “lighting eye”) should you need to fill shadows. This will apply whether you are looking at new Speedlights, Studio Strobes, or for that matter any lighting in general. Better to spend a few bucks to find out if they are a good fit for what you want to do and your “style” than being out a bunch of money to have something sit and eventually get sold at a loss.
Here are a couple of resources that I would recommend
If you’re near to Charleston SC; www.charlestonavgear.com
One other item that is often overlooked is a hand-held flash meter, and is a “must have” if you wish to be ProActive in your lighting! By using a hand-held meter, you are taking an incident reading (the light falling on your subject) instead of a reflective reading that your in camera meter has. We all know that the in-camera meter can easily be fooled by a wide variety of conditions, often leading to either under or over exposed conditions! Besides, once you know how much light is falling on your subject, you can easily adjust for the correct amount, instead of trial and error. By the way, you can often find great deals on lightly used flash meters on your local craigslist, photo clubs and photo forums.
One last tidbit to leave you with; Shadows are just as important as light. Work at becoming subtle with your lighting and don’t forget to keep shadows! Remember, there is only one “main” light, images become confusing to the brain when you have more than one light source at the same intensity.
Have fun and enjoy the journey!