It seems lighting with small flashes, i.e., Speedlites, Speedlights, flashguns, whatever you want to call them, has become a genre of its own. Some well-known and exceptional photographers are making a chunk of their livings hawking the virtues of small flash photography.
What started, I believe, as an alternative, less expensive, and less cumbersome way to location-light your subjects has become a virtual internet, small-flash-pimping industry. Leastwise, in terms of blogs, websites, workshops, and seminars.
But is lighting with small flashes less expansive and less cumbersome?
Lately, the less expensive angle isn't as obviously "less expensive" as you might think. The latest Speedlites from Canon, Speedlights from Nikon, and some other brands, aren't cheap. In fact, the higher-end versions sell for about the same price as a medium-priced monolight. While they deliver plenty of auto-function capabilities, they're sometimes short on power, high-end or not. Personally, I almost never shoot using auto-functions with the exception of auto-focus. When auto-focusing, my camera could care less if it's "talking" to a remote strobe.
Less cumbersome is a matter of opinion. If I were traveling a great distance, for instance overseas or to the East Coast, I might think to myself, "Hmm... I can pack less if I'm only packing small flashes instead of monolights."
But I don't travel great distances too often. In fact, rarely at all. Usually, wherever I'm going is within driving distances. Tossing a Pelican case in my vehicle with three monolights in it isn't any more of a hassle than tossing a Pelican case with small flashes in it. I'll still need to bring stands and modifiers and that stuff. And there's not much hassle-savings when it comes to setting up the gear. Where I'm saving on the "hassle expense" has never been too obvious to me.
When I arrive at my location and, assuming I brought small flashes with me to light my subject, I'm going to be somewhat inhibited in terms of what I can accomplish. That, of course, is because I'll have less power to wield: Lighting power. Depending on where I'm shooting and whether it will be interiors or exteriors, it might not be a detriment. But there's plenty of situations where I might need the power of monolights-- Power that small flashes simply aren't going to deliver... unless, perhaps, I group a few of them together.
Yeah, there's the obvious advantageous of not being dependent on A/C with small flashes. Just bring enough batteries with you and you're A-OK. That's really not a problem for me, however, as I'm lucky enough to have an ExplorerXT portable power system. It provides plenty of location power for my monolights. Still, the power considerations of small flash photography is an advantage for many shooters.
We all know the larger the light source, relative to the subject, the softer the light. Soft light is usually a good thing when shooting glamour. This rule of physics might bite me on the ass if I'm lighting with small flashes. Yeah, I suppose I could rig a Speedlite to a 5' Octo-box but I'm guessing it isn't going to illuminate the inside of that big, octagonal, soft box enough to throw much light as a big source. Plus, I'll need to do some rigging for the small flashes which will require special gear, albeit inexpensive gear.
I'm not down on small flash photography. Not at all. I just think small flashes don't replace bigger flashes in all situations. To think otherwise simply isn't true. It's all a matter of using the right tools for the job. Sometimes, those right tools might be small flash devices. Sometimes not. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
Faye, the pretty girl at the top with all her clothes on (How'd that happen?) was lit with a single, Vivitar 285, modified with a reflective umbrella. The location is a local train station, near where I live.