Friday, April 15, 2011

Please Don't Burn Me at the Stake!

Hopefully, I won't be stoned or worse for this update. Some newer photographers definitely seem like zealots when it comes to their speedlites, speedlights, small flash instruments, whatever you want to call them. I mean, the small flash religion even has its own apostles, you know, like Saint Joe and Saint David. Those two have hopped on a tour bus and are out there traveling the highways and byways of America like revival tent preachers spreading the gospel of small flash photography to the masses. Betcha they're even healing some old school shooters who have resisted seeing the light of small flash photography and reciting the small flash prayers inspired by Canon, Nikon, Vivitar, Metz, and more.

Watching some of those old timers converting from their packs-n-heads and monolights to small, portable, flash photography must be a wonder to behold! A truly religious experience! I can just imagine those old dudes getting baptized in the "new light." I can almost see and hear them after their miraculous conversions, working with their subjects, lighting them for the first time with small flash units and speaking to them in tongues.

Now I sure don't want to be labeled a heretic. And I'll even admit to sometimes using small flash instruments myself, leastwise, when they're the right tool for the job. And like I already said, I sure as hell don't wanna get stoned or burned at the state or worse. But I gotta share one thing with all of you, as heretical as it might sound: I'm not giving up packs-n-heads or monolights when shooting in a studio or in many interior locations. Nope. I'm not gonna do it even if it makes me some kind of photo-pagan. And while there's a whole bunch of reasons I'm not going to do that, here's one of the really big ones-- If there's one thing I'd sorely miss, it would be that modeling light on my main light.

Yep. That's it. Pure and simple. As far as I know, and I could be wrong cuz I'm not omniscient and all-knowing like some photographers are, but as far as I know those Canon speedlites and Nikon speedlights and small flash units from Vivitar, Metz, and others don't come with modeling lights. And I love me some modeling lights!

As usual, I'm just saying. And I sure don't mean any disrespect to Joe McNally or David Hobby cuz the truth is, I respect what they've done and what they do immensely.

The pretty girl at the top is Devin. Devin is lit with, dare I say it? Three monolights and a bunch of ambient daylight coming in from an outside-the-perimeter-of-the-shot window above and behind her. (Click photo to enlarge.)

19 comments:

BB said...

I cannot say I disagree.... that said I think its just about using the tools. I personally have not seen the small strobe light per say but many I know like the reduced costs and easy portability.

I just tend to light it simple and since its only me to lug it....simply works for me...

Read the e-book - pretty good stuff in there... a pile of new things to add to my toolbox to try...

jimmyd said...

@BB - Course, the latest and greatest Speedlite from Canon costs what? Like $500? That's not too reduced of a cost. Bottom line: Use the right tool for the job. The definition of the right tool, which might include a number of different consideration, also includes it being the simplest tool that will get the job done. :-)

Mark said...

I'm not giving up my studio strobes and Vagabond for anyone. Sure, I'll use small flashes off camera it that's what I need (portability), but if I can use a monolight, that's my preference.

Jen said...

Small flashes have their place. I agree with you about the modeling lights. They are invaluable to save time in envisioning what I want to accomplish in an image. I purchased your ebook and enjoy the material you have shared in it.

asiangirlphotgrapher said...

Praise the Lord..... Although I mostly use speedlights when I tavel (just an amateur) I do it because I'm travelling internationally and too expensive to bring the big lights. But at home the speedlights stay packed away. Modeling light, more power, faster recycle times (I can go on and on) make the studio strobes the way to go.

Bill Giles said...

For a traveling photographer / photojournalist, the Nikon system has some real advantages for controlling remote flashes. If I didn't already have any equipment and I had a huge budget for flashes, I'd be tempted to go that way. Olympus has a similar system, but it only works with the E-3 or later. I shoot an E-1 most of the time. If you are traveling light, it makes sense. In some ways, it's a throwback to hot lights with few modifiers. More lights focusing on the details that you want to bring out. It's not that quick to set up, unless you us the speedlites all the time. I'll carry a couple of speedlites, but I'll stick with studio strobes for the most part.

Tim said...

From another point of view, you can acquire far less expensive speedlites than the large flagship models from the big 2 ( around 100.00) and for someone starting out with a lot smaller budget this can be very helpful. Of course we think about those shinny new large strobes and the day we can own one. So for some joining the speedlite religion is a necessity. My two cents form a different angle.

Lawrence said...

Hi jimmy,

I use mostly small flash because I like the portability. I also use Alienbee 1600s when the need requires it, but I am mostly on the move and have no studio.

Also, yes the newest Speedlight from Canon/Nikon/Metz costs a whole bunch, but if you follow Strobist, you will realize that you don't need all those fancy features and an $80 Vivitar or one of the Lumopro flashes will do just fine because light is light.

That said, you can put together a whole lighting kit with 4 lights, with modifiers and stands for under $700 AND you can move around with it anywhere because it is light, small and portable.

I shoot mostly weddings and outdoor stuff. I might take my monolights out once in a while in the field, or if the venue has adequate space and requires it, but honestly? You get tired if you do it very very frequently and you look for alternatives to sculpt the same light.

StMarc said...

The higher-end speedlights from Canon have a feature that allows them to cycle rapidly and sort of provides a "modeling light." However, it's not really comparable in terms of utility. Plus if you do it very much it will destroy your speedlight.

Just thought I'd point that out before somebody was all "OMG U NOOB CANON LITES HAVE PREVIEW MODE !!!!1!WTFBBQ!"

Riley said...

The zealots will be at your door any day now.

jimmyd said...

I've learned Canon does make at least one Speedlite that comes with a modeling light on board: the 320EX.

I have no idea how efficient it might be working within a soft box or reflected off an umbrella. I'm thinking the unit's LED modeling light might adversely effect battery life.

http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/products/cameras/speedlite_flash_lineup/speedlite_320ex

Fred Gerhart said...

I have three sets of lights - studio strobes, speedlites, and constant lights. I simply use what is right for the job at hand.

jimmyd said...

@Fred: That's the way everyone should do it given the limitations of their gear arsenals. I would be hard-pressed to work the jobs I work if all I had were speedlites to light with.

Stephen said...

Actually I went to that tour and they mainly talked about light. There wasn't any comparison of any kind. They didn't even mention how Canon is behind Nikon in flash technology. I think the religion is more of the people following Joe and David then it is them.

Ed Verosky said...

I've used all types. Mostly use small flash units because of the portability for the types of images I shoot. But, without real modeling light, it can be harder to focus, it's doesn't give the person under the lights the feeling of being "under the lights," and it simply isn't the same experience for the photographer either. I use studio strobes if at all possible, and it it makes sense at the time.

Bill Giles said...

I spent yesterday at the feet of St. David and St. Joe and learned quite a bit. Nothing new and earthshaking, but a methodology for lighting. What looks good, what looks bad, why you might use one style of lighting for one person and a different style for another. I thought that the most interesting thing was the difference in David Hobby's lighting style from a few years back. He's a lot more into sculpting with light and a lot less into soft light. On the whole, I'm glad I went. It hasn't changed my feelings about equipment, but it may change some of my approach to lighting. Of course, I would be pleased to sit at the feet of St. Jimmy and soak up some of his wisdom if we're ever in the same neighborhood.

Since I shoot Olympus, neither the Nikon CLS system nor the Canon system is of any use to me. Whether I shoot with speedlights or studio strobes, I have to set them manually and trigger them with PWs or as slaves. Olympus does make speedlights that work in a similar fashion to the Nikon lights, but I can't afford to buy 4 or 5 of them. The one thing that I do appreciate about the CLS system is the ability to set all of your lights from the master. That saves a lot of time compared to walking to each light and adjusting the power, especially if the lights are on a boom or outside the room.

Peter Wine said...

I've been reading the Strobist blog since it started in 2006. It's never been about using small flashes (ie speedlights) to the exclusion of big flashes.

The premise of Strobist was (and is) how to get the most out of what you have, and being creative in geting shots that are impressive.

David came to the blog as a photographer from the Baltimore Sun, and as such had to be really mobile, which meant often not having more than a speedlight or two on any assignment. (They had 'big lights' in the studio at the paper.)

The idea was to get the speedlights that almost every photographer has off of the hotshoe, and how to make photographs rather than just taking pictures.

And I don't remember that David advocated buying $300-$600 speedlights either. He talked about buying older SB-24 and SB-26 for cheap on eBay and such (though the demand for them caused them to no longer be cheap.)

For many with a limited budget, it would be better to spend $400 on 4 speedlights to spread the light around than to buy one $400 monolight.

As with all info on the Internet, YMMV. (Your mileage may vary.)

jimmyd said...

@Peter:

Thanks for the thoughtful response!

I too have been a Strobist reader since the early days of David's blog and have often learned from it. BTW, I began this blog in 2006 as well. If my update seemed like some sort of attack on David or his blog (or on MacNally for that matter) it certainly wasn't intended as such. I've had a few behind-the-blog-scenes interactions with David over the years. He's a great guy!

You're right in that David's blog was never *only* about speedlites at the exclusion of "big lights" but it's seemed to me that many readers (of David's blog) began subscribing to that sort of photo production point-of-view and it snowballed in that direction, along with MacNally's efforts and others, culminating in the flash bus tour.

I'm a huge believer in keeping things as simple as possible and using the right (and simplest and easiest to employ) tool for the job. My ebooks, both of them, are all about doing just that. If an inexpensive small flash will get the job done and it's the easiest and simplest tool to employ for a given job, that's what I'll use and that's what I'll advise others to use. But there are, of course, many times, leastwise in my work, when a speedlite is not my lighting tool of choice for a variety of reasons including simplicity.

Lou said...

Haha... Excellent post, Jimmy... Yeah, there's been a HUGE movement to the Strobist style gear-packing, and it's just getting stronger and stronger. But that said, everyone here is right--right tool for the job.

I don't have money to throw at good monoblocks or a pack/head system (and I refuse to buy a cheap set that I'll hate three months into it), so I stick with small flashes. And not TTL either, nah, can't afford a grip of 580EX II's--LumoPro LP160 full manual things. You could bet, though, if I had the cash, I'd have a good pack/head kit, as well as a handful of 580s and some LP160s.

Interesting thing about David is he's been using studio units a lot recently, starting with the ABs he purchased, and now I think he's got a Profoto set or something. He's far from a hotshoe purist hehe.

Also, really nice guy. Got to meet the guys at the SF FlashBus tour--so glad I went. :)