Friday, January 16, 2015

All Light Is Not Good or Useable Light

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I keep hearing the phrase, "light is light," more and more lately. While it's true that light is light in many ways. And it's also true that all light, certainly visible light, can be utilized for your photography with varying success, it's not always true that light is light from the perspective of artificial lighting sources. In other words, all lighting devices don't produce quality light of a "light is light" manner in ways that will make your work or your hobby as a photographer simpler (KISS) and less complicated (Ockham's Razor.)

There are reasons, some very good reasons, why some lighting devices cost more than others and those reasons aren't of a "light is light" nature.  When it comes to lighting gear, all light is not light in spite or your ability -- better ability than ever --  to correct color temperatures, shoot at high ISOs with minimal noise, and all that sort of stuff with today's digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Saying, "light is light," is like saying "air is air," and "water is water." While there's more than a modicum of truth to those words regarding air and water, there's air I wouldn't want to breathe and there's water I wouldn't want to drink. In that same vein, there's lighting gear I wouldn't want to be stuck using; leastwise, using regularly or consistently.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that every serious photographer needs to purchase the most expensive, brand-name, lighting devices on the market. But there's a lot of crap lighting devices out there... granted, at attractive prices. Here's some 411: There are some obvious reasons why some of that nicely-priced gear is priced so inexpensively and a lot of those reasons aren't good reasons from the point-of-view of the gear being "good" gear  that will meet most photographers' expectations.

I should also mention that there's some very good lighting gear available at very affordable prices, nearly unbelievable prices when compared to equipment that has all or nearly all the same features and capabilities but is expensive brand-name gear.  How do you separate the good from the bad?  By doing some research. Research that extends beyond the going-price for such gear.

If, like me, you use your lighting gear mostly to shoot people, whether it's glam, fashion, other sorts of portraiture, or for things like weddings and events, there are some requirements, make that you should be considering some requirements for the gear you spend your hard-earned money on, i.e., beyond simply saving a few bucks when making those purchases. Why? Because light is not light when you consider those requirements.

Perhaps some of you question my use of the word "requirements" when talking about those, uhm... requirements. I suppose many of those "requirements" aren't absolute "requirements." Okay. I'll agree. They're not absolute requirements. But for the lion's share of my work they are.

What are some of the "requirements" I'm talking about? For me, I don't care how little a piece of lighting gear costs, if it can't do things like recycle quickly, maintain consistent color temperature each time it fires, isn't built in a quality manner, and doesn't provide enough power to do what I routinely need it to do, I'm not interested.

Some of you might have other requirements for your photography. Perhaps things like the ability of your lighting devices to communicate with your camera in ways that permit (E)TTL auto functions? Perhaps size or transportability are requirements?  There are all sorts of requirements different photographers might have for their lighting gear. Everyone is interested in getting a good deal and more bang for your bucks. I'm no exception. But that doesn't mean I'll sacrifice or compromise in terms of what I need a lighting device to do and how well, efficiently, simply, and consistently it does it.

It's true that most all of the higher-priced, name-brand gear on the market fulfills my requirements. It's also true that there are plenty of manufacturers producing lighting products that fulfill my requirements equally well. From that perspective, the phrase "light is light" is meaningful to me. But all light and lighting devices having that "light is light" thing going for it in all the ways I need light to be the sort of light I require for my work? It doesn't work out that way.

Is a Rolex or a Tag Heuer a quality-made watch that keeps good time? Yep. Is my Seiko Automatic a quality-made watch that keeps good time. Yes it is. Would I like to sport an expensive Rolex or Tag on my wrist? Sure. Why not? That would be cool... and fashionable. Does that mean I'm going to run out and spend my hard-earned money on a Rolex or a Tag simply because it might be cool and fashionable? Probably not unless I suddenly have more than a little "F-U" money, which I don't.

The pretty girl at the top is Melanie. I lit Melanie using three of my Novatron monolights: A 500ws unit for my main, modified with a 5' Photoflex Octo, and two 300ws Novatron strobes, either side, modified with small-ish shoot-through umbrellas. They were all triggered with PocketWizard transceivers. Novatron makes quality monoblocs and are mid-priced. I've been using them for years. To use the Timex watch company's motto, Timex being watch company more like Seiko than Rolex or Tag Heuer: "They take a licking and keep on ticking."  Course, my Novatrons don't actually "tick" but you know what I mean. But they do "beep" when they've recycled and they always beep quickly enough for my work.


Kenneth Ingham said...

As a cave photographer, I agree completely. My light requirements are pretty stringent: small and light enough to be carried through muddy passages no larger than I am (I crawled over a mile one day). Once we arrive at the destination, the light has to work reliably and put out lots of light (caves tend to be darkroom-dark, and I am not talking about having a safe-light on). I have learned that it is better to pay more and get good gear than to be frustrated by cheap gear that only fires sometimes.

jimmyd said...

Kenneth: For a time, I was using Canon's IR gear to trigger strobes, inconsistently to say the least. Then, I went with cheap Chinese wireless triggers. Unreliable and shoddy in terms of workmanship. Finally, I sprang for PocketWizards and I was a happy camper. Now, of course, there are more than a few alternatives to PWs that are reliable and well-made. But 5 to 10 years ago? Nope.