In this article, I’ll show you how to choose a studio flash for your needs and studio size, and take a quick look at a few popular models. Lighting is the most important photographer’s tool for creating real masterpieces. Pulsed light in the studio is still the main choice for most photographers: not surprisingly, because natural light from a window can be too finicky and unpredictable, and constant light (which we wrote about earlier) sometimes lacks power.
Types of Studio Lighting for Photography
There are three main types of flash light: on-camera flashes, generators and monoblocs. Small on-camera flashes are usually not designed for the studio – they usually lack power, and sometimes it is more difficult to use various modifiers with them (more on that below).
You can, of course, use a system of several on-camera flashes. However, to achieve the same power and quality of lighting as with larger studio flashes, you will need to spend significantly more money and effort on setting up. The cost problem, of course, can be solved using the cheapest Chinese models, but there is no reason to hope for the high quality of such a system.
A more versatile and simpler option is a candy bar, or simply “studio flash”. The mono block is a single body that contains all the electronics, controls and lamp. They are usually equipped with two lamps (a flash lamp for the flash itself and a modeling light for preliminary lighting estimation). All control takes place with the help of organs on the body. The main advantages of mono blocks are their versatility and low price compared to generators.
You may also like to read: Lighting in Filmmaking and Photography: A Complete Guide.
Generator light consists of a main unit, which contains all the electronics and controls, and heads with lamps, which are connected to it using a cable. The generators boast very high power and short pulse. However, this kind of light is much more expensive, and in this article, we will focus on more versatile monoblocs.
Mono blocks differ in a number of parameters that you need to pay attention to when choosing. We will consider them below.
The first thing to consider is the power of the studio flash. It ranges from humble 100 J fill lamps to super-bright 1500 J lamps. For most applications, the 500-800 J range will be a solid starting point. In general, in terms of power, it is better to take devices with a margin. An excess of light can always be scattered, but getting more than stated will not work.
Weaker lamps of 200 J are suitable for shooting small objects (for example, for product photography) and portraits at close range.
For small rooms, such as home studios, you can use lamps starting from 300 J. For example, the Raylab Rossa RS-300 pulse studio flash has a power of 300 J, so it is suitable for various types of shooting in a home studio. The model is equipped with a touch screen and a beginner-friendly control system.
For shooting in larger rooms, open spaces and for large groups of people (20+ people), it is worth using flashes with a power of 600 J. The Sprint IV RTD-600 has just such a brightness that it can be used in professional photography studios. An active cooling system protects the device from overheating during shooting, allowing you to work for a long time without interruption.
It is worth paying attention to what level of power control the model you are considering offers. The more precise adjustment is available, the better. Most modern models can be adjusted in very small steps to fine tune the brightness. For example, the Rosa and Sprint series models can control the pulse power in 0.1 stop increments, which is sufficient for most situations.
Associated with this is another important parameter - the adjustment range, that is, how much you can reduce the flash power from the maximum. The same rule applies here - the larger the range available, the better. This parameter must also be correlated with the power of the illuminator. For example, if you have a 500-joule mono block, which only allows you to reduce the power to 1/4, in some situations it will be too bright. On average, one should focus on the possibility of reducing the power to 1/16 and below.
The next thing to think about is speed. If you plan to shoot not only portraits but action scenes, choosing a fast-recharge lamp is critical. To make fast, sequential flashes, many manufacturers add a special mode (usually called "high speed mode" or "freeze") to their models, which reduces the power and duration of the flash, thereby reducing the recycling time.
High speed sync (HSS) is also becoming an increasingly common feature, which is especially useful for working with fast moving subjects. Luxio flashes such as the Raylab Luxio RL-800 have this function. The maximum recharge rate of this flash is only 0.05 seconds (that is, the flash can fire up to 20 pulses per second), so you can “freeze” even the fastest movement.
But even for ordinary shooting, you obviously do not want to take a flash that “thinks” for too long: you took a shot, and after that you look at the model for a long time and languidly, waiting for a recharge. Of course, this is a rather subjective parameter, but we would recommend focusing on flashes with a reload speed of no more than 1 second.
Synchronizing Studio Flash and Camera
Regardless of which model you choose; the camera needs to be able to fire (“fire”) your flash. This can be done with a cable, optical signal, or radio synchronizer. The most popular way for modern cameras is the radio signal, which avoids tangling in cables and provides a more reliable connection than an optical channel. Universal radio synchronizers for studio flashes are Raylab RL-UT6 and RL-UT7... They allow you to remotely control the pulse power and activate several groups of flashes at once. Multiple channels avoid flash firing from other photographers' transmitters (for example, when working in large studios with several rooms), and also combine flash units into several groups to create different lighting options.
The RL-UT7 has TTL support - the flash will automatically give out the amount of light depending on the exposure and distance to the subject. If the scene is dark, the flash output will be more intense and vice versa.
The radio transmitters are compatible with all major camera brands and work with flashes equipped with a built-in wireless receiver - Raylab Rossa, Sprint and Luxio. The Raylab Axio III is compatible with the Raylab JH-R004 radio trigger.
Other monoblocs with built-in synchronizers can be connected using a dedicated external receiver RL-SR via a plug.
Some flashes can be controlled via an application on a smartphone - for this it must be equipped with a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi module.
Another feature of different flash model is the presence or absence of modeling light. This is a second constant light lamp that allows you to evaluate the light pattern in advance. Flashes of all Raylab lines are equipped with a pilot light. Depending on the power of the modeling light, you can use it as a constant light for video filming, but independent LED panels will serve better for this.
Mount and Accessory Compatibility
Finally, the last important characteristic is what kind of mount the mono block uses. The bayonet is a ring adapter for mounting various accessories such as soft-boxes. Always be careful to match the adapter on the accessory and the mount on the flash. The Bowens mount is the most common mount, for which a huge number of different modifiers and accessories have been developed. Therefore, if you do not want to be limited to the branded accessories of a flash manufacturer, you should choose one.
As for the modifiers themselves, we discussed them in detail earlier in the article on light control. Umbrellas, soft-boxes, reflectors and beauty dishes can be used with studio flash to soften the light or get a special light pattern. Most often they are attached to a flash using a bayonet mount or to a studio stand. Many flash models, such as the Altura Photo, are additionally equipped with a special umbrella hole.
When choosing a studio flash, you need to focus on a few basic parameters.
- The flash output should depend on the size of your room. A flash from TT560 is a good start for a small home studio, and Limo Studio for larger rooms and professional studios.
- The ability to accurately adjust the power should allow it to be reduced by at least 1/16 of the maximum.
- Reload speed. For normal shooting, a maximum of 1.5 seconds is recommended, and for shooting fast movements it is better to choose a model with a fast-shooting mode (up to 0.05 seconds) and HSS support.
- The best way to synchronize a flash (or groups of flashes) with a camera is a radio synchronizer.
- For broad compatibility with various light accessories, we recommend choosing the Bowens mount model.
Do you use studio flashes? We will be glad if you share your experience in the comments.