Ten things a photographer wishes he’d known before he started using strobes

Jun 3, 2019

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Ten things a photographer wishes he’d known before he started using strobes

Jun 3, 2019

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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When you first start using strobes, it can be exciting but also overwhelming. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of mistakes to make before you get it right. In this video from Behind the Shutter, photographer Michael Corsentino shares his experience with strobes. He talks about ten things he wishes he’d known before he started shooting with them. If you’re just starting out, this video will help you learn and avoid mistakes.

YouTube video

1. Quantity, quality, direction and distance of light

The first thing to learn before you start using strobes is the four principles of light: quantity, quality, direction and distance. Knowing them will give you more control over your setup and help you achieve the look you want in your photos. Of course, don’t just learn the theory: try it out and practice to get the feeling and see how it all works in real life. It’s both useful and fun to do.

2. Understanding shutter speed in the studio and on location

When shooting with strobes, there are two scenarios in which you’ll use them: in the studio and on location. In studio, you only use the strobes, while on location you mix them with the ambient light. This means that you should control your shutter speed differently in these two cases, and it is something to learn, practice and have in mind.

3. One light rules

Many photographers think that they need two, three or more strobes to get started. However, this is very far from truth: there’s so much you can do with just one light. You can use a single strobe, or add a reflector, a V-flat or even the sunlight to act as your second or third light source.

4. One light vs. multiple lights

You can start with one light and it already opens up a lot of possibilities. But with time, you can start using multiple lights to get even more control and more creative options. The most well-known multiple light setup is the three point lighting, but you can build upon it and get creative. As Michael notes, it’s important to think about different “zones” of light and meter them differently when you use multiple strobes. Also, when using several strobes, start with a single light and dial the rest of them in one at a time.

5. Modifiers make all the difference

The look you want to achieve in your photos is largely dictated by a modifier: its size, type, the interior finish (white or reflective) – they determine the quality of light. Whether the light will be soft and diffused or harsh and contrasty, it all depends on the modifiers. It’s also important where you place the light in relation to your subject.

6. Flat light vs. directional light

Flat and directional light create two different looks depending on their placement. The flat light is, as the name suggests, flat and without much shadow. Directional light, on the other hand, gives a more dramatic look and produces some shadow on the model’s face. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to which one you’ll choose – but it’s good to know how to achieve each of these looks so you can apply them when you need them.

7. Soft light vs. hard light

Understanding the difference between soft and hard light will also help you achieve the look you want. Soft light creates a soft transition between shadows and highlights, whereas hard light creates a hard transition between them. Which one you’ll create largely depends on the modifiers you use. Basically, the larger the modifier, the softer the light.

8. Knowing when not to use your strobe

When you start using strobes, it can be really exciting as you learn more about it. However, just like you should learn when to use them, it’s also important to learn when not to. When shooting on location, not all lighting scenarios require you to use artificial lighting. You should learn to assess when to leave the strobe in your gear bag, or in other words: don’t use it just because you can.

9. More people equal better images

This isn’t necessarily in relation with strobes, but it can be. Put simply, a team of people will help you to get better images rather than you being a “one man band.” When you have people to help you with hair, makeup, location scouting and other stuff, you can focus on creating the setup and the final image. Of course, not all of us can pay for a team of professionals. But for the sake of practicing, you can hire your friends and family to help you out at least with some aspects.

10. Use a light meter

When you use a light meter, it lets you get accurate settings for ideal exposure. Because of this, it helps you shoot with more efficiency and save you some time you’d use to fiddle with settings. Also, the meter helps you determine the relationship between several strobes. So, learning how to use a light meter is another thing to add to your list if you want to improve your use of strobes.

I believe this is only a tip of an iceberg when it comes to using strobes and all the important aspects of it. Make sure to watch the video for more detailed explanations, but also some awesome examples from Michael that illustrate his points.

[10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Using Strobe via FStoppers]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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8 responses to “Ten things a photographer wishes he’d known before he started using strobes”

  1. Roy Bridgewood Avatar
    Roy Bridgewood

    Not to belive half the codwallop on Youtube. Oh wait a minute there was no World Wide Web when I started using strobes.
    We’er all doomed!

  2. Jürg Wolf Avatar
    Jürg Wolf

    That there are now very useful LED solutions around so a strobe is not needed in any case!

  3. Rob Gipman Avatar
    Rob Gipman

    Looking at external power for my metz flashes so maybe a new DIY is looming

  4. Madelien Waegemans Avatar
    Madelien Waegemans

    To use the same aperture ? and to not go beyond 1/200. My first go with Strobist style strobes I was shooting in shutter priority, outdoors. Needless to say it was a complete cock-up, different apertures giving different flash intensity for each shot. What an amateur. ☺️

  5. Kevin McLin Avatar
    Kevin McLin

    I’m not sure why this is a video. It’s a guy talking over a bunch of text slides. I know how to read, and I can look at photographs that illustrate what is in the text. If you’re going to make a video, then make a video and take advantage of its capabilities. Don’t just narrate a text slideshow. Maybe this gets better later. It looks like he did throw in the odd image here and there, but honestly, I just didn’t have the patience to go all the way through this. I would be interested in learning about this material, but this is really poorly presented. Again, if you want to write an article about this and illustrate with stills, that’s great. If you want to do a video and take advantage of its ability to illustrate your content under narration, fantastic. This seems like some sort of hybrid, and it’s sort of the worst of both worlds.

  6. Chris Diller Avatar
    Chris Diller

    Here is what I would’ve wished I would’ve known before buying my first lights:
    1. Strobe lights are much more powerful and accurate than continuous lights.
    2. There are only really two different types of strobes: speedlights and monolights.
    3. High Speed Sync is a game changer
    4. The Bowens mount is becoming the industry standard (soft boxes, barn doors and other accessories that mount in the light)
    5. Slave modes (1 and 2) are awesome for syncing light
    6. Not all brands of lightstriggersrecievers are compatible.
    7. Modeling LampsGuide Lights are very helpful
    8. Boom stands are a game changer. (Overhead lighting).
    9. Some lights are capable of autofocussyncing with the camera lens (ttl, ittl)
    10. Short recycle times are helpful. (Time it takes for the strobe to recharge before making another flash)

    2. Speedlights are smaller more portable lights that can be mounted on the hotshoe of the camera, many can be mounted off body with the use of a wireless trigger. Monolights are studio stobes. Monolights using battery systems cost a lot more money than corded lights. Their power is measured in watt seconds while strobe lights use the nearly impossible to understand and compare guide # system.

    3. Most, if not all mid to high end DSLR and mirrorless interchangable lens cameras are capable of high speed sync. There are different names for hss, but instead of being limited to 1200th shutter speed, you can sync up to the cameras max shutter speed (up to 18000). This is insanely helpful in almost every application. Less tripod use, no motion blurs, images or moving things look frozen in time and are very sharp. I don’t think any cameras flash systems have it built in, so you have to use a trigger on the hotshoe or a speedlight with hss.

    6. Trigger and receiver systems along with lights can add up and it’s nice to be able to buy lights that will work with future lights. I recently switched to godox (also the makers of flashpoint and a few other brands). You can get 3 s high speed sync speedlights a with withbuilt in receivers and a pro trigger for under $300. You can also get 300 or 400 watt monolights with built in has and wireless receivers from them for well under $200 each, sometimes under $150 each.

  7. Dennis Wood Avatar
    Dennis Wood

    Why are people afraid of making mistakes this is learning I love learning something new making mistakes correcting misunderstandings and then learning about yourself and your new talent and putting it all together and become experienced in you new talent.

  8. BkDodge42 Avatar
    BkDodge42

    My only disagreement is with the comment that in the studio you are only using strobe light and not ambient light. So does that mean in the studio, you are in a completely dark room, no window light or lamps in use? Even in a studio you have ambient light