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.
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.