In Learning Off-Camera Flash: Part One we talked about the cheapest way to get into off-camera flash photography. I highly recommend learning about flash with speedlights and umbrellas first, before purchasing any studio strobe equipment.
Speedlights are ultra portable and ultra versatile. If you invest in a set of speedlights and umbrellas you can use them in the studio as well as on location. Later, if you decide to get into dedicated studio strobes, you can use your speedlights inline with the studio strobes to compliment them. Speedlights are also much less expensive than studio strobes.
There are some advantages and disadvantages to using studio strobes vs speedlights.
- Extremely portable
- Can be more durable than studio strobes
- Less expensive than studio strobes
- Smaller and able to be placed in smaller locations
- Battery Powered (AA)
Speedlight Disadvantages :
- Slower recovery time (Battery powered speedlights can take a few seconds to recharge between pops of flash)
- Less modifiers available
- Battery hungry
Studio Strobes Advantages:
- More Powerful
- Large variety of light modifiers available
- Can have more features
- User serviceable bulbs
- Rapid recovery (You can fire studio strobes in quickly with short recharge times between pops of flash)
Studio Strobes Disadvantages:
- Can be more fragile than speedlights
- Require wall power or heavy power pack
- Larger and harder to carry or pack
- More expensive than speedlights
Studio strobes are designed to mostly be used in a studio, hence the name. That doesn’t mean you can’t pack them out on location if you are feeling ambitious. I use and recommend the Alien Bee series of studio strobes for those photographers getting started in studio photography. Alien Bees are quite durable and relatively inexpensive as far as studio strobe gear goes.
The company offers a portable battery pack so you can take your strobe out on location if you so desire. Here is a short video that shows how the Alien Bee studio strobes work and how to connect them with a Pocket Wizard radio trigger:
There are a large variety of light modifiers available for the Alien Bees studio strobe series. Here are my favorites:
This is a great medium sized softbox. Softboxes soften the light from the strobe as well as give you the ability to somewhat restrict what parts of your subject get hit by the light.
Just like the medium softbox above only larger. This softbox is so large is provides excellent soft light and beautiful catchlights in the eyes. Great for lighting full body shots or emulating window light.
Commonly used in fashion photography beauty dishes provide slightly less soft light than a softbox while providing smooth skin tones and even coverage. This light provides nice round catch lights in the eyes.