Over the course of my career I have used White Lightning, Elinchrom, Alien Bees and Profoto lights. I wanted to share with you today why I switched and what I learned along the way.
When I was 18 I wanted to learn lighting and I asked a mentor who I thought knew it all and introspect didn’t know much, to teach me and his response was “light goes until it hits something, what else do you need to know?” While that is mostly true, its not very helpful, so I hope to shed a little more light on the topic with every post.
I started my lighting journey in 1998 with two White Lighting 10,000s, or as some people called them, coffee cans. Allegedly they produced 250ws, could be set to full, 2/3 and 1/3 power, and took 3 seconds to recycle. I bought two umbrellas, then a softbox and I was on my way.
I was taking photos to accompany newspaper articles and enjoyed capturing people in their environments. My approach was as simple as my gear, lighting small areas and augmenting available light.
Within a few years I had 4-6 of White Lighting Ultra 600 flashes, which produced about 300WS of light and could be throttled back with a slider. I added more and more modifiers and I began to approach my lighting in layers, almost like a theatre where everything is artificial and done for artistic effect. Gelled kickers, background lights and grids on a softbox. My clients expanded to magazines and businesses.
I felt like I needed to upgrade my kit in about 2003 so I bough some Elinchrom Style monolights and a Ranger battery powered pack and head combo.
After a while I felt I needed more lights and battery powered options, so I sold the more expensive Swiss heads and switched to American made Alien bees.
Nothing really changed until 2007 when a friend asked me to teach him lighting. He wanted to be a fashion photographer, but I guess I failed as a teacher, because he said he didn’t need to know all of that “technical stuff” and just wanted to express his feelings. Of course I believe it’s all technical stuff.
Over time I stated to shoot models and I learned to love it. It was so nice to have people who would give you all the time in the world to experiment and wanted to be on camera. It didn’t hurt that they looked good doing it.
My approach began to evolve as I started to create lifestyle environments indoors both with nighttime scenes and daytime scenes. Sometimes my lighting was just gratuitous and sometimes it mimicked natural light or light you would find naturally in an interior night time scene.
I read the Alien Bees were very inconsistent, producing wide ranges of color temperature shot to shot and at different powers, but I heard that Profoto lights produced very consistent color across the board, so I made the switch in 2010 when I started working with a company that trained hair stylists.
I first purchased two Profoto Pro-7 Packs, then I transistioned to D1 monolights, because I left like I needed to play my lights further apart and I needed less powerful lights so I could shoot on location with less depth of field.
Then I in added some Pro6 packs in 2016 because the D1s don’t do a good job filling beauty dishes and many modifiers due to the face that the flash tube is recessed inside the body of the head.
Then I discovered that modifiers effect color temperature and found that I often created images with multiple modifiers that produced a 700k degree swing between my coolest light and my warmest light, but never would have known that by looking at the images. So color consistency in relation to power output probably isn’t as big of a deal as I thought. However large shot to shot color swings and luminance variances would surely be an issue.
After 10 years of lighting models, I really started to focus on recreating window light and thinking about the reasonable softness and luminance of hair lights and kickers, while paying with the intensity variances of light streaming through a window.
While, I might not have needed to upgrade to Profoto because of color accuracy, I probably would have done so eventually because of the need for more power, and better flash duration, although, I might have been just fine if I stuck with Elinchrom.
In conclusion, I think you should at least have one head with a flash tube that isn’t recessed in the body and most importantly, you should get out there an practice, because that is the only way we get better!