The Good Stuff.


Studio reset. Moving backwards in time. Re-embracing bigger flash again...

 I've spent the last few years photographing portraits predominately with LED lighting. It's a nice way to work because you can see exactly what you are getting as you progress through a shoot. Lately I've been going through older portraits that I really like and noting how they were shot (helps as a commercial photographer to keep little notebooks with quick sketches and descriptions of your lighting set-ups).  

It seems that most of my favorites were actually done with electronic flash. That was a revelation to me. But everything is a trade off, right?

What I found I was missing is exactly what flash used to provide; the ability to know that you've frozen subject and camera movement and the ability to use both smaller apertures and lower ISOs. It's a different look. Sharper in the details because of getting closer to the sweet spot of a lens, and a different tonality caused by the lower ISOs and a different noise profile in the images. 

In the run-up to my big Abbott (medical products+poeple) shoot in the Fall I was torn between using LEDs (which had become second nature to me...) and falling back to using flash. 

I'd sold most of my bigger flashes in favor of a small and lightweight flash system I could more easily travel with. That travel kit includes three of the Godox AD200 Pro lights and a bunch of their different heads and modifiers. It's a great system for on the road. But I felt like I needed more power to punch into a big 47 inch octabox with added diffusion on the front of it. For a big, soft and inefficient box I wanted something twice as powerful in one light. I also wanted a real modeling light instead of the small LED that the AD200s use. It's one of the trade-offs of the AD200s battery power supply; the need to conserve power.

I had one bigger electronic flash fixture in the studio. It's the Godox DP400mk3. That fixture puts out 400 watt seconds of flash, has a 150 watt tungsten modeling light and is solidly built with a metal body and an in-built cooling fan. They are pretty inexpensive. You can buy them new from B&H for about $200. The light has a full complement of controls and a full power recycle time of one second. 

Since I was on the fence in my pre-production and was nearing a coin toss to decide between flash and continuous lighting I thought it prudent to buy a second DP400iii since my imagined lighting design pretty much demanded two big flashes to the front of the set and then lower powered direct flashes to illuminate the white background. I ordered the second light from B&H but ended up taking the other path and using Nanlite LED fixtures for the project. The shoot was very successful but I'm reasonable certain we would have been able to pull it off just fine whichever lighting method we went with. 

So, now I have this body of work that I've re-discovered that I really like and want to extend. The portraits I shot in the film days and pre-continuous light days of digital. It seems based on the use of a single, big main light of electronic flash, with a big modifier, augmented by a second light to bring up the backgrounds. And now I just happen to have several almost unused flash instruments to play with. 

I've spent part of this weekend back in the studio setting up the flashes and experimenting with the light in order to get back to a style I did almost non-stop back in the 1990s. I didn't realized it at the time but each type of lighting is a style in itself even if you use exactly the same modifiers, in the same placements, to shoot with. I say I didn't realize it but really I was just letting my impulsive desire for constant change over ride my logical sensibilities. That, and trying to find one type of light that would work equally well with photography and video...

None of this is "all or nothing." I'm not suddenly going to try something like a new approach to street photograph by adding flash to the mix (not yet, at any rate). But I am gearing up to go backwards in the studio and reconnect with all the things I liked about shooting in the studio with flash. 

Now that the numbers for Covid have dropped into the low category in Austin, and there is a general decline in community transmission in the county, I am more comfortable inviting people back into the studio. Here we go again. 

Addendum: Many of the images I've looked through come from the days when I shot with four different cameras that all had one thing in common. I worked, serially, with the Bronica SQ-Ai, the various Hasselblads, the Mamiya 6 cameras and the Rollei 6008i systems. The one feature all of them had in common was the square, 1:1, 6x6cm aspect ratio and image size. And it's a geometric format I love to photograph with for portraits. 

To that end I'm currently working with the Leica SL2 and shooting it in the square format. If the portrait project stays with me and I with it I'll almost certainly start looking at which 100 megapixel medium format system might work well for this kind of work. Cropped to squares, of course. The cost of a Fuji GFX100S body is less than that of the SL2 so it's not a tremendous reach. And the lenses are even more of a bargain. I'd like to print large but I'll see what I can get out of the SL2 while banging away with flash and ISO 100. Might be all I need....

Hope your Sunday is going well. 


  1. Spice things up:

  2. The second lady is absolutely gorgeous

  3. Of course you should get the GFX Kirk. Your Leicas are SO 2010! :)

  4. Enjoyed reading your post about moving back to flash. It seems we're doing the same. After first using flash for portraits (and even some architectural work), we moved to LED's and CFL's. While the results were good (not better, but good), we longed for the more distinct look of flash. While we used the two Godox AD200's with good results, they were a bit long in the tooth and needed upgrading.

    After doing a corporate whirlwind headshot session (117 people in 8 hours) with LED's (Nanlite), we've decided to go back to flash, but Godox is unworkable with our multiple camera setup (Nikon Z9/Z6II/Z7II/OM-1), so we are moving to Westcott.
    A bit more pricey, but as they say "You get what you pay for".

  5. Many rental studios, in my area, come with grip equipment
    and Profoto lights. Easy peasy.

  6. Five rental facilities within 15 minutes of driving do you rationalize working a busy schedule going back and forth every week or several days to a rental house, dragging all the gear back to the studio, returning it all and paying for it over and over again. Doesn't make financial sense for a working photographer versus just buying some inexpensive buy totally useful lighting gear and leaving it set up and ready. How many times a year do you really want to set up/tear down, set up/tear down ???

    1. I've never had a studio. That's why I rent fully equipped studios to do Product Photography. I also hire professionals to limited retouching. BTW I've never had any interest in doing portraits.

  7. No interest in doing portraits??? Sacrilege !!!

  8. Maybe you should think about shooting some film as in the old days. You can get the film scanned when it is processed.


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