Major change, need advice
/forum/topic/1073432/0

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dortizphoto
Registered: Sep 30, 2011
Total Posts: 304
Country: United States

Hi everyone, and Happy New Year!!

I recently purchased two Alienbee 800 units (black) which I only used once. They have lived in their cases (purchased that too) since my last shoot and I haven't touched them since.

I'm seriously considering switching from strobes to continuous lighting instead. Like this unit, or something like it:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=ProductDetail&A=showMultipleImages&Q=&sku=761641&is=REG

That being said, can someone help me with this decision. What's the advantage of one vs the other. Keeping in mind I rarely shoot outdoors nor compete with ambient lighting. I feel this system is easier because what you see is what you get in terms of exposure. The modeling lights work great, but they're basically a guide to see where your light will go.

Can anyone please help me and provide links, samples etc which will aid me one way or the other. Also, if I go the continuous light route, anyone know what would be a good selling price for two prestine AlienBee 800s only used once. I don't want to take that much of a loss, but will need to fund the new lights.

Thanks everyone, for your time and advice.

Regards,
Dave



alohadave
Registered: Jul 26, 2005
Total Posts: 843
Country: United States

Strobes are more powerful than continuous lights. Some people like using continuous lights more, and it works better with their style of shooting. Personally, I prefer strobes.

That lighting kit is not going to be near as bright as your ABs are. You'll be shooting at higher ISOs, and longer shutter speeds to get good shots.

You'll be able to get almost what you paid for your ABs. They keep their value very well.

If you haven't already, go to www.strobist.com and read Lighting 102, and try the exercises to see if it's unfamiliarity that is making you uncomfortable with flashes, or if continuous really is your thing.



dmacmillan
Registered: Nov 03, 2007
Total Posts: 4784
Country: United States

dortizphoto wrote:
I'm seriously considering switching from strobes to continuous lighting instead. That being said, can someone help me with this decision.

We can offer better help if we understand your goals, including why the AB's are not being used. What kind of photography do you plan to do? There's no generic answer regarding choosing one over the other.



runamuck
Registered: Oct 29, 2006
Total Posts: 7011
Country: United States

SThe multiple CFL's have the advantage of being on all the time. Any changes can be seen. The light is very steady, no flicker, no color shifting. CFLs cycle so fast (10,000 cycles per second or so)the light is basically steady. You get all the basic benefits of incandescent without the heat or variations in output. Not all CFLs are truly daylight, though I've never had a problem even with household daylight CFLs.



dortizphoto
Registered: Sep 30, 2011
Total Posts: 304
Country: United States

@ AlohaDave: Thank you for the feedback and link. I find it most informative even though it appears they're using flash heads. Same thing I suppose -- flash is flash.

@ DMacLillan: I basically intend to shoot close up portraits, 95% of the time I'm doing photojournalist work and use by 580EX2 with my 1Dmk3. The ABs were used once for a Hospital Christmas party. All but one were couples posing in front of a tree, single shots and one group shot (of seven people) recipients of awards. The ABs have sat in their round cases ever since. I'm considering converting our shed into an AC'd small studio - its only a 12x14, so I'd be leaning toward head maybe 1/4 portraits. Maybe when I have the lights setup it won't be as challenging for me.

@ RunAMuck: Hate to sound like a total ignoramus, but what's a CFL? Do you have a link?

Thanks everyone for your time.

Regards,
Dave



hondageek
Registered: Aug 16, 2004
Total Posts: 895
Country: United States

CFL = compact fluorescent light



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8550
Country: United States

dortizphoto wrote: ...I'm seriously considering switching from strobes to continuous lighting instead. ...What's the advantage of one vs the other. Keeping in mind I rarely shoot outdoors nor compete with ambient lighting. I feel this system is easier because what you see is what you get in terms of exposure. The modeling lights work great, but they're basically a guide to see where your light will go.

As you say, an advantage of continuous lights is that they're WYSIWYG. Not only WYSIWYG for you, but also for your camera's light meter.

Also, some people are bothered by the bright flash and popping sound of strobes.

The disadvantages are:

Much lower power. 6 CFL bulbs may put out power equal to 1000 watts or so, but a strobe is measured not in watts, but in watt/seconds. So even a 320Ws strobe is putting out light equal to thousands of watts.

Because continuous lights are...well...continuous, changing shutter speeds will change the exposure. The faster the shutter speed, the less light gets in. Getting enough light may require slow shutter speeds that could cause motion blur. On the other hand, there's no sync speed limit; any shutter speed your camera can do will work with continuous lights, it's only a question of if there's enough light for a proper exposure.

Lastly, most continuous light sources are limited in power adjustability. The Impact lights you showed have six lamps controlled by three switches, so you only have a choice of 2, 4, or 6 lamps lit. That's less than 3 stops of difference, compared to 6 for your Alien Bees.

That said, many people like the CFL lights for portraiture, still lifes, etc. Toward the end of his life, the noted portraitist Monte Zucker started using Westcott Spiderlites with CFL bulbs, and he said that he found them especially good for shooting children and family groups. Scott Kelby also has used them; here's a short promo video he made about them:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y0uTT_R05Y

So, what should you do? It's hard to say. One idea would be to keep your ABs until you've used the Impacts for a while, and then sell whichever ones you like less. Or, if your budget can handle it, keep both and use the ones best suited for a given job. You can even use both kinds at the same time.

BTW, if you do want to get an Impact kit, for about $120 more than the two-light Octacool-6 set you can get a two-light Octacool-9 set. In addition to more total power in each head you also get a little over 4 stops of adjustability including partial stops (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 lamps lit) versus less than 3 stops with the Octacool-6.



dmacmillan
Registered: Nov 03, 2007
Total Posts: 4784
Country: United States

One potential difference when shooting portraits is iris size. Modeling lights tend to be fairly dim so the pupils are open. Some people like the look, others don't. With continuous lights, the pupils tend to be more closed. This can be a benefit when photographing folks with pretty eyes since you see more color, although you can still get small pupils when shooting flash by adjusting the ambient light in the studio.

Even though full spectrum CFL's are supposedly just that, I have seen few portraits taken where I thought the WB looked right.



cgardner
Registered: Nov 18, 2002
Total Posts: 9376
Country: United States

No single tool is ideal for every job and new tool requires a learning curve. Look around and observe how many photographers are using continuous lighting for portraits. Not many. You gotta figure there are some good reasons, no?

What I'd suggest is that you take the Bees out of the case and use them more than twice before deciding to abandon them base on fear of the unknown. Use them a few times and you'll find exposure control is not very complicated with flash because you have the benefit of instant playback and the clipping warning on the camera. See: http://photo.nova.org/WhiteBackground/ When setting lights you just need to fill strength based on the tone and detail you want to see in the image per the playback and then adjust the key and accent lighting based on the clipping warning and you wind up with a perfectly exposed full range image with a few test shots.





BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8550
Country: United States

cgardner wrote: ...Look around and observe how many photographers are using continuous lighting for portraits. Not many. You gotta figure there are some good reasons, no?

The main reason is because until recently continuous lights bright enough to be useful were always hot lights. That's no longer the case.

Ten years ago, how many photographers were using DSLRs for portraits? Time marches on.



colinm
Registered: Nov 21, 2005
Total Posts: 1975
Country: United States

dmacmillan wrote:
Even though full spectrum CFL's are supposedly just that, I have seen few portraits taken where I thought the WB looked right.


There's no such thing as a "full spectrum" (in the way most manufacturers mean it) fluorescent, so you're not just seeing things. Inherent to fluorescent technology are spikes and dips and a completely different spectral output than incandescent or sunlight.

That's always my caution when someone says they want to shoot with a CFL kit: You will have colors you can't reproduce, and you will have nuclear colors, and you will have impure colors, and you will have weird transitions between colors that look perfectly natural "in the real world."

How bad those things are and where they fall depends entirely on the particular lamp in use, but they're always there, and they'll always get in your way when you least want or expect it. Portraiture's one of the few places you can usually get away with CFLs almost scot-free, because if you audition a couple bulbs it's not hard to find something that'll reproduce most skin tones acceptably. Most portrait sitters won't care if their blue blouse turns purple or their green shirt is suddenly more saturated. They want a flattering portrait, not a clinical reproduction of what they were wearing.

If you want to shoot fashion or food or product, on the other hand, lighting money on fire and buying a CFL kit both achieve the same end result.



dortizphoto
Registered: Sep 30, 2011
Total Posts: 304
Country: United States

colinm wrote:
If you want to shoot fashion or food or product, on the other hand, lighting money on fire and buying a CFL kit both achieve the same end result.


Wow Colin, that's pretty deep and scary if I must say so. Perhaps I'll take the advice offered here and pull thoise ABs out and shoot with them at least a few more times before making a decision I could regret later on (it wouldn't be the first time).

I'll fool around with them tonight, and post my results here. There is a longer learning curve with stobes than continuous/ambient.

Regards,
Dave



cwebster
Registered: Oct 03, 2005
Total Posts: 3415
Country: United States

colinm wrote:
If you want to shoot fashion or food or product, on the other hand, lighting money on fire and buying a CFL kit both achieve the same end result.

+1 to that. I tried using high-CRI CFLs for a product (guitar) shoot and could never get the color in the shadows correct.

Yes, the learning curve is longer for flash, but it's worth the better results with less effort later once you have "got it"

<Chas>



sic0048
Registered: Oct 19, 2011
Total Posts: 247
Country: United States

You already have invested in the ABs and I really haven't hear a compelling argument as to why you want to change other than the fact that you think shooting with constant light will be easier. I agree with everyone else that has suggested that you pull out the ABs and shoot with them. You are already use to shooting with your flash, so the ABs are not going to be that different.

Ultimately there is no "simple" solution when it comes to lighting. If you buy the constant lights because you think it is going to be easy, I think you will be sorely disappointed.



alohadave
Registered: Jul 26, 2005
Total Posts: 843
Country: United States

colinm wrote:
dmacmillan wrote:
Even though full spectrum CFL's are supposedly just that, I have seen few portraits taken where I thought the WB looked right.


There's no such thing as a "full spectrum" (in the way most manufacturers mean it) fluorescent, so you're not just seeing things. Inherent to fluorescent technology are spikes and dips and a completely different spectral output than incandescent or sunlight.

That's always my caution when someone says they want to shoot with a CFL kit: You will have colors you can't reproduce, and you will have nuclear colors, and you will have impure colors, and you will have weird transitions between colors that look perfectly natural "in the real world."

How bad those things are and where they fall depends entirely on the particular lamp in use, but they're always there, and they'll always get in your way when you least want or expect it. Portraiture's one of the few places you can usually get away with CFLs almost scot-free, because if you audition a couple bulbs it's not hard to find something that'll reproduce most skin tones acceptably. Most portrait sitters won't care if their blue blouse turns purple or their green shirt is suddenly more saturated. They want a flattering portrait, not a clinical reproduction of what they were wearing.

If you want to shoot fashion or food or product, on the other hand, lighting money on fire and buying a CFL kit both achieve the same end result.


My mom used to work in a big fabric store and it was always a crap shoot as to what the fabric colors would look like when you took them out of the store. The cheap fluorescents that they used were all over the place in color and they were mixed willy-nilly.



cordellwillis
Registered: Aug 24, 2004
Total Posts: 5080
Country: United States

Everyone has provided answers that are gold! Dave, don't let those strobes go because you think continuous lights are easier; they are, but you may be limiting yourself moreso with this ease of use.

I'm not knocking continuous lights (I have a self made setup that I like a lot), but BrianO pointed out the very important things you need to consider depending on what you're shooting.

Peace,
Cordell



dortizphoto
Registered: Sep 30, 2011
Total Posts: 304
Country: United States

Hi Everyone!

As promised, I took out one AB-800 and decided to give strobe lighting a shot (no pun intended). The setup was simple, and as follows:

(1) AB800
(1) Honeycomb Grid
(1) 42" Reflector (white)
AB Light Intensity at 1/8th power
f/8
1/125th
Distance to Barbara -- approximately 2-3 ft.
Canon 50mm prime with Hoya Pro UV Filter.

At first I used the model light to tilt her in different directions while I observed the shadows fall on different areas of her face. I captured a few shots, then decided to fill in the other side with a white reflector.

The results (for only my second time using the ABs) are seen below. I was hesitant to post the results here because folks here display some amazing talent, so forgive me if this insults some of you. One thing I agree with is the modeling lights (at least at close proximity) proved most helpful. Although you really can't see an increase in the intensity while the grid is on.

OK, here we go. I welcome advice, tips and suggestions on where to go next aside from my need to practice and write down my settings as I go. I can take the hits, so know I won't get offended by constructive criticism.

Thanks everyone, for your time, patience and valued assistance with this attempt.

*** I should note the images were not post processed at all, except for resizing to allow uploading here because the file sizes are limited to 600px

*** I should also add the first image had the camera W/B set to auto. The last two I dialed in 5500K because I didn't quite like the way the first one looked. Although Barbara's plastic skin tone is far from normal.

Regards,
Dave



dortizphoto
Registered: Sep 30, 2011
Total Posts: 304
Country: United States

Hi Everyone -- VERY COLD morning here in Southwest Florida!

There are times when we'll want to keep the dark areas dark right? I mean, if I bring up the shadows, that will take away from the portrait or am I not fully understanding how this works.

Seems like my DR is quite clipped with this image.

Thoughts?



dortizphoto
Registered: Sep 30, 2011
Total Posts: 304
Country: United States

Here I raised the shadows/clipping just a tad (image on right). Would you say that's the correct thing to do in a situation such as this?

The image on the left is right out of the camera (no post processing at all applied). However, the one on the right has slight post processing which includes a dab of sharpening. The hat by the way is in fact, navy blue in color.





Thoughts?


cgardner
Registered: Nov 18, 2002
Total Posts: 9376
Country: United States

Cold in No. VA too this morning (12 F).

Light falls off exponentially so unless you use a separate background light you will not be able to expose the black hat on and the background similarly because of the way light falls off exponentially. When using only one or two lights what you need to do to get separation between the black hat or hair and the background is start with a lighter toned background such as light - medium gray (which will be rendered darker in the photo) or use a hair light from behind to create rim-lighting to separate the black hat from the black background.

If you push the background in PP to the point where its not clipping then you'll change the the shadows foreground also and the results in the photo will not match the impression you got visually with the modeling lights.

When learning lighting its better to work at understanding one variable at a time. I suggest putting fill near the camera, turning it on and adjusting it for desired tone in the shadows at the f/stop you are shooting at then leave it alone to do the job fill should to control shadows. Try the at different heights relative to the chin of your patient model and watch the shadows it creates around the nose and under the chin as seen though the lens. Try to find the position where the fewest shadows are seen. Once you get the fill set that way forget about it and focus your attention on what moving the key light around does to the lighting pattern. I other words set fill as a "constant" while learning so you can better understand what the variable of key light angle and distance is affecting results.

Once you have a good grasp of what the key light is doing with "neutral" fill set up a lighting pattern you like the look of then leaving the key alone move the fill around to different places and compare the results. Then you will be making the key lighting the constant making it easier to see and understand how fill position affects the results you see.

If you do both exercises changing one variable at a time, you should better understand what is causing what you see in the images when you start moving both lights around at the same time.




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