Do I Really Need To Buy A Flash?


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DSC_9055_6_7.jpg, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

Photography is confined by the light in a particular scene. Unfortunately, cameras need a lot of light, and I do mean a lot of light, much more light than our eyes do. Because of this we tend to think that if a location is bright enough for us to see clearly then there is plenty of light for taking a picture. Unless bright sunlight abundantly streams into a room, there is almost never enough ambient light to ensure the use of camera settings that allow for acceptable image quality when taking portraits. Unless you have a camera body that exceeds $2,000, bet the bank that photographing in low-light conditions results in motion blur or terrible image noise. Low-light conditions force photographers to make hard decisions; either open the aperture, slow the shutter speeds or to increase the ISO. And sometimes the situation forces compromises in more than just one of those categories.

To remedy the situation the photographer needs In this case we need to bring light into the scene. Since strobe lighting is expensive, people (myself included) seek to find economical work arounds. After all, one can buy a number of light sources at a local hardware store. From LED to incandescent to halogen I tried them all but with very limited success (or even no success). After spending hours playing with these various lights it doesn’t take long to realize that they just don’t work. For example a 500W halogen may seem like it puts out a lot of light…it really doesn’t. To make matters worse it generates a tremendous amount of heat and it produces light that is orange in color. The same with the other lights, their main deficiency is their inability to put out a sufficient quality of light.

That leads us to strobes. One can either purchase one that mounts to the camera (speed light) or a studio strobe. Like everything else, one can find an entire gambit of products in various price ranges, and you need to do a good amount of study before making a truly informed decision.

With the strobes, and especially the speed lights, one often fails to understand just how bright these are. They are so bright, in fact, that they can overpower sunlight…even direct, afternoon day light. So, you may wonder why your eyes don’t burn out with every “pop” of the flash. Our eyes are saved because the light from the flash only stays on for hundredths of a second. BLIP! That is it.

Think of light as water. A halogen is a water hose and a strobe is a giant water balloon. Over time a halogen may put out more light than the strobe, but it may take a full second to put out the same quantity. And while you wait for that full second, your subject moved or you hand shook.

So, if you are serious about your photography, and you plan to photograph people, do yourself a favor and purchase a speed light or a studio strobe. It will save you time and aggravation.


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