Tips for Using a Flash in Studio Lighting

Learn When to Use Flash in Your Studio Rather Than Continuous Lighting

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Özgür Donmaz / Getty Images

As you advance in your photographic skills, you may find yourself looking for ways to achieve more control over the lighting in the scene.

One of the best ways to do this is by using studio lighting. Two of your options with studio lighting are flash and continuous light. Use these tips to decide when it's better to make use of flash in studio lighting, rather than continuous lighting.

  • Small flash units perform differently than studio lights. Don't let poor experiences with smaller flash units sour you on using flash in a studio. When using studio flash units, you will have much more control over the flash versus using a flash unit built into the camera or attached to the camera's hot shoe. You can more closely control how the light from the flash behaves and its intensity when shooting with multiple studio-quality flash units.
  • Less heat. One advantage to using flash lighting in a studio is that the flash doesn't produce the same amount of heat or require the same amount of electrical power versus a continuous light. If heat will be a detriment to your photo subject, consider using a flash instead of continuous lighting in your studio. You may want to generate less heat when shooting portrait photos, for example, where the subject may start sweating under intense continuous lights. Food is another subject where the composition may suffer if you have too much heat in the area.
  • Increased harshness in shadows. One disadvantage to using a flash is that it typically creates stronger shadows and more contrast than continuous studio lighting. If you want to avoid shadows in a particular photo, a flash unit probably won't be the best option. A flash diffuser or studio umbrellas may help you avoid some of the harshest shadows, too.
  • Precise placement. If you’re used to using a flash that attaches to your camera’s hot shoe or a flash that’s built into the camera, you’ll be impressed with the way you can control the light when using a studio flash unit. This type of advanced flash should have a very accurate angle of light, so you can be extremely precise. If the flash unit has a continuous lamp inside of it, which is a bulb that extends out of the center of the flash unit, you can exert even more control over the angle of the light.
  • Adjustable lights are better. As you're considering flash units for your studio, be sure that the flash unit has adjustable controls for intensity. At the very least, the studio flash should have "half" and "full" controls, although many flash units will have more precise intensity controls. When you can more precisely control the intensity of the flash, you will achieve better results.
  • Be ready to experiment. When you're learning to use studio flash units with a digital camera, it's important to be ready to learn. You will make some mistakes. It's important to remember what worked for one subject might not work as well for the next subject. Review each photo on your camera's LCD screen or on a tethered computer screen and make sure the exposure is what you want. If not, try again with a slight adjustment to the flash settings. Don’t be afraid to try several different settings and angles. And don’t be afraid to try multiple lighting settings and configurations. Try using two or more studio flash units for some photos. Because the flash is in a studio over which you have control, you’ll have plenty of options for precisely creating and adjusting the settings, so take the time to experiment.