In the past year or so, I have delved full-force into what is known today in photography as the Strobist Movement or the use of small flash units (also called strobes or flash guns) on and off the camera to light a given subject.
This is a movement that has only been around within the last eight to ten years because of advances in technology. David Hobby over at http://strobist.blogspot.com/ is the photographer who really made this new take on photographic lighting so popular. Today, you can purchase a used Canon or Nikon Speedlight for only a few hundred dollars a piece (or less) and quickly get started in learning to manipulate artificial lighting from the ground up.
What’s exciting is that these types of flashes really give studio photographers a run for their money. They’ll do an extremely good job at throwing a decent amount of light considering their cost relative to a full studio setup. Not to mention that it is all completely portable.
I have been able to light and shoot several different setups on-location for museum catalogs and also do some portrait shoots with no more than three flashes, umbrellas, and a roll of seamless backdrop paper. I used to think that small flash units were only a short-term stepping stone towards a big expensive studio setup but it’s clear that they’re here to stay. In today’s day and age, it’s completely feasible to do professional studio photography almost exclusively in small flash units.
This is where David Hobby comes in, he’s been the catalyst for this whole new genre of photography as well as a teacher of professional lighting using strobes. David Hobby comes from an editorial background and brings a perspective that automatically lends itself towards the use of small flashes. Shooting for a paper is often very fast-paced but at the same time it’s important to tell a story or at least create a photograph that lends itself to the story being told. Small flashes enable that kind of down and dirty workflow, setting up, shooting, getting the shot and leaving.
For me, The Strobist blog is very accessible because I have a very similar type of setup and all the posts are lit and shot from inexpensive gear and get amazing results. I don’t mind teachers who use really expensive equipment to light something but it does put a bit of a damper on my confidence level. On Strobist there’s no, “Just take your $6,000 [name brand light] inside a [name brand lighting modifier] and put it over here as a fill”. Everything is realistic. As a movement I think strobist photography pokes a bit of a hole in the kind of expensive gear you thought you had to buy to get a certain look or quality of light.
Why buy expensive lights when small flashes can cover most of the situations you’re ever going to encounter? There’s no point. Since digital photography arrived, client expectations have risen, everything really should have been done yesterday for cheaper than what you were paid. Small flash units are harmonious with that expectation, they are faster, and cheaper every year which is something I still can’t say for a fully-fledged studio setup. Until then, I think I’ll stick with my flashes.