Flash or Continuous lighting – Which is the best option?

Jun 4, 2013 | Continuous Lighting, Flash | 3 comments

01. Lit with the Elinchrom Quadra at midday in June. The sun popped in and I replaced it with a

01. I lit Charlotte Roest Ellis with the Elinchrom Quadra at midday in June. The sun popped in and I replaced it with a splash of flash from the small bare faced Elinchrom head. I find hard light the most wonderfully rewarding to use. There really is no practical continuous light capable of this output without a team of sparks a gaffa and a genny to accompany it. Fujifilm X-Pro1 ISO 200, 14mm prime lens at f/16 for 1/125th second. Ideally I should have used a  2 stop (x4) ND filter to get the lens to f/8 where it is at it’s optical peak of resolution. This shot is still super sharp and will make wonderful prints. The 14mm Fuji lens is astonishingly good. Location: Berwick Lodge Hotel, Make up: Vicki Waghorn, Styling: Lisa Keating, Model: Charlotte Roest Ellis

Today’s cameras have more sensitivity and can utilise higher ISO values than ever before. Combine that fact with the advent of very high power LEDs and you have a perfect opportunity for continuous light to regain it’s long held mantle as the tool of choice for many shooting scenarios. Is it right for you? Before the 1970’s, nearly all photographs were lit with continuous light.  Occasionally magnesium powder, flash cubes or flash bulbs were used but rarely in soft boxes or modifiers.  In the 1970s xenon flash became widely available, and because of its relative power, it allowed photographers to use big wonderful soft boxes and lighting modifiers.  One main drawback with flash is that it has to travel some distance through a tube to generate light.  Flash tubes (larger than those in a Speedlight) are normally circular but still represent quite a large light emitting area. This doesn’t matter inside a soft box, but it makes it very difficult and expensive to produce crisp hard light sources that are flash powered.  A hard light is by nature a point source of light generating sharp shadows, however very compact flash units like the Elinchrom Quadra head can generate a look similar to sunlight when used bare faced at about 3m from the subject.


02. Charlotte Roest Ellis shot in my studio and lit with four Lupolux DayLED spotlights. I used a Lupolux 1000 on the background set at 40% output with a Lovegrove Scatter Gel attached. Two Lupolux 650 lights as 3/4 backlights and a Lupolux 1000 as a keylight. Fujifilm X-Pro1 ISO 400, 1/125th second at f/2.8, 35mm f/1.4 lens. Styling: Damien Lovegrove, Make up: Vicki Waghorn.

There are more and more instances where continuous light is replacing flash in the every day work of professional photographers. The first dance at a wedding for instance, where LED panels or videographer’s lights like the wonderful Lowel iD light are replacing speedlights.   The rise of video capabilities in stills cameras has created another demand for continuous light by those photographers using both stills and video in their day to day work.

Continuous light basic info:

  • Typically ISO 400 or 800 is used
  • Suits fast prime lenses with apertures from f/1.8 or better
  • Typical shutter speeds are up to 1/125th second at f/4
  • Can use any shutter speed without sync restriction. 1/500th at f/2 is quite common setting
  • What you see is what you get making lighting set up very easy
  • Can be used with any camera including camera phones
  • Easier to focus than by using modelling lights of flash units

Flash light basic info:

  • Typically ISO 100 or 200 is used
  • Suits any lenses as working apertures are typically f/5.6 – f/22
  • Shutter speed is limited by the fastest flash sync speed, typically 1.200th – 1/250th second
  • Works perfectly in soft boxes of any size
  • Can compete with the sun
  • You can’t see what you have created until after the exposure
  • Flash output is continuously variable with typically 6 stops of adjustment

Location lighting exposure guide:

  • For full sun outside fashion type imagery 400ws – 1200ws flash packs are the tools of choice
  • In open shade I suggest using 400ws flash packs and Speedlights
  • For deep shade or interiors I use Lupolux Spotlights and Speedlights
  • For lighting interiors at night I use tungsten lights ranging from 100w – 300w by Lowel, or Arri



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