Speedlight vs Monolight on Location: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey

Published by Darron Toy on


in this video I take a small speed light, and see if it can shoot location flash portraits just as well as a big monolight. Hello I’m Gavin Hoey, and you’re watching AdoramaTV, brought to you by Adorama, the camera store that’s got everything for us photographers… Now whenever I do a video in my small home studio using a mono light flash, one of the most commonly asked questions is can I do exactly the same thing using a speed light? And the answer is always the same yes… yes you can absolutely, but what about on location? Well that’s a different story and in this video I’m gonna take both flashes on location, and do three very common lighting scenarios. I’m gonna use the flashes as fill flash, I’ll use them to overpower the ambient light, and finally we’ll do some high-speed sync flash. So to help me out today I’ve got the amazing Charlotte. Charlotte’s gonna be the model for this shoot, and the first look I want to do should be the easiest for both flashes.. I want to take the ambient light and add a little bit of fill flash… not too much, something fairly subtle. Now for this to work… the first thing I’m gonna do is work out what is the ambient light. So without actual flash firing, let’s just take a meter reading as such. So I’m going to come back here where I’m going to be shooting. I’ve got quite a bright sky behind me… I’m not too worried about keeping too much detail in… Charlotte’s in the shade moe… so actually everywhere is shady today, and at these settings… I’m getting about f3.5, 1/250th of a second ISO 200, the native ISO for my camera so all I need to do now is to get my flash to match those settings, now I could do this by trial and error but if you have a flash meter this is where it really pays off, so let’s just get a flash meter reading from Charlotte’s chin pointing the flash meter back at the lights and I just adjust this until it matches my camera settings… okay there we go, we’re pretty much there, that’s it perfect, okay, so I have the light matching what I need to do now is just take some photos look into the light for me Charlotte. The mono light is right down close to its lowest possible power, and the results are looking great… so I’m gonna take the same shot again, but this time I’m gonna use the speed light. So let’s get the speed light set up with the same light modifier, and we’re get it in roughly the same position, something like that, and we’ll take a meter reading and it’s the same technique. All I’m looking for… is to make sure that the flash matches my aperture… I’m right the way down at 132nd power until I get this. Right let’s take this shot… here we go Charlotte, the subtle effect I’m going for here means I’m not really stretching the power of this speed light at all, and the results look excellent. In fact when I look at the two results side-by-side, I honestly couldn’t tell you which was taken with a speed light and which was taken with a monolight. So for this setup, I want to do something much more dramatic… I want to overpower the ambient now, to do that I’m gonna run the flash at full power, and just see what sort of aperture I can get out of this flash. So we’re starting with the monolight – the Explorer 600, and it’s gonna take a meter reading from Charlotte I’m getting f/22 at full power… so I could run this at f/22 but I don’t want to run the flash at full power… because it will take longer to recycle wear the battery down… so if I bring the flash down to half power, I hit f/16, so let’s take a picture at f/16 without flash first of all… just to see how much drama I can get in the sky, which is the whole purpose of doing this.. Okay Charlotte here we go… and f/16, I’ve got some great clouds… they look excellent… but Charlotte clearly is in deep shadow. Then if I turn the flash on… well the flash has been meted for f/16…. so it should work really well, and it does, this is where the monolight should really excel. All that raw power means I get some very dramatic photos, whether you like this particular style or not. Well that’s another matter.. so now I’ve swapped it out to the speed light, I’ve got the same modifier… it’s roughly the same distance away. I’ve got it on full power… let’s see exactly how much light I can get out of this. So we were f/22 with the other light at full power… really… getting f/11… that’s really good…. f/11 it is then… so let’s take a few pictures… and see how this works actually in a real shoot… okay? here we go… Charlotte I’m gonna move around…. you know what I’m really surprised at what this little speed light is doing… yes I’m at full power so the recycle time isn’t brilliant but it is powered by a lithium battery, so it’s not too bad either… side by side I actually prefer the speed light picture, but of course the monolight gives me more flexibility. I can also match the speed light settings but at a lower flash power, less consumption of battery, faster recycle time, and so on. So for the final setup we’re gonna do perhaps the most challenging thing for any flash, and that’s high speed sync flash, now you might have thought that the last setup, overpowering the ambient was for high speed sync type work… but no high speed sync is not for that because of how it works… it strobes the light rapidly, meaning you get less power out of the lights… High speed sync flash is for a shallow depth-of-field, so I’ve switched to my 25mm f/1.2, and I want to shoot to f/1.2, so I’m going to turn the flash off first of all. I’m going to dial in f/1.2, I’m gonna go with my flash sync speed of 1/250th of a second and take a picture of Charlotte, and just see what I get at those settings… Charlotte, don’t turn it… face me, great, here we go and at those settings Charlotte looks really well exposed, but that sky the background, everything is really blown out… so I want to try and retain the detail in the background… let’s try 4,000th of a second, see how that looks… Here we go… so now I have a nice amount of detail in the background, I have a good sky it’s not blown out but Charlotte is clearly underexposed, and that’s where the flash comes in, and the downside of high speed sync is most flash meters won’t work…. So that’s no good for me… I have to do this by trial and error…. so let’s turn the flash on I’m gonna start to maybe a quarter power and see how this looks… here we go… quarter power- way too bright, let’s take it down to 1/16 power and that looks fantastic… okay… so let’s take a few shots like this. The monolight makes high-speed sync flash an absolute breeze… is no different to shooting with normal flash but with these amazingly shallow depth-of-field results. So once again I’ve switched it out to the speed light, I’m gonna do exactly the same high speed sync settings as I did with the monolight. I don’t think this is gonna cope, but we’ll see…. so 1/4,000 of a second I’m gonna put this to full power. It’s got to be full power I reckon, so let’s take a test shot… see what we’re getting… here we go.. but that’s…. that…. is really good – if anything it’s slightly overexposed, that’s fantastic, that means I can drop it down to half power. Okay let’s see… yeah that looks fine, I think we’re okay, I think I can actually do this with a speed light. I didn’t think that was gonna happen, but having said that, that’s just a single shot, let’s see if they can keep up with a little group of pictures in fairly quick succession. So Charlotte you ready? Okay here we go. Now of course I could easily get my flash power down by getting rid of the softbox, but that would mean much harder light on Charlotte, and that’s not really a fair comparison to the monolight. Ah okay, right, we’ve hit a snag- it stopped firing, and I think that probably means it’s overheating, which isn’t that surprising considering what I’m asking it to do… but if you’re not going to push it that hard, that’s doing really well. Now I’m back in the studio I’ve checked the files and I’ve counted a total of 18 flashes before the speed lights stopped working, but having said that, the little speed light didn’t just suddenly stop…. in fact what happens is the recycle time becomes much much longer, to the point aswhere it is pretty much unusable and as a result if you’ve got lots of high-speed sync flash work to do on location – you’re better off with a mono light… all of this however is dependent on some variables… how far my flash was from the subject… the amount of ambient light that was there on the day, and of course my softbox would all affect the results… saying that if you’ve enjoyed this video… or you’ve got any questions, leave me a comment below. Click on the bell icon to get regular notifications of all the brand new videos right here on AdoramaTV… and of course click on that subscribe button… I’m Gavin Hoey – thanks for watching.