Flashes, the great frontier. Flashes are a very versatile tool and I am only talking about battery powered flashes and not strobe lights that need to be plugged in. Some people use the terms loosely but I feel there is a big difference. Anyways, after jumping onto a single Nikon SB-700 and found that it does amazing things for my indoor event photography (but cost a fortune) I jumped down the rabbit hole of lighting options. Going from flashes to constant lights and well… back to flashes. Admittedly I went back and forth endlessly on what to use. Seen what other people use in ads and magazines of expensive equipment and thought “I wish my pictures looked that good” well they can and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Just has to be the right equipment and used correctly. Which brings me back to flashes.
Who and why flashes?
Perhaps you are still new to photography or lighting and are pondering just as I did “What light type should I use.” There is so many options after all with different features and benefits so… the answer isn’t really that simple unless you know what you want to do, what you are photographing, and ultimately your budget. So when should you consider using flashes?
If you are currently a solo photographer without an assistant then flashes are the way to go. Easy to setup, can mount to the camera, light weight, and can sometimes be adjusted remotely and triggered remotely. Of course the other options have some of the same benefits but cost a fortune.
Not yet rich:
Finances definitely plays a role in your selection. Depending on your circumstances it may not even make financial sense to make such a large purchase. But with flashes, it is a system of lights that can grow over time, as money and the need increases. Not something that is all now or nothing. Plus you won’t need a seperate lighting system for your camera as the flashes can still be mounted and used solo.
Shooting outdoors and indoors:
Flashes are great indoors and outdoors. They are rather rugged for all weather (As far as I can tell) plus being battery operated they can go with you anywhere very easily. Admittedly they do lack overall power to over come the sun unless you pack a few of them together but unless you know what you are doing you shouldn’t really be shooting in direct sunlight either. The other benefit is the option to underexpose for ambient light indoors and light the shot entirely by flash alone. I find this very helpful when the lights I am competing with are ugly “Warm White”, As flashes shoot at nearly daylight color temperatures.
Notes of Caution:
I can imagine that most people new to photography would do as I did and jump onto the name brand of my camera’s flash options and I will tell you that I have abandoned Nikon Flashes (For the most part). I originally shot with 2 Nikon SB-700’s and used them off camera and etc, which ultimately was an expensive mistake for the most part. Yes they are slightly brighter, yes they are probably better made then what I use now, and are overall smaller (but not by a lot). So why don’t I use them? Well for starters the SB-700 is $320+ per flash and in the end you need 3+ of them to really get a great scene going. So that is nearly $1000 in flashes at minimum.
Then we get into repairs. Don’t delude yourself, they will need repairs eventually. Photography is a hard life when you are shooting outdoors, traveling with equipment, and shooting in all sorts of weather conditions. The bottom line is unforeseeable events happen when the equipment isn’t attached to you. So what does the bill look like to get a flash repaired? Last time I got one fixed it is always $75 minimum accession fee, plus shipping, plus repairs, your left kidney, and sometimes first born. If I ever got a bill that wasn’t $150+ to get one fixed I would die early of a heart attack.
The one I am using now is broken, but I only use it as an on camera flash these days as like I said, it is a little brighter. I shoot manual so the fact it has no idea what the brightness should be has no affect on my use. I definitely don’t like it enough to spend half of it’s value in repairs when they don’t even come with wireless triggering or digital controller to adjust them remotely.
Note of Wisdom:
Use rechargeable batteries… That is all. Ok. Seriously though you may be able to buy a large Costco amount of batteries for… I actually have no idea as I haven’t bought it in a long time and only bring some non rechargeable ones for emergencies. Anyways, flashes eat though batteries and your money. You can get rechargeable batteries that have way more Amp Hours of use then any normal batteries and cost you 1/100th of what it would cost to shoot with disposable ones in a year. In a year. Think about that.