Lights Pt. I - Choices

Equipment is a big part of professional photography. Every photographer (or at least I know I am) is constantly thinking about new stuff. Whether it is a new camera, lenses or any other type of accessory. One thing I've always had in my head is lights. There is a big debate in the photography community regarding this question: Big lights or small lights? I think every photographer has to answer that himself (or herself) and I'll give you my ramblings on the matter.

Since I started shooting seriously I knew I needed quite a lot of power to freeze action but not only that, but to freeze action during the day, that is with high apertures. This had me a while struggling with a small strobe I had at the beginning and finally I saved up and bought a Quantum X2 flash with a power of 400 W/s. A new world opened to me as I was able to do what I wanted, shoot during the day with a flash. Everything was not as good as expected though because the light duration of the Quantum was long and I would get some motion blur. I learned how to avoid that and ended up being quite happy with that light. Eventually I got me another Quantum T2 (150 W/s) and have been using this set up for a few years.

Iván MateosDaytime action shots. Power and portability are key factors when choosing lights.

Nowadays things have changed quite a bit. There are lot's of small portable flashes such as the Canon 580EX or the Nikon SB900 which offer a quite a lot of power in a small package (the Canon 580EX delivers around 150W/s). There is also a lot of info on the web about shooting with this flashes like David Hobby's Strobist and there is many people doing amazing stuff with them.

So my head was about to explode. Should I keep using the Quantums? Should I just use speedlights? Or maybe get some powerful big lights?

The answer to those questions is different for each photographer. It really depends on what you will use them for. You need to find a balance between weight or equipment mobility and power/quality of light.

I personally shoot a lot of outdoors stuff so that means I have to carry my equipment around quite a lot. On the other hand on lots of those shoots I can access the spot by car or get quite close so I can carry the heavier stuff without too much hassle. So here I was again, with the same question and no real answer…

So after talking with other photographer friends, searching on the web and attending some product tests I came to a decision. I would buy a big light to have really good light quality and support that with smaller flashes for fill and backlighting. I would also keep some smaller lights in case I needed to shoot in the middle of nowhere and carrying all the stuff wasn't possible.

Now another question came up, what light should I buy? I had two choices I liked, Profoto and Elinchrom. The Elinchrom Ranger and the Profoto 7B were too big and heavy so I looked at the smaller options. Elinchrom has the Quadra, which is pretty small but only has 400 W/s of power. The Profoto option is the AcuteB 600 that is a bit bigger and heavier than the Quadra but has 600 W/s (just one stop of light less than the 7B and Ranger). Even though the Profoto is more expensive as well as all the accessories, it ended up being my choice.

One of the reason is the reputation Profoto has. They have really well built lights, rugged and used by almost every pro all over the world. The other reason was the renting. Profoto is the brand of choice of all the rental places so if I need a big reflector or another light I can just rent it and use it along my stuff, so I don't need to buy every accessory that I would just use every once in a while. I can also go on a trip, rent a light there and use the same stuff i'm used to shoot at home. Sweet!
Profoto also had a huge variety of light modifiers that go with all the lights they make. That's why their slogan is The Light Shaping Company.

Another thing that convinced me is that Profoto was offering a 1000€ rebate on accessories when buying the light and the generator. 2800€ for a light was a lot of money but if you get 1000€ worth of Light Shaping Tools it get quite tempting and not the most expensive option anymore.

Finally I bought my Profoto AcuteB 600 before Christmas and have been using it since. On the next post I will talk about the AcuteB 600 and my thoughts after a few months of using it on location. I will also make another post on the Light Shaping Tools I got with my light. Hope you find my ramblings useful.

Feel free to ask any questions on the comments or just leave your thoughts.

Juanma Montero
Last month's BIKE cover shot taken just with available light and the AcuteB 600

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