Flash vs Continuous Lighting for Studio Portraits

Lighting is a key aspect of photography. Studio photography exists because of the wide range of composition we can create with various light setup. Flash and continuous lighting are the two types of lighting at our hands. There are plenty of products within these two categories. In this post, let’s compare flash vs continuous lighting for studio portraits.

Understanding the Lights | Flash vs Continuous Lighting

Before we start discussing lighting, it is crucial to understand the lights. Different types of continuous lights are available on the market like LED, fluorescent, tungsten, or HMI & Plasma lights. Continuous lights, like the name suggests, is any source of light that continuously lights a subject. These lights are also known as video lights.

In contrast to continuous lights, flashlights output a very small pulse of high power to light the subject. A flashlight comes as a Speedlight or Strobe light. Speedlights are the flashlights you see attached to a camera, they can be used externally as well. They are very handy and portable. Strobe lights, however, are seen in studios and they deliver a larger output and offer shorter recycling time than Speedlights. Additionally, strobe lights also offer a modeling light so a photographer can get an idea about how the shot would look like.

Motion Freeze

Flashes have the ability to freeze moments by delivering very short, but very powerful bursts. This is a unique capability of flashlights. Relying on continuous lights while shooting fast action can induce blur as in most cases as the light output of continuous lights is not that high as flash lights. Flashes can burst pulses as fast as 1/1000th of a second. Keep in mind that this is different from flash sync speed. Flash sync speed is the maximum shutter speed while using a flash.

You Get What You See

Continuous light source allows the photographers to shoot what they see, whereas while using flashlights the photographer has to take a test shot to close in on the camera settings.

Light Temperature

A continuous light source keeps a constant light temperature around the subject. Tungsten lights provide a warm temperature, and LEDs provide a variable range of temperatures. The short bursts of flashlights deliver 5200K-5500K. You need to keep this in mind so that you can retouch the temperature post-processing.

External Triggers

Continuous lighting needs no other external triggers or any other components. In contrast, flashlights need proper monitoring and syncing. Speedlights attached to the hot-shoe do not need any additional setup. However, everything is manual with strobe lights. You should spend some quality time to understand it, and use it.

Power Consumption | Flash vs Continuous Lighting

Even though flashlights deliver high output power for a short time, they are turned off for most of the time. In contrast, continuous lights are always turned on and hence consume more power.

Also, continuous lights should be always connected to a power socket or battery and thus making it bulkier. In contrast, flashlights like speedlights are very portable while shooting.

Understanding Shooting Environment | Flash vs Continuous Lighting for Studio Portraits

Now that we made a brief explanation about the available lighting options let’s move on to the studio environment. Understanding a shooting environment is important to compose the subject and make nice photos. Both lightings have their own merits and demerits. As stated earlier, keep in mind that there is no single lighting that suits all environments. Let’s go through various aspects while shooting studio portraits.

Normal Movement

If your shoot doesn’t involve fast action scenes, then you will be good with a continuous lighting source. However, it is crucial to make sure that the subject is well lit with continuous lighting. Use high power light sources so that you won’t have to compensate too much in shutter speed or aperture. You can also use the aid of ISO to increase exposure by a bit. While shooting studio portraits, a continuous light source will give you an exact representation of the resulting image, which is something not possible with flash lights. But remember, high-power continuous lights are much more expensive than flash lights.

Due to better price to performance ratio, most photographers opt for flash lighting instead of continuous lighting for studio portraits, Plus, they get very high power output. Note that, recycling time could be an issue with some flash lights. The biggest downside to using flash lights for studio portraits is that you can only assume how a model would look after the shot, not before shot. In contradiction, strobe lights do offer a modeling light so that a photographer can get a visual sense of the shot. But that modeling light does not offer a bright output as dedicated continuous lights.

Fast Action

If your subject in the studio is not still and moving fast, flashlights are the ones for you. Their high-speed high power bursts let you capture a very sharp image of the motion.

Flashlights also have the ability to overpower the ambient light. This, in turn, make the subject look like they are in a dimly lit surrounding even if they are in a heavily lit area. Use it to to your aid. This will let you set apart the subject from the background without any post-processing.

There are different modifiers available for flashlights that lets you manipulate the light in many ways. And then there are remotely triggered strobes that let you control the light remotely with a trigger.

Common Flash & Continuous lights for Studio Portraits

Flash LightsContinuous Lights
Godox DP600IIIAputure Light Storm LS C120D II
Westcott FJ400Neewer 200W
Profoto B10 PlusAputure LS 300X
Common Flash Lights & Continuous lights used for Studio Portraits
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Adarsh R

A blend of a photographer, a movie lover, and now a writer.

One thought on “Flash vs Continuous Lighting for Studio Portraits

  • August 7, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Nice article to read. In my opinion, for flash photography to work, the photographer needs to trigger the strobe to be delivered by squeezing the shade button on their camera. This implies the light is just noticeable when the photographer needs it to be.

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