Q&A: Why Not Speedlights?

Garrett Hamilton asks the following question in the comments of the On Assignment Trip Jennings post:

"I'm still a 'small guy' in terms of my lighting gear bag, and just was wondering how this would have turned out with smaller strobes. Do you think you could have gotten the same results?

Because, honestly, some of my work is just like this. And I'm trying to decide when enough is enough for my small SB's."

Garrett, hit the jump for some specific-to-this-shoot thoughts on small lights vs big.

Short answer is, yes, I could have gotten very close. None of the shots shown in the post would have been very hard to approximate with speedlights.

And since one of my two Vagabond II inverters was in for repair (leaving me with a single point of failure for AB's) I had a backup set of speedlights with me just in case. I think I mentioned that in the pre-production post, actually.

Competing with post-sunset ambient does not take very much power. So we could have done it with speedlights at pretty low power levels, too. We were not even using modeling lights on the AlienBees. So no problems there, either.

I would have used an Orbis or a Ray Flash adapter (probably an Orbis here -- it's a physically bigger light source) as fill, and a gridded SB-800 as key. For the softer key I would have used a Lumy SB-III and brought it in a little closer to make it softer.

So why not just go with SB's then?

For one thing, we got more shooting time with AlienBees. We started in the late afternoon, and at that point were competing with direct sun. So the bigger flashes allowed us to overpower the afternoon light, and to do so without waiting for long recycles.

So it made sense to start out with big lights from the get go, and to use the SB's as backups in case we had a problem with the Vagabond II portable AC outlet we used for the big lights.

Oh, and when I sent the other Vagabond II in for service, I kept the battery from it, so I still had that double capacity at the ready. Just no redundancy on the inverter itself.

Important thing on big lights vs. speedlights: If you learn manual and think of your speedlights as little monoblocs, there are no translation difficulties at all when switching between the two platforms. In fact, I use them together as often as not.

And as long as all of your gear is speaking the same language, you are left to choose based on (a) what you have available, and (b) what is best suited for the job at hand.

It's all light. Same thought process, same physics. The people who whine that an AB "isn't Strobist" don't get it.

The tutorial modules on this site are not about just restricting yourself to small flashes. It is about learning to think about your small flashes as if they were studio strobes. And hopefully, that key allows you to circumvent a lot of lighting-related anxiety.

Where you go from there is up to you.


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