If you’ve been doing any kind of photograph at all in your life then you are well aware that there is a huge difference between using the on camera flash and the external lighting kits that are available. Some of those differences are pretty significant and you will see that no matter what, there is reason why you might want to have and / or use both of them at some point in time. In fact some of them might startle you a little.
Why Do I want to Use a Light Kit When I have a Flash?
It’s true if you use the thought process that you have an on camera flash then it is a valid question as to why you might indeed need or want to have the bulk and the expense of an external lighting kit. The truth is that even if it were a perfect world (it is not) then your on camera flash would be great for things close by.
The truth is, as I am sure that you know if you have ever shot a flash shot. The flash photo that you take is going to be bright – to about 16 feet, harsh because flash has a tendency to make things look more stark than they actually are and let’s not forget about the wonderful vampire effect of red eye. So flash is one of those necessary evils that you use when you have a camera, low light and you absolutely have to take the photo or lose the opportunity forever.
Now some of those issues can be alleviated to an extent by using a hot shoe mounted flash with a bounce head and a diffuser attachment for the flash head. But when you do that you have to think more for the calculations on the amount of flash actually reaching the subject and the results, while better than a typical camera mounted flash, will be less than perfect and often will leave you wanting more.
External lighting kits are an option that seems to be growing in popularity for anything other than an instance where you don’t have the time or the space to set up an external kit and you simply have to settle for flash.
The external flash kits give you the option to add as much or as little light as you need and to cry the power to make it as natural or as unnatural as you are looking for. By adding a reflector and bouncing the light off the reflector and then on to the subject you lose all of the bad things that are inherent with flash. You can make it brighter by upping the power and so you are no longer limited to the distance of a mounted flash strobe tube. The lighting is bounced so it is more natural and not harsh in any manner, shape or form and you also eliminate red eye totally.
A side bar on red eye for those of you new to the art of photography and those interested in simply learning more about things. I know a lot photographers don’t even know why they are getting red eye. The effect comes from the bounce back of the flash which is mounted closely to the lens off the back of the eyeball and then reflecting back into the pupil. The farther away from the camera lens that you move the flash, the less red eye you will realize. That is why you will often times see a professional holding a flash off to the side. They know that by removing it from the closeness of the camera lens they lessen the effect of red eye.
Yes I know, not a piece of information that you can use too often in chats at the local watering hole but it makes for some interesting chatter when you are around clients and will make you seem like you know a lit more than they do so they will respect you more. The truth is that you will likely never totally remove the red eye effect from the picture (there is a shameless pun) unless of course you simply do not use a flash. That is pretty much the bottom line.
Using the external lighting kit will allow you the ability to custom tailor your lighting to each and every individual shooting situation. Unlike a flash on the camera where you pretty much have to use what you are given and you can do little to control it other than turning it on or off.
The external kit allows you to move light to multiple points around the shooting area so that you can also reduce or totally remove shadow from the photo as well. If you have looked at photos done with an on camera flash there is a strong likelihood that there will be shadows everywhere and they will be very strong and are potentially annoying depending on how they fall in relationship to the subject and how close you are to lighter colored walls etc.
The thing about the external lighting kits that make sense is that even though they are bulky, they are a lot less bulky and a whole lot less weight wise than they were in bygone years. With the advent of aluminum for frames and stands and by using a nylon carry case, most any photographer, male or female – young or old, can carry a full basic external lighting it over one shoulder and a well stocked camera bag over the other and have everything that he or she needs to set up a professional shoot no matter where they are.
And if you still love strobes, you can get a nice three head system that fires all units remotely via infrared from a min – they slave off the camera unit – so that you can get the light weight of strobes bouncing off umbrellas for softness. That gives you the best of both worlds and very little happening to compromise.