What softbox/lights and an external outdoor battery would you recommend to an amateur photographer?
May 3, 2009 5:48 PM   Subscribe

[Photography & Lighting] What softbox/lights and an external outdoor battery would you recommend to an amateur photographer?

I've always wanted to shoot at some outside locations where there is no light so I figure a softbox/fill with an external batter of some 30 minutes or so would help me out but I don't know much about this area of photography and lighting.

Any tips are highly appreciated in advance.
posted by bostonhill to Technology (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't already know about Strobist, it's dedicated to lighting with small strobes (as opposed to continuous lights), generally off-camera. There are a few articles geared to introduce you, as well as other exercises on Flickr and elsewhere once you're confident with the basics. Start with Lighting 101 and work from there.

Strobist also partners with a company called MPEX to offer 'Strobist kits' of all the lighting essentials for a great price.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:35 PM on May 3, 2009

Depending on what you're shooting, you might get away with a simple flash unit (or several) with a radio slave.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:52 PM on May 3, 2009

When you say "no light" what do you mean? There's always light. If it's bright you can modify it. If you are shooting outdoors it's oftentimes better to modify the existing light than to try to overpower it with strobes.

Strobist is a good resource. But realize it is 10000 zombies following one guy with a rather dogmatic idea about photography. I shouldn't say zombies but many people are not really thinking out of the (admittedly interesting) box that the guy created.

A guy who really knows how to make beautiful pictures with any light available is Clay Enos. He wrote tons about it on his blog years ago, it's really well worth digging through.
posted by sully75 at 7:38 PM on May 3, 2009

It depends on:

1. What you are shooting.
2. If you want to use the flash as the primary source of light.
3. How much you want to carry.
4. How much you want to spend.

No one system will work for all your possible needs so you are going to have to narrow down your expectations. You can get a flash that will work for still life photography where there is little available light but you will have to use it creatively to get f16. Obviously that system will not work for multi-person action photography.
posted by JJ86 at 7:47 PM on May 3, 2009

Best answer: I'm a professional and I shoot on location with strobes. There are a couple of ways to go here:

You can go the Strobist route with battery powered flashes. The upside is the lights are very portable, you can stick them in tight places you can't fit other lights, and you don't need a heavy battery pack. The downsides are the quality of light is pretty shitty, you are extremely limited with modifiers (I'm not aware of a traditional 'softbox' for them), and they are not all that powerful.

Monolights (most affordable option = Alien Bees) are more like traditional studio strobes. They are very powerful, can take any modifier you can think of, are relatively portable, etc. They are larger and heavier than battery powered flashes and will need to plug into something. I prefer monolights for location work because of how flexible they are. Alien Bees sells a battery pack called the Vagabond, you can also just run them off a generator. I use White Lightning (made by the same company as Alien Bees, just a little higher end) and am extremely happy with them. For what I do, I consider monolights to be the best compromise between portability vs. power vs. flexibility.

The most expensive option is to get a pack-and-head system like the Profoto 7b's or some of the Speedotron packs which have batteries built in and work the same as the their studio options. I have a feeling this is way out of your budget as an amateur, but if you are renting for the occasional shoot this is what your rental house is most likely to have and they are great lights. I don't like being tied to a pack, but for 1-2 light setups that won't be a big deal.

JJ86 is right, what direction you go depends on a lot of factors and what you're shooting. I recommend renting a few things and trying them out to see what you like and what works for you. Lighting is one of those things you really learn by doing rather than reading about. Take the Strobist blog with a massive handful of salt, there is a lot of good info on there but there is also a lot of This Is The One True Way To Light Things attitude. The guy who writes it has some interesting stuff, but he was a journalist so his perspective is limited to the get-in-get-out-in-5-minutes approach so that is all he cares about and it shows in his writing and solutions.
posted by bradbane at 12:24 PM on May 4, 2009

Just for the record, you can get a variety of softboxes that work with battery flashes. Lastolite and Chimera both make quality softboxes that can be fitted with a shoe mount, and Lumiquest make a pretty decent (for close ups, at least) foldable softbox that sits on the front of your strobe.
posted by Magnakai at 7:22 PM on May 8, 2009

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