Which Studio Lights to Buy

Posted on May 25, 2011 by Bo

Don’t get me wrong, I love my handheld flashes. They’re lightweight, fairly low cost, provide flexibility and are a lot of fun. But lately, I have been looking at transitioning to bigger studio lights.

Whether you do photography as a hobby or career, at some point you will be faced with the decision of what lighting gear to buy. Just be careful about not letting this evolve into, as Zack Arias says, G.A.S., or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It’s easy to get caught up in the gear that other photographers are using and what is the best equipment to get.

I think the bigger question is, what is the best equipment for me, for my style of shooting or for this specific project.

What Type of Lighting Equipment Am I Needing

My style of shooting and the subjects I’ve been shooting lately work better with AC powered strobes. When I am working with small kids, I need a fast recycle time and I don’t want to worry about a flash’s AA batteries dying on me. I also need a modeling light because the studio space I use is pretty dark. Since I shoot Canon, trying to work with the auto-focus in a dimly lit room is not a lot of fun, so a modeling light is a necessity.

Since I also shoot in outdoor locations, I see the benefit of having more power with big strobes. I’d like to be able to schedule sessions earlier in the afternoon instead of shooting at sunset and missing dinner with my wife and kids. That being said, I want something that is lightweight enough to be easily managed and moved around by myself for those times when I don’t have an assistant and am on my own.

For the past few years, I have been using a set of Alien Bees lights. I did many sessions around the holidays with some B800s and I was continuously having issues with color consistency, or lack thereof. I was shooting a lot of families and kids and was having to spend quite a bit of time in Photoshop afterwards; I was always running into coloration problems even though the individual sessions were shot with the same settings and lighting scenarios.

I’m to the point now where I’d like to upgrade to more consistent strobes. The caveat here is that this can be expensive business, especially since I’ve grown comfortable with the sub-$500 range of handheld flashes and Alien Bees monolights. So, I took a look at my expected upgrade path and figured out what I’m going to be needing.

Current Lighting Gear

– 3 Alien Bees B800 Monolights
– 1 Alien Bees B1600 Monolight
– 1 Canon Speedlite 580EX
– 1 Canon Speedlite 430EX

While I had 6 effective lights to work with, I looked back over the past 2 years and realized that I typically employed 4 lights maximum. So, I’d eventually like to end up with 4 big lights. Now, this number is good for me. Some photographers use more lights, many use less. It all depends on the individual photographer.

It was never my intention to buy all my lights at once. I wanted to start with one or two that suited the majority of my needs and then slowly add on more lights as needed.

Profoto vs. Elinchrom vs. Einstein vs. …

I did a lot of searching around online to help decide on which quality lighting brand to go with. Of all that I read, I kept coming back to 2 typical brands: Profoto and Elinchrom. In fact, I had a hard time finding photographers that I admired who didn’t use one of those 2 brands. I was also curious about the bold claims of the Paul C. Buff Einstein, so I narrowed my search down to these 3 manufacturers.

I made a list of the lights I was interested in by each of these manufacturers and set aside a small budget for renting each of lights so I could have some workable experience with them. It was a very fun and informative experience but it helped me make, what I feel, is the best decision for me.

I did a lot of reading in online forums about people who had experience with either Profoto or Elinchrom (or both). Profoto is, without a doubt, the most highly recommended brand. It seemed that the majority of folks who were using Elinchrom were doing so because they couldn’t afford Profoto. Yet others still swore by Elinchrom so I knew they were worth a look.

Continue reading my experience with Elinchrom strobes

About the Author

Bo Boswell is a Nashville-based portrait photographer. See more work on his website,, or follow him on Facebook or @bo_boswell on Twitter.

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