Q&A: Studio- wattage of strobes, ISO, brands, etc

Eve Collection, Photo by Lindsay Adler
Eve Collection, Photo by Lindsay Adler

I received this email last week from one of my students who attended my Intro to Fashion and Beauty Photography class at B&H.

"Hi Lindsay -

I was at your seminar Wednesday March 24th at B&H.  First, I would like to say, your presentation was incredible.  You packed it with so much useful information and it was presented very clearly and in a logical order.  I can tell you spent a lot of time preparing for this and I wanted to personally thank you.  Your work is beautiful.  I wish you much success in your future.

I also had a few questions I didn't think to ask in your seminar:

When you are shooting in a studio, in your most typical light setup (I think it was two rims, a beauty dish and the foam core reflectors), what is the wattage of the lamps, what ISO do you shoot at (I believe you said your F-Stop was somewhere between 11 and 16) and how far away are you typically from your subject?  And if you have any particular brand of lights you like, if you wouldn't mind letting me know, that would be most helpful.  I am currently shopping for some new lights.

Thank you again for taking the time to give that presentation.  It was fantastic.

- Michael "

Michael,

I’m so glad you found the presentation useful. Yes, I did put a lot of time into my presentation. I put a lot of time into them all… isn’t that what we presenters are supposed to do? 😀 I hope you come visit me again. I will be regularly teaching at B&H, Calumet, Unique Photo and more. Anyway, to your questions….

Wattage of lamps: Typically the strobes I use are 1600 Watt strobes. When I am in the studio I use anything between 800 Watt strobes an 3200 Watt strobes… but 1600 is a good medium for me. When I am only location (ex: Illuminating the subjects and church at a wedding) I often use stronger watt strobes.

F Stop: The f-stop I am shooting at depends on my setup, what I am trying to achieve, etc. Typically I find that I shoot around f/16 when in the studio situation. There is not a ‘reason’ I shoot at this f/stop… I just find that I shoot f/11 on the low side, f/22 on the high side, but typically at f/16

ISO: When in the studio I almost always shoot at ISO 100. Because I have complete control over the light, I try to shoot at the lowest ISO possible. Also, my personal studio is very small. By shooting with a high ISO that means that I would have to dial my lights down and/or move them away from the subject. I don’t have space to work with, so using ISO 100 gives me the most flexibility in that case.

Distance from subject: This is a bit of a broad question. My two favorite lenses to work with are the Canon 50mm 1.4 and the Canon 85mm 1.8. With 85mm 1.8 I am usually anywhere between 4ft and 8ft from the model. With my 50mm 1.4 I am usually anywhere between 4ft and 12ft from the model. Remember, these values apply specifically to the studio. When I am shooting a model on location these distances vary greatly depending on how much environment I want to include and which lens I want to shoot with (they achieve different effects based on compression and bokeh- blur effect- of the lens).

Brand of lights: Well to be truthful I use whatever brand of lights is available to me. I can achieve the same stunning images no matter what lighting I use. Now to actually answer your question, when I work at rental studios I typically am using ProFoto lighting. ProFoto is considered ‘high-end’ lighting and offers you complete control (power packs can be adjusted to 1/10 of a stop, etc).  At my small studio in upstate, NY I am usually using White Lightning or Westcott lighting. It really just depends on your budget and needs. You just need to consider facts like cost, recycle time, portability, control, wattage, etc. I know this is not a precise answer, but I really believe that equipment doesn’t make the photographer… just some equipment makes our jobs just a bit easier. In fact, I started my studio more than ten years ago with hot lights… yes… like hot lamps that people use to keep animals warm in a barn. Lol. And guess what…? I got decent images to start off. Now I work with a variety of brands: Elinchrome, ProFoto, Broncolor, Westcott, White Lightning, Dynalite, and many others. If you can give me a little more information about what you are looking for, I can probably be more specific on my suggestions.   😀

  • Hi Lindsay,
    Another great article, thanks for sharing so much valuable info.
    I just have one question with regards to the lighting wattage. How important is the power of the strobes?
    Im currently using one 400 watt elinchrom d-lite and three 200 watt calumet genisis strobes, but as one of the calumets has just died its time to replace with something better.
    I think im getting fairly good results with these lower powered strobes and was thinking about getting another two 400 watt d-lites but after reading your article im now wondering if I should just buy one second hand strobe of around 1000 watts and then another at a later date when i have more money.
    Does that seem like the best option to you?

    Thanks Jamie