Why Not Use Small Strobes?

I was comparing Kirk Tuck’s two lighting books Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography and Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Studio Photography this weekend and it really got me thinking. I enjoyed reading both of Kirk’s books even though they recommend completely different lighting gear  for each situation and it started me questioning some basic lighting assumptions.

Small StrobesWhy do so many well respected photographers like Joe McNally, David Tejada and Kirk Tuck seem to prefer using small strobes on location but more traditional lights in the studio?

Why not use small strobes for both?

Is it the “sunk cost” of all the Elinchrom Ranger lights and battery packs they’ve already bought?

Do these larger lights really offer that much more “volume of light” as Joe McNally likes to say?

If small strobes like the Nikon SB-800 or SB-900 are good enough for “on location” work, why aren’t they good enough in the studio?

Any thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Why Not Use Small Strobes?

  1. I haven’t used studio strobes (Ascor) in years but I would think studio strobes would be favored in studio because of the control but also because of the very quick recycle times. Most quality studio strobes are designed for continuous duty. I’ve used both studio strobes and small strobes with umbrella’s and typically the studio strobe will be closer to the center axis of the umbrella from a physical standpoint.

    A big bonus of studio strobes is the built in modeling light so you can see the lighting effect before taking the picture.

    Just my 2 cents

    • John,

      Thanks for reading and for your insight. I agree in principle and have used studio hot lights in the past. I’ve also been very impressed with the new Westcott SpiderLites and really like the idea of continuous light sources for studio work. But my original question remains. After seeing the incredible work the Strobist community and folks like Joe McNally and Zack Arias can produce using small strobes I wonder if the days of hot lights are coming to an end, especially for photographers just starting out.

      Just something I’ve been thinking about for a while now.


  2. I’m thinking it may be a quality of light thing. Also, it seems that small strobes have gotten better and better (more powerful?) over the last few years and they will be used more in studio. Finally, and I can be totally off base here, it seems that small strobes help to “tame” the challenging light that one finds on location. In a studio, using set-ups like Rangers and whatnot, you can make your own light any way you want it.

    Just throwing some thoughts from the Great State of New Jersey. 🙂

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