Lindsay Adler – Mixing Constant Light and Studio Strobes

If you want to add a spark of energy and excitement into your studio photography, consider mixing constant light and strobe light to infuse action into your images!

Your constant light source doesn’t need to be anything fancy. In fact, I frequently utilize the modeling lights on my Broncolor strobes! I can modify the quality of light by changing modifiers and the color of the light by add gels. I do not need to invest in other equipment, but instead use what I already have available to me!

Here I’m going to share a few tips for how to mix constant lights and strobes, using an example from a workshop I did in Tuscany. We had been shooting studio techniques and wanted to move away from ‘typical’ lighting solutions into more creative results. Let’s take a look at what we created!

I’m going to walk you through how we created the image step by step, but first I need to provide a couple of technical primers and considerations for achieving this effect. First, let’s talk about shutter speed when mixing constant lights and studio strobes.

Mixed Light

Shutter Speed
Typically when we shoot in the studio we are shooting a faster shutter speed to avoid ambient light recording in our image. For example, typically I shoot between 1/125 and 1/250 of a second. These are not above the sync speeds for my camera so that I can catch the studio strobe as it fires. If you choose a shutter speed that is too fast, you will unintentionally capture the shutter of your camera in the frame (appearing as black bars). If you shoot too slow of a shutter speed you will begin to see pre-existing ambient light like the overhead lights or window light in your image, perhaps lightening your shadows or adding an unwanted color cast. For this reason, a fast shutter speed (around your sync speed) is typically designer in studio. Also, try to shoot in a dark environment if you want to reduce the change of unwanted effects.

Shutter speed for this technique, however, is extremely variable and used for dramatic effect! When mixing constant light and strobe you will need a slower shutter speed to allow the constant light to show through. This maybe be only slightly slower like 1/60 of a second or even three seconds! The length of your shutter will depend on a variety of elements in the scene include how bright your constant light is and how much other light contamination a long exposure would produce. Ideally you will be shooting in a complete dark space so that a long exposure will not  accidentally pick up window light or other light sources. This will give you the ability to have however long of an exposure you need (think light painting!).

The longer my exposure, the brighter the constant light will appear. The exposure from my studio strobe, however, will remain constant as long as my aperture remains constant.

Typically I start with a shutter speed around 1/30 of a second and adjust accordingly. We will take a look at this closer in our shoot during this workshop.

Reflective Surfaces
Before you begin shooting, you may also want to consider an important element when preparing your shoot. Reflective surfaces in your frame are ideal. Let me explain.

The effect of movement is minimized when shooting constant and strobes mixed when a subject is dressed all in black. In fact, it is reduced almost to nothing. The more contrast and reflective surfaces you have, the better. For example, When you have a subject with a lot of metallics or gems against a dark background, you will be able to see the sparkle and movement even more. Consider this when styling your scene. Matte black clothing will provide little to reflect and therefore minimize your final effect. Even glitter will do the trick! Think of this before you show up at the shoot, and base your concept around how different materials will reflect the light. Even light colored skin will reflect the light, but it will not be as specular as bedazzled clothes or accessories!

Our mixed-constant shoot
Let’s take a look at the steps we took for this image and how you, too, can set up for this creative effect.

Step 1Be sure the room you are in is dark in order to give you the most control. Avoid windows and overhead light. This includes turning off all modeling lights that you do NOT want to appear to effect your final image.

For this shoot we actually selected a location in the Tuscan villa in a basement used for making wine. No natural light would impede!

Step 2Set your studio strobes to create the desired overall lighting pattern on the face and body. Set your exposure as you would normally for a studio set up.

For this model, we illuminated her face with a silver reflector and a 10 degree grid. Next, we utilized two barn doors helped to give definition to the side of her face and body. The fall off from the silver reflector gave a great deal of shadow area to work with in our final effect. We also selected a sequin dress for the model that we knew would add the the impact of the final image.

Gear so far:
1 power pack: broncolor Scoro
– 3 heads: Pulso G
– 2 barn doors (broncolor 4 leaf barndoors and 2 P70s)
– 1 Silver reflector (broncolor P70) and 10 degree grid

IMAGE 1 Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 70-200mm, 2.8 lens, ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f/14

Lindsay Adler

Step 3Add a constant light into the scene. To have the effect of the constant light most pronounced, point it at an area of the subject or scene with more shadow or a more reflective surface. Don’t forget that you can gel the light or change modifiers to change the quality of this constant light.

In this example we added another Broncolor silver reflector as a constant light but did NOT have the strobe fire. We also did not gel the light, allowing the warm tungsten modeling light to illuminate the dress. We made sure the pack’s optical cell was off, and adjusted the power of the modeling light to an output that fit our creative goals.

Step 4: Begin to increase the length of your shutter speed to brighten up the appearance of the constant light. If your aperture stays constant, the strobe exposure will remain the same while the shutter speed will vary the exposure of your constant light. In this example we tried a variety of shutter speeds. Here we’ve dropped our shutter speed to 1/10 of a second. While we can see the constant light now appearing on the dress, the effect is not dramatic.

IMAGE 2 Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 70-200mm, 2.8 lens, ISO 100, 1/10 sec, f/14

Lindsay Adler

Tip: One benefit of using a broncolor strobe modeling light is that you can change the output of the modeling light. For example, if you want a longer exposure but the constant light is already recording too bright, you can simply go to your power pack and decrease the output of the modeling light.

Gear added
– 1 additional power pack: broncolor Scoro  (note: could have been achieved without adding a pack in this case)
– 1 Pulso G with P70 silver reflector

Step 5: Try adding movement to the scene to infuse energy. Have the subject move or even move the camera (wiggle, shake or zoom) to experiment with a wide range of results.

Finally, to create the energy and impact we desired, we had the model spin while also zooming our camera’s lens. Here I was shooting with a 70-200 2.8 lens, which helped produce some of the shape and texture to the highlights created by the constant light reflecting off of the dress.

IMAGE 3 Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 70-200mm, 2.8 lens, ISO 100, 1/10 sec, f/14

Eventually I switched over to a 24-70mm lens to give me a little bit more range with my zoom and increased the length of my exposure to 1/5 second.

Mixed Light

IMAGE 4 Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 24-70mm, 2.8 lens, ISO 100, 1/5 sec, f/14

Mixed Light

Mixed and Constant Lighting Diagram

Both images 3 and 4 are valid solutions, it just depends on which result you prefer! Both infuse energy and movement into an otherwise static scene! In fact, all of the sample images provided could be used as creative solutions depending on your visual goals! Just remember these few tips (1) Avoid unwanted ambient light (2) Keep your aperture constant and vary your shutter to effect your constant light (3) Add movement and metallic surfaces to increase impact!

A 7 days Master Class experience in Toscana, Italy
held by photographer Lindsay Adler in Sept/Oct 2013