When it comes to studio lighting for product photography, there are two main types of lighting that you can use: flash or else known as strobe lighting, and continuous LED lighting.
In this article, I will discuss the difference between these two types of lighting and explain which one is better for product photography purposes.
I will also provide recommendations for choosing the best studio flash lighting and continuous LED lighting equipment for product photography.
Related article: What Product Photography Equipment Do You Really Need?
What Is the Difference Between Flash (Or Strobe) And Continuous Led Lighting?
What Is Flash Lighting?
Flash lighting, also known as strobe lighting, is a type of studio lighting that uses an electronic flash unit to produce a brief, intense burst of light.
The duration of the flash is usually very short, typically between about one millisecond and one-hundredth of a second.
What Is the Difference Between Flash (or Strobe) and Speedlights?
Strobe lights create more light, recycle faster and have a built-in modeling light for allowing a photographer to see how the light from the flash will hit the subject.
Speedlights, on the other hand, are less powerful devices that also produce flash and are powered by two AA batteries. Speedlights are generally smaller and more portable than standard slashes (strobes) and cost significantly less.
What Are the Advantages of the Flash Lighting in Product Photography?
The main advantage of flash lighting is that it can produce a very high level of light output.
This is important for product photography because it allows you to take pictures with a concise exposure time, which minimizes the risk of blurriness due to camera shake.
Flash is also more powerful than continuous light. A single speedlight puts out more power than most beginner continuous light kits.
You can even use them to overpower the sun if you have a big enough strobe. That means you can shoot outdoors on a really bright day with a really bright background and still have enough power to expose your subjects correctly.
Strobes can also stop motion. They fire really quickly, essentially freezing your motion. They work better than continuous lights for action shots.
On-camera speedlights work much better than an on-camera continuous light. They are more powerful and can be bounced to create a softer light. They are smaller and less bulky than a camera-mounted continuous light.
And finally, it is possible to “throw” a strobe light very far and still light the subject correctly. Continuous light doesn’t work very well for getting lots of light from a distance.
What Are the Disadvantages of the Flash Lighting in Product Photography?
Flash lighting is generally more expensive than continuous lighting.
Flash lighting takes much more time and effort to learn how to use correctly. You have to understand how to fire your flash with a trigger, how to set the power, how to sync it with your shutter speed, etc. It’s not hard, but there is a bit of a learning curve compared to the continuous lighting with the “what you see is what you get” effect.
Flash also takes more tweaking during a session because you can’t see the light. You have to take a test shot, review it in your camera, then adjust your lights. That takes more time and energy during a photo shoot session.
Some studio strobes come with fans that can run and be noisy. But because the flashes aren’t on all the time, the fans turn off and on as you shoot. They can be annoying if you’re sensitive to noise.
What is Continuous Lighting?
Continuous LED lighting, on the other hand, is a type of studio lighting that emits a constant stream of light and uses a constant light source, such as an incandescent bulb, rather than a flash.
Continuous lighting is typically used in video production, but it can also be used for still photography.
What Are the Advantages of the Continuous Lighting?
The advantage of continuous lighting is that it allows you to know how bright the light will be on your subject before you fire the shutter because you can see it with your own eyes.
There’s no guesswork: you know where the shadows will fall, how the light will hit your subject, etc. Because you can see the light, it can be a lot easier to learn lighting techniques.
A basic continuous lighting kit is less expensive than a basic flash kit. All this means that continuous lighting is a suitable tool for new product photographers with a limited budget for product photography equipment.
What Are the Disadvantages of the Continuous Lighting?
The major disadvantage of continuous lighting is its limited power output. Most basic continuous lighting kits out there are underpowered. You can add lights to your scene and still not have enough light to shoot like you want to.
Another major disadvantage of continuous lighting is color balance issues. A lot of cheaper continuous lighting kits have an inconsistent color balance which means that if you use several continuous lights at the same time, they can produce a slightly different light which can cause problems.
Those basic kits can also contain lights that run very hot, posing a fire risk to your gear or a burn risk to your client if something gets knocked over.
Continuous light needs a continuous power source. In other words, they need to be plugged in. Cords can be a pain to run to your set and pose a tripping hazard. It also means that continuous light isn’t a viable alternative for outdoor sessions.
Some of the more powerful continuous lights come with a built-in fan to keep the unit cool while it’s turned on. Those fans can be noisy and a distraction if you’re trying to create a calm studio environment.
So, Which Type of Lighting Is Better For Product Photography?
So, which is better for product photography: Flash (or Strobe) Lighting or Continuous Lighting?
Let’s take a look one more time at the central pros and cons of each type of lighting when it comes to product photography:
Flash (Or Strobe) Lighting Pros
- Flash lighting has a more power output compared to continuous lighting, which is great for product photography purposes.
- Flash lighting is also great for capturing fast-moving objects, such as products in motion. In other words, flash lighting can freeze fast-moving subjects, such as splashes. This can be an important factor if you are planning to do a lot of creative product photo shoots.
Continuous LED Lighting Pros
- Continuous LED lighting eliminates the guesswork since it allows you to see the results of your lighting in real-time, which is great for those who are just starting out in product photography.
- Continuous LED lighting is generally less expensive than flash lighting.
Flash (Or Strobe) Lighting Cons
- Flash lighting requires time to learn how to use properly. This can be a major disadvantage for beginners in product photography.
- Flash lighting is also more expensive than continuous LED lighting.
Continuous LED Lighting Cons:
- Continuous LED lighting produces considerably less power output compared to flash lighting.
- Continuous LED lighting also needs a continuous power source.
Making Your Choice
So, which type of studio lighting should you use for product photography?
If you are just starting out in product photography, continuous LED lighting can be a good starting point for you since it is generally less expensive and doesn’t require additional learning time to understand how to use flash lighting correctly to get the desired results.
However, if you are an experienced photographer and you are planning to do commercial product photography work for clients then I would highly recommend you get flash (strobe) lighting and get comfortable using it.
Why Do Professional Product Photographers Prefer to Use Studio Flash Lighting?
The central advantage of studio flash lights, and also one of the main reasons why most professionals prefer them, is due to the power output and precise control they allow.
The power output from studio flash lights is much larger than that of continuous lighting, which allows the photographer to be much more flexible with camera settings, for example, the depth of field.
The quick burst of flash is also ideal for freezing fast-moving subjects, such as water or paint splashes, which can add an additional layer of creativity to the product photographs.
Can You Use Both Flash and Continuous Light Together?
Yes, you can use studio flash lights and continuous light at the same time – combining strobes and continuous light can create interesting product photography results.
In What Situations Is It Beneficial to Use Both Studio Flash and Continuous Lighting?
This is often done to provide a good mix of lighting, for example, using studio flash for the key light and then adding in some continuous light to help fill in any shadows.
By combining the different types of lighting, it becomes possible to capture a combination of blurred and frozen motion, which can create a very dynamic and creative product photography result.
However, the most important consideration when combining LED and studio lighting is color temperature. The continuous lighting will need to be set to 5600K to match the flash output.
Can Flash Light Be Used as Continuous Light?
Some more expensive flash lights, such as Profoto B10X come with a color adjustable continuous light that can be used for product photography or for recording video.
Less expensive studio flash lights normally come with pilot light bulbs (sources of continuous light) that make camera focusing easier and allow photographers to get an idea of how the light will be falling onto the subject before taking the actual shot.
These pilot lights normally have a very limited power output and they are simply not designed to be used as continuous lighting for product photography.
If you’d like to have the option of using both flash lighting and continuous lighting, you will most likely need to buy a more expensive model of a flash light that has an integrated color-adjustable continuous light lamp inside.
In conclusion, studio flash lighting and continuous LED lighting both have their own advantages and disadvantages for product photography.
There are a number of factors that you need to take into consideration when choosing between studio flash vs. continuous LED lighting for product photography.
If you are just starting out in product photography and have a limited budget, I recommend you start with continuous lighting as it will allow you to shoot product photos and record videos for YouTube or other social media platforms to market your product photography services.
Once you will get a good understanding of how the lighting works and start getting commercial product photography inquiries, it is best to switch to studio flash lights (strobes) and learn how to use them as they provide greater flexibility for product photography.
I hope that you found this article helpful and that now you have a better idea of the differences between studio flash lights and continuous LED lights for product photography.
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