Thursday, August 27, 2009
Those Stinkin' Modeling Lamps...
David Hobby once said, "You don't need no stinkin' modeling lamps..." I looked for the post where he said that but I could not find it via the search function. While Mr. Strobist himself is a god and one of my heroes when it comes to all things flash photography, I have a small (okay, big) issue with that statement above. We DO need those stinkin' modeling lamps. Or at least I do.
Early on in strobist 101 we learn to "be the light". As a budding strobist (I still consider myself a newb in a lot of ways), we simply don't have the experience to "see the light, be the light". Hobby has 20 to 30 years of experience and can just close his eyes and envision how the light will fall upon his subjects etc. To this day, I am still often puzzled by why I get certain results without foreseeing such outcomes.
This is where the modeling lamps come into play.
Actually if you read strobist carefully, David suggests early on in our lessons to take a flashlight and direct it at our subject to see how the light "reacts" with the contours of our subject from angles and distances. Constant light is a fantastic bridge between seeing the light in your head and getting the light that you expected on your pictures. Without the flashlight drill, I could not see how certain of my model cars and figurines would light based on different angles of the flashlight. June in the picture below was lit exactly in this manner if I recall correctly.
Modeling lamps are the same. Sure they're only available in the studio strobes and therefore have all the limitations that the large lights come with, but they are a godsend for accelerated learning. Learning how to light without modeling lamps is kind of like learning how to shoot without a digital back on your camera. Without modeling lamps you'll have to do everything by trial and error, running back and forth to each light after each shot to make adjustments over and over again until you finally get the right effect on the last shot. This is similar to how the pre-digital guys did film, writing down their settings, shooting, developing, and then comparing results to see if they nailed the exposure. The lag between stimulus and feedback for Speedlights or any of the pocket strobes, is not conducive towards learning how to light... or at least learning quickly. Modeling lamps give you WYSIWYG and that helps you not only nail the shot faster but also learn how the subject will "react" to the light thrown upon it.
Of course at some point the modeling lamps become a crutch because you stop learning to see the feedback cycle for what it is and simply use it as a crutch to aid you in getting your shots faster. Fortunately for me, I haven't gotten to that point yet. As it stands, I don't take advantage of my modeling lamps nearly enough and really should utilize the feedback to accelerate even my learning.