Studio-like Light for Next to Nothing

During a basketball tournament recently I saw a friend of mine who shoots a lot of basketball action, often deploying two White Lightning monolights and a radio slave. The setup provides a tremendous amount of light, but is both quite expensive, each unit costing about $500, and bulky. I, on the other hand, shoot all my basketball using existing light, since I am neither willing to carry extra lights, nor am I willing to wait for flash units to cycle, causing me to miss peak moments in the action.

Cheap and effective, these small slave flashes can give excellent light in many situations.
Cheap and effective, these small slave flashes can give excellent light in many situations.

For other occasions, however, I sometimes do like to add light. In my small studio at work and here in my home I have three small slave flash units.

For those who don’t know, a slave flash has a sensor in it that fires the flash when another flash goes off in the same vicinity. The units I have plug into a standard AC light bulb fixture.

These little strobes are ideal for small settings where carrying a lot of gear is prohibitive, yet it’s nice to add more light to a scene. In the studio at work, I have one pointed into a silver umbrella, one pointed into the corner of the room, and one clamped to a pipe behind the subject, all of which combine to create classic “TV lighting.” I can and do move the lights wherever I need them. The room is small and painted white, so all together these three strobes give me plenty of light. I use an old Sunpak flash on-camera pointed behind me on low power to trigger them. (Note that you can’t use the pop-up flash on your camera to trigger them, since the pop-up flash sends out a distance-measuring “pre-flash” before the main flash, triggering the slaves too early.)

I also have three of these little guys at the house. Two of them are screwed into Home Depot workbench-style reflectors with spring clamps, so I can clamp them to a desk or table near an AC outlet and have instant light. The third is kind of my “floater,” which I often screw into a table lamp or overhead fixture. When I’m teaching, I bring an extension cord and have my students hold the light for each other.

Big studios with huge amounts of lighting at their disposals sometimes use these little guys in situations where they need to put light in a very small place their big units won’t fit, like under a table or inside something like a China cabinet.

Maybe the best reason to consider getting one or more of these neat little flashes is the price. The two I bought most recently were just $32 each. Considering what you can do with that kind of light, it’s one of photography’s best values.

Chele and Tom, my step-daughter and her husband, along with Max the Chihuahua, play with their baby Paul in our living room. Faced with strong backlight from the front window, I used a slave flash screwed into a floor lamp in the corner of our living room, plus a flash on my camera set to about 1/4 power pointed straight behind me, to make this image. This is really nice, easy light for pictures of people.
Chele and Tom, my step-daughter and her husband, along with Max the Chihuahua, play with their baby Paul in our living room. Faced with strong backlight from the front window, I used a slave flash screwed into a floor lamp in the corner of our living room, plus a flash on my camera set to about 1/4 power pointed straight behind me, to make this image. This is really nice, easy light for pictures of people.
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2 Comments

  1. I’m glad to hear you get good use out of these… I almost bought some a few years ago, but wondered how powerful they’d be.

    Just a note about the popup flash “pre-flash”: many of the modern slave bulbs say they compensate for the pre-flash on digital cameras. 🙂

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  2. Just goes to show how bad my memory is… I commented on this entry right after you posted it. Just two years later I was telling you I didn’t remember it. 🙂

    Thanks again for this entry.

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