A Brief Introduction To Artificial Lighting Systems

Lighting in photography can create a thousand different emotional responses in us. Fear should never be one of them. Natural light photographers sometimes spend years chasing the Golden Light, perfecting their styles and shaping light in an array of different scenarios. Nevertheless, most photographers never venture into the world of lighting with flash.

Lighting with artificial light is a totally different ball game. The first few times that you dive into it can be intimidating. There is definitely a learning curve. There are concepts that must be followed, rules that must be maintained, and limitations that do not exist in natural situations. That’s why we’ve put together this short introduction to artificial lighting systems. Fear no more: if you are interested in shooting with artificial light, keep reading below.

Basic Concepts in Artificial Lighting

An off camera flash is a flash connected to the camera by cable or radio transmission. This is the most “intimidating” type of lighting on the market today. This type of lighting consists of monolights (sometimes referred to as strobe lights) and, in some cases, speedlights. Lighting of this nature is commonly used in the studio or on location to give an effect that cannot be otherwise achieved.

An on camera flash is a flash that is connected to the camera directly by its hot shoe mount. This type of flash is commonly referred to as a speedlight and is normally a photographer’s first flash. Speedlights offer a great range of flexibility in difficult low light situations. They give you the ability to take your camera anywhere and capture the perfect shot every time. The portability of the speedlight affords photographers the option to shoot with the flash on the camera or on a stand connected by wire or radio transmission.

However, speedlights do come with their limitations. For one, they are not as powerful as monolights or other types of Off Camera Flashes. Secondly, they require the use of regular batteries which may need to be changed out regularly depending on usage. Overall, if you are a photographer that shoots any kind of event, or if you have been looking to add another element to your photographs, speedlights are a must.


A monolight is defined as a self-contained flashing unit. Most monolights are used in studio and come in a wide range of different sizes, strengths, and light qualities. You may have more commonly heard them called strobe lights. Before we dive into brand recommendations, let’s look at what makes a quality light and how the power output is determined.

The power of a monolight is determined by the measure of its watt seconds (Ws). A watt second is a derived unit of energy equivalent to a joule, it is the energy sustained by on watt for on full second. This means that the higher the watt second the brighter the monolight. (I.e. 1000ws is 5x more powerful than 500ws).

Light Quality

You might ask yourself the following question: other than power, what’s the difference between all of the different monolights on the market and why does the cost fluctuate so much?

The other aspect to consider when searching for a great monolight is its consistency and overall quality of light. If you have ever done a shoot with a monolight and notice that some of the shots are darker (under exposed) or oddly colored, this is where the quality of the light starts to step in. Having a good quality monolight or speed light will give you peace of mind when it comes to consistency in color temperature, recharge power, and stop range. In the sections below, we will give a brief overview of two popular strobe lighting brands: Profoto and Impact.

Profoto Strobe Lighting

Profoto has for many years been a trusted brand from professionals to amateurs and everyone in between. Profoto lights tend to be more expensive than most of the other monolights on the market and this is for a good reason. One of Profoto’s biggest assets is the wide range of modifiers. You can attach a wide range of modifiers to Profoto lights, anything from large Umbrellas to small beauty dishes.

The lighting units themselves have a unique color temperature to them and a recharge that is reliable across different model types. Profoto Lighting is an essential part of a professional photographer’s arsenal and with its versatility you can achieve almost any look you could dream up.

Impact Strobe Lighting

Impact Monolight come in a great variety of power brackets. Impact lights are mostly used by beginners and offer the beginning photographer a great introduction to monolights. Most Impact lights are designed to be easy to use and come with a light weight body that is portable and quick to setup. While not as powerful as Profoto lighting systems, Impacts lights have their own set of advantages. Mainly, Impact lights are have a very simple dial on the backside that makes it easy to switch between power settings. They also tend to come in a large variety of different lighting kits.

The impact models of lighting systems would be a great start to photographers who may have been looking to get their hands on a different type of flash. The ease of use that come with using impact lights is a big plus. Although there are not as many types of modification for the Impact Lights as you will find for the Profoto, I would still recommend giving them a try as you move toward the more advanced types of strobes.

As you can see there are a lot of different elements that go into artificial lighting, and there is more to the flash then just turning it on and pressing the test button. Having the right flash can add value to your photography, get you out of a tough situation, and enhance your shots by adding a polished effect to otherwise commonplace outdoor scenes. Whether you are using Profoto, Impact, or a regular Canon or Nikon Speedlight having the right flash is sure to take you photos to the next level.

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