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Ideal watt/second for indoor shoots?

Kelci Hedrick , Dec 14, 2005; 07:16 p.m.

I've been on quite a hiatus from my photography while I finish up my last year of undergrad school, plan my wedding, and apply for grad school, but next semester I'm determined to spend more time to shoot! I'm finally considering buying studio lights, but I want to do my research before I buy.

What's the ideal w/s for studio shoots? There are monolights on B&H that have as little wattage as 100 w/s, and going up to around 3600w/s. Are two 100 w/s monolights strong enough to get decent shots? Would 3600 w/s blind my models? Any input is appreciated!


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Brooks Short - Tampa, Florida , Dec 14, 2005; 07:22 p.m.

There is no "ideal" watt/second power level for something as general as "indoor shoots".

I've used 3-4800ws power packs at full power for interior architectural shots on 100 ISO4x film. I've used 2 4800ws packs on full power with umbrellas, optical spots, fresnel spots together for food shoots on 100 ISO medium format digital backs etc...etc...

It all depends on the size and scale of your set or subject, the modifiers used on your lights, the ISO you're shooting with and the f-stop/depth of field and format size of film or digital capture.

Garry Edwards , Dec 14, 2005; 07:23 p.m.

2x100WS lights may be just about adequate for headshots if you're using 35mm/small digital.

Personally I would go for a bit more power than this.

2x3600WS may be just about adequate for full length shots in a large studio if you use a 5"x4" camera and want good DOF - it's horses for courses.

IMO what's far more important than raw power is the availability of accessories and the ability to adjust the power output over a wide range. Then add it consistent power output and consitent colour output - unfortunately you tend to get what you pay for in studio lighting.

Stephen Kruft , Dec 14, 2005; 10:05 p.m.

It all depends on what you will do with what speed film (if you do film) and want to spend. There are many books, sites and threads about this.

The more power you have, the more versatility. Most or all lights can be turned down.

The reason so much power is used today and models not permanently blinded is that the modern way is to shoot through softboxes or umbrellas or other devices that absorb the light. In the "old days" when people would use more direct light or silver umbrellas and often get more harsh effects, it was common to see small outfits, especially for portable use.

Tom Meyer , Dec 14, 2005; 11:46 p.m.

"The more power you have, the more versatility"... this is true only if you have fine control. I have a 2000ws pack that has only 250/500/1000/2000 ws settings. While it is a useful pack, it is not nearly as versatile as my 400ws Lumedyne with stepless power settings from 6 to 400ws. I use the Lumedyne for about 80 percent of my work, and only get out the 2000ws Dynalight when I need white backgrounds or I'm shooting flat art and the difference between F16 and F22 doesn't matter so much, and I can move the lights for finer control without affecting the way the image looks (no shadows to worry about). There are powerful packs that can be controled throughout their range in precise/small increments, but they are expensive. Very expensive.

As Brooks says, there is no ideal WS for "studio" photography. There is only "ideal" for the picture you want to make right now. So I recommend getting a pack with finely adjustable settings, the most powerful one you can afford and are willing to carry. If it has tons of power, that's fine, as long as you can turn it down when you want to. Big packs tend to be heavy, so they don't get used outside the studio much, unless you've got an elaborate set to create with multiple lights in bright ambiant light that you need to overpower (and a burly assistant/pack animal)... t

Steve Wolfe , Dec 15, 2005; 06:24 a.m.

I like to keep my aperture around f/8 if I can, and using 400 W/S strobes, I usually have to turn them down at least a couple of stops to achieve that. But it all depends on whether you're trying to light one person, five people, or an entire room.


Kirk Darling , Dec 15, 2005; 09:26 a.m.

You didn't say what you'd be doing with it, but you did mention "models."

Well, for "people pictures" in general (individuals and small groups) I find that about 300-400 watt seconds per head works well in most situations. In a main light, that's enough power to give me from f5.6-f16 in any of my softboxes or out of any of my umbrellas at ISO 100 with the light 4-9 feet from the subject.

There are lots of different ways to get "300-400 watt seconds per head."

John Murphy , Dec 15, 2005; 09:38 a.m.

Assuming you use some diffusion (e.g., a softbox) which would reduce the light by about one stop, figure on 300-500 W/s as a useful range for your main and fill lights.

This assumes you'll be doing 3/4 length poses or smaller, with the lights positioned 3-4 feet away, and focal lengths in the f/11 range. If your plans differ, you can adjust these numbers accordingly, but remember that a one stop increase in the light output requires DOUBLE the output wattage.

Also keep in mind that power output is not the only consideration in buying lights. Look carefully at the build quality and availability of accessories when considering any light purchase.

Andre Reinders , Dec 15, 2005; 10:49 a.m.

FWIW - I am also looking into lighting of some kind...the photographer who does some work for our organization suggested a minimum of 500WS if I was to get into setting up some sort of home studio for shooting individuals or families. This seems close to other suggestions in this thread of ~400WS.

Nick Zentena , Dec 15, 2005; 10:57 a.m.

So let me ask the obvious question. When you say 400ws I'm guessing you don't mean at full power? So at what power level are you using them?

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