Product Photography: Constant or Flash Lighting?

For years there has been the raging debate in the product photography world about which lighting is better: flash or constant? For years the industry's favorite has been flash because constant light tends to get very hot. But today that is changing.

Flash and constant lighting both have their pros and cons. What you choose is ultimately a matter of preference combined with what your unique situation requires.

Which Lights Are Hotter?

Flash was preferred over constant because constant lights get very hot. This could ruin fragile products like food by causing things to melt. It also made crews and the clients paying for the shoots very uncomfortable. A quick flash only gives off a little heat in split second bursts and creates a more comfortable work environment.

Innovations in constant lighting, like fluorescent bulbs, have made unbearably hot rooms a thing of the past. If you do plan on using fluorescent bulbs to shoot your products, make sure the bulbs are specially suited for photography. The reason is that the normal fluorescents that you find in hardware stores tend to give off a greenish color and are not properly color balanced for photography.

The most popular form of constant lights, known as tungsten lights, still get very hot when they've been on for a while and could melt products if exposed for too long.

Which One Has the Faster Workflow?

Flash lighting requires a flash meter and can get more complicated to set up. You must use the flash each time to see if you're shooting in the right direction. It can become a guess, test, and revise process that could easily make your shooting day run longer than scheduled. 

Flash also needs to be triggered. It can be difficult to keep the flash in sync with your subject. You also need to wait for the flash to recharge between triggers. Another drawback is that the flashes might not all last the same precise amount of time; meaning your exposures might be slightly different between takes.

Constant lighting is easier to master than flash lighting. Constant lighting setups can be achieved by your eye and by looking through your digital camera to make sure the lighting matches the exposure. Once the lights are set the crew can walk away and the photographer can go to work with evenly exposed shots. Work flows more smoothly, which means you can be more productive. Clients love that.

Which Is Better?

To sum it up flash lights are preferrable because they don't give off that much heat and won't melt a product. But the drawbacks are that they take longer to set up and your exposures might not be totally even between shots.

Constant lights are appealing because they're easy to set up and all your exposures will be even. But the drawback is that they give off a lot of heat that could damage products and make clients uncomfortable.

Overall, the decision is up to what you prefer and what's best for your situation.

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