Why the size of your light source matters

Why the size of your light source matters

This article by Oliver is a great introduction to using lighting! We run a variety courses with Profoto that are great for photographers at all levels!


The sun and diffused clouds are massive, massive light sources, so big they're hard to comprehend sometimes. You often can't see where clouds begin and end, and usually, they're so thick it's hard to tell where the sun is behind them.


When using natural light indoors, we generally use large windows, it's a lot nicer when they're at least a meter in height and width! Still, when we start using flash or constant lights, many photographers and videographers alike, choose tiny soft boxes on them, or nothing at all, and we shoot so close that they feel unnatural and unbalanced, overly dramatic, and often distracting.


The other problem with this approach is that we are picking underpowered lights that don't deliver enough direction or distance, so the light doesn't travel enough for us to fill the space, or we can't modify it, leading to a light that feels distracting or ugly.


We have to sit our subject close to the light, rather than having enough space to allow the light to spread out feel natural, and create shape.


As you scroll through these shots, can you see that these have a consistency but have a few different approaches: 

All of this is to say one key thing:


Power matters.


The more power you have, the larger the space you can fill and the farther you can be away from your light source.


Whether you're using constant lights from brands like Aputure or Nanlite or strobe from Profoto or Godox, the power output will significantly affect what you can and can't do with your light.


I opt for strobe where possible because they're still much stronger and more efficient than constant lights (around five times as powerful per watt).


The end result will depend upon a lot of factors in your control but power is always the first variable I decide after I’ve looked at what I want my shot to look like. Most people who look at my work, can see I love natural light, and I use the sun a lot, but as we move into winter, I’m much more limited in getting that look without using other tools.


It is a personal preference, but when looking at what to buy, you ask yourself these questions:

  • What example shots do I have that give me an idea of what I want things to look like?

  • Will I be using these on location, and if so, will I have access to mains power, or do they need to operate off battery?

  • How often will I need this set up?

  • What is the best value for money?

  • Will I quickly run out of power output, or will this be strong enough?


For me in the studio, I'm a sucker for some powerful lights, having tested the Profoto Pro-D3 last week; if I was to be buying strobe, I'd strongly consider that, for location, the Profoto B10X Plus, but I love Profoto's ergonomics, and find them very easy to use and robust. 


If I were shooting constant light on location, I would examine whether I need a battery. It's a challenging consideration; constant lights require a lot of power, so I might be better off renting a generator when I need it or getting a few V-Lock batteries if I can find a fixture I like.


I love the versatility of the Aputure Lightstorm 600C as it is a constant RGB light with a good amount of power and takes V-Lock.


I have used the Aputure Amaran 60D on smaller setups, which take smaller, lighter and cheaper NP-F batteries.


My main tip would be to reference first, it's fun to explore and try new things, but it's a lot easier if you have an idea first, so create moodboards, and lighting references! This will help you pick out whether your light source is big and soft (meaning you’ll need more power) or small and close (smaller size, less power needed).


This post is by Oliver — who runs many of our lighting workshops. You can click here for all the details.