Every once in a while you just gotta try something new.

Or in my case Friday, something new that’s really something old.

To explain: When I first started getting into portrait photography, I knew that I was going to have to have a set of studio lights if I was going to do decent work. Not having a lot of money to spend on said lights, I started looking on Ebay to see what I could find. Of course, the options ran the gamut from Rolls Royces (Elinchroms with built-in Skyport triggers) to Pintos (a flood light on a stick). I finally settled on a pre-built package of strobes, modifiers, backgrounds and stands. Not the most expensive set, but a lot of bang for the buck.

It was a good set to start training on, but there are limitations. Without getting too technical, let’s just say that they presented enough challenges that after using them to shoot the school pictures at Freedom Christian Academy two years ago, I immediately went out and bought a new set of constant lights and put the strobes in a closet.

And that’s where they have stayed until last week. Virtually all the studio shots on my website and everything that I’ve shared on the blog have been shot with Westcott TD-5 Spiderlights. They are daylight balanced fluorescents and give a very soft, pretty light. But they have limitations of their own, in that they are not as bright as strobes and require a very delicate balance of settings on the camera to take properly exposed images.

So I got to thinking the other day about getting the strobes back out and giving them another chance. We talked with our mother-daughter friends Shannon and Abbey and they were willing to model for us (more on the two of them another day). I had some specific things that I wanted to try and they were eager to help.

First I wanted to try some straight portraits against a white background. What strobes do is put out a lot of light, which allows you to shoot at a smaller aperture and higher shutter speed and really freeze the picture. They can make for really sharp, contrasty images, like this one:

It may be difficult to tell from this image, but the detail in Shannon’s eyes is just fantastic. I was also to get similar results from this shot of Abbey: I was also interested in how the colors rendered from the strobes in a straight studio setting. The times before that I had shot with them had been in improvised studios where I couldn’t always control the light from other sources. I wanted to see what kind of color balance I would get when the strobes were pretty much all the light I had. Not bad, I think:

Finally, I wanted to do some just straight experimentation and try to recreate some of the vintage Hollywood photography from the 1930s and ’40s. I just love the look of those old images of Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Gretta Garbo, etc. If you have seen them, you know they have a certain look and style that is difficult to pull off. I decided that I wanted to try it, but I deliberately didn’t do any research into how it was done. I wanted to see if I could recreate it myself on the fly. This is what I came up with: Pretty close, if I do say so myself. Afterward, I did some checking and learned that most of those old portraits were shot with Fresnel stage lights, which produce a light with very different qualities than my studio strobes. I didn’t nail it, but I got close enough that I want to try again at some point. I may even try to find a Fresnel or two. 🙂

Anyway, it was a fun afternoon in the studio and I learned a lot. Thanks Shannon and Abbey (and LaDonna and Wayne) for indulging me.