Lighting is to a photographer what a pen is to an author or a brush to a painter. It opens you up to multiple creative possibilities as you play with everything from shadow effects to glowing patterns. Your success here is determined by the kind of lighting you use, such as continuous lighting, on-camera flashes, or strobe lighting. Today, we’re going to focus specifically on strobe lights for portraits.
Strobe lights use short, strong bursts of light, making them more powerful compared to continuous studio lights. It’s so intense that you can place the light further from the subject and the flashes will overpower the effect of sunlight. This makes the sky appear darker and the sun a secondary source of light.
The light bursts are particularly beneficial for portraits because of subtle differences like capturing the eyes before the pupils dilate. This highlights more iris color in the subject’s eyes compared to continuous lighting.
While strobe lights were initially restricted to studios, most now have battery packs that allow you to use them on-site. They provide stronger lighting than on-camera flashes and have a shorter recycle time. This is how long it takes for the next flash of light to recharge. The short light bursts act as the de facto shutter speed when carrying out high-speed photography.
Since they are larger as well, they usually require you to have separate battery packs when you plan to take those portrait shots out in the open. This makes power ratings a critical factor to consider when choosing the best strobe lights for portraits. Let’s look at the top products on the market that enable you to enhance the tone, look, and overall quality of your image.
1. Flashpoint XPLOR 600 Monolight Kit (Overall Winner)
The Flashpoint XPLOR is a self-contained 600ws strobe that you can take anywhere with you. Its internally powered by its own 11.1V lithium-ion 8700mAh battery, which gives you over 450 full-power flashes for every single charge.
Being a cordless battery, setup time is reduced. The flash has multiple settings, from rapid stroboscopic flash to LED modelling. This gives you a wider range to work with for the optimal portrait result.
Here, you have a 2.5s full power recycle, and the cooling fans that are contained in the structure will keep the monolight cool and stable. You can crank things up with the Remote 600 and 1200ws extension heads, which are eight feet long, transforming the Flashpoint XPLOR into a powerhouse.
You can control the strobe light with the R2 TTL Wireless Flash System. This adds to its user-friendliness. The remote is easy to use, and the functionalities range from selecting group modes to channel triggering. You will be able to monitor the status of the R2 compliant strobes when dealing with group lighting. Here, you won’t need to struggle with power cords or generators and it’s super portable.
2. Photogenic PL2500DRC PowerLight
As the name says, this unit is all about power. The Photogenic PL2500DRC PowerLight particularly targets professionals who need to deliver quality results regardless of the lighting situation, at any time of day or night. The power delivered during every flash gives you reliable six f-stop flash outputs all through its 32-1000 watt range.
The 250W modeling lamp can be controlled based on your desired output level. Set it to full-power, professional, manual controlled, or shut it off as needed.
With the Photogenic PL2500DRC PowerLight, you get to modify the lighting to suit any type of portrait shoot with the help of a digital display, through which you can make 1/10 or 1/2 f-stop increments for precision adjustments. Your creative freedom also gets a boost due to the accompanying light modifiers, from photogenic reflectors and softboxes to umbrellas.
This unit also goes beyond the strobe lighting, coming with beneficial features like a color flash tube and infrared remote. The rugged build adds to its durability as you carry it with you during on-site shoots. These features make the Photogenic PL2500DRC PowerLight one of the best strobe lights for portraits.
3. Godox AD200
The main appeal of the Godox AD200 is its portability. It’s small and compact, and its light weight makes it easy to carry around. It takes around 0.01 to 2.1 seconds to recharge, and its long-lasting 2900mAh battery makes it a nifty tool to have on location. It gives you the power of a strobe, in the size of a speedlight.
The TTL function of the Godox AD200 200Ws makes it compatible with popular camera brands, including Nikon, Canon, and Sony. Though it is small compared to the other products mentioned here, it delivers sufficient power. You can rely on it for sunset portrait shots, night photography, and indoor use.
The design of this unit allows you to incorporate it into your working space without having to make major modifications. When outdoors, be careful about how you handle it, especially when it’s windy, to protect the LCD.
4. Westcott FJ400
This light from Westcott gives you accurate color temperature, all through its nine-stop output range. One of the biggest things that stands out with the Westcott FJ400 is its cooling unit. Here, the strobe comes with self-monitoring fans, which will shut off automatically. This ensures safety during operation.
With regard to functionality, the strobe light allows you to capture continuous images with up to 20fps. It comes with a 62-Inch Proline tripod and is powered by its AC/DC lithium polymer battery, giving you over 480 full-power flashes with every charge.
For compatibility, you can use the Westcott FJ400 with most cameras, including Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and Panasonic models, plus RT flash systems. Use its Bowens S-Type mounting system to pair with your softbox. It also comes with a tilter bracket that’s built-in, to help you securely mount and position any large umbrellas used for the shoot.
The Westcott FJ400 has a menu system that is easy to use, which you navigate through its LCD display. You can also control it wirelessly by mounting the FJ-X2m to your camera’s hot shoe. All of the FJ400 components are housed in a sleek travel case for safe storage and transport.
5. Neewer Vision 4 (Budget Winner)
This German-engineered strobe light is an ideal choice when balancing quality and price. It’s battery-powered and easy to use. The 6000mAH, 12V lithium battery provides 700 full-power flashes for every charge.
Attributes like the energy-saving LED modeling lamp gives you more usage out of each charging cycle. You can hold the strobe light by hand or mount it on a light stand. The flashlight itself is light, weighing in at 3.96 lbs (1.8kg).
As far as functionality, the unit features a quick recycle time of 0.4 to 2.5 seconds. The 300W flash provides you with sufficient lighting even during challenging conditions. It will give you quality shots whether you’re photographing fast-moving objects or close-up portraits.
The Neewer Vision 4 comes with an in-built 2.4G receiver for wireless remote control. This is an eight-channel receiver, meaning you can set up multiple sets of the flash units for lighting angles.
When it comes to compatibility, you can use it with any camera that features a standard hot shoe. For Sony cameras, it works with the New MI Shoe that you’ll find on the Sony a7 series.
It has a sturdy build, with the metal casing enabling it to survive occasional bumps, knocks, and falls that come with the job. It is worth noting that the Neewer Vision 4 does not support TTL and HSS modes.
The Importance of Strobe Lights for Portraits
When in the market for your next strobe, the main factors you should consider include light intensity, recycle times, and battery capacity. The modeling light is also key, as it lets you see how the flash’s light appears without you having to take a test shot, or even spend time metering. The strobe lights listed here are great starting points, as they offer great value for the money and may help you settle on the unit that meets your particular portraiture needs.