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This post was most recently updated on November 13th, 2022

Opinions are divided when it comes to the different lighting terms in photography. Everyone seems to have a preferred term, leaving beginners, and even experienced photographers a little confused at times! 

Strobe lighting and monolights are often used as synonymous in photography but are there any differences? And how can you tell these differences apart? It can be tricky to do, especially as a beginner, and leaves many of us overwhelmed and unsure what light we should be using. 

Well, no more! Today we take a look at what they are, how they work, and which is better.

What’s A Monolight?

A monolight is a single self-contained flash unit as part of a photography studio lighting setup. Monolights simply consist of a light head and a power source. They are commonly powered by an AC power source.

This allows the monolight to be fitted with other attachments, for example, an umbrella. 

What’s A Strobe Light?

Just like monolights, strobes are a type of flash unit designed to produce continuous bursts of light, similar to a hot shoe camera flash unit. A strobe flash is extremely bright and the quick light bursts can produce an output between 100 and 1,000W.

Differences Between Strobe Lights And Monolight

Both strobe lights and monolights are flashes. There are divided opinions as to any differences between monolight and a strobe light.

However, we found the main difference is the power source. Monolights are self-contained flash units that need to be plugged into a wall (or some can run with a battery).

On the other hand, strobes don’t necessarily need their power source. Generally, the term “strobe” is used for a broader range of lighting equipment. That’s why a monolight is, in fact, a strobe.

Advantages Of Using Strobe Lighting For Photography

Strobe lighting as part of a photography lighting setup can be a valuable tool to recreate a range of photographic scenes.

Here are some of the benefits of strobe lights.

Strong Light

Strobe lights are immensely powerful and they can emit a strong, quick burst of light. This power output means the photographer can place the light further away from what he is shooting.

Strobe lights commonly have a higher guide number (a measurement for light output) than the ever more popular speedlights. The initially strong light means that a photographer can also use a diffuser with it to create a more feathered and soft light.

Quick Recycle Times

The recycle time of a flashlight refers to the time a flash needs to recharge after it is used.

Strobe lights have much faster recycle times than other flash settings, such as speedlights. They are usually powered by AA batteries and therefore take much longer to recycle.

A fast recycling time is particularly good for portrait photos in the studio where you can take a lot of shots in a very short time.  This allows the professional photographer to capture the changes and movements in the subject’s body.

Overpowers Sunlight

A strobe light is perfect for outdoor shoots. This flash power light overpowers the natural light of the sun for a particular effect.

The sky in the photo will look darker and the sun will appear as a secondary light source. This creates an impressive, dynamic shot with a high impact.

Duration Of The Flash

Similar to the recycle time, the studio flash from a strobe light puts out a lot of light in a very short time. This is essential when you work with high-speed photography where the flash duration acts as the shutter speed.

Modeling Lamps

Strobes usually come with a modeling lamp (also known as modeling lights). These constant lights allow a photographer to check what the flashlight will look like without having to take a test shot.

It’s essentially a lighting preview which helps to quickly understand what the photo will look like before any shot has been taken.

Color Temperature

If you are working with a product in photography, color temperature is one of the most essential elements you need to be aware of. The right light and correct color temperature have a big impact on the appeal of your product image.

Unlike speedlights, strobes feature constant color temperature to keep the color of your image as accurate as possible.

Downsides Of Strobe Lighting

Downsides Of Strobe Lighting

While strobe lighting is a versatile and powerful light source, there are a couple of two major disadvantages of strobe lighting.

Price

The balance between a powerful light and good-quality accuracy means that strobe lighting kits are expensive.

Some basic strobe light kits can cost as much as a beginner DSLR. In addition to that, any accessories such as light modifiers and power packs are typically not included in the kits.

So this is an additional cost you will need to take into account when you are looking to buy a strobe light.

Weight And Portability

Most professional photographers know this as a common issue. The heavier your equipment, the more difficult it is to use. A strobe light kit is usually heavy and large. This makes them difficult to transport which is not ideal, especially on outdoor shootings.

The heavyweight of the kit is the battery pack, which a strobe light needs for the strong power output.

In addition to that, a studio strobe light also needs a light stand to hold the weight of the gear. This is fine when you are in a studio but almost impossible to set up when you are outside.

Which Type Of Lighting Should I Use For My Photo Shoot?

When you are shooting products, you want to make sure that the light is bright enough so that the details of your product are visible. This is where a strobe light is ideal.

However, if you are shooting people, then you may need to use a light modifier with a strobe light as you don’t want too much light because it will wash out the skin tones.

You also don’t want to have too little light because it will cause shadows under the eyes. So it all depends on the type of photos you are taking. There is no right or wrong answer here. It comes down to personal preference and where you are going to shoot.

Final Thoughts

Strobe lighting is great for product and portrait shots. However, it’s important to remember that it may not always be suitable for all types of shoots.

This is why it’s good to use a combination of different light sources that complement each other perfectly and provide different benefits depending on the subject you are photographing.

This way, you can get the best results from your photoshoot.