Are Strobes Needed for Outdoor Photography?

Photographing your subject in outdoor settings leads you to a door opening to a whole new world of story-telling. A cloudy day with soft sunlight will produce portraits with a more natural and rounded look; while, the golden light just before sunset makes the colors in your subject pop out and gives the background a dramatic flair. However, the opportunities of outdoor photography also bring along with them an array of challenges for the lensman: high exposure, white imbalance, and too sharp focus.  When photographing outside, one of the most crucial and decisive moments is deciding the lighting equipment since it defines the quality and tone of the pictures. Different lighting tools are used by photographers for different purposes. However, one tool that is effective in overcoming the challenges associated with outdoor photography is a strobe.

What Is a Strobe?
Image of a man taking a picture.

A strobe is a lightning device used to produce strokes of light at regular intervals in portrait photography. When people hear the word strobe, they usually conjure an image of hot-shoe mounted flash in their mind, which you might have seen in the hands of a cameraman in documentaries or wedding photography. However, professional photographers know that strobes are very different: they are heavier, much more powerful, and have faster recycling time than mounted flashlights.

Although strobes are more commonly employed for indoor portrait photography, they work wonders in outdoor settings as well. If you are not familiar with photographing outdoors, it might take you some time to get the hang of it but worry not!

Whether you are a beginner who was asked by her friend to film her wedding or a professional photographer looking for ways to add magic to her outdoor portraits, we have got you covered. We have prepared a detailed guide for our fellow lensmen on how to use a lightning strobe to produce impeccable outdoor portrait pictures while running the film smoothly behind the camera!

Types of Strobes for Outdoor Photography

Image of a studio with strobes and stands.

Now that we know what a strobe is, we shall discuss its different types in-depth to help you find one with specifications compatible with your overall needs.

There is a wide variety of models with distinct features adorning the shelves in the market. However, we can classify all those models into the following three types:

Pack and Head System

In a pack and head system, there is a central power generator, which stores and releases energy to the flash head or flash heads through a proprietary cable. In general, pack and head systems offer the most power compared to other types of strobes. They also have the fastest recycling time though the exact value might vary from model to model. Although it is a bit time-taking to set the pack and head system, it offers a variety of setup options, allowing you to mix and match to your preference.

Moreover, you only need a single powerhead for multiple flash heads, which increases efficiency and modularity. Since the power output is centralized, you can easily control it from a single point. Furthermore, this feature also allows you to connect all the flash heads to the camera through a single sync port or a single radio trigger.

However, this system does not come without some drawbacks and limitations. Since a lot of wires are used to connect the flash heads to both the power generator and the camera, it takes a great deal of time to set up and breakdown the whole equipment. This mayhem of wires also restricts the mobility of the photographer, making it difficult for him to shift positions. Although it is easy to position the heads, the system is quite heavy altogether, making it difficult to carry around for outdoor shoots.

Moreover, since in pack and head systems all the power is produced by only one generator, the system has a single point of failure. In case the generator breaks down, all the flash heads will be rendered useless. This drawback poses a difficulty for those planning to shoot outdoors in remote areas with no backup lighting equipment. Moreover, you can not adjust the power in each flash head individually as most models offer collective adjustments for power output.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
GODOX AD200 TTL 2.4G HSS 1/8000s Pocket Flash Light Double Head 200Ws with 2900mAh Lithium Battery Strobe Flash
YONGNUO YN200 Wireless Flash Speedlite 200W TTL M Multi HSS 1/8000s 2.4G Pocket Flash Strobe Monolight + 2900mAh Lithium Battery + Bare Bulb + Lamp Holder
Godox AD200Pro and Xpro-C Trigger Set, 200Ws Strobe Flash, 1/8000 HSS, 500 Full Power Flashes, 0.01-1.8s Recycling, 2900mAh Battery, Bare Bulb/Speedlite, Compatible The Canon DSLR

Our Top Recommendation

GODOX AD200

YONGNUO YN200

Godox AD200Pro

Monolight

As the name suggests, a monolight strobe comprises a single unit that contains both the power generator and the flash head. Unlike pack and head systems, monolight strobes require only a single cable wire to connect the strobe to the camera, which allows for a relatively fast set up and breakdown: all you need is a power outlet.

The compact design of a monolight makes it extremely portable; its light-weight makes it further suitable for outdoor mobile shooting; however, flexibility is limited. It is also easy on the pocket and cheaper than other lighting tools, which, along with the simple design, makes it an ideal choice for beginners to use.

Although a monolight offers a decent amount of power, the output is significantly lower than one provided by a pack and head setup. However, you will be able to shoot faster using monolights offering the same power output as a pack and head system since each one of them recycles individually rather than collectively. Moreover, thanks to the negligible cable resistance, you can achieve the same power output with monolights as with a pack and head system but for less electrical power.

There is one drawback in using multiple monolights: each unit must be synced to the camera individually, either through the port or wireless radio control. Although more advanced models include optical slave triggers -a light-sensitive sensor- which syncs all the units and allows you to blast them in unison from a single remote control. Unless you are using a newer model that includes a remote control, you will also have to walk over to the flash head every time you want to adjust the power output since the settings are located on the head.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
Godox AD400Pro 400W TTL Flash 2.4G HSS GN72 1/8000s with Li-ion Battery All-in-One Outdoor Flash Strobe Light Monolight 30W LED Modeling Lamp Compatible for Canon Fuji Sony Nikon Olympus Panasonic
LimoStudio Photography 200W Photo Monolight Flash Strobe Studio Photography Light Lighting, AGG1756V2
Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS Battery-Powered Monolight with Built-in R2 2.4GHz Radio Remote System - Bowens Mount (AD600) + Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic Quick Softbox (48")

Our Top Recommendation

GODOZ AD400Pro

LimoStudio 200W Monolight Flash Strobe

Flashpoint XPLOR 600

Battery Powered Strobe

Battery-packed systems take portability to a whole another level: it does not need any power generator or cable wires. It is the best option in the market for remote outdoor photography, as it allows you to focus on capturing quality portraits without worrying about finding a power socket nearby or fitting a clunky generator in the back of your car to carry around burden you. It is an external lighting tool so, it does not connect to the camera and works independently, further minimizing your chances of tripping on cable wires.

However, the power output offered by a battery-packed strobe is way less than the general power output provided by other component systems and monolights. The recycling time, too, is not fast enough compared to strobes powered by generators. Therefore, a battery-packed strobe is most-suited for shooting portraits in outdoor settings with bright sunlight where you do not require sharp bursts of light.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
Godox HSS AD600BM Bowens Mount 600Ws GN87 High Speed Sync Outdoor Flash Strobe Light with XPro-C Wireless Flash Trigger, 8700mAh Battery Pack to Provide 500 Full Power Flashes for Canon
Neewer Vision 4 Powered Outdoor Studio Flash Strobe (700 Full Power Flashes) with Softbox, Light Stand and Cleaning Kit for Video Location Photography Product ID: 5
Godox AD600Pro Witstro All-in-One Outdoor Flash

Our Top Recommendation

Godox AD 600II

Neewer Vision 4 Powered Outdoor Studio

Godox AD600Pro

Features to Consider When Buying Lighting Strobes For Outdoor Photography

Image of a woman with her camera and tripod at sunset.

As you can see, every type of strobe is suitable for fulfilling different purposes; you need to choose one that is most compatible with your needs. But before deciding to buy any model, it is imperative to double-check if the model offers the features you require for outdoor photography as technical features vary from model to model. Below is a comprehensive list of features you must consider before buying your lighting tool:

Output Power

Output power in strobes varies from 300 Ws to 1000Ws. The right power output for outdoor photography depends on several factors: the shutter speed of your camera, the kind of camera you are using, and what you are photographing. If you are photographing a person or product, you will be good to go with lower wattage; but as the scale of your image expands, the wattage requires an increase as well. Therefore, if you are photographing a landscape or the subject is mobile, you will need larger watts per second light.

Strobe Settings

When photographing outdoors, you will be exposed to two different lights: your strobe light and the available (ambient) sunlight. Since you can not control the exposure of the sunlight, you need to adjust your strobe light according to it to avoid imbalanced background illumination. To do so, you might place/adjust the distance of the strobe from the subject: the brightness of light decreases exponentially the further it is from the subject. You could also use a modifier if the sunlight is too bright: a modifier diffuses and spreads light across a wider area, diverting its focus from the subject to the background. As a result, the brightness of the light will be reduced, and the image will be less sharp than the one with focused light.

Recycling Speed

Recycling speed refers to the time duration between each flash in which the strobe regains its full power. To capture photographs with correct background exposure, you need to sync your camera’s shutter speed to your strobe’s recycling speed so that light is fired and admitted to the photo at the same as the shutter opens. The recycling speed of your strobe must not be slower than the camera’s shutter speed, or you will end with a bunch of high exposure areas in your pictures. Try finding a strobe with a faster recycling speed if you are shooting in mobile settings to achieve a higher flash sync speed.

The Takeaway

Photographing in outdoor settings can introduce you to countless opportunities behind the lens, provided you are willing to explore this field. Even though it might present some difficulties in the beginning, with the right strobe lighting and some practice, you will be able to add a new perspective to your art and capture high-quality exemplary photographs matched to the supremacy of professional photography. So why are you still waiting? Get yourself the best strobes for outdoor photography today!