It’s a shame, but not every room is going to be perfectly lit when you turn up to shoot it. You may only be able to gain access at certain parts of the day or the sun may just not want to come out on the day you need it to. That’s why it’s a great idea to get some lighting to help with your interior photography – and being able to balance available light with artificial light is a great skill to have in your arsenal.
The best portable flash for interior photography
Chances are that if you have been doing photography for any amount of time you will have some form of a lighting setup.
This will usually come with a plug attached to it, so it’s easier to use in your studio or house etc.
That’s great if you’re always in one place, but if you’re continuously on the move and don’t know if you’re going to have access to a plug socket it’s going to cause you a major headache.
The good news is that many of the main lighting manufacturers now produce lighting which either has a built-in battery or has a battery pack which you can attach to the lighting.
Those who remember the batteries of ten years ago, when you needed a gym membership to be able to lift them, will be please to know they now weigh much less and you are sometimes left with the opposite problem of having to sandbag them to the floor in order to stop them blowing away!
Hopefully this short guide will give you an idea on the best lights for interior photography.
If you’ve got a bit of money to burn then take a look at the Profoto lineup. The B2 now offers TTL and HSS shooting, offering shutter speeds of up to 1/15000th of a second!
This kit is also super small so it’s really easy to use if you’re on your own. You can just sling it over your shoulder and away you go.
The downside of this is it only offers around 215 flashes on a full charge, meaning if you’re going to be shooting all day, you either better nail your exposure every time or be prepared to buy a couple more battery packs.
Profoto also offers the B1X system where the battery is built into the head. This offers TTL and HSS as well as 325 full power flashes but will set you back around £1700 per head.
The Elinchrom system offers a bit more power at 424W, compared to the Profoto’s 250W which really comes in handy and also gives you 350 flashes from a full charge, but is 25% heavier and doesn’t offer TTL metering on the basic kit.
The Elinchrom kit also has a range of different flash heads which you can buy either in a kit or as individual heads to add to your existing setup to increase the kinds of photography which you can do.
This a head for general photography offering a good balance of power to flash speed duration
This head is perfect if you’re shooting fast moving objects as its fast flash duration helps to freeze motion.
The HS head is specially for hi-sync photography, allowing you to sync at shutter speeds up to 1/8000th of a second with the additional EL-Skyport Transmitter Plus HS.
This a great if you already have an existing Quadra battery, as you can just add new heads as you need them for far cheaper than having to buy a full kit.
Available in two power options – 180 and 360W – the Godox system is a cheaper alternative to most mainstream flash systems.
Offering 450 flashes on the 360W version for just shy of £400 seems like a great deal, but the drawback comes from the reliability of this flash unit.
If you’re working somewhere where colour constancy is important, this pack probably isn’t for you.
With a rating of +/- 200 kelvin shift this could be a deal breaker – pair that with the cheaper plastic construction and you begin to see where the money is being saved.
That being said, if you’re looking for a quick and cheap way to get into flash photography they’re definitely worth a look.
The great thing about using a portable studio flash for lighting interior photography is that you can most likely move over the sun with it, meaning you will generally only need one light and a maximum of two if at a push or lighting something really big.
This means you can work fairly fast and don’t need to worry about setting up multiple heads and stands on the job, which reduce the effective space which you can work in.
Using your speed light for interior photography
If you already have some speed light flashes lying around then they are a great place to start with your interior photography lighting, as it won’t cost you anything to get practising.
One of the biggest benefits of flashguns is they are usually powered by the humble AA battery.
This means unlike the external power packs of studio lighting ,which need a plug to recharge, you can just keep replacing the batteries and shooting all day long.
If you are new to the market of flash guns, there are loads of options available with the big names offering their own brand speed lights as well as some third party manufacturers offering great alternatives too.
It’s important to know that you won’t be able to get anywhere near the same amount of from a speed light as you would from a portable studio flash and, just to complicated everything, where as portable flash is measured in watts, which is a common power output for lighting.
Because of the different way in which light is measured with a flashgun they use a guide number which is worked out by multiplying the subject distance form the source of the flash by your fstop i.e. A flashgun with the guide number of 20 in metres, (64 in feet), at ISO 100, with a subject at a distance of 2.5 metres, (8 feet), would give an answer of ƒ8, (Guide Number 20 ÷ 2.5 Meters = ƒ8).
This may seem complicated (and only gets worse when you’re bouncing flash off walls) but there are accessories and apps out there which can help you work it out and as you get more confident you will be able to work this out on the fly fairly easily.
For the purpose of the below, all the guide numbers are shown at 100iso at their maximum zoom.
As flashguns are a lot less powerful than a portable studio flash, it means you’re probably going to need multiples of them if you’re looking to get the shot right in camera or you’re going to need to use your flashgun to light specific parts of the image and then combine them all in post-production afterwards.
Doing it this way is fine and gives you great control over where you can add and remove light later on.
Also, if you are hoping to use a speed light for your interior photography and your camera doesn’t have an inbuilt system for controlling external flash guns, you will need to purchase a wireless trigger system, such as the Pocket Wizard range. To find out a bit more about them, check out my 10 best accessories for interior photography.
So if you’re not already put off from using your speed light, here are a few different models to give you an idea of what is available.
This is the flagship flashgun in the Canon lineup and offers a guide number of 60, making it one of the most powerful flash guns available and offers a zoom range of 24-200mm so will cover most situations you are put in.
As would be expected from Canon, the build quality is amazing and it is completely weather sealed, meaning you really can put it through its paces and it will come out of the other side smiling.
It also offers HSS mode and an RF (radio frequency) mode for syncing multiple flashes together without needing to buy multiple triggers.
The robots are coming.
This flashgun features an “AI bounce” mode, compatible with cameras launched after the second half of July 2014, which works by firing two pre-flashes and then self adjusting to calculate the optimum bounce angle.
That may seem like a great idea but it comes at the cost of other desired features, such as the RF feature of the 600EX meaning you need some way to trigger the flash off camera and it can’t function as a master flash to trigger others.
It does come with a respectable guide number of 47, but it can burn through batteries, with Canon giving it a very wide “115 to 800” shots on a set of 4 AA batteries.
Nikon’s high-end offering comes in with a guide number of 55 and offers HSS, the ability to programme repeatable flash patterns as well as a slightly dumbed down RF system as it’s only fitted with a receiver and not a transmitter.
It does also have the ability to work as a wireless master, allowing it to trigger other flashes which comes in handy if you’re having to using multiple flashguns.
It does feature a zoom range of 24-200mm so can be used for a wide range of photographic activities outside of using it to light your interior scenes.
If you are using it for other genres then one great thing about the speed light is the ability to rapid-fire off over 100 continuous shots at full power, meaning you’re never going to miss that important shot.
The baby brother of the SB-5000 only features a guide number of 38, which will probably leave you wanting more. However, it is packed with other features, which if interior photograph isn’t your main source of income, may turn your head.
It features a zoom range of 24-120mm so you should be covered in most situations, has HSS and RC modes built-in and also is able to function as a master as well as a slave for firing other flashes, which could come in really handy if you have some older flashguns but don’t want to have to pay the extra price of the SB-5000 just for the ability to trigger your other flashes.
Metz has been a great third party manufacturer of flashguns for years and this beast features a guide number of 64.
What is different about this flashing is it also features a secondary sub-flash module, which helps to get a nice even light by providing a fill flash, not important for interior photography but great if you’re shooting something else on the side too.
It has a zoom range of 24-200mm and features HSS, RC and repeat flash modes as well as the ability to work as both a master and slave for syncing other flashguns together.
Where this speed light does suffer is the recharge time could leave you wanting a bit more. On full power you’re waiting 3.4 seconds if using NiMH batteries. Iif you’re on traditional alkaline batteries be prepared to wait almost twice that, so if you’re shooting people be prepared to either ask people to wait a lot, and you sometimes may be missing that all important shot.
Are there any portables flashes or speedlights which you think are the best lights for interior photography which haven’t been included? If so pop a comment below!