Elizabeth Halford Photography {the blog} » photography in plain English

Buttons, switches and dials – How to use strobe lights

I know it’s not a Wednesday, but what the heck! I loved answering this one from Simona:

Q. “Referencing the four-light set up, do you have to sync them (strobes) with your camera, or is it an always on source of light, that you don’t have to worry about? When I look at the pictures of strobes, all those buttons are the back, seem a little intimidating.”

A. Oh firing those babies is dead simple. To the top of your camera, you attach a radio trigger. Then you attach the other radio trigger to one of the nearest lights. Because the speed of light is split-second fast, when the one light you triggered goes off, it triggers all the other lights to fire immediately. This is called ‘slave’ and it happens because the strobes have little light receptors on them for that purpose. Any strong flash can trigger the strobes to flash. Another way you could fire them (I would only fall back on this if something happened to my radio trigger) is to attach the Speedlite to the top of my camera and make sure it’s pointing directly at my nearest strobe. The flash should trigger that strobe which will then trigger all the others.

Sometimes, you have to trouble shoot why the lights aren’t flashing. And often, it can be something like you have them set up so that the light receptor (slave thingy) is facing away from the other lights.

The outside ring is the flash and the inside bulb is the modeling lamp

As far as there always being a ‘source of light you don’t have to worry about’, yes, these lights have ‘modeling lamps’ which are continuous light source. You can choose to have them on or off. I have them on because 1.) you can see where the light is falling which will help you set them up and 2.) having a continuous light source for portraits is important for the eyes to look the most flattering because then the pupils stay small which is the most flattering.

The most costly part of having these lights is the cost of the modeling lamps. Those bulbs cost about £20 each and they fail me often. This is probably due to the fact that my set-up is mobile and I often pack away while the lights are still hot.

Now as for the buttons and dials on the strobes. The back of the unit looks like this:

I hope that’s everything you wanted to know. Everyone please feel free to post further questions on this topic in the comments section below.

Thanks for your questions everyone and keep ‘em coming to eh@elizabethhalford.com.


  • Simona

    Elizabeth, you don’t know how grateful I am to you and your blog, you hit it right on the head, when you state, “where I cut through the bull and give …”

    These light seem less intimaditing now and the bulb is so tiny, I just have this fear being the novice that I am, I will have my granddaughter on the seamless white I am, the flash will blow or something will spark. lol

    This seem less expensive than buying several Canon Flashes. I’m not sure why some people use flashes vs. strobes.

    One thing rings true, photography is expensive and it will definitely consume you. I’ve become obsessed with it in the last year.

    Although, I dont’ have a budget that allows me to complete my studio in one swoop. I guess, I’m start with one strobe and one softbox. Thanks again for showing us laymen’s terms.

  • Dorothy

    Interesting and helpful! I am just learning about studio photography….a whole new world!