Mix Hot Lights With Strobes

Strobe lights provide photographic lighting in a burst of a second or less and don’t emit heat.

In studio photography, hot lights or strobes produce artificial lighting. Hot lights, such as flood bulbs and quartz-halogen units, provide continuous lighting that lets you preview how light falls on your subject. What you see is what you get on your camera using these. However, since hot lights are always on, they produces heat that can cause a model discomfort after 15 minutes or more of exposure. Strobes provide lighting in a burst of a second or less. You can’t instantly preview how the light will fall on your subject, but there is no heat emission. With the right setup, there’s a way to mix and get the benefits of both hot lights and strobes, and see your desired results.


1. Position your main light 45 degrees from your subject. Using a strobe light for this one is beneficial to avoid heat emissions. Either place it on the left or right side, at least 4 feet away from your subject. To achieve a diffused or softer lighting, bounce the light with a photographic umbrella or let it shoot through a soft box unit.

2. Position your fill-in light next to your camera’s shooting position opposite your main light. Use another strobe for these to again avoid heat emissions. If you placed your main light on the right side, your fill-in light should be on your left side. Set it about 2 feet next to your camera. The fill-in light will soften and show some details on the shadow cast from your main light.

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3. Position your background light. Use a hot light for this. It will help you preview the effect whether you want to light the entire background or just a small area. This light is used to separate the subject from the background.

4. Position your head and shoulder light. Use a hot light for this and hang it at least 4 feet above your subject. Use a spotlight as a hair light or one with a wider beam to also show the contour of the shoulder. Make sure this hanging light above your model doesn’t show when you take portraits.

5. Set up your camera and take test shots. Your main light and fill-in light strobes give off a bluish color cast; neutralize this by setting your white balance to “Daylight.” Preview your camera’s LCD after each test shot. Move the lights closer or farther away from your subject to get the desired intensity of light. Use a light meter to determine the precise camera speed-and-aperture setting

6. Upload your photos to a computer and edit if necessary. The blue color cast from your strobes has been neutralized by your camera‘s white balance set to “Daylight.” Check for the yellowish color cast that might be thrown off by the hot lights you used for your background, head and shoulder. This can be easily adjusted in your photo-editing program.