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Singles vs Kits: Portable Outdoor Strobes Comparison Guide

Last Updated 26th August 2022

Model holding the side of her head in front of green metal while getting her photo taken by a photographer

If you are dreading taking your first step into using strobe lighting, don’t panic. It’s not as difficult as you imagine, especially if you start with just one light. Off-camera lighting will significantly improve your photographs, especially when shooting outdoors. A sunny day offers plenty of brightness for photography but produces harsh shadows. When reflectors don’t bounce enough light to fill those shadows, it’s time to introduce a portable strobe light. Strobe flashes are also necessary for photographing in the shade when the sun is too harsh. A single light will help you take compelling portraits under difficult circumstances, but is it better to have more than one light? In this blog post, we compare the use of single vs kit strobe lighting for outdoor photography.

Single Strobe Lighting

Close up shot of a softbox lighting system in an art deco bar

Outdoor photography has many challenges; you are at the mercy of the weather, and the lighting changes every time the sun goes behind a cloud. When the sky is clear, you have shadows to deal with, you get hot spots on the subject’s skin, and light-coloured fabric is often blown out. When overcast, you have flat portraits from the lack of defining shadows on the face. If you find the perfect background, but it’s in a shaded environment, your photos could be underexposed. Some of these problems can be overcome by shooting at the end of the day when the light isn’t so harsh, but that may not fit your schedule and the only thing you can do about photographing in shaded areas is to add artificial light.

On a sun-filled day, a single battery-operated strobe is an ideal lighting option for portrait photography. Have your model’s back to the sun, so the sun becomes a rim light, bringing highlights to the hair. The face will be in darkness, so position a strobe to send soft light to the skin. The natural backlighting separates the subject from the background, and the strobe adds catchlights to the well-exposed face. To compete with the sun’s brightness, you need a strobe that carries at least 300 watts of power. And if you are working outdoors, it’s best to have a cordless unit. The Godox AD400Pro is the ideal solution. It is compact and lightweight (only 2.1 kg), has an inbuilt battery that can fire up to 390 shots at full power and has an output of 400 watts.

A subject photographed in the shade of trees or under a verandah will also benefit from the flash of a single strobe. Whenever possible, use a modifier to soften the light, as this is usually more flattering in portrait shots. Set your exposure for the ambient light, then position a strobe to one side of the model. Leave the camera’s settings as they are and dial in the strobe to lift the shadows from the face. Portrait shots usually benefit from a diffuser, but this will dampen the output of a flash, so a strobe with an output of 600 watts can be helpful to have as your single light since it will have a greater intensity and range. The Godox AD600B and the Godox AD600B with optional triggers both have a built-in (removable) 11.1V / 8700mAh lithium-ion Battery that produces about 500 full-power shots per battery charge. Both are an excellent choice for outdoor lighting. The prices of these strobe lights (at the time of writing this post) range between $825 and $1,345, which is extremely reasonable when you consider how much your photography will improve from the moment they are switched on.

You can use speedlights in the situations just described, but strobes have a higher intensity which is sometimes essential when shooting against the sun. A strong strobe allows you to move the light further from the subject without reducing its impact. Strobes have a faster recycling time than speedlights, so you can take more photos in a shorter period, which means you capture more of your subject’s facial expressions. And strobes often have model lamps (a continuous light source), allowing the photographer to see how the flash will light the subject’s face. This shortens the amount of time spent setting up the shots.

Starting with one light is excellent for beginners. If you are new to photography lighting, using one single strobe is the best way to become familiar with finding the best light angles and discovering the advantages of a fill light. A single strobe in conjunction with backlighting from the sun adds a new dimension to your portrait images.

Female model leaning in a checkered jacket against railing

As you can see from the photo above, even without the benefit of rim-lighting from the sun, illumination from an off-camera strobe makes this photo pop. Instead of being lost in the shadows of this bridge, our model is perfectly lit by this one light source. This shot is well-exposed and maintains detail in the background, but it would be impossible to capture without a flash.


Portable Outdoor Strobe Kits

Woman holding a glass of champaign while leaning at the counter of an art deco style bar

Becoming skilled at off-camera lighting means being familiar with the use of lighting accessories. Purchasing a lighting kit is an affordable way to move into the acquisition of extra equipment. Rather than buying individual items, ordering a kit is often cheaper. For example, with the Godox AD600B Witstro Kit, you get a 600-watt light, the X2T trigger, a hand extension, a carry bag, the Godox Bowens mount reflector and a protective cap. This flash even has Bluetooth connectivity. You can connect the transmitter to your phone or tablet and control the strobe from this device. All of this is available for the price of AUD $1,329.99, and it’s usually AUD $1,579.99

If you want the top-of-the-range system instead, look for the Godox AD1200Pro, a high-powered (1200-watt) battery-powered portable lighting system. This kit includes the potent AD1200Pro flash head, a power pack, a high-capacity 5200mAh battery, a battery charger, a glass protector cover, and a storage/transport bag. They are a rugged, well-built system with bright 40 Watt LED modelling lights, a high-speed sync with shutter speeds of up to 1/8000 second, and Godox’s Stable Colour Temperature mode. A full battery will give you up to 500 full-power flashes, with recycling times of only two seconds at maximum output.

When you understand how to control and manipulate a subject’s illumination with one light, you can move on to lighting kits with two or more strobes.

The Godox AD600Pro kit has two lights, two heavy-duty stands, two battery chargers, and the XPRO trigger for firing the flashes. The flash heads have 600 watts of output in nine steps ranging from 1/1 to 1/256. It also comes with two powerful 2600mAh lithium-ion battery packs, providing up to 360 full-power flashes to brighten your outdoor location shots. Having two lights makes portrait shooting easier because you don’t have to rely on the sun to provide rim lighting. Rim lighting is essential for separating your subject from the background, especially when the model has dark hair.

Two lights are great, but three are better because you have a key light, a rim light, and a fill light. The Godox AD600BM kit includes three Godox Witstro AD600BM strobe lights with 600-watt output. Each light has an inbuilt rechargeable battery that produces up to 500 full power pops per charge. The kit also has three 260cm sturdy light stands and the X2T trigger that can Bluetooth with your phone or tablet.

Lighting kits with multiple strobes give you greater flexibility when shooting outdoors. It gives you more options for how your subject is lit and more control over the scene's colour temperature. When you understand how a single strobe changes the look of a portrait, it’s time to advance to the professional realm of lighting kits. Using multiple lights helps you overcome the limitations of low-light photography and the unpredictability of outdoor shooting.

Which one is right for you?

Two images. Left: Female model leaning in a checkered jacket against railing. Right: Female model crouching with a black wall behind her

If you are a beginner photographer who wants to challenge yourself and discover techniques to improve your outdoor portrait photography, invest in a single strobe light. It will open a new world of possibilities. Intermediate and advanced photographers who understand how to manipulate light can take their creativity further with lighting kits. Click here for more stats and specs of Hypop’s range of powerful and versatile flash strobes.

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