Tuesday in the Studio: Working with Monolights
A monolight or monobloc to our European friends is a self-contained studio flash, typically but not always, powered by an AC power source that allows fitting of light modification attachments, such as reflectors, lightbanks, or umbrellas. It consists of a power source and a light head, all contained within a single, compact housing. Monolights usually have variable output settings allowing to you change their output from full, half, quarter and sometimes down to 1/32’nd power. One of the monolights most valuable features is a separate modeling light that allows you to preview what the flash will look like on your subject and whose output can also be varied to match the output setting as in more power equals more light and vice versa.
In most cases AC current provides the electrical power for a monolight. You can plug it the monolight’s power cord into a wall socket and start shooting but there are times when you’re on location or out in a field where an AC outlet may not be so conveniently located. There’s a whole new breed of monolights that offer a DC option that connect to battery power packs available either directly from the company or third parties.
Monolights almost always include a synch cord for connecting to your camera using a PC (Prontor-Computer) cable where it will be directly triggered when you trip your camera’s shutter. Alas, not all digital SLRs have a PC connection and so you may have to use a hot shoe to PC adapter to connect the synch cord from camera to main light. Tip: Because of the high voltages across the tip of a synch cord, using a cheapo adapter can fry the electronics inside your digicam. Don’t do it!
Most monolights also have a built-in optical “slave” that can be set to trip the flash when it sees another flash go off. If you want to eliminate the synch cord entirely, here’s another suggestion. I’m a bit of a klutz when working in the studio and have, more than once, stumbled over a power cord and more times than I can count, over a synch cord. For me, and others like me, a wireless trigger is the best and safest solution for tripping the light fantastic. Flashpoint’s X-Series Remote Flash Trigger Kit is an affordable ($99.95) alternative. It’s operated by 2.4GHz frequency band to support strong anti-interference and powered by AAA batteries. The receiver has a built-in hot shoe, PC sync socket and 3.5mm mini phone jack. It syncs to 1/250th sec and has a maximum working range up to 590 feet, which should be adequate for most applications.