Last week, I detailed a bad experience I had at the Westcott booth on the Photoshop World conference Expo floor. I waited about a week from the experience before I wrote about it because, quite honestly, I don’t like posting negative reviews or experiences. There’s absolutely no pleasure in it, just as there was no pleasure in my experience. I ultimately decided to write about it because it was a true part of my experience, and that’s what I share on this blog. I’m fortunate that the majority of my experiences are good, but I don’t want to just sugarcoat things. Sometimes you need to share something that doesn’t live up to expectations. As a result, I received comments from other folks who mentioned they also had negative experiences at the Westcott booth, one even dating back to the previous year.
It turns out that Westcott folks paid attention. I received an apology from the man in the booth and we exchanged a couple of e-mails discussing various issues. It seems that my post struck a nerve with him. Over the weekend, I also received an e-mail from a VP at Westcott who was clearly concerned. The note mentioned that Westcott prides itself on customer service and invited me to discuss the situation in more detail. I shared some information regarding the apology I received. I’ve been assured by the VP that Westcott has learned from the experience and wants to insure this kind of issue doesn’t happen again.
About the Spiderlites
Something else came along with the initial apology. It was the very information that I wanted to get during PSW. With the permission of the salesman, I’d like to provide that information here. I’m going to edit any personal details out and try to present only the pertinent information about lighting and equipment, so I won’t promise this is word for word. However, it’s knowledge that I didn’t have and am happy to share with others.
You brought up many good points in your post, and, me having been a shooter for over 40 years, can relate to everything you say. There is no doubt that electronic flash does indeed make unsharp images due to camera shake and subject movement almost non-existent. And, the same cannot be said of continuous light.
The use of electronic flash for long periods of time brings a photographer a certain level of comfort with that lighting source. You say you have never really liked our TD5’s because of the reasons you present. Certainly, there is a range of photographers that never are, and never will be, comfortable with the techniques of shooting with these types of lights.
Shooting with continuous light is the same as shooting outdoors with daylight. I have always practiced the guideline of shutter speed being equal to the focal length of lens being used as the optimum speed for hand held use. Hence, as a guideline, the use of your 70 – 200 should give acceptable hand held results at 1/200 sec. speed. I personally, have been able to successfully hand hold at one or two levels below that, so, a 200mmm lens has me being fairly comfortable at 1/60 sec. Although I do find that number creeping up as I get older, and, camera shake is always a concern when hand holding…especially long lenses. To tell you the truth, when I use a long lens (I own a Sigma 70 – 200 f2.8), even when I’m using flash, I try to at least use a monopod.
I once had a professional photographer that I respect greatly impart with me wisdom that he got from his mentor…
“The difference between a professional photographer and an amateur is that a pro uses a tripod.”
This photographer lives by that rule and always uses a tripod in his work. I asked him,
“What about when you are using strobe.…does that not mitigate the chance of fuzziness because of the short duration of the flash of light?”
He responded that, to him, it did not matter. He said that even when using flash, it does not preclude the slight movement of the camera when taking an exposure. Besides the point that tripod use ensures predictable composition and repeatability. Certainly, it stops the action of your subject, but, in his opinion, tripods are king and, according to him, if you want to be sure of tack sharp images, use a tripod. Not a surprise that during my time repping [redacted], I sold literally millions of $’s of very high end tripods. That was in the back of my mind when I spoke to you.
Now, let’s discuss the actual exposure one can expect from daylight fluorescents. Yes, they do not come close to the raw light output of electronic flash. That is why Westcott sells both continuous and electronic flash products. And, continuous light is not suitable for all types of photography. Fashion photography, where one has to light up a large area, with a moving target, is one particular type of photography that screams for strobe.
The set-up we used at Photoshop World was one of those that we were stretching the capability of continuous light because the sets were complicated, large, and dependent on the use of models. As you noticed, it was perfectly suited to have large numbers of people shoot at the same time since syncing, the biggest negative of strobe use, was not an issue.
Typically using continuous light, especially daylight fluorescent, it is at it’s best when you can put it nice and close to your subject resulting in beautiful soft light and, usually, acceptable exposure. Like any light, when exposure is not sufficient, you have to add more light. Well said, too, that a shorter focal length will help ensure sharper pictures.
The greatest advantage to continuous light is that you see what you get. This is a huge thing to the more inexperienced photographer. Experienced pros like it because of the same reasons as it lend itself better to “painting with light.”
Additionally, the lack of a bright flash seems to transform a portrait sitting from an emotional roller-coaster where the subject is waiting for each exposure, tensing up while waiting for that tell tale flash. Then, they relax. Most subjects are not professional models experienced in getting their picture shot.
I also like the inherent softness of daylight fluorescent, especially as compared to the inherent harshness of electronic flash. This is particularly important when using a chip as opposed to film, where film, by it’s very nature, is a low contrast medium, and the chip, by it’s very nature, is a more contrasty sensitive medium. Remember the days of film when we regularly overexposed to pick up “saturation”? The use of strobe with an electronic chip begs for blown out highlights. We compensate for this by moving a strobe further from the subject and diffusion. Daylight fluorescents are the opposite in that they are inherently soft, and if used with the same amount of diffusion as in a soft box as a strobe, is very flat.
That is why we used shallow, big soft boxes at the show, that use very thin front diffusion panels of only 1⁄4 stop, as compared to the double layer of 3⁄4 stop diffusion common with strobe. It is desirable to put the lights closer to the subject than we did at PSW, but then, we would make it harder for a group of people to shoot at once. So, you were using TD5’s in a manner that is different than if you were the only one shooting in your own studio.
Product photography also is much easier to accomplish with continuous light.
All-in-all, the joys of shooting outdoors is embodied in continuous light use. Certainly, it may not be for you. But, I appreciate your attempt at using them with the set-ups we provided, at great effort, just so people had something interesting to shoot, which is, at it’s very heart, a photographers lover’s show.
What it Means to Me
The salesman continued with an apology and also made a generous offer to test some equipment, which I declined. Maybe that’s just me, but I didn’t feel this was the right circumstance to accept the offer. I’ve no doubt it was made in a spirit of contrition (as we discussed in later messages), but I replied that I didn’t write my account in hopes of any gain.
In fact, I said the one thing that almost any consumer advocate will tell you to never state — that I would never buy a product from this vendor again. I certainly meant it because I was incensed and didn’t see any problem at all by dropping a potential provider from my gear list. Let’s face it; I’m a hobbyist. My own purchases are not going to affect their bottom line.
That’s why I respect the contact I’ve received from Westcott. They could have easily written me off as another loud-mouthed blogger. Instead, they realized that something was wrong and reached out to correct the issue. I’m still sorting out my own feelings about the issue, but I definitely respect the effort to contact me, apologize, and try to mend fences.