Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

Here are a few features to keep in mind when considering a monolight for your photographic lighting needs. As in all photography, this involves a series of trade-offs between functionality, ease-of-use, and cost.

Continuously variable output: Some monolights have individual power settings of ¼, ½, ¾, and full, because sometimes when working with a individual you don’t want to blast your subject with enough light for an exposure of f/64 and melt their false eyelashes. And sometimes you just need more control than fixed power settings can provide. Having the output continuously variable allows you to fine-tune the exposure to get precisely the aperture and depth-of-field you want.

Proportional modeling light: Less expensive monolights may just provide a simple on or off light that will give you some idea of the final lighting effect but may not show the true effect of the power setting that you selected. However, working in a dark room it will make it possible for your camera’s autofocus to work faster. Monolights with proportional settings allow the modeling light output to vary with the flash output. Keep in mind that although the modeling light may be bright it is not as bright as the flash and when you use a low power setting the effect of the modeling light may be difficult to see under high ambient light.

Fan cooling: Placing the modeling light, power supply, and flash tube (that’s the glass tube that produces the actual flash from a capacitor filled with energy from the power supply) inside a single housing creates heat. A fan-cooled monolight is better than an air-cooled model but makes the monolight bigger, heavier, and noisier, and more expensive. Is it worth it? That’s up to you and your credit card company.

Portability: To many photographers the ability to have the power supply and light head in a single package makes for simple set up and greater portability. That’s why lots of companies offer packages consisting of monolights, umbrellas, light stands, and even a case for a single ready-to-go package.

Joe Farace is the author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” the second book in a trilogy or glamour and portrait photography from Amherst Media. It’s available on

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