Why oh why..

…are studio flash pictures so much sharper than available light pictures? Like, always?

Whatever you do, available light may look great – but when you zoom in close, it is not perfect.


Studio is much better. Look at this picture I just took with my Canon 7D at f/11, 1/125th sec, 100 ISO, using two studio strobes driven by a pair of Pocketwizards:


Zoom in and it is spectacular. This is the original size (once you click), and utterly unaltered:


Why is this so much better?

Let me tell you some differences. I count six:

  1. Aperture – Studio light means f/8. Available light means f/2.8. Lenses are typically sharper and clearer at f/5.6-f/8.
  2. ISO – Available light means higher ISO. Lower ISO, like in a studio, means sharper pictures.
  3. Shutter speed – Flash is around 1/1000th second. Available light pictures, even at 1/250th second, will not be as clear.
  4. Tripod – In a studio you are likely to be using a tripod. This is huge, in terms of focus and motion.
  5. Light direction – Studio flash is directional. Available light is diffuse. So surfaces look clearer.
  6. Exposure – In a studio, you are likely to expose to the right – the pixels will be bright pixels. Bright pixels are sharp pixels!

So it is not so much one factor. It is the combination of all of them. In a studio you have all of them your way; in available light, many, sometimes all, are not ideal. That is why studio flash is so much crisper.

Have I left anything out, anyone?

10 thoughts on “Why oh why..

  1. Do you advise using a cable release when shooting using a tripod? Also locking the mirror up? I would think every little helps when reducing vibrations, although the tripod is 99% of it.

    I’ve read it is also important to turn OFF image stabilization if you lens provides it. Otherwise it can get into a negative feedback loop and make the picture worse.

  2. What lens were you using?
    Wouldn’t the choice of lens make a significant difference to the sharpness? In your opinion, is there a significant difference in the sharpness of an L lens compared to non L lens, or is speed the main benefit of an L lens?

  3. I was using (in both cases) “L” lenses, indeed. Shaprness is a big benefit. As is dust- and weather-sealing. That said – indeed, speed (larger aperture) is an even larger benefit.

  4. Pingback: Question of the day « Michael Willems Daily Photography Blog

    • Sure. In available light, you need to open your aperture wide to get enough lit into the camera. That means a low f-number. That means less depth of field and more chance for errors.

  5. sorry Michael…I guess what I mean is that during the show over the weekend, I heard a lot times where to increase the power of the strobe light, aperture was increased. In your example, you had your keylight set to around 5.6 and our fill light was 2 stops lower…and you set it to 3.5, which really means a larger aperture…therefore, more light…this is where i got a little confused?

    i have also seen an example where the keylight is f/8 but wanted a hotter hair light (1 stop higher) which is located above subject and set this to f/11?

    I understand about the light related to camera aperture, but a little confused on aperture related to light…

    • Ah. I see.

      If the first light meters f/8 and the second light f/4, that means:

      – The first light needs the camera open to f/8 for a good pic

      – The second light needs the camera open to f/4 to get the same exposure,

      That means this second light is two stops darker! And if I set the camera to f/8 while light meter read f/4, then I will see two stops lower light, Just what I want for the fill light!

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