What is a Modelling Lamp and What is Its Purpose?

A modelling lamp can often confuse beginner photographers who are just starting out with using a strobe light.

This article will clear this confusion.

A strobe has two important parts – a flash unit and a modelling lamp. Let’s look at the image below to understand this:

A flash unit is what is actually supposed to be used when you take a shot. We’ll see why this is the case in some time. The flash unit just fires how a normal flash fires (like the pop-up flash on your camera). It’s a short burst of light.

A modelling lamp is different. It looks like a bulb, like shown in the image above.

A modelling lamp is a continuous source of light. Just think of it like a normal bulb in your house.

The purpose of a modelling lamp is to have a continuous source of light which gives a preview of the lighting effect that the flash unit will ultimately have on the subject when the photographer takes a shot.

This is important because if the photographer doesn’t get this preview, then the only option will be to see to take the shot and observe it. This will turn the whole process of getting the correct lighting, into an inefficient trial and error process for the photographer, since the only way is by taking the shot and then correcting the composition.

The modelling lamp solves this problem as it can give a preview even before the shot is taken.

In order to understand this better, you can watch the video below, which is from my Studio Photography Course. Here I show you how a flash unit and modelling lamp work:

At this point, beginners can ask the following question –

Then why not just use the modelling lamp to take shot? How is it different from the flash unit?

The answer to this is that the modelling lamp is not as powerful as a flash unit. Even though you can use it take the shot (and many beginners do), you will not get an optimal shot because the only way to get the correct exposure using such a weak source of light would be to mix it with ambient light.

Mixing different sources of light means that it will be tough to get accurate colors in the shot.

Secondly, using a weaker source of light would also mean that you will need to raise the ISO value which can result in noise.

This is why the flash unit is important. It is strong burst of light which allows you to use the lowest ISO value and still get the correct exposure. Secondly, you can set the shutter speed and aperture to values that cut down the ambient light, so there is only one source of light illuminating the subject, thereby preventing any color related issues.

You can see this entire point being elaborated in the video below, which is again from my Studio Photography course:

So I hope that you are now clear about the difference between the modelling lamp and the flash unit and also about what purpose does the modelling lamp actually serve.

If you are interested in learning the art of studio photography, then do check out my course called Studio Photography for Beginners, where I show you the entire process of setting up a budget studio inside your house and using cost-efficient strobes to get professional looking studio shots.

About the Author

portrait photographer for portfolio shoot in pune

Hi there, I'm Kush Sharma, the founder of Creative Pad Media, an organization dedicated to simplifying photography and videography education.

We have over 40 online courses that cover various genres in photography & videography, catering to both beginners as well as professionals. These courses are available via Udemy.com. Our courses have been downloaded in over 170 countries.

I hope to see you inside a course very soon!

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