Why Flash Recycle Time Matters for Photographers

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Why Flash Recycle Time Matters for Photographers

If there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way as a photographer, it’s the finer points about the importance of flashes. I’ve always loved using off-camera lighting. I’ve been a tester of so many lights over the years, and some are better than others. You often get what you pay for, so with more affordable flashes, you’re probably going to make a sacrifice somewhere, like with flash recycle time. And you’re not sure, we’re going to talk about why it’s so important.

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Before we get into that, let’s discuss what flash recovery time is. This refers to how fast your flash can fire repeatedly; typically referred to when firing at full power. The more power your flash uses, the slower the flash recovery time. The less power it uses, the faster it can be. This is a critical part of heat management and long-term flash durability.

The pace of a photo shoot

I am old school when it comes to photo shoots and work with portrait subjects, photographic subjects, etc. in a controlled recording environment. I’ve seen some photographers work with models in continuous burst mode. If you’re like me, you don’t want to go through so many images in the culling process. It just looks like a post-production nightmare born of carelessness. But you will be shocked; we have seen many YouTubers do this.

If you are shooting with machine guns, few flashes will be able to keep up with the necessary recovery time. This is one of the reasons why constant lights are valued by these photographers. But constant lights don’t lend themselves to being more creative. They usually have more to do with laziness, unless you’re really focused on building your scene.

A great example of a fascinating photographer with an equally great project is Brandon Kidwell. He takes pictures with multiple exposures in the camera, and does not need such rapid bursts of flash. Furthermore, he carefully plans each scene. What he does is not possible without a flash, unless you spend a lot of time in post-production or do more work in camera and on set.

For the pace of a typical photo shoot, most experienced photographers shoot one frame at a time. In a situation like this, the power of a flash or strobe is not something to worry about. You can shoot a frame, have the model change pose, shoot another frame and repeat. The flash will usually recover quickly enough and you probably aren’t shooting at full power.

Sports and Action

Sports photography and action photography is where flash output really matters. There are reasons why photographers still put a lot of lights in the ceilings at stadiums. Those flashes are super-high power. That extra power lets photographers get more out of their lights. In this case, the flash recovery time is very, very fast.

I can remember a specific moment on a Canon press trip. We photographed skaters, and I used a Nissin MG 80 PRO flash because it was lightweight and compact for travel. Unfortunately, it didn’t give me consistent power. It didn’t give me the fast flash recovery time I needed, and I missed both my Elinchrom and Profoto lights that day. Those more powerful flashes would have handled the situation much better.

We also interviewed a bunch of photographers who need quick turnaround time. Check out Christian Vieler, who used Profoto lights to photograph dogs catching treats.

Events, Weddings, Photojournalism

No, we’re not talking about street photography here, but you can certainly use flashes for that. Instead, we talk about the documentary process. For weddings, events and photojournalism, you surely need a fast flash recovery time. You can take a photo at a wedding in a short, slow burst, and not get every photo evenly lit. But a flash with a fast recovery time can help. The same happens with photojournalism and events. This is typically why some photographers from this segment go with more powerful and durable flashes.

Photojournalist Cheriss May uses Profoto flashes for good reason. “The flash provides the light I need for portraits… It also provides a fast mobile studio,” is what she told us a while back.

On the other hand, photographers like Mike Zawadski use the more powerful lights in Godox’s range. These tend to have a faster flash recovery time and allow him to keep shooting as he should.

So for this category of photographers it’s all about speed and making sure you have the moment because it happens so fast.

With all that said, not everyone needs a quick recovery time. If the work you do and your skills require a single shot, you don’t have to worry. But if you need to shoot extra frames, then make sure you have a better light.

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