EP149 Your First Strobe | Use What You Love, Love What You Use

In this episode, I get to very briefly chat with Louis Wahl, CEO of WEX Photo Video. Turns out he is a really nice guy (and with luck, I’ll get to chat to him in a full-length interview at some point in the future.) It’s the great thing about the photography show – I get to meet loads of people!

As well as the short chat, the episode is primarily a response to an email I received from ‘Steve’ asking what first strobe he should choose.  Having sat and pieced together an answer, I thought it would be useful to make a podcast out of the answer.  I guess you can be the judge of that!


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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] My name is Lewis Wall, and I’m the CEO of Wexphoto Video. Okay. So maybe this needs just a little explanation at the photography show last week, which was a blast. I took my little handheld recorder and just grabbed a few people as I wanted ran the show. And I had a vision of creating one big podcast episode where multiple photographers could answer the same question.

[00:00:25] Just questions about the industry, how they felt and why they were, where they’re at the show. But when I played them back for a couple of reasons, I didn’t think that that was going to work mostly. And you’ll hear this in this little snippet. I get quite excited and an hour of that. Well, nobody needs that in their life.

[00:00:42] So instead I’m going to sprinkle these little clips. Through some upcoming podcasts just for interest. And so you can hear the views. I have some really interesting people in our industry.

[00:00:53] And I started with this guy. Now I bumped into him. And by accident. I was buying a memory card for the recorder. Actually. I needed additional memory card. And so I went and queued at warehouse express, WEX photo and video. Standing there quietly in the queue and the next chapter at the till waved his arm at me, I went over and while I was there, I noticed that it was Louis. It said on his badge CEO. Of WEX photo video. And do you know what I thought I chance, my arm and see if he would be willing to do a short interview. Well, you couldn’t have met a nicer guy. And he was very willing to give me a few, a little bit of a viewpoint. And so we grabbed just five minutes and this is that interview.

[00:01:33] And I start the conversation with why. Do you come to the photography show? This is where our customers are, uh, and they expect to get the service that we provide to them all the time in the stores, and we provide to them online, as well as our institutional customers, a lot of our professional customers, so, yeah, I mean, this has got to be the place to be.

[00:01:52] Where else wouldn’t you be at a time like this? This is a brilliant place for us to meet our customers. And, of course, I have to ask you, well, I guess it’s an obvious question, but you’re a supplier to this incredible industry. Why do you love the photography industry so much? Well, the one thing is that I don’t come from a photographic background myself.

[00:02:10] I actually come from a kind of a radio television production background. But it’s all about the intrinsic desire that our customers have to accomplish something. There’s an artistic need, so We’ve got a mission, which is to help our customers get the perfect shot every time and anytime. People come to us not to buy a black box with a camera in it.

[00:02:31] They come to us because they’ve got a problem, and that’s brilliant. So they’ve got a project, they’ve got a creative spark, they want to achieve something. And all of the people who work with us, they’re all photographers as well. So they’ve all started with some kind of imaging or background, a creative background.

[00:02:46] My last question, this is just a very short set of snippets, but my last question is if you could change just one thing about this beautiful industry of ours, what would it be? That’s a tough one. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a perfect industry. I wouldn’t say it was problematic.

[00:03:02] It’s, what would I change? I’d probably make it a bit easier for us to understand how people work. Product is flowing through from the developers, the people who are originally designing it all the way through the end user. ’cause that’s often a very translucent, it’s almost opaque, so you don’t quite understand what’s happening there.

[00:03:21] Sometimes the big brands will tell you a little bit more about where their thinking is, how they want to develop their technology. But I think what happens is you get a lot of customers who they want to see that they actually wanna see that where, where the technology’s going. Because again, they’ve got these objectives and often it.

[00:03:37] You know, it’s kind of cased in a little bit of secrecy. I kind of understand that. If you’re developing technology, you want to protect it. You want to protect your intellectual property. But that’s probably the only thing I would say that’s a little bit problematic, yeah? I mean, we went through such a long period of difficulty in terms of production supply.

[00:03:56] People were very difficult to find stuff. Um, we’re kind of through that now. We can get pretty much what we need. Um, but, uh, you kind of feel this, probably me as not a terribly, um, technologically, uh, kind of genius sort of person. You kind of, well, where does it go next? And I think a lot of people kind of think in that way too.

[00:04:15] They want to compete, they want to, they want to grow, they want to develop. So, yeah, I’d say that’s probably one area. It’s like, what does it look like? You know, what does the future look like? That’s probably one question everybody’s got. What does the future look like? It’s funny, in the last episode I did, one of my laments was, I wish more of the kit was designed with the photographers that are going to use it in mind, as opposed to the guys developing it with their, you know, various bits of interfaces and the way the software, it’s all software driven now, everything is software.

[00:04:44] Um, and I wish there were more people who are photographers involved in the design phase. But listen, what an absolute pleasure, thank you both for your good service, I’ve just bought, A very small memory card from you, but over the years, I’ve spent many thousands with you, but thank you for it. It’s my pleasure.

[00:04:59] Thank you so much. So, like I said, you can hear me getting very excited, but what a thoroughly decent guy and of course, warehouse express WEX photo video. Is one of those bastions of the industry. It’s huge. And it’s ultra reliable. I’ve bought a ton of kit. From them over the years and I’m sure I will continue to do so.

[00:05:19] And it was a real pleasure to meet Louis a genuinely nice guy. At least he was in the few minutes I got to chat to him. And hopefully I did leave with a seed that I’ll go over and maybe get a chance to record a full length interview with him. Cause I think the insights. From some of our trade suppliers. Would be fascinating for all of us because they’ve seen the trends and they’ve got the data on it.

[00:05:41] Whereas each of us. Our, in our little silos. So one after the other, I will introduce these little interviews into each of the upcoming podcasts. I’m Paul. And this is the mastering portrait photography podcast.

[00:05:56] So hello. One and all, I hope you well on this, I see quite bright and sunny Sunday evening. It’s not particularly warm, but at least for a moment, it isn’t. raining yesterday, dance the showers quite a bit. It was a good day yesterday. I’ve had a good week, lots and lots going on. As you can imagine, we had a training workshop here on Monday, which was an absolute blast.

[00:06:33] It was so much fun. We called it a mastering extraordinary to sorry, mastery can’t even get my own titles right. Mastering Ordinary To Extraordinary Studio Photography, which is basically about shooting in reasonably confined spaces.

[00:06:47] And the guys that came in the workshop with just brilliant. We laughed all day the models big shout out to Kinga and to Libby who were brilliant. The two guys who modeled for us and the whole thing about having a good time, enjoying being creative learning as we go Was just the whole, the whole workshop the whole day. It was fantastic.

[00:07:09] So thank you to everyone who came. Also this week. I had two shoots yesterday. You forgive me for telling this story. It was that. It was a good day. Lovely clients, but I did that thing that I do so often, which is to get people’s names muddled. And this is yet another one of those extreme examples. Sophie and Matt were the couple and Bertie was their dog. So as we’re heading out into the garden to take some pictures in daylight, I’m just double checking their names.

[00:07:38] I’ve got, my phone it’s got the appointment on it. I’m just very quickly scanning it to make sure I’ve got everything I need. It’s Sophie and Matt, Sophie and Matt, Sophie and Matt. I’ve literally, as I put my phone in my pocket. I turned to them and say, right, so Alice and Sam, what are we going to do? And the two of them just look at me. Are you absolutely out of your mind? And the minute they looked at me, I knew I’d got it wrong.

[00:08:05] How, how, how can your brain ditch what you’ve just been reading. I mean, literally, as I said, it. It was seconds after I’d read it. The only name I remembered it was Bertie the dog. It was just, oh, come on. Anyway. Saturday was interesting in as much as, although we’ve had the alien crumb kit in now for a week or so, saturday was the first day when I’ve had two full shoots going at my normal pace.

[00:08:34] But with all of this new equipment on the upside, let’s talk about the upside. The light that they give off is beautiful. And I remember now why I originally chose Elinchrom and why, even when I was using Profoto kit, I would still put Elinchrom modifiers back in to the mix. The light we’re getting is just beautiful.

[00:08:55] And it, it seems to play really well in our studio. Now, every studio is different. Every photographer’s tastes and color profiles, are different. For me, for what I do in the space. I do it, there was a proper magic in the studio and it was, it’s hard to describe, but I actually felt quite emotional. That said none of the kids did what I expected to when I expected it. One light turned itself off, eventually found the off timer.

[00:09:27] There’s a little timer in the settings. So I turned the two backlights off cause I needed to turn the two back lights off, which is fine. But when I powdered them back up again, they wouldn’t register on the controller. The controller would trigger them. But it wouldn’t read them.

[00:09:40] So I had no idea. I. I’ve got literally thousands of pounds worth of kit in the studio and I’m doing what I used to do, which is to walk up to them and turn the dials on the back. Talk about old school. Maybe just, maybe I need to spend the day with the manual because I’m sure none of this is to do with the kit.

[00:10:00] It’s all to do with the operator. Again, thank you for putting up with the sound quality on that interview. I’ve got a load of those coming. It was a lot of fun. To do it and a huge amount of fun, lots of questions, or the same questions to lots of people. And there are some really quite interesting insights in there, but today’s podcast.

[00:10:19] I was going to talk about something different, but I had this email. That came in during the week and it just simply says the following.

[00:10:26] Hi, Paul. I have just listened to the latest podcast. Congratulations on becoming an Elinchrom ambassador. I enjoyed hearing the story of you buying your first strobe and how it has led to you becoming a brand ambassador all these years later. I am probably in a very similar situation to where you were in 2003 i.e. Just thinking of buying my first strobe and I wondered which light you would recommend now. I’ve been looking at the Godox AD200 as I’m on a limited budget, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.

[00:10:57] So there you go. Nice email from Steve and in the process of sitting and tapping a pencil on my teeth as I do. I have actually emailed him back and so this is in some senses a transcript of that email, but I thought it’d be an interesting podcast too. Chew on why you choose the kit. You do. So obviously when I’m going back to someone who asks a question like that, and we get these kinds of questions all the time, what camera, what lighting, what software. In the end. You have to make these decisions and they’re all arbitrary, but you live with them for quite a long time.

[00:11:33] So how would I go about today, choosing my first strobe? So I have to caveat all of this conversation, as you now know. With the fact that as a brand ambassador for it puts me in an interesting position. Of course, I want to recommend nothing but ‘Chroms. Why would I do anything else? But of course, That doesn’t suit everybody.

[00:11:57] The budgets don’t suit everybody. And even in my bag, my camera bag right now. I have a Nikon SB800. I have two Godox V1’s. And coincidentally, two Godox AD200’s. Because they’re small, they do their job. The SB800 is then there because occasionally I want to have on-camera flash. Nikon, well, it plays better with Nikon the than it does with Godox.

[00:12:21] So I’ve got that in there. Um, permanently with it’s AA batteries, for those moments when I want to do an on-camera flash very often a direct flash, old school photo journalist style. Whether I’m doing a wedding or without doing something a little bit more commercial either way, but it’s a very versatile rig.

[00:12:38] And I, at the moment, I don’t have an answer to how I’m going to change that. To step a little bit more into line with the Elinchroms. Now don’t get me wrong at all. It was a proper emotional moment when I fired up the ‘Chroms. Uh, for the first time in an, in anger, I suppose, as the expression, for two paying clients, as opposed to doing junior workshop. We’re in a workshop, you have time to think.

[00:13:01] So I have time to reset. I have time, to adapt when I’m working with a client, of course, it’s quick fire. I had a two year old and a four year old in in the afternoon. And I had a dog in the morning, the knee, none of these are patient. You don’t have time. So actually working them was app was brilliant, even if I’ll be honest, I haven’t quite got my arms around it.

[00:13:24] So to answer the question, the AD200 is a really good light. So instead of saying, here’s what, here’s the right answer. Here’s the kit you want? I posed some questions and here’s the question list I went back to Steve with for him to answer.

[00:13:41] Firstly, and most importantly, what is your budget? And then add 25%, possibly 50%. cause no matter what you think you needed, you’re going to need more, whether it’s spare batteries, whether it’s modifiers to put on the front, whether it’s a bracket, that’ll put it onto a normal light stand, whatever it may be. You’re going to need to add that on the AD200’s very good, they’re a little bit fiddly. But they are exceptionally. Good for what they do.

[00:14:04] And even if, and even, sorry, not with, when I’m out there using my Elinchroms, I am sure that the AD200’s will never be far away for little bits of fill light or effects lighting, when I need it.

[00:14:16] Do the triggers. This is an important one about studio lighting in particular off-camera flashlight ING. Do the triggers for that system feel right to you? All too often, the bit that is missing from any money fractures lineup is the trigger. They’re, they’re made, they do their job, but they’re not user-friendly.

[00:14:34] And I have to say, even after however many years I was using the Profoto. synchro Air TTL. It was never my favorite trigger. I get frustrated with Godox as well is nine times out of 10 when I’m using a strobe, I’m using it in the dark. So what’s the one thing I want to be lit up.

[00:14:51] It’s the buttons on the triggers. I. I know what I’m doing is really, I don’t get how for a device that by definition, I’m going to use when the light levels are low. It really is difficult to use in low light levels. I just, yeah, just one of those things and it comes back a little bit. To what Lewis was saying about having the designers of these systems a little bit more transparent.

[00:15:14] I’d love to have more designers, more designer input. Sorry, more photographers input into the design processes of some of this kit. Because actually we use it. We know where its weaknesses are. We know what is frustrating when we’re down there in the dirt. Trying to get things sorted.

[00:15:30] Next question.

[00:15:31] What adapters will you need to get a modifier onto the light or will you always use a bare head flash? I asked this because if you’re using an AD200 nothing fits it until he put a modifier, a bracket on it that will take. Whether it’s Elinchrom, whether it’s Profoto, whether it’s Godox themselves. Any S- type for instance, an S- type modifier on to the front, but you are going to have to buy some additional brackets. To make that possible.

[00:15:59] Are you going to expand the system?

[00:16:01] So Steve’s email asked. W I’m buying or stated I’m buying my first strobe. What would you recommend? And part of the puzzle is what are you going to do in the future? Is this just one strobe, in which case an AD200 is perfectly fine. Is it going to be part of a set and will it all be the same style? They’re big for speed lights, but they’re little for strobes AD200’s of, I don’t know if you’ve seen them. They sort of look. Sort of rectangular, like, I dunno. Couple of bars of chocolate. taped together. They’re not very big. They’re very rectangular and they’re very good.

[00:16:37] But will you always stay with this manufacturer? Are you going to buy into their system? Will you have a Godox controller? And then you’ll add Godox studio lights Godox led lights Godox, more Speedlights what are you going to do? Because if you’re going to stick with a system. Start with the system that ultimately you want to use.

[00:16:57] What modifiers ultimately do you want to use?

[00:17:00] Will it be umbrellas or boxes? Are they readily available and affordable. Of course, anything that clips onto an S type adapter, that’s the old Bowens adapter, is really relatively speaking available and it’s going to be not too expensive, because the manufacturers like good docs and picks was it picks a pro and a few of the others.

[00:17:20] They’re all adult. Adapting and adopting the S type. And it means you get access to really good quality budget kit. To bolt onto the front. Or, you know, like me, are you fascinated with really beautiful light? And it’s not that those modifies don’t create beautiful light, but for me, just using a kit, I want to feel good about it. So I’ve stayed. I’ve had, I’ve stayed pretty much with Elinchrom, um, throughout, even though. I was using pro photo strobes.

[00:17:47] I was still using my old Elinchrom modifiers because they just lovely. Um, Is it. An additional question who inspires you? Maybe that’s an obtuse question. But it’s not a bad shout to have a look around. Photographers whose work you really like. And then it doesn’t take long to go through their social feeds and figure out what they use.

[00:18:10] Because if there’s a look you’re trying to create, there’s a lighting quality it’s going to try and create. I mean, in the end, you’ll form your own lighting, your own designs, your own style. And that’s absolutely right. But more often than not, when you’re starting out you’re using ideas from other people, you’re looking at social feeds, you’re looking at websites, you’re looking in magazines as much as magazines. It’s still a thing.

[00:18:35] And you, you, the curiosity is peaked when you see a picture, you really like, and you’re thinking, okay, how did they do that? It’s never a bad idea to have a look at the kit they’ve used. And for us here in the studio, for instance, I will constantly look at images and try and figure out what lighting they’ve used.

[00:18:52] But of course then actually our studio isn’t that big, so I have to figure out a way round that. The good news is if you can figure out a way around it, you can use pretty much any kit. The bad news is there are some things I can’t do. There’s some lighting patterns. I simply don’t have the space typically overhead to be able to do. But either way go and have a look at the people you really, really admire and are inspired by and have a look at their kit and see if that’s something that might feed in to the conversation.

[00:19:21] This is one of those techie dweeby things, but what is the battery life? And are you going to exceed it? And by battery life, I don’t mean it, the total lifespan of the battery, I mean, is it going to go flat at the moment you really want to take a photograph and as such. How much are the spare batteries.

[00:19:38] Some of these manufacturers that, you know, in additional batteries, 500, 600, 700 quid. And it’s fine if you’ve got the money. But. You know, maybe that’s just too much. Or would you, for instance, if you’re only going to work in a studio, will mains power do you? Now here at the studio, I’ve taken a view to move away from mains, but for no, not because I want to take the strobes out on location necessarily, but because we have children running around, we have dogs running around and having mains cables is not ideal.

[00:20:10] My Profoto B1’s We’re brilliant for that could keep them out of the way the kids, the tripods are all weighted down. There’s no cables. The only downside is if I use the modeling lights, batteries are going to go flat pretty quickly. So have a look at the batteries and what strategy you’re going to have for keeping things charged up during a day of shooting.

[00:20:29] And then the final one I think was do you need modeling lights? If you’re like me a photographer that uses modeling lights as your guide, how are you going to do that with something like the AD200 and although the manufacturer Godox do claim that it has a modeling light on it, it’s really small.

[00:20:45] It’s not going to do you an all flood a good it’s. Okay. If you’re in a really dark space. And you just need to see what you’re doing. It does. Okay. But it’s not great. In my opinion from that, but if you don’t need it, then that’s absolutely, brilliant. So it’s instead of answering really for Steve.

[00:21:03] I don’t know what he was expecting: buy that one. that’ll be fine. What could go wrong?

[00:21:07] I’ve opposed yet more questions. But I think this is how you choose your kit. And this goes across all types of kit. These are the types of questions. You need to ask yourself. And for me, I think the really important ones, the fundamental one. Is what is your budget?

[00:21:23] Because in the end, particularly if like me, you, when you’re living from it, You have to show a return on that investment for every bit of kit you buy over its lifespan. What is your budget?

[00:21:36] The next thing you have to ask yourself is going to, is it going to do the job? I need it to do. Because as always, there’s a thousand ways of doing everything. And every manufacturer will tell you their way is the right way.

[00:21:50] And every manufacturer is absolutely right. But what do you do? You got to pick one in the end.

[00:21:56] And that’s the final question.

[00:22:00] Do you want to pick it up and do you want to use it? And that’s the most important question of all when it comes to being creative. Because if you don’t utterly love using the kit, it land. In a box and that is a proper waste of money. You have to buy the kit that you love and that makes you want to create images. That, that there’s no getting around that because if you don’t buy something that makes you smile and makes you want to pick up your camera and create a picture, then you’ll never use it.

[00:22:31] And that really is, a waste of money.

[00:22:35] So on that happy note, this is a shorter episode. I’m hoping to go back to my weekly recordings, but we’ll see how we go. So far so good. I hope the little interview snippet with Louis at the beginning, was interesting is only short, but I thought he had a really nice way about him and a really intriguing Viewpoint on the industry and it’s always interesting to talk to these guys.

[00:22:55] As a thank you for him being recorded. I’m giving warehouse express a free plug. There’s no arrangement here at all. I buy stuff from them. Much as I buy it from other suppliers too, but I really, I really rate warehouse expresses customer service. I have had. I’m sure if you troll around, you’ll find people with different stories. But the story I have is they’ve always been exceptional. They’ve always delivered on time. They’ve always been good value. They are one of those companies where their customer service is rock solid and their stock levels also a pretty high. So if you want it, you can get it and you’re going to get it when they say it will arrive.

[00:23:33] So you can’t say much better than that. So on that happy note, thank you for listening. Thank you for getting into the end of this particular episode and as always, please do subscribe to the podcast, wherever it is that you get your podcasts. Please also leave us a review. Oh, I’m one of the main platforms.

[00:23:50] We love it when we see ratings and reviews on iTunes, because of course it is the biggest platform for podcasts of them all but wherever it is that you listen to your podcasts, please do leave us a review. Of course, if you ever have any questions, just like Steve did, please drop me a line.

[00:24:06] It’s paul@paulwilkinsonphotography.co.uk. That’s paul@paulwilkinsonphotography.co.uk. Um, I did mention the workshops we’re running. We’re ramping those up just at the moment, having a blast. It’s so much fun. We’ve had the nicest models and more importantly, the nicest attendees on our workshops, they’re very friendly.

[00:24:28] They’re very funny. We have a really, just a good time laughing and taking or laughing and creating beautiful images. If you fancy one of our workshops, please head over to Paul Wilkinson photography and look for the coaching section or just Google paul Wilkinson photography workshops and you will land on them. Without a shadow of a doubt and head over to masteringportraitphotography.com, the spiritual home of this podcast. Which has a ton of resources for portrait photographers, whether it’s about the creativity. The artistry, the enjoyment or the business of this wonderful art.

[00:25:02] And until next time when I should be presenting yet another snippet from the photography show. , thank you for listening and be kind to yourself. Take care.

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