I don't work with hot lights, but I've been working with strobes now for about three or four years. There is definitely a learning curve with them, but you can get great results with them. A flash meter is a definite must. I have a Sekonic 358 and have gotten great results with it. I actually get better more consistant exposures with it than using natural light and a standard light meter.
If you are going to do interior work more than just occasionally, I recommend a couple of lights - I have two 500 watt strobes and a 180 watt and they seem to work very well for me. I normally use soft boxes for front/side lighting and not for back accent lighting.
The nice thing about strobes is that you can use older lenses that don't have shutters. I use a Heliar and an Eidoscope quite often without a shutter. After getting the set up and pose as I want it, I turn off the modelling lights and darken the room somewhat, take off the lens cap, fire the shutter with a remote trigger, and put the lens cap back on. The flashes greatly over power any ambiant light in the room so having the lens cap off for a second or so doesn't make have any apparent impact to the image.
Regarding the classic portrait lighting set up with a main light and a fill light, there are a lot of photographers out there that preach it's the best way to light portraits. However, I've been studying the work of George Hurrell lately and he rarely if ever lit his subjects that way. Keep an open mind and try new things.
Hope this helps,
Hi Ymc, I've gone through a similar evaluation over the last two years, starting with portraits of friends and family. I'm now actually getting a few paid sittings a month, so I'm pretty happy with how it is going. I've worked with both children and adults. (in my experience kids get used to the flash quickly). Here are the main things I think I've learned:
Number of lights: for one person (and usually two), one light and a reflector or two is fine, maybe even best. For groups of three or more people you must have at least two lights.
Type of lights:
I started out with a color-adjusted continuous flourescent softbox, like: http://www.briteklighting.com/cool-f...nt-lights.html
The good side is: they give beautiful light, they are not hot on the subject, you can see exactly what you are getting, and you can use your in-camera meter.
The down side is: that they are not very bright (not powerful enough for ISO 64 film), they are a pain to set up, and your subject is always under the glare of a continuous light.
I moved to using a Strobist-style setup with off-camera flash units. (Google "strobist" and you will learn lots about this approach).
The good side is: very inexpensive, very portable, very versatile.
The down side is: still not very powerful, you must use a flash meter, and it's hard to visualize the light because there is no modeling light.
Now I use a monolight, or a combination of monolights and off-camera flash. (I also have a flash-only Strobist-style setup that I take when travelling.)
The good side: plenty of light, very versatile. Monolights also have "modeling lights" (low-powered continuous lights) that help you visualize the lighting.
The downside: More expensive, bulkier to store and transport than off-camera flash.
Modifiers: You always need a modifier on your light. A big softbox or octobox gives the most flattering and versatile light. Umbrellas are cheaper and easier to deal with, but I don't like their light as much. Often I'll use a softbox as the key, an umbrella as the fill.
Metering: With strobe lighting you MUST have a flash meter and learn to use it. After a while, though, you get the hang of it and can get your lights set intuitively. Now I often bring a small digital camera and use that as my flash meter and proofing tool, just as people used to use Polaroids in the past.
Manufacturers: Since I've pieced my kit together over time, I've now got a mix of manufacturers, with some cheap components and some quality components. If I were starting over, I would probably get all my gear (mono lights, modifiers, triggers) from Alien Bees. They have good gear, good prices, and a good reputation.
My recommendation for someone starting a home studio would be Alien Bee monolight, softbox, flash trigger, and reflectors. You need a basic flash meter as well (easy to find used). Play with that for a few months, then add a second light, like a slaved off-camera flash with umbrella, or another Bee.
hope this helps,