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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Balancing Act Of Flash On Location

Building and mastering the art of mobile lighting will give you the tools to shoot anywhere


This Article Features Photo Zoom


The Right Light For The Job
By Mark Edward Harris
My still photo assignments dictate my lighting kits. While every situation is different, I’ve found three basic categories: ultracompact strobes for when I’m on the go for reportage assignments; monolights when I need more power, but plugging in is either impractical or impossible; and power packs and separate heads for editorial and advertising jobs, where I need total light control with multilight setups and the power to get down to small ƒ-stops. In all three cases, my kits will include modifiers to control the light. After all, if you don’t control thelight, the light will control you.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the equipment I use in different situations.I use Nikon and Profoto gear primarily, but companies such as Balcar, Bowens, Broncolor, Dynalite, Elinchrom, Norman and Speedotron all make high-quality products that are variations of what I use.

Above left: AlienBees B1600 Above right: Broncolor Mobilite
1 Separate Power Packs And Heads. I have three Profoto Acute2R 1200 power packs and five heads, and rent more when needed. As with the monolights, multivoltage is a key for my international travel work. For shoots out of the U.S. requiring light, I’d never plug in a 120V pack using a converter—too much is at stake. There are two switches on the Acute2R pack that need to be set to the correct power. This unit requires a change in modeling lights when working in 220-240V locations. Additionally, I always use a surge protector overseas. In a small village in western Kenya, we were using an old generator that spiked. If not for the surge protector (which started smoking), our equipment would have been toast. Each Profoto Acute2R 1200 gives 1200 Ws of power and measures 7.5x8.7x5.1 inches and weigh 9 pounds. There are three sockets for flash heads. The symmetrical-asymmetric energy distribution over six ƒ-stops in ¼-step adjustments allows me to divide up the power to my A and B channels. The built-in radio gives me remote operation with my PocketWizards up to just over 300 feet. Besides the light-shaping and grip equipment I pack when working with monolights, I always carry at least one head extension to give me the often crucial added distance for flash-head placement. My shoot with actor Jeremy Piven on location in Malibu required a dramatic sky in the background, but the time allotted for the shoot was earlier than I would have liked, the sun still being somewhat high in the sky. I needed to bring my power up and the sun down.With a full CTO (color temperature orange) over the flash head in a large softbox on a C-Stand weighted down with sandbags, I used a Hasselblad H2 syncing at 1⁄1000 sec. with its leaf shutter and got my ƒ-stop down to ƒ/13, which gave me the drama I was looking for.
Left: Dynalite M100wi
2 Monolights. For more power and light-shaping options on locations that don’t have easy access to electrical outlets (e.g., the beach), monolights are the obvious choice. Since I do a lot of international travel assignments, the Profoto D1 Air system (available in 250, 500 and 1000 Ws), with its ability to recharge, as well as plug in and fire with any worldwide voltage, is what I use. I also carry a bag of international plug adapters and a power surge protector. The Profoto D1 1000 Air weighs 6.48 pounds, the D1 500 Air weighs 5.36 pounds and the 250 weighs in at 4.91 pounds. The units have a built-in reflector that eliminates the need to carry a standard reflector. My travel kit includes umbrellas and softboxes with speed rings, a set of honeycomb grids and grid holders, stands, A-clamps, gels, gaffer’s tape and sandbags that can be filled on location with rocks, dirt or sand. They all get packed along with the monolights in a Tamrac Rolling Studio case.While I still use PocketWizards to trigger the flash, the Profoto Air system enables remote control and triggering from as far as 1,000 feet when it’s connected to the Profoto Air USB for PC and Mac.
Left: Profoto D1 500 Air
3 Ultraportable Flash Units. Flashes are lighter and more portable, but offer less power and slower recycle times than monolights and power packs with separate heads. Still, I’ve found I can be pretty creative with a flash powered by four AA batteries (I use lithiums).The key is to get the flash off the camera. My kit for this lighting setup is simple: a NikonSpeedlight SB-800 for my Nikon D3, a set of CTOs (1⁄8, ¼, ½ and full) to warm up the daylight-balanced flash as needed, aNikon Diffusion Dome, which I use on occasion, gaffer’s tape and an SC-29 cord, which has a built-in AF illuminator.I add this setup to my Tamrac bag with my cameras, lenses and computer, and I’m ready to go.
Right: Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe




 

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