Articles Photography

A Second Sun

24-70 f2.8L detail

Over time I’ve developed a kit of photo gear that I’m very happy with. On my shoulders is a sling bag holding my trusty 70-200 f/2.8L IS, spare batteries, angle finder, 17-40 f/4L, a small nalgene for water & a clif bar for stocking up on energy. In one hand is usually my 5D & battery grip, loaded with a 24-70 f/2.8L.

On this trip, I have a new addition:

Flash Device
It’s a wireless handheld flash contraption, in case you’re wondering.

For the last while I’ve wanted to try carrying a small strobe with me, for practical and artistic reasons. Practically, a flash can help manage contrast in mid-day equatorial sunshine – shooting dark skin often results in excessive dynamic range, beyond what a digital sensor can capture. Artistically, a strobe allows creative control over contrast, giving me a second light source. I’m no longer at the mercy of the sun.

I’ve rigged together something portable that I can hold while shooting, or have someone else hold for me (human light stands are more flexible than metal ones). It consists of a post mounted onto a threaded handle (actually designed for shock-mounting a microphone), onto which tightens an umbrella angle bracket. I’m using Pocketwizard wireless flash releases, one on the camera, the other on a custom threaded mount (a screw welded onto a hose clamp, which tightens around the handle). On top of it all is a Vivitar 285HV flash.

The results are dramatic. Otherwise unshootable scenes transform into photographic frames with pop. My favorite technique is to cross-light, using the sun as fill and the flash as key light. Here are a couple examples from a recent gallery:

Rwandan Kids in Field 1Rwandan Kids in Field 2

I’m very pleased with the results, and I’m looking forward to using this technique in Bulembu. The original idea for this combination came from conversations with Jesse and reading Strobist, a great online resource for photographic lighting.

Here’s a few photos of the kit all put together:

Strobist Kit 1Strobist Kit 2
Strobist Kit 3Trev in 24

6 replies on “A Second Sun”

man, these shots you’re getting with that are awesome.
do you use any kind of reflection with that? some of the construction site/playground shots look too soft to be straight on strobe. but maybe you have it far enough away? in any case, those are sweet. can’t say i’ve seen much of that in documentary-esque photography. i love using wireless flashes in sunlight. later,

i agree, very friggin (excuse, my, oh never mind) cool shots. Lyn, Jesse, Amanda and I had our collective jaws open. Dood, you are getting very good…using your backend knowledge to translate into cool ‘artistic shots’..and I am not just saying that b/c i think you are extrememly handome ;). i am being honest.

oh, by the way, thanks for the lyn and jesse intro–they are some of the most brilliant individuals i’ve met in awhile.

Nice look. I have been working with a similar set-up lately with some great results with the latest Nikon gear. My D-300 can remotely trigger the SB-800 by deploying the pop-up flash. You can set it so that the pop-up does not actually light the subject and spoil the effect of off camera lighting. The point o the pop-up is that it handles the infrared communication with the flash units. The camera menu will allow you to control your power settings and will allow you to use two or even three strobes in any mode, including TTL without the extra weight of the Wizard. Do similar NGO work in Africa from time to time and so I understand the challenges of carrying too much stuff but having enough to conquer bad light. I only mention this because I see you are a Canon guy and wonder whether this might be a lighter weight option for you in the future.

The Pocketwizard is the least of my worries when it comes to weight :) It’s those Canon L lenses. And those lenses are also the reason why I’m not likely to switch to Nikon anytime soon. Not because I’m a format snob… but because I’ve invested in a system. Bodies come & go but every shot is taken through my lenses. I’ve chosen them carefully for optical quality and how I like to work.

The new D700 and having TTL flash metering is definitely a temptation… but not quite enough to invest in another set of glass.

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