Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Tim Snow: LOL! Lighting On Location
I blame McNally. Arias too. Throw Hobby in with the bunch.
They make this stuff look easy. Them and hundreds of others. They have pushed me in my photography, in my lighting. They don’t know it, we have never met, but maybe one day we will over a tea and I will gush like a little kid. They are in the trenches and they get dirty to make their pictures. Their photographs resonate, they bleed soul. They are honest. Real. I stare at their photographs in awe, hoping that one day I may be on the same level.
And they are incredibly lit. Beautifully. They p**s me off!
My approach to lighting on location is pretty simple. I don’t want you to see it; I want it to look natural. I want to augment the available light in the scene and add some dimensionality. It is rare that I will completely change the look of the existing light, though sometimes it can be fun to do just that!
I have struggled with finding the proper lighting solution for a while. I am usually on location with four Speedlites and when I need an extra bit of pop, I will gang them into one bigger light source. I have been known to put all four of them into one 5 foot OctoDome for some real kick! Indoors, they perform beautifully; I prefer to shoot wide open or close to it most of the time so achieving apertures like f/1.4, f/2 or f/2.8 is pretty doable with the diminutive flashes.
Outside is a different story, though. Overpowering the sun, especially direct sun, is pretty tough to do with the battery-operated wonder-flashes. Ganging them works, but you are running near full power and if you are trying to shoot in high speed sync - good luck! You'd better have tons of spare batteries! And lots of time to wait for them to recycle…
The Loucks Farm
I was speaking with a friend over at Photoflex and he suggested I try their new TritonFlash kit. I have been curious about the kit since I read my friend Dan Bailey’s review on the system, so I figured I’d give it a go. A few days later, a box arrived at my door and off I went.
The beauty of the TritonFlash is its size…not much bigger than a Canon 580ex and not much heavier either. The battery is also nice and small, with a great shoulder strap so you can hang the battery from your light stand of the shoulder of your assistant! Thanks, Chris!
The compactness is not at the cost of build quality; the TritonFlash is definitely built solidly. I have used my Alien Bees for a few years now, and while they still work, they feel very delicate. The TritonFlash is a welcome change from the world of flimsy flash units. It feels like it is up for some hard work and you have confidence that it will withstand the bumps associated with being on the road.
I wanted to really try this thing out. Why have a flash and not use it right? I could have popped off some tests in my backyard and been done with it. Or I could push myself to really try it out in the field the way that I will eventually use it if I end up buying a kit for myself.
We hit the highway and drove to Upper Canada Village, a look back into life as it was in the 1860′s. Perfect! A huge thanks to them for letting us make photographs all day!
Gazette Printing Office
Gazette Printing Office
As you can see in the behind-the-scenes shot, the TritonFlash is very small! Thankfully too, because it was close to 40˚C / 104˚F with the humidity! I have no idea how the employees of the park were able to work in their costumes all day in that heat.
The flash itself, while small, puts out an impressive 300 watt-seconds. In comparison, most camera-mounted flashes put out around 60. I will not repeat all of the statistics and specs of the flash, as Dan’s review does that quite well. I want to talk about how it works in real world situations, and the short of it is that it works very well!
When adding light to a scene, I almost always try to mimic the existing light, since it looks most natural. If I can shoot through a window or a door, all the better. Using my Pocket Wizards, I didn’t have a single misfire all day long.
One of my favorite features of the flash is the inclusion of an audible beep once the unit has fully recycled, and when using the flash at 1/4 power or less it recycles almost instantly. I missed very few shots once I got used to waiting for the beep, which took around five seconds or so when firing the flash at full power, as I did in the photograph above. Using the Extra Small OctoDome NXT, which is included in the kit, I was easily able to fill in shadows caused by the noonday sun. One thing I would possibly integrate on a future version of the flash is some kind of volume setting on the beep, maybe a low and a high. Inside I heard it quite easily, but outside was another story. It simply wasn’t loud enough.
Drag Saw Operator
Drag Saw Operator
I am one of those guys who reads instructions of new gear, especially stuff that doesn’t belong to me. The nice thing about the TritonFlash is that you really don’t need any instructions - it’s pretty simple and straightforward. The unit comes with an umbrella swivel/handle which is removable if needed. While we stuck with our Manfrotto background stand, which doubles as a great lightweight boom arm, the unit would find itself at home atop any light stand. Also, due to its small size and low weight, the TritonFlash would easily be supported by a boom.
The actual operation of the flash is simple and straightforward. The back of the flash head is where you find your usual controls, though the modeling lamp is different than what you would expect on a studio-styled strobe. Instead of being on all of the time, you can press a button which will light up the flash for 10 seconds allowing you to see where the light lands on your subject, as well as allowing you to use the light as a focus assist. This is done to save battery power, and is very useful.
To control the output of the flash, you turn the main dial to the left and right. What is a bit different about the TritonFlash compared to most flash heads I have used is that the control wheel does not stop at full power or at minimum output. Instead it just keeps rotating around and around. While only a minor nuisance, it can be a bit frustrating at times. If the flash head is on a boom or a higher light stand angled downwards for example, it can be useful to rack to full or to lowest power and count the clicks up or down until you get to your desired power setting.
My biggest complaint with the system and something I hope is improved on in future models is the LCD screen on the back of the head. If you look at it straight on, it is great. Unfortunately, it is rare that I have the head on a stand perfectly at eye level. when viewed from above or from below, the screen becomes washed out and almost impossible to read. Add some sun into the mix and it almost disappears. Not good. Maybe a backlight would help it?
Most strobes include an optical slave option, which the TritonFlash does as well. While I will normally use a radio trigger system like the Pocket Wizards, an optical slave is a godsend if your triggers malfunction. Slaves can be a bit of a problem when shooting events where many photographers are using flash as their flashes will trigger your slave, but of course you can always disable the slave. For the old school guys, you can always use a sync cord directly to the flash unit, but I prefer to go wireless.
In conclusion, the Photoflex TritonFlash is a very capable compact flash unit for the photographer on the go. While I have only used it on a couple of shoots, it has integrated itself into my kit seamlessly and is a joy to use. Its size couples with the 300 watt-second output makes it a useful addition to any location photographer’s arsenal. Will you be able to light a group of 12 people in full daylight? Probably not…though admittedly I didn’t try. Will you be able to light up an entire gym for a basketball game? No, but that is not the intended use of the TritonFlash. Stay within the limits of the flash, and you will be pleasantly rewarded.
Team your knowledge of light modifiers with the TritonFlash and you will be good to go. Need more kick and contrast? Use a TritonFlash 7' Reflector, with or without a grid. Need softer light? Use a 3 or 5 foot OctoDome, an umbrella or a rectangular soft box. The speedring (Connector) that teams with the unit is equally well built. No cutting corners here. While the kit is not nearly as expensive as Profoto or the likes, it is not inexpensive either. A full kit comprising of the head, power pack, 2 batteries, an OctoDome NXT (one of my favorite modifiers by the way) and cables, trigger, etc will run you in the area of $1,500 USD.
As the sun drops toward the horizon, you will see the true power of the TritonFlash. 300 W/S is flexible enough to let you photograph many subjects and is so intuitive to use that you can unpack it and hit the road to make some pictures!
Thanks to Photoflex for giving me the chance to try the unit in some real world situations.
Please let me know if you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them!
To see more of Tim Snow's work, visit: www.timsnowphotography.com