If you’ve been making shots in a studio for a while, you’ve probably collected a number of light “modifiers” – that is, reflectors, softboxes, umberellas and other bits of metal, plastic, foil and fabric to control, block, reflect and otherwise guide the light to where you want it. But do you know what they actually do? Neil Van Niekerk tested some of his light modifiers and you can the results of Neil’s tests on his excellent blog Tangents <<- click. I thought I had better test mine. I found some interesting and one or two unexpected results.
(no this is not a tailsync shot – but it is pretty cool 🙂 1/160th f/22 ISO 32 – Brian Sanger. Read on for wide apertures, high shutter speeds and blurry clouds 🙂
I’ve had my Lightblaster for a while now and used it on several occasions to project a background, a screened image, directly onto the model, or on to fog. It works – but the one big problem is the insane amount of light it eats. This shot on the left for example I needed to shoot at ISO400 and f/6.3 to get enough light out of the 600 Watt-second flash at full power. At those settings, the fill light (an identical light with a 30x120cm strip box and a grid) was on minimum power.
I bought the studio adapter for it that allows me to mount the Lightblaster onto a standard 7” reflector in an attempt to get more light, but wasn’t convinced this was better. I decided to do some tests.
Intentional Camera Movement
Well, on coffee and a lack of sleep anyway. We boarded Tinkerbelle (one of the many things to like about Virgin Atlantic – they name their ‘planes like WWII bombers and this 747-400 was named after a fairy) for the 8 hour flight to Orlando. After much immigration, luggage, car pickup, instructions to retrieve key for house pickup, calls to rental company for 40 minutes after they gave us the wrong codes for the key safe.. we rolled into the Magic Kingdom at 2am UK time after dropping the luggage at the house. I was pretty punch drunk by then and the whole place took on the aspect of some bizarre dream…. I decided to try and make some alternative views of Disney by night, using long exposures….
A couple of weeks ago, we all set off to Orlando, Florida – to “do the parks”. It’s a festival of queuing: queue-fest 2016. Queue technology is in full swing with “fast passes” and apps with queue times that will optimise your queuing. The queuing is punctuated with 2 minutes of being thrown about or on a tour of some animated display. It’s not my thing – but we were there for the kids – and they had a whale of a time – which is all that matters.
On Sunday though we drove out to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre. When we flew into Orlando over the east coast of Florida you could clearly see the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on the flat landscape below. Not surprising as it’s the biggest single storey building in the world. This is where they assembled the Saturn V rockets for the Apollo programme and prepped space-shuttles for launch. We took the tour out to the Saturn V centre (and more on that later) and our driver, Steve just happens to mention that there’s a launch on the following Thursday probably around 8:37am, and we might all like to come back for that.
A while ago, I tested my old Coreflash CF-D300 flashes with the YN622N-TX “SuperSync” (tail sync) mode and you can see the results here. They worked well, however in order to use these on location I have to cart around a Godox LP800X battery and inverter to give me a 240 volt power supply. The Safari’s power supply and battery is
optimised for the job at hand, and is therefore much smaller – despite giving roughly the same amount of full power flashes.
I tested it out in much the same way. The camera settings for this test are 1/2000th of a second, f/4.0 at ISO 64. 1/2000th of a second gives useful freezing power for any ambient light – say if you’re photographing a model on a beach with waves crashing on the rocks, or with fabric blowing about. It probably won’t freeze it completely, but you will avoid those awful shadows around a moving subject where they blocked the ambient light from, say, the sky, for a part of the exposure. Aperture and ISO: you can of course trade these and shoot ISO 250 at f/8. The Safari is on half power.
Here’s the results with the dialled in delay number. Numerically, its the reverse of what it should be (a larger delay between the light firing and the shutter firing, should result in the rear curtain being lower in the frame, as it travels bottom to top of frame on my Nikon D810). It’s 3.0 -X <some unit>. Alternatively, you can think of smaller numbers meaning the flash fires earlier – and at 1.0 the flash light is present before the rear curtain starts to travel. We get more fall off at the top as the front curtain was only half way up when the flash light began.
That black bar you can see is the rear or second curtain. In normal operation and first curtain sync, the flash fires when the first curtain reaches the the fully open position (top of frame). Not when the shutter begins to open. The shutter “speed” we set on our cameras is the time between the first curtain and the second curtain passing the same point. So at a shutter speed of 1/2000th of second, its pretty far up the frame when the first curtain reaches the top and the flash is triggered. Tail sync works by delaying the whole shutter operation , so the flash output is already in full swing by the time the first curtain starts it’s journey. With the right amount of delay, the flash is already burning before the second curtain starts it’s journey.
This does mean, of course, that its getting dimmer as the curtains get to the top of the frame. The rate at which this fall-off occurs is a function of the flash duration. Shorter flash durations: steeper fall-off. The Safari II, although a conventional voltage regulated flash, is actually quite fast. This is great for beating back the sun within normal flash sync speeds as it gets all of its light out in a short time. However, for tail sync, this is not so good.
However, as long as you are aware of this, you can work with it. For example, if you are shooting a model on a beach, the flash will only affect things within range. It has no effect on the sky anyway, so put the sky in a part of the frame that doesn’t get any flash. For my Nikon, that simply means shooting with the camera upside down. Now the black bar is at the top. Alternatively, you can aim the flash at the top of the frame, so the fall of from the light pattern, compensates for the fall off of light over time (and the frame).
You can do so much with just one light. One £30 YN460-II for example. There really is no excuse for not having at least one flash 🙂
Robert Harrington gave a great presentation at the B&H theatre on getting many looks out of one light – and you can watch it here. I thought this would make a great live demo for the camera club I belong to and worked out 10 or so looks to present within a 2 hour slot. I ran through them in a practice session with some fellow photographers and we got it done in 1:45. It was going to take longer on the night as I’d be waffling on about the light as we went – and hopefully, there would be questions!
Here’s my pick of the looks we did on the night with model Paris Spencer, who always does a great job on these shoots. For all of these shots, the camera is in manual exposure at 1/160th at F/8 and ISO 64 to 640. The flash is in manual, and when off the camera, is triggered by using the pop-up in commander mode. The popup does not fire during the exposure, it’s just used to send data and commands to the remote SB900.
We started with the flash on the camera – left, and the first shot is direct flash. When should you use this? Well, probably never unless it’s a bit of fill but as a main light, it sucks. I wanted to show just how bad flash lighting could be, so we took the mugshot, on the left. Paris looks like she just got arrested…
You could try trawling eBay for old Canon lenses, but here’s the thing: Canon changed their lens mount in the 1980’s to get AF working properly way before Nikon, and well anybody tbh – that’s why every sports shooter on the planet still shoots Canon today, but the consequence is that there are no old Canon EOS lenses (ie old enough to be bought at junk prices).
Plus, you really need a wide aperture lens to use with the Lightblaster – or you’ll just lose most of the light.
These Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 lenses are £35 – or around $50. and they have AF! I have no idea what the image quality is like, and I never will as I don’t own any EOS bodies, but for £35 I’m happy for it to hang off the Lightblaster, and it weighs nothing.
In the USA: http://www.light-blaster.com/
In the EU at Frank Doorhof’s shop: http://www.frankdoorhof.com/store/images/lightblaster-2.html
..and in the UK at Inspired PhotoGear http://inspiredphotog.com/light-blaster/
I love fog. Use it all the time. Sometimes though, I just want it on the floor. Theatres and movie sets have used liquid nitrogen (“dry ice”) for this for a long time. You can also make regular fog lie on the floor by cooling it down so it becomes denser than the surrounding air. There are a number of commercial options for doing this ranging from the £90 American DJ “Mr Kool” all the way up to liquid nitrogen foggers. There are even more DIY solutions involving lots of plumbing, and plastic bins – all of which are huge 🙂
Having sorted the general lighting and approach to shooting some smoke, here’s the next phase in my smoke project – tungsten bulbs. The tungsten filaments in these bulbs can glow white hot and not just burn up because the bulb is filled with an inert gas, such as Argon, Krypton or Xenon. The so-called “noble gases”do not interact with incandescent material, and so the filament can carry on glowing at near melting point for thousands of hours. If you turn it on in regular air however….