Better Lighting Through High Voltage: Taking the series in a different direction

The weirdest strobist ever

This is the now-discontinued Ektachrome IR with Strobist lighting. I'm half surprised it worked at all.

When I started out doing portraiture, I did only outdoor portraits during the golden hour. If you don't have much gear, it's great. My first portrait shoot was taken on my Canon A95 and came out quite well. And I did my art indoors with lightpainting.

I made the TFP offer to models that if they shot with me I'd do lightpainting but also more normally-lit outdoor portraits. I felt it would make the arrangement more appealing to them that way. It was funny because most models were largely impressed with my artistic lightpaintings anyway... but that's another matter.

My initial motivation for going strobist and getting lights was to expand my options, so that I could shoot indoors during the wintertime or midday. Hence the name "Better indoor lighting" for my series.

I love to shoot right around sunset, when the sky is incredibly dramatic. And what I've found is that if you include the sky in a shot, it's still going to be too many stops of light away from the rest of the scene most of the time. And that's fine, if you use print film, because you can spend some time in Photoshop to bring it all back to normal.

Strobist lighting without people

But what I also found is that if I use off-camera flash, I can light up the model until they are about the same level of brightness as the sky and get even more dramatic shots that don't require editing.

I'd also like to note that one of the techniques Galen Rowell popularized to the photographic community is "smart flash". I realized at some point that keeping my lights handy wouldn't be useful just for people, but for all my photography.

Sarah CP

Using the flash not so much to adjust the model's lighting but to add more specular highlights

So, overall, I've decided to change this to "Better lighting through High Voltage"

When you work outdoors with a flash, you suddenly have a lot more control over how the scene in front of you is lit than before. Remember, golden hour is already beautiful. Using a flash can make this even more beautiful.

I discovered that, even though none of my gear is advertised to work reliably outdoors, it seems to work quite well. Except for the umbrellas. I've had the same conversation with quite a few people in the past year. It turns out that umbrellas really suck outdoors. Light stands are great when there's no wind, but add even a mild breeze and they'll fall. The problem is when it's below the point where you need weight but then there's a gust and your umbrella lands on the ground. Eventually the ribs of the umbrella will get bent enough that it won't work right.

One thing that I've realized for quite some that when you use a flash, there's really two pictures going on -- one being the flash firing in 1/8000th of a second, the other being the rest of the time. So it ends up that I can shoot with a very fast shutter speed and the flash on full speed and get a shot where the flash appears brighter than the sun:

June and the sun

Or I can shoot at a low shutter speed at night, so that the dark sky can accumulate enough photons to be bright:

Mandy and the dark sky

The Quantaray MS-1 after a year or so

My MS-1 didn't last a year, which is really too bad.

The positive side of the MS-1 is that it's got a good, reliable, built-in trigger.

The downside is that it's just not built robustly in the right places. The power switch will slide over from off to on if you let it bump around in a camera bag. And the battery connector on mine went unreliable.

I'm kinda bummed, because it's great to have a cute little flash that doesn't take up much space in a camera bag.


More updates:

I picked up another drive to replace the photo drive and managed to make a second copy of all the files. So one less thing to have nightmares about.

And a happy Cinco de Mayo to all my readers.

About this series:

This series is a time-lagged chronological journey through my off-camera lighting. I write about stuff that happens months after it really happens so I can get it organized and also to make sure that I don't writing a glowing review of something that turns out to be a piece of crap later on.

My goal with my off-camera setup is to be inexpensive (but not cheap) and portable and easy to deal with. It also has to work with my largely film-centric lifestyle.

The continuing story of flash triggering:

If I were using modern cameras and spent a lot of money on hardware, this wouldn't be a problem. But I can't rely on optical triggers and such. I've found that my Canon TX, after the CLA, and my G7 will both reliably trigger the hotshoe. My 383 Super (I lost one after my little accident) will reliably fire off of the hotshoe slaves. The Quantaray MS-1 will reliably trigger on it's own but it stopped working. My Sunpack Digital Flash will sometimes trigger off of it's built-in slave and sometimes needs an external trigger to work, but I've already described how it sucks.

I need a new 90mm lens for my RB67, so all I've got is a 50mm, which is not too photogenic because in medium format terms, that's a wide-angle. So I really want to know for sure that the next 90mm lens I buy will have a fully reliable flash triggering port. To do this, I really want to do is fix any other wiring problems once and for all so that I can be assured that it's not the normally flakey connectors that are causing the problems.

The way I see things, hotshoes are reliable. PC cords are not. And Sunpack screwed up the way they do their plugs just enough that you can't just plug into the side of a 383 Super without knowing exactly what you are doing. So, I am quite comfortable with 1/4" and 1/8" cables because I can solder replacement connectors myself if they break. Either way, it adds up real fast to get all of the little bits.

Recently added Photos: