Game Changers

Recent portraits from a story on one of the youngest owners of a lumber yard in the United States.

Hopewell, NJ 07/22/08
Hopewell, NJ 07/22/08
Hopewell, NJ 07/22/08
Hopewell, NJ 07/22/08

Once in a while you get equipment that is a game changer.  It changes the way you think, the way you shoot. This past fall I switched from Dyna-lite strobes to Profoto.  My Dyna-lite gear was all AC powered but my new Profoto gear is a mix of AC powered and battery powered strobes.  The Profoto battery units have been the game changer for me.

Prior, when I needed battery powered lights I relied upon Canon speedlites. You can be very creative with these smaller lights as evidenced by sites like the Strobist.  Where these smaller systems fall short is in the quality of the light, overall stability and recycling issues. Speedlites do have a place.  They are portable, doable when you are working without an assistant and they can be used in cramped spaces where running cables or setting up traditional strobes is not possible.  They are also affordable and for a beginning photographer they may offer the best flexibility for the price.  All that said they can be an exercise in frustration if the wireless is acting up, if they overheat or if the grip equipment is not up to par.  So, there is a tipping point where they go from a viable tool to inappropriate.

In switching from Dyna-lite to Profoto I went from four power packs to two AC powered Profoto packs, Acute2R 1200’s, and two battery powered Profoto packs, AcuteB 600r’s.  The AcuteB 600r’s have become integral to the way I work, enough so that I bought a third one.  The AcuteB 600r’s are 600 w/s and have a Pocket Wizard receiver built in.  They come in a kit with one head (they can only run one head) and a battery.  The battery is good for ~160 full power flashes.  In use they are powerful enough, with a 35mm based system like the Canon 1Ds Mark III, to overpower the sun in daylight and they are flexible enough to be used in settings where you want to mix a tiny bit of flash in with the ambient light.  They go down to 9 w/s and through a modifier like an XXS Chimera softbox, at 9 w/s, you can get F/1.8 or so.

The quality of the light they put out is wonderful and the AcuteB 600r’s take the same light modifiers as the rest of the Profoto line.

The first image above is shot with the AcuteB 600r through an XXS Chimera softbox with a fabric grid plus a 1/4 cut orange gel.  I was able to shoot at f1.8 to keep the limited depth of field I wanted, keep the mix with the ambient looking natural, and light the subject enough to make him pop.

The second image uses all three of my AcuteB 600r’s.  One on each side, using standard Profoto reflectors to light the lumber shed, and one on the subject in a Profoto softlight plus 1/4 cut orange gel.  When setting up I envisioned a different shot.  I liked the shed, loved its detail and wanted the reversed painted “7” in the image.  I thought I would use the shed as the background, filling the frame, but at that time of day it was too muddy if I only showed the shed and it was too backlit if I included some sky.  The shot did not look right, it wasn’t working.  As we set up and tested, though, the clouds got better and better.  It seemed a shame not to take advantage of them.  We quickly changed course. The two lights on the shed were at full power; I shot at 1/320 of a second at f/5 getting nice light on the subject and holding the sky.  When that little blast of sun came through the hole in the clouds and the subject looked down it was perfect.  This image received no burning or compositing to retain the clouds.  I did use a bit of highlight control in Aperture along with vignetting to darken the corners.

As useful as the AcuteB 600r’s are outside, they have proven themselves inside as well.  On a corporate shoot and need an extra light in a hallway? There’s no power available or no time to tape down an extension cord… use the 600r. Need a light close to subject but don’t want to have to shoot at f/8 or f/11? Use the 600r.

Here’s another image using the AcuteB 600r to overpower the daylight and here’s an inside portrait using it to light a subject but still use limited depth of field.

Profoto makes bags that hold the power pack, head and an extra battery.  It makes for a small, compact kit and it’s easier than AC powered lights to setup quickly.  The bags are fine for car based work but not for air travel.  Profoto provides a mini-reflector to go with each head but they are of minimal use. They’re too small to be effective.  You are better off using the standard reflectors.