Today we’re continuing our look at my gear and we’re going to cover everything flash related. That means flashes, stands, modifiers and some random little gadgets. Flash doesn’t have to be complicated, so let’s dive in.
If you haven’t already, it might be an idea to first read part 1.
I think it’s safe to say that flash, the kind you put off camera in particular, is the area of photography where most people hit a wall. At first I was also very averse to using flash since all I was familiar with was the evil called popup flash. The only thing your popup flash could be used for without horrid results is to provide som fill light when there’s already plenty of ambient light. However, once my little daughter, Alyzza, started moving a bit it became very difficult to get sharp photos, even with a fast lens. I just couldn’t get the shutter speed up high enough without either pushing the iso up, resulting in noisy images, or underexposing, resulting in dark images. So I started looking into getting myself a flash. I wanted to stick with Nikon and couldn’t reach too deep into the wallet so I ended up with a SB-400 (number 7 in the picture below). It turned out to be a huge improvement over the popup and suddenly light wasn’t an issue anymore. Great success.
What happened next was that I started thinking that it would be nice if I could do a bit more with my new flash, some of the things the more expensive models could do. I also noticed that, while nice and evenly lit, all the pictures looked pretty much the same, there was no shape to the light. After a while I found my way to the Strobist blog. I cannot recommend this site enough if you have any interest at all in learning how to light with off camera flash. I was hooked, I knew I had to get my flash off the camera. So I went ahead and got a SC-28 (14) extension cable. It gave my SB-400 new life but I was still limited by the reach of the cable, not to mention my arms. I wanted more.
I started researching off camera flash more and came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be staying with Nikon, the price was just too high. Besides, a big reason why the price is so high is the support of Nikon’s creative lighting system (CLS) and through the lens metering (TTL), and I knew I was going all manual so I wouldn’t have much use for that kind of magic (would still be nice to have it though). Finally I arrived at the Lumopro LP160 (5). I’ve only used them for a while (got two of them) but so far I have to say that they’re excellent value for the money. Very easy to operate, good power and no problems.
The next problem is how to trigger the flashes and this is what gave me the biggest headache when I started researching it. Turns out it isn’t very complicated after all. Since my camera is a rather simple model, it didn’t have any pc ports or commander modes or other fancy stuff, but I still needed to connect the flash to the camera somehow. Getting expensive radio triggers was out of the question, that’s something for the future. As it so happens, the good people over att Mpex (the place where I bought everything, highly recommended, good service and reasonable prices) had already prepared a simple solution. With a simple hot shoe adapter (9) my camera suddenly came with both a pc port and miniphone port, add a cable (6) and I was good to go. That takes care of one flash but what about the other one? Well, the LP160 comes with a very good optical slave, which means that it will fire as soon as it sees another flash firing. Could it get any easier? That also meant that I could still use my SB-400 connected to the camera and set both the LP160s as optical slaves, a three light setup, brilliant.
Now we have a couple of flashes and a way to trigger them. The next thing that’s difficult to be without is somewhere to put your lights, unless you’re blessed with a couple of willing VALs (voice activated light stands, a.k.a. friends working for free). I opted for one compact light stand (11) and one a bit bigger (13) to give me more hight to work with, should I need it. When the budget allows for a couple more flashes then I’ll also be adding another stand and a boom. A boom is basically an arm that extends from the stand, allowing you to place your light directly above the subject, without having to coerce someone into being a human boom for you. A light stand isn’t very useful if it won’t hold your flash though, so add a couple of umbrella swivels. They come with a cold shoe for your flash and somewhere to stick your umbrella (1). For umbrella I choose the shoot through kind but you could also go for a reflective one. The umbrella is basically the cheapest way to get soft light, that and softboxes. If you want to get fancy and don’t mind spending some more money there are a plethora of ways to modify your light: beauty dishes, octaboxes, grids, strip lights, the list goes on. For now, due to lack of funds, space and time, I’m sticking to my umbrellas. I’ll probably add a small softbox sometime in the near future though.
For those of you who, like me, doesn’t have the luxury of spending all your money on new gear, there’s always the option to build your own modifiers. I’m not all that practical (not like my dad who’s a regular Macgyver, without the electronics and explosive parts) so I don’t get too advanced with my DIY equipment but you can see my very sophisticated straw grid (3) and cereal box snoot (4) in the picture. A grid is just what it sounds like: a grid of small holes. The result of putting it on your flash is that it focuses the beam into one spot, the size of which is determined by the size and length of the holes. It gives you a lot of control and the falloff is nice and smooth. A snoot is basically a tunnel for the light and by varying the length and width you control the area your light will hit. Both are very useful tools to have in your bag of tricks. Under the snoot in the picture you can also see my extremely advanced cardboard gobo. A gobo is anything that blocks the light. It’s useful to keep your flash from causing flare if it’s pointing towards the camera or in other ways limit what the light will hit. The final piece of DIY equipment is a small reflector (2), which is just a piece of cardboard with crumbled tin foil over it.
There are still a couple of things in the picture that we haven’t talked about. Number 10 is the 85mm lens we mentioned in part 1. Number 8 is the Nikon ML-L3 remote, indispensable for family pictures and self portraits. Finally, number 12 is a gorillapod with ball head, a great little tripod that works both for a camera or a flash.
This was a fairly lengthy post but there was a lot to talk about. Hopefully it can be helpful if you’re in the process of building your own kit or at least it should make it easier to understand what I’m talking about half the time. You can count on more gear related posts if anything is added to my kit. Now get out there and spend some money already.