Monday, December 22, 2014

Strobist approach to a model test shoot

I regularly shoot "Open Studio" for Brigitte Models in Munich. That´s when a few girls come in to apply for a model career. They feature plus-size models (aka "normal girls"), so if you´re above 170cm tall... maybe we´ll meet in their office one day, who knows?

This is my working space. Phottix Easy-thing-box-thing 70x70 as a kicker, left main light is a silver umbrella with a B.I.G. Blitzschiene & two strobes, on the right you can see a white umbrella with the Triflash & two strobes.

Kathi posing on a chair

These shoots are quite a strobe orgy. Four to six girls show up, scheduled to dress, make-up, shoot, re-dress, change style, and shoot again. This time, we had six girls. First test shot was made at 10a.m., last frame was shot at 5:55p.m. So I worked 8 hours with my strobes turned on, minus a 1hr lunch break. I don´t own a fancy Profoto or Elinchrom set with superfast T.1 times and the agency, for a good reason, doesn´t pay luxurious rates for these test shots, so I bring my speedlights to the session. I need them to freeze action such as jumping and hair-flipping, but still I need to be on a budget and not rent anything.

Jumping and hair-flipping... freeze that motion and either get a super-expensive brand flash or.... a couple of hotshoe strobes. Period. Try and use the cheap brands. Someone flips their hair? Smear. Someone jumps? Blur. Someone even WAVES THEIR HANDS? Smudge. I tried German generic brand Walimex, I tried USA brand Calumet. It doesn´t work because their T.1 times are around 1/200sec instead of 1/1500sec like with the REAL pro brands.

In order to give the newbie girls freedom to move, spin and turn at free will, I usually apply two white umbrellas from either side plus a diffused kicker light from the left which I place deliberately. Thus, I can give them a sense of direction when I tell them to turn their heads this or that way because of ...well, lights, layouts... art directors... anything they might meet in the future.

Yep, the girl has three shadows. This is owned to the move-anywhere-and-look-good lighting. Don´t do that in real life a.k.a. paid assignments

You know what? My Metz 40MZs lasted with ONE SET OF RECHARGEABLES except one, which I had to change. I worked between f/5 and f/5.6 (adjusted to taste) at ISO 400. I use the classic white 2700 mAh eneloops, ReCycko 2700s and Ansmann maXe 2700s. I took A THOUSAND SHOTS and the strobes kept working. I now have 977 photos in that folder and I deleted a lot of test shots and bad shot ON SET so I guarantee you I shot A THOUSAND FRAMES and only had to change one set of four batteries because they became a bit too lazy for my pace.

What´s the secret? I PAIR them. They share the load of lighting a big space, thus they recycle faster.

from a very different shoot a long time ago: paired strobes giving me double the power - or half the recycling time, any way you want it.

I used a B.I.G Multi-Blitzschiene (takes 4 hotshoe strobes) and a Lastolite Triflash (guess how many strobes that takes) on the two main lights and put two units on each. The kicker was done by only one flash.
Great thing is: you equip only one strobe in each set with your radio trigger, the other one can carry an optical slave or a trigger cable, because they share such a small space. CHEAPER! Also, each of the adapters is a swivel as well as an umbrella holder. Win.

Why did I only put two strobes on each, when one can carry four, the other one three? Yes, I do own enough 40MZ units to fill every slot in every adapter imaginable, but:

1. I want symmetrical power left and right for this shoot. So I decided on two on each side.
2. Much more important: DOUBLING the light means gaining 1 stop. 2 is double-1. But 3 ist not double anything. You can pair two strobes, but a third one would only add HALF A STOP to your whole setup!

Yes, I meter. On studio jobs, I meter. I don´t rely on my display and I don´t rely on Blinkies. You know why? It´s faster. The Gossen Variosix is nice, because when you push the meter button, it waits for any flash to go off - you don´t have to connect it to your trigger wires or buy Pocket Wizard compatible stuff to trigger a flash. Just wire up your strobes or trigger them via infrared. The Variosix will wait and measure as soon as you flash. 

So I went through these thoughts: You want to gang strobes in order to increase your stamina. You got one Multi-Blitzschiene and one Triflash. The Triflash carries max 3 strobes, the third one doesn´t do you much good else than confuse your power ratios. So... two units on each side will be perfect.

Why did I not pair strobes on the kicker light? Well, first of all, I was out of multiple-strobe-adapters and then, a kicker light bounces off of skin into your camera - that´s much more effective than light that has to reflect at 45 to 180° - which is every light that you´d say "lights the model". So I can use much lower power to achieve a great effect. You may have found that your rim lights can fire at much lower power than your key and fill for the desired effect.

If I remember correctly, I ran every strobe on 1/16 power, up or down a third.

Here´s the other light setup I used that day: one flash, TTL through a Calumet Hex 21 (which I love), filled by a Lastolite Trigrip below. The background is the same as in the other shots, but it appears much darker due to the close lighting on Kathi and the distance to the background. Videos have been made on that. Just google "Inverse Square Law".
TTL is doing the work for me here (adjusted down 2/3). I just have to change from a TTL cord to my "stupid" wireless trigger and it´s back to studio light, whole body, whole set.

Unfortunately, Metz has gone bankrupt two weeks ago. I still don´t support them because I buy their ancient relics second hand... It´s an amazing firm that makes strobes that support every camera manufacturer´s TTL system by cost-effectively changing the hot shoe adapter. They even support Leica and Sony! The lawyers are working on a plan to bring investors in, so I hope they don´t have to fire the support guy I called once... he went to fetch an old 40Mz from the archive and disassembled it to answer my specific question about some tech specs. OK now, if you as a photographer want to support a German family business who produce world-class quality strobes (as well as television sets et al.), go buy their newest TTL strobes. They are adaptable to your choice of camera on order. They are powerful. They are user-friendly. They are tough. And yes, they are heavy. NICE!


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