Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quadrupling Your Speedlight Power The Cheap Way

Today, let´s have a look at multiplying flash power from your speedlights. Maybe you have googled "subduing the sun" before? It´s a way to take the most interesting photos outside, even at noon on a sunny day, producing the most dark blue skies in the background while lighting your subject well. Also, it´s a way of prolonging battery life of each flash during a long shoot as well as cutting recycling times.

 Of course, this involves buying several speedlights, a bracket to hold them and some way of triggering them all at the same time. Many ways to do this!

I´ll go the cheap cost-efficient way: instead of employing multiple receivers for my wireless / buying expensive brand TTL-Speedlights / even buying (relatively expensive) optical slave units, I took another walk to my local photo store and searched through their odds-and-ends-box. I came up with many different PC-cables (the ones that connect studio flashes to your camera) and hotshoe-adapters.
My radio trigger system doesn´t have a PC socket, neither do my Metz flashguns (duh!), so I´ll have to adapt to this fact as well.


As I said before, the best way of ganging Speedlights is putting them together in EVEN numbers. Two speedlights will give you ONE MORE STOP of light output. Four of them will add TWO STOPS. Three speedlights (like the Lastolite Triflash and many other multibracket will hold) give you ONE AND A HALF STOPS of light. Photographically, that doesn´t make very much sense. If you´re only out to cut your recycling times, of course, this´ll help quite a bit. If you only need that extra half stop - fine.

So, do I have a flash bracket that holds four guns? Yep.

There´s a lot of power in this setup! You can already tell from the silhouette that there is a confusing bit of wiring going on. Let´s have a look at the configuration:

The remote is to the right (deliberately). It feeds a shoe adapter which is not wired inside, but features one PC socket for each level. You can wire it yourself simply by connecting the two sockets, but I need to break out here.
The coiled cable feeds a 3-split under flash "1". This feeds the hotshoe it is connected to which then triggers flash "1". This is it, basically. The two other splits go to one wired shoe each, firing flashes 2, 3 and 4.

Of course, the weirdness of it all originates from the special selection of accessories that I found in that ol´ box. Hey, it´s a flea market after all!

Let´s see some of it in detail: Here´s the radio remote with the split shoe, feeding the 3-split on the other side (out) and the trigger cable for its own flash (in)

And here´s the split-thing. I painted in a schematic of the shoe´s internal wiring. This one is "cold" on the bottom which is important, because some old flash brackets are made of metal. It triggers its own flash while at the same time linking the signal to another (of course, it´s not a real signal. X-Sync triggering is only a short-circuit of the speedlight´s contacts) .

´course, if you have three of these shoes, you can set it all up more elegantly. But again, this is a flea market solution. I like it like that ;-)


Is this the ideal rapid-fire setup for a Californian high-noon photoshoot? Well... it´s got some power for sure. But there are some points worth noting:
- With all these adapters mounted on top of each other, things start to get a bit wobbly. I´d NEVER move this setup when high on a tripod. I will ALWAYS lower the tripod and hold at least one speedlight in my hand. None of the mounts is fail safe. Also, when moving it, always tip the bracket FORWARD, where there is a hard stop in each of the shoe mounts. Also, check for good grip after each transport.

- PC sockets and cables, being the industry standard today, were invented in the 1900s or 1910s or so. Back then, NOBODY would EVER move connected equipment ANYWHERE! There was a large format camera, meticulously set up on a tripod, there was electrical power in that place and a huge flash system connected to the shutter with this tiny plug. Everything rested until the shot was done, everything was disconnected and the next shot was set up. Of course, you´d first disconnect the PC cable from the camera, so nobody could trip over it, killing the cable and damaging the camera. So, you guess... neither male nor female connector are very stable. Many times, your connectors will simply slip out, leaving you wondering where your flash power went until you go checking on the wires. Of course, stacking them as I did does not improve reliability. It´s probably not even very wind safe. Please keep this in mind. If you have built your perfect high-power speedlight rack, you may want to fix everything permanently, using glue, tape and zip ties on everything.

- Watch out! There are cables that feature male-male connectors, others have male-female! Please take some time to plan out your wiring and connect everything right in the store for a test.

- It is also a nice idea to check your wires and shoes with a multimeter. You don´t want to find a broken cable when you´re on the set. Hotshoes with attached cables always break first.

Taking all the necessary precautions, I think that this is a nice cost-efficient solution. Finally, I can use this clever bracket without having to burn all my radios and slave triggers on one single light. Oh, and all these ancient cables won´t have to feel so lonely in that box at the store anymore!

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