Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Small Flash Economy?

I watched a behind-the-scenes video this morning wherein a pro photographer took viewers on a short, guided tour of his lighting set-up. In the video, the photographer was employing Nikon SB-900 small flash instruments. He was shooting in a somewhat small, location "studio" (a room at his client's facility) and had set up a white seamless as a backdrop.

The photographer's lighting set-up included a main source consisting of three SB-900s (a "tri-flash" he called it) mounted behind a 60" shoot-thru umbrella with a reflector set below it and angled up for a bit of fill coming from below. He also set a medium-sized softbox on the fill side using another SB-900 as the light source. On either side of the seamless, he employed a couple of more SB-900s to light the seamless. Finally, he boomed an SB-900 from behind which was set for a hair light. All the SB-900s were powered by batteries, albeit external battery sources, possibly Quantums, even though the "studio" had A/C available. In all, seven SB-900s with external battery packs were being used to light his models.

Let's do some arithmetic: B&H sells SB-900s for $499.95/ea. I'll round that off to $500/ea. The Quantums go for about, I believe, $200 each. With seven SB-900s (plus power sources) being used, the photographer was employing $4900 worth of small flash lighting sources. Since some tax or shipping or something more was probably spent purchasing that gear, I'll round that off to $5,000.


Someone explain to me how small-flash photography (leastwise, the way many shooters seem to use this gear) rather than using monolights or packs-n-heads, is the economical approach to shooting models? (Especially in an interior location where A/C is available.)

Sure, it's certainly easier to schlep that small-flash gear around but, frankly, I could have used two or three "plugged-in" monolights (at about $500/ea) or heads plus a couple of reflectors and achieved nearly the identical results, altho I'll admit the photographer in the video got more light on his background seamless than I could using only two or three light sources. And we all know how incredibly important it is to get that white seamless brightly and evenly lit because, in spite of all the processing most shooters perform in post, getting that white seamless perfectly exposed in production is absolutely critical to the final images. (Not.)

Reminder: There's only one week left to purchase either Guerrilla Glamour or Guerrilla Headshots (or both) for 25% off using special discount code, JUNESPECIAL.

The pretty girl with the rhinestone outfit is Cytherea, captured in my studio a few years ago.


Anonymous said...

It's called promotion! Think they paid for those 900's, I doubt it. Sounds like the Joe Mac show? Love the results he gets from the small gear, but I agree, they're implying it as a cheaper way to light a scene when actually, as you said, it probably cost 2x as much as larger heavier gear.

Paps said...

LOL Ive made that calculation a couple of times myself and came to the same conclusion. But strobism isn't strobism anymore. When DH started it, it was all about getting results similar to photogs using "big" lightsm but with less and cheaper gear. That was the time when a 2nd hand Nikon flash still changed hands for less than a new one.

As with all hypes(?) going mainstream, things change. Some for good, some for worse. The focus on (only) new stuff is such a change. Shopping creatively could bring down the price of this setup to 10%, which is way more comfortable for a "starving student".

Sure I wouldnt mind having 10% of the flashes that some popular numbnuts' uses, but until my moneytrain arrives I (and prolly lots of others) will have to do with what we have/can afford.

jimmyd said...

@Anon: It was not part of the Joe Mac/Dave Hobby Show but I'll bet the shooter was "inspired" by them and, yeah, there was definitely some "promotioning" going on in the video altho, as videos go, it wasn't very expertly produced. :-)

Jason said...

Now, replace the SB900s with 285HVs, is the argument still the same?

I am all about the small flashes since I do much of my work outdoors where AC power is not an option. I carry around a bag full of 285s and SLA batteries that I rigged up to run them. I figure each unit costs me about $110 and I trigger them with cheap-o Cactus 4Vs. So for the same 7 lights with triggers and comparable light output I am running well under $900.

Honestly, the only thing I miss from my studio lights is the modeling lights. If I wasn't so addicted to them I would use the 285s full time and sell off my Novatron pack and heads.

jimmyd said...

@Jason: I wholeheartedly agree that inexpensive small flash instruments are viable and, often enough, can be the right tools for the job. Just seems like every time I see one of these videos, they're always using multiple SB-900s or 800s or Canon's high-end line of speedlites rather than much more inexpensive small flash gear like Vivitar 285s and 283s

Jerry Stachowski said...

And it does vary as what you need. Most of time I get by with one SB-800 (off camera) and a light modifier.

And Joe does use the big stuff as well. David Hobby tends to use less gear.


West Coast Jim said...

This is sooo obvious!
Nikon and Canon "need" to sell their respective fully integrated and full auto strobes. The few press shooters remaining can only buy so many and the various "strobe experts" couldn't fill a phone booth if they had to rely exclusively on knowledgeable pro shooters. Fortunately for them amateurs love the brand of camera on their lighting product! Which luckily(?), with current employment trends, the amateur population just keeps growing.
And amateurs ain't buying Speedo, Broncolor or HMI's...
Simple answer, no?

Bill Giles said...

I don't think first cost economy has anything to do with shooting with SB-900s. Being able to control them in groups from the camera does. Since I don't shoot Nikon, I can't do that, even if I had all of the SB-900s I could ask for. I can do it with my E-3 and Olympus flashes, but I don't want to spend the money for all of those flashes. My E-1s won't control the flashes remotely, so there is no advantage there. I've got a couple of Lumo-Pro flashes that were made for off camera, but don't have any automatic mode, just power settings. They work fine and are a lot cheaper. I just have to walk over and change the settings.

jimmyd said...

@Bill-- Just think of all that great exercise you're getting.

jimmyd said...

@West Coast Jim: In the video I watched, the shooter was using Pocket Wizard Plus IIs to fire his strobes. All that money spent on strobes wasn't about auto functionality... leastwise, not for that shoot.