We photogs are known to lavish attention on our gear, and ascribe to it virtually human qualities. “That’s a beautiful lens.” “That soft box makes gorgeous light.” Descriptions can be fevered, bordering on irrational, occasionally. I am guilty of this, just as almost everyone is who has labored as a photographer. At the end of the day, though, the things we use are tools, and like any job, you hopefully choose appropriately. Small, light and fast is often the mantra of an assignment. Very occasionally we get called on to do a heavier production job, and that requires a different set of tools. Like bigger, more powerful flash units. On certain jobs, let’s face it, size matters.
For me, light is light, whether it is generated by a Speedlight hotshoed to the camera or a power pack with a cord stuck in a wall. And anything in between, honestly. That would be car headlights, an open fire, a flash light, or of course, good old natural light, in whatever condition it arrives on your particular location. But on this recent job, I had feet in a couple of worlds. The needs of the job demanded I be fast, portable, and powerful, which is a mandate that in years gone by would have dictated manually controlled levels of light, metered with a hand held meter, and changed up or down by physically walking to the light, or signaling it via a radio communicator. But here, now, in the brave new world of flash, I had bigger lights with more power, controlled via TTL commands, and legitimate, functioning, high speed sync. Pretty cool.
(Specs on above: Nikon D810, Nikkor 85mm f1.4 lens, 1/60th @ f5.6, Profoto B1, fitted with RFI 3′ Octa.)
Many thanks to all the Profoto folks who orchestrated this assignment to play with their new B1 and B2 units. They both are terrific field units that even without the bells and whistles, would be desirable, given Profoto’s legendary durability and craftsmanship. But now, they speak to Nikon cameras in TTL. Yowza!
Historically, getting a sophisticated, punchy, 500ws monoblock style strobe to talk TTL would be akin to C3PO speaking the binary language of moisture vaporators. But here we are–I was talking to the B1’s in the studio, and the B2’s in the field, via TTL commands originating in collaborative fashion from my Nikon D810 in perfectly seamless fashion.
(Nikon D810, Nikkor 35mm f1.4 lens, 1/200th @ f2.2, Profoto B1, fitted with a sizable Profoto umbrella, softened with a diffuser sheet. Here’s Background element, courtesy of the video crew, which I actually like, for whatever weird reason.)
Dunno how they did it, getting, essentially, the computer governing the lens and the computer governing the flash to mate in such rapturous fashion, but they did a good job. My results were quite consistent throughout the day. It must have been a process, and in my overheated imagination, I have this notion of Cliff Hausner and his Profoto mates, clad as monks, working by candlelight in a frigid, stone hewn monastery in the wilds of Sweden, slowly decoding the arcane, Latinate verses of TTL into a fresh set of directives that would govern their bigger flashes. (But I digress.)
The seamless nature of the conversation between my Nikons and the Profoto lights was paramount, as we shot all these pictures, and three videos, in one day. To do these we headed into the wonderfully funky lower east side of NY, to what was once a legendary public bath back in the 1900’s and has been transformed into an equally legendary photo studio known now, simply, as The Bath House. One of the beauties of working there is that the photo studio is sublime, and then, right outside, you can take a walk into Tompkins Square Park, and snag some curious and intriguing locations.
(Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 lens, 1/200th @ f5.6, Profoto B1 fitted with RFI 5′ Octa. Fill B1 unit, skipped off white floor. Two lights used here.)
But–no matter the wonders of the studio or the interest of the neighborhood, I had to sort things out and move fast. I spent, actually, precious little time with my eye in the lens, as I needed to turn to the video camera regularly and explain what was going on, light-wise. Which worked out well, truth be told. Profoto has those explanatory videos on their site, and the nuances of TTL, lighting ratios, high speed sync and the mechanics of the communication system (which are dead bang simple) are thoroughly explained. Hit this link and it will take you to all three, as well as other really engaging BTS stuff with some terrific shooters.
(Nikon D810, Nikkor 200mm f2 lens, 1/200th @ f2, Profoto B1, fitted with White Softlight Reflector, honeycomb grid, diffuser sock.)
We moved easily from the controlled confines of the studio into the pleasantly eclectic swirl of the Alphabet City. Shifting from the B1 to a B2 on a Shur-line paint pole, we were able to deploy not just TTL but also high speed sync, to shoot the below at f2. The B2 is a pack and a head arrangement. Light and fast, but at 250ws, it still has juice.
(Nikon D810, Nikkor 200mm f2, 1/800th @ f2, Profoto B2, fitted with OCF 2′ Octa.)
From the above, we moved a few steps. As we walked into the park I noticed hard sun making a patchwork quilt out of the fire escapes of one of the old buildings down there. We positioned Anthez, (@A10CHUN) our amazing model, in the hard sun, under a brilliant blue sky, and fitted the B2 head with a honeycomb grid. I backed off, and shot a Nikkor 200-400 f4 from a low angle.
(Nikon D810, Nikkor 200-400mm f4, 1/250th @ f5.6, Profoto B2, fitted with OCF grid spot.)
Above was my favorite shot of the day, and, as so often happens, it was the last shot of the day. Very fast paced shoot, humming along to the rhythms of sleek technology now available in the world of bigger flash units. Hmmm…..my Star Wars lexicon rings a bell once again. This is definitely “a step into a larger world.” Lots of possibilities with light.
Fantastic work. I really love that shot, taken at f4, with the Grid spot. Great light on the model’s eyes and love the shallow DOF.
Vanilla Gorilla says
Is there a special reason you went with the 200-400 f4 in the last photo. I am guessing to compress the back ground, but could you have done that with a 70-200 f2.8 and moved a tad closer??
Amazing Work!, as usual
Joe McNally says
Hi, yes, I could have, but I would have more “stuff” in the picture. I could not have isolated the patterning on the building the way I did. And of course, as you note, you lose some of the magnification and compression. Best, Joe
As always – the best!
@Joe what was the diameter of White Soft Reflector you used to these pictures with b-ball?
Bob Harris says
In the shot with the f4, how did you get that really nice color on his jacket?
Joe McNally says
Hi…it’s basically the Profoto Beauty dish, with a white interior. Specs should be there in the link…I’m guessing it’s like 16-18 inches across? Joe
Joe McNally says
Hi back…it was shot with a D810, and the shadows faded into an interesting mix of color….joe
Mike Sansone says
I love the fashion shot on the gray background. I have been wanting to achieve a similar look..and after looking at your BTS shot..I can’t believe how simple it is. I will def be trying this out soon. Thank you!
Jim Mueller says
Joe, beautiful inspiration. Thank you.