Packing for a shoot. Getting everything into two cases and a camera bag.

Noellia. Sony Nex-7. 50mm lens.

I have a fun job lined up this week. I'm heading up to Denver on Weds. and I'll be there until Saturday evening. It's a conference and I am one of the photographers who will document the people, the speakers and the events. Normally, I'd just head up with a small carry on case with some changes of clothes and a small tripod. That, and my camera bag. 

But this time we're replicating something we did last year when the same conference was held here in Austin. We're setting up an on-site studio with a nine foot wide canvas background, three lights and all the trimmings. We'll spend the first morning of the conference making portraits of organization officers, speakers and other event nobility.  Last year I was able to stuff as much as I wanted into the capacious back end of my Honda CRV, including my magic cart, and I could park directly under the hotel and drag up everything into the hotel meeting room. 

I brought four or five A/C powered, monolights, a posing stool, big light stands, a robust and intimidating tripod, and back up stuff for everything. When you can bring the kitchen sink why not also bring along the gas grill and the mini-fridge, just to be comfortable?  We had fun last year and we inadvertently trained the client to appreciate the fully implemented, studio portrait treatment.  

This year I'm flying up to Denver to participate and I'm bringing along a version of the temporary studio. But this year everything has to fit in two cases that weigh under 50 pounds and are the correct size for Southwest Airline's baggage restrictions. Oh boy! Condensation packing! How to do the same with less!

I immediately went into research mode and consulted the acknowledged expert in the field of Minimalist Lighting. In fact, I was able to pull down one of this books on the subject from my bookshelf and start wading into the information. 

Seems that with a little ingenuity you can put together a portable, battery powered system that will give you the same look as a monolight system with a few compromises. My portable system won't have modeling lights so I'll leave the room lights on while I shoot so the camera and I can focus. And I won't really be able to shoot through big modifiers and get f16 on a subject ten feet from the front of a soft box---but I never do that anyway. 

So here's how it's coming together on late Monday afternoon. I have a 48 inch long, 10 inch by 10 inch Tenba light stand case with wheels on the end and on the bottom. In that case I have two background stands and cross poles. Three Manfrotto Nano stands with cold shoe/umbrella adapters on the tops. A bigger stand for the main light and a back-up stand, must in case. I also have packed four 43 inch umbrellas. Two silver and black, two shoot throughs. 

Also wedged into this miracle case is a little Pelican sub-case with wireless triggers and receivers along with a "carefully folded" muslin background. The same one we used last year. Love the idea of continuity, right?

Well, what about the lights? I looked around to see what might be cheap and new and fun and I decided on the Yongnuo YN-560 II Speedlights. On the day I bought these flashes they were $46 a piece. I couldn't help it. I bought three. What are they? Basically they are fully manual flashes with built in optical slaves that have two modes. One mode is a straight ahead slave while the second mode delays the flash assuming that your on camera flash will do pre-flashes for stuff. I don't care anything at all about the second mode but I bought the units for the first mode.

The 560's bounce and they can be turned all the way down to 1/128th power. Did I mention that I bought them because they were cheap and had built in optical slaves. I immediately stuck batteries in and hit the power button but nothing happened. So I did what 313 reviewers on Amazon.com did not do---I sat down and read the manual that came with the units. Hey, guess what? You have to hold the button down for about four seconds as the flash goes through a start-up cycle. I can imagine this is a great feature which will prevent accidental ignition in the camera bag and the resulting battery drain. 

I tested the flashes in the studio and was happy with color and performance. I added a Sunpak flash which also has a built-in slave as well as my giant, ungainly and ready-to-shut-down-at-the-slightest-hint-of-heat, Sony HVL-60 flash (which I keep, stupidly, in case I need to use it with the Sony RX10).  Just to add a cherry to the top of the pile I added the little Panasonic DMW-FL360L flash. I figured this one would come in handy on the GH4 when I'm walking around taking spontaneous social images...

That's it for the lighting. And the camera packing is straightforward: GH4, GH3, 12-35mm, 7-14mm, 35-100mm, 45mm 1.8 (Olympus) and done. Five batteries and a charger. Two super fast 64 GB SDXC U3 cards (which give me 7,000 shots per camera --- more of less) and an iPad. 

The two equipment cases roll up to curbside check-in and are well under the weight and size limits. The camera bag is lighter than with any previous system. Now I just need to remember the deodorant and to trim the nose hairs and we're ready to party. 

Hope your father's day was great. I got to "snake out" the air conditioner condensation hose before we ended up with an inch of water on the floor. Much fun.

in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....

Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....


Anonymous said...

Yup, nothing more embarrassing than nose hair on the job :-)

Ed Posthumus said...

OMG I’m so excited, I actually own some of the same gear as the grand master poohba of the photographic arts. He has now validated every camera choice, no every life choice I have ever made by deciding to use a set of YN-560 II’s. They are absolutely the most amazing fantastical little flashes that anyone anywhere has ever produced. They give a gorgeously stunning burst of light and every one of your images will look like a master piece when you use them. It goes with out saying that you need to have a nice camera also. ;-)

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Congrats on your choice of flashes Kirk. We have two of the older and smaller YN-460II, and they never let us down. The 560II even beeps like a monolight if you want and need that, and it's more robust and powerful. Can't go wrong with these.

Kirk Tuck said...

Ed. Wolfgang. Thanks. I feel better going on location with these vetted by users I trust. I'll report in detail.

Ken said...

Curious, this is one of several posts where you mention moonlights. Is this an actually product or a perpetual typo. My reading comes to a sudden stop as I quickly reinterpret as monolight. Ah, now I understand. As I just typed monolight it auto-corrected to moonlight. Lesson learned.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Ken, No Moon Lights here just a bad case of auto correct. Grrrrr.

Anthony Bridges said...

May have to investigate the YN-560 II. I've used the Lumopro 160's for a couple years. They have almost as much punch as a Canon 580 II, numerous connectors and have been very reliable.

I normally leave the optical slave on by default and suffered some for that at a recent event. I was using a wireless trigger to operate the flash with a shoot through umbrella. Every time someone popped a flash with their camera, my flash popped, too. I thought my unit was misfiring until I realized what was happening. Thankfully, it is easy to turn the optical slave off.