7.06.2016

Testing a lightweight alternative to big flash for shooting outdoors in the heat wave. It takes a certain camera.


Now is when it gets too hot to live and work in Texas. I would guess the heat has already effected my brain because I haven't retreated to a more temperate clime yet. So jealous of Michael Johnston just kicking back in the cool woods of upstate New York. He probably can keep his ice tea cold just by setting it on the back porch.... But we have heat advisories from the National Weather Service for the next few days, in the Austin, Texas area. We're looking forward to heat indexes of around 110 degrees (f) during the afternoons and today those will be compounded with wind gusts of 20-25 mph. Just imagine a nice, humid, convection oven...

And, of course, we have an outdoor advertising portrait scheduled for 1 pm.

Now, normally, I'd grab the big Elinchrom Ranger RX AS with the two heads (30 pounds+/-), four C-stands (two for lights and two for diffusion scrims/sun blockers) four sand bags and various other goodies. I'd head over to the location and set up a big softbox and we'd shoot like that. We would need the big rig if were shooting with one of the full frame Sonys, and that's the way I used to shoot exterior with the big Nikon D810 but, I'm just not feeling it today. I'm out to reduce the load in deference to the heat. 

I mulled the shoot over and suddenly remembered something really cool about the Sony RX10 series of cameras; they have mechanical leaf shutters (or switchable electronic shutters) and can sync with flash all the way up to 1/1250th of a second. This is a great thing because it means I can use a smaller, battery powered flash, sync'd at a higher shutter speed and get the fill flash I want for the image outdoors. However, we never take any information on face value when $$$ is involved so I grabbed the RX10ii (it has the built in ND if I need it...) and started testing. 

Using a Nikon AS10 hot shoe to PC cord adapter I could trigger just about anything that has a reciprocal PC plug but I wanted to see if I could use the Cactus V6 radio trigger along with the Cactus RF60 flash instead. I didn't know exactly what the performance parameters of the triggering mechanisms were in terms of max sync speed but the easiest way to find out is to test. I switched the camera to mechanical shutter speeds and ISO 100 and then started firing away starting at 1/1600th. 

No love at 1/1600th so I dropped down to 1/1250th and there it was: full flash sync. Bright across the frame. Not wanting to leave anything to chance I tried an entire range of shutter speeds down to 1/60th and all worked well. Just to be thorough I pulled the RX10iii out of the drawer, tested it in the same way and it too passed with flying colors. I dropped it into the bag next to the model 2 to serve as a back up. I'll be shooting as long a focal length as I can, commensurate with getting the background scene I want but I know I won't need to go longer than the equivalent of 200mm in this job.

The ability to sync flash at a wide range of shutter speeds is a good thing if you are shooting in contrasty daylight and need to fill in shadows. We'll take this feature and combine it with the way I usually deal with sunlit portraits. We'll find the background I want first and then figure out the relationship between subject and background that is most pleasing. I'll set a base exposure for the general scene. I'm aiming for f4.0 as my base aperture at ISO 100 so I'll be nudging right up to the shutter speed 1/1250th and might need to accommodate the sun by switching to f4.5 to get perfect exposure. Alternately, I could engage the ND and drop down nearly three shutter speeds to play around 1/250th. 

I'll put a diffusion panel or light blocking panel about two feet above my subject's head and sand bag it well. This takes hard light off my subject but it also drops his exposure at least two stops under daylight and that's where the flash comes in. I'll use it to bring the exposure back up on his face but without the squinting that the constant sun would cause. 

But I have no intention of using raw flash; that would just be replacing one hard light source with another. I'll use the flash in a modifier. Today I'm going to go with a smaller, 32 inch, collapsible Westcott octabank. It's quick to assemble and is a nice, soft source that lends itself to being used in close to the subject.  

Other gear includes: Wide brimmed hat, sunscreen, cooler with water, tripod, etc. 

I look forward to spending an hour in the heat and then getting back into the air conditioning. 

Image from a hot Summer day at Barton Springs Pool. Taken with the predecessor of the RX10; the Sony R1. A wonderful camera with a smaller than APS-C sensor and a permanently attached, Zeiss zoom lens. The tradition continues.

Last week our yard was emerald green. Who knows how close to this west Texas desert scene we'll end up in a week or so..... (Olympus EP-2 and Pen F 60mm f1.5). 

14 comments:

George Beinhorn said...

Ouch, the Sony MX cameras have a leaf mechanical shutter? Pardon my dumb question, but does it make them pretty much useless for shooting fast action? (Other than that, a very useful article - thanks.)

typingtalker said...

Kirk wrote, "So jealous of Michael Johnston just kicking back in the cool woods of upstate New York."

He won't be kicking back in the cold woods of upstate New York in January when there's two feet of snow in his driveway.

Fred said...

Kirk,

I am always interested in how you light your projects since I think that is more important than the number of pixels or the size of the sensor in the camera. I liked the photo taken with the R-1 and the one with the Kodak 660 in your post below. I think they do a more than adequate job.

Here in Saratoga Springs it is around 90 with moderate humidity, much nicer than the weather you have to work in today. I don't have the shade trees that Mike Johnston has so the ice in the ice tea would melt faster :-).

Fred

Fred said...

Kirk,

I am always interested in how you light your projects since I think that is much more important than the number of pixels or the size of the sensor in the camera. I liked the photo taken with the R-1 and the one with the Kodak 660 in your post below. I think they do a fine job.

Here in Saratoga Springs it is around 90 with moderate humidity, much nicer than the weather you have to work in today. I don't have the shade trees that Mike Johnston has so the ice in the ice tea would melt faster :-).

Fred

Patrick Dodds said...

"I'll set a base exposure for the general scene. I'm aiming for f4.0 as my base aperture at ISO 100 so I'll be nudging right up to ISO 1250 and might need to accommodate the sun by switching to f4.5 to get perfect exposure."
Sorry to be dense Kirk - are you able to explain this? I don't understand. Thanks in anticipation. Patrick

Gato said...

This is how I justified buying the Panasonic FZ1000. I can go to 1/1,000 with very slight shading using my Yongnuo wireless remote, several clicks faster with hard-wired or on-camera flash. Much better than the 1/160 limit on my Panasonic m4/3.

Mark Davidson said...

Today I use the FZ-1000 in a similar way and truth be told it really does the job.

Back in the 70's I could not afford Hasselblad but I had a Yashica 124 that allowed me to make great filled images in bright sunlight. I used it for wedding formals and many people marveled that I could get a sparkle that other photos of the scene never had.

Your earlier post about the fashions of light reminded me that by using flash outdoors in the late 70's and early 80's I was seen as making different images when available light was the norm. Of course I did not translate that into business success but it helped me look very different in art school.

amolitor said...

Patrick, I think the 1250 isn't supposed to be ISO but shutter speed. Kirk wants aperture and ISO fixed, basically, for this use case.

Ron said...

Regarding Patrick Dodd's question regarding Kirk's stated parameters: ""I'll set a base exposure for the general scene. I'm aiming for f4.0 as my base aperture at ISO 100 so I'll be nudging right up to ISO 1250 and might need to accommodate the sun by switching to f4.5 to get perfect exposure."

I think Kirk meant that he'd be nudging the shutter speed (not ISO) up to 1250 (the max that allowed full flash sync on the Rx10ii). I assume that "ISO" was a typo and that this should read "shutter speed."

Kirk Tuck said...

Ron and Andrew: Yes! Thanks. I messed up on that. I'll be nudging right up to the exposure limit with 1/1250th of a second shutter speed, hence the correction with aperture. Thanks again!

Boris said...

Answered my own question re shooting fast action with RX10. On DPReview: "The Nikon D5500 outperformed the Sony RX10 II in every way possible, when it came to shooting soccer."

Patrick Dodds said...

Ah, all clear. Thank you everyone. I'm not very confident with flash and I thought there was a whole new chapter to learn.

Kodachromeguy said...

I am glad you mentioned the Sony R-1. I used one at the office for over 5 years with great results. It had that superb Zeiss lens, and I liked the folding finder that I could tilt up if the camera was low on a tripod or perched high on a windowsill. Once I retired, I no longer had access to the R-1. The electronic finder was poor quality compared to contemporary examples, but it worked. Oh, high ISO caused noise, there was no stabilization, did not have 500+ focus points, and it was only 10 mpixels. Well, I guess it was grossly inferior. My dumb.

Eric Rose said...

Old school, they way it should be. It amazes me at the number of "pros" I see doing outside portraits using on camera flash. Poor subject is squinting like made. Your fortunate you have clients that appreciate professional results and are willing to pay for it. Not so here, most corporate clients subscribe to the Walmart mentality. Cheap, fast, low quality, and even cheaper if possible, slow to pay. What was once a good living has now for the most part shriveled up on the local stage. Fortunately I got out while the getting was good.