Shot this the other week in Tampa, of our wonderful model Hope, doing her best Lady GaGa on stage in front of adoring fans. We occasionally end our days teaching lighting for Kelby Seminars this way. One little light, way far away.
Been playing with line of sight forever, and am very involved in the beta versions of the coming Pocket Wizards for Nikon TTL. More on that soon, as the units evolve through testing phase.
But, right now, I am content to mess around, sometimes surprisingly, with how far I can trigger a light. This light is an SB900, zoomed to 200mm, at the back of the auditorium, probably 70′ from the stage. 1/250th at f2.8, ISO 400. The folks in the audience stood up and went gaga (ouch!) for Hope.
Which of course blocked my hot shoe flash commander from seeing the light in the back. D’oh! (I swear, sometimes I am Homer Simpson with a camera.) Drew and an SC29 cord to the rescue! He held the light up off camera and got the light to trigger. You can tell he’s doing that, cuz the cord shadow is right there on the seamless, in the lower left:-)
Okay, indoor trigger, controlled environment–doable. Outdoors, another story. Tried an experiment of late at the New Hampshire version of DLWS. The bridge must have been (being conservative here) 150′ away. Proceeding on the premise that the Lord looks after a fool, we first tried with Kevin Dobler holding an SB900, and me trying to trigger from the bridge with an SU800. Didn’t work, which figures, ’cause there is an IR shield on that unit, which has to sap the optical signal over distance.
Then, Drew Gurian, and Mike Grippi, both from my studio got out there, and I tried triggering with a hot shoe mounted SB900, no dome diffuser, zoomed to 200mm, and still no go.
Here’s where it got interesting. It was pretty dim conditions, lots of rain and mist, and the TTL transmission was not working, line of sight, over that difference. When the light sensor panel on an SB900 is in TTL remote mode, it is looking for a specific frequency of light from the master unit. In other words, there is a specific language being exchanged, if you will, where the master unit pulses with a signal that is bundled with information for the remote. As we have said many times, kind of a morse code for flash.
So, I let things loose, and Drew set up the remote flash as an SU-4, non-TTL, manually slaving flash unit. Over the years, I have always been impressed with how sensitive this mode of triggering actually is. Set up in SU-4, the remote flash is simply reacting to any sudden increase or pulse of light, and not looking for a specific signal to direct it how to behave. I’ve had SU-4 flashes, for instance, triggered in NYC by an emergency vehicle passing by a block away. So, now my master is firing in straight up manual flash mode, full power, M 1/1, still zoomed to max, 200mm.
Voila! Ze flash, it fire! Of course, it’s a dumb as a post manual unit now, and not a “smart” flash, driven by TTL signals originating back at camera. To change the power settings, I have to shout to Drew. That didn’t work, ’cause we were so far away, over a rushing stream, so, by golly, AT&T actually stepped up to the plate, and I was able to call his cell. More power!
Now, the camera’s in manual mode, and the flash is in manual mode, and I am just playing that time honored background/foreground game. Grippi is zapped with the light, and the scene is muted via the combo of shutter speed/f-stop. But, here’s the thing. The flash is neutral–white light. Tends to not actually blend in with the forest scene, yeah? Little bright, little white. Calls attention to the not particularly artful use of the flash.
So, I threw a gel on the flash to warm it. A full CTO does two things simultaneously–warm the flash, and cut the power. Now the ruggged Grippi looks a bit more appropriate to the scene, even though he’s much more comfortable in Bushwick, Brooklyn, than the woods of New Hampshire.
But then, a strange thing happened. Manual SU-4 triggering mode stopped working. Just gave up. I speculate that the light level had picked up at that point, so the light sensor on the remote flash was not longer picking up a differentiation in the levels of light. My commander flash would pulse, and I’d get nothing on the remote. Hmmmm…..
On a whim and a prayer, I went back to TTL. Damned if it didn’t start working again, and very consistently. Full TTL control, from here to there.
Back to aperture priority mode. Minus two at the camera EV. Pretty straight up, power wise, on the flash. Cool! One reason this worked was, typically, a suggestion from Moose. I keep my plastic filter holders on my flashes, just as a matter of convenience. He told me to try the commander, sans the filter holder. Sure enough, I put the filter holder to my eye, and the plastic is not completely clear. Has a bit of a plastic haze to it. So, in the brightening of the day, from 150′ plus, we had TTL, aperture priority exposure control. Go figure.
All images made with the new Nikkor 28-300 zoom, which actually worked very well for this.
On another note, if you’re on the other side of the world, be sure to check out our 2011 Asian Tour website, hosted by Louis Pang, our good friend, and great shooter based in Malaysia. We’re running some amazing deals right now that end on Monday, so if you’re thinking about going, now’s the time to sign up…click here for more info.