Off-Camera Lighting

May 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I retired from the proper job almost a month ago on 10th April, which I am hoping will give me a bit more time to enjoy photography as a pleasure and a business.  retirement is a strange thing; at once elating, liberating and rather depressing, as one loses a sense of purpose and identity.  I am sure I will get used to it.  Well, at my age and with our needs, I will have to work again, but I need a settling period before doing anything major.


I have been thinking about getting some serious off-camera lighting for at least a year, but wanted to take my time and look at a number of credible options, based on my shooting needs for wedding and other location work I take on.  My main considerations were portability and simplicity of use as I tend to work alone with nobody else to carry battery packs and connect cables for me.  I also wanted the ability to separate the lights by a considerable distance, for example when using one as a room light to lift general light levels, while using another to light the specific subject, such as a wedding couple.


To date, most on-location high power lighting systems have been bound by (some very heavy) battery packs, cabling and manual only control.  Manual is fine and great when shooting where one has time to set up and position subjects or when exposures will be consistent.  However, I tend to move about and shoot bounce with a speed light after locking in a base exposure for the ambient light in a venue, so TTL is a wonderful technology that adjusts the speed light power to compensate for these position and distance changes automatically.


I was very interested when Profoto announced the B1 off camera flash, which has the same form factor as a studio lamp of around 500 watts, but has a few amazing features aside from the normal Profoto build and quality:

No cables

Lamp takes a clip-in lithium-ion battery pack that barely alters its shape

Manual and TTL modes are available

Well, the Canon TTL air trigger is already out but Nikon users like myself will have to make do with manual until later this year when the Nikon TTL trigger is released.


The bottom line is that the B1 is a 500 watt strobe that can simply be popped on a light stand and triggered wirelessly, so its like a speed light but about 10 times more powerful and somewhat heavier at about 3kg.


At the moment this is a unique product and its appeal to me was way above even well-regarded alternatives due to the portability and simplicity of use "on the fly".


I spent a couple of hours playing up at AJ's, a dealer in Bruton, Somerset and came away with their "kit" comprising 2x B1 strobes, each with their battery, charger and individual carry case, plus a backpack to carry both strobes, 2 Manfrotto light stands thrown in and a 3x2 soft box kit.  Yes, it took a bite out of my commutation!  Oh, and I opted to get a standard air trigger that can be used on any camera, which means I can use the strobes in manual mode on my Nikon DSLRs now, have a backup unit in future (when i get the Nikon TTL trigger) and I can of course use it with my Fuji X-cameras.  Overall, a very versatile system.


I have lots to learn about using such strobes but I took one out for a walk today.  It fitted into the top compartment of a medium sized camera rucksack and allowed me to carry a D600 body, 2 lenses and my Rolleicord in the same bag.  Some proof already of its versatility and portability.


I took some images in a local wood where the spring flowers are simply amazing.  I was interested to see how much power the B1 had over ambient light and for fill.  I tended to underexpose the ambient light by a stop or 2 and fire in the flash (no modifiers used).  While 500 watts is never going to overcome full midday sun in the open, there was lots of power to fill against bright backgrounds and work with bright overall lighting at f8-11. They were a breeze to use after a few test exposures, recycle was almost instantaneous and the displays/controls were easy to use and read.  Battery life stood up well, only dropping one of three bars in nearly 200 images.  I knew light would be directional and dramatic as no modifiers were used, but I do anticipate using the light like this in brighter conditions, so I was keen to see how my first images would come out.  The lighting certainly popped colour, contrast and added depth to the images.


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Here is a B1 in use today to give an idea of its form factor, its quality and the complete lack of working clutter like cables and batteries.

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