Saturday, June 28 2009, 1945hr
I was on location at the finish line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. The winner was due in about an hour.
I was setting up my lights—A Norman 2000 power pack, 2 lamp heads, one with softbox, the other with translucent umbrella. I was taking preliminary flash readings when I heard a loud cracking sound from the powerpack, followed by a slow puff of smoke. I toggled the switches, hoping that I had been hallucinating. The test switch was inoperative. I had a dead power-pack.
I could’ve been totally screwed. However—I’d packed my Lighting Plan B: 2 Vivitar 283s, 2 285s, a radio slave, and some Wein Peanuts. Incidentally, the case was a dumpster salvage from Art Center, thanks to my friend Lars who is the Shop Supervisor at the Lida St campus.
Salvaged heaven—two date-expired camera cases, 283s, 285s, in a vintage Mole-Richardson carrying case. I’ve since reorganized all strobes, cables, chargers, battery-packs into a split-level Black & Decker wheelie tool-locker.
I quickly took new readings. The winner arrives. I make my shots, and await the next runners.
Over the next 12 hours I photograph another 40 runners. Not every finisher makes it to the studio—they’re wasted, distracted, otherwise not interested. No matter, its not a mandatory.
site shoot plan
- 283 firing into silver umbrella at purple setting
- 285 set to 1/4 power, firing thru translucent umbrella
- 283 set to 1/4 power, stofen’d, set to 1/4 power
- Film: Kodak TriX ASA 320, 1989 vintage, shooting at 1/250 f 4
- Camera, with 4i Radio Slave
So far, so good. Until about 0945 on Sunday. The 80mm lens on the Hassy decided it’s had enough. The Plan B Camera is pulled from the green room—the Yashicamat 124.
Plan B camera and strobist flash units, inside vintage case.
I shot the remaining roll of Kodak 160 in it, then switch off to Kodak ASA 400 TCN. Keep shooting.
Now comes the fun part: had I learned anything in the last 6 months, and more importantly, did I remember when I needed it?
I’d heard about using small strobes for big jobs. To tell the truth, I didn’t quite believe it. Looking back I needed to have big lights dump light to overcome a tendency to underexpose.
Realizing I needed more information, I’d started to read the Strobist.com back in December ’08, as these guys are all about creative solutions with small strobes.
Over the years I’d collected a stable of Vivitar 283s and 285s. No, I couldn’t afford Nikon Speedlights, and yes, I’m a primitivist. These Vivitars are the AK-47s of flash—sturdy warhorses that dump an unholy amount of light. Even dialed down to 1/4 power, they make a lot of magic, and go all night.
When I got the film back, I saw that overall reduced light at night gave me rich shadow and modeling. As the sun came up behind the light-proofed backdrop, the same settings opened up deep shadows in the faces, and left enough modelling so there was dimensionality. By 11:00, the official end of the race, the sun was nearly overhead to give that special “hair-light” effect.
With less than 30min before the official close of the race, the sun is high in the sky, and strobes open up the shadow areas.
image taken around 1030am.
A major added benefit of smaller strobes: a lot less weight in travel, quicker setups and knockdowns, and the versatility of photo-guerilla shooting. I’m a way happier camper now.
Oh yeah: all the pix right here.