The “Plan B” Photo Shoot Weekend

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.

case and strobes

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.

TECH DETAILS

site shoot plan

site shoot plan

  1. 283 firing into silver umbrella at purple setting
  2. 285 set to 1/4 power, firing thru translucent umbrella
  3. 283 set to 1/4 power, stofen’d, set to 1/4 power
  4. Film: Kodak TriX ASA 320, 1989 vintage, shooting at 1/250 f 4
  5. 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.

4 responses to “The “Plan B” Photo Shoot Weekend

  1. Larry- I love these images!!!! Wonderful work, looks like you are in a studio. What an amazing job you did of problem solving. As the old expression goes “when all else fails, drop back and punt?”
    Congratulations on some very fine images under what sounds like far less than ideal conditions.
    best,
    Dan

    Like

  2. mr pre-press

    Hi Dan:

    Thank you so much! Fortunately I’d done my homework, didn’t get rattled, and best of all…it wasn’t raining.

    That’ll happen next time!

    Like

  3. Beautiful images! Love the lighting, particularly on the last black and white shot shown at the end of the story, #39. You captured a true essence with these people! Great job!!

    Like

  4. mr pre-press

    Hi Melissa:

    Thanks for the props! I still want to take one of yr seminars. Sooner rather than later…

    Like

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