Thursday, 30 April 2009

Another Flash Trigger for Strobists

My Elinchrom Skyport triggers have failed me. One has stopped working altogether and the other started misfiring during a live demonstration of off-camera flash to 150 people. It doesn't get more embarrassing than that. I was considering my options when a colleague showed me a flash trigger he had purchased recently. It was a Phottix Strato flash trigger. It had a number of features that made it quite desirable, so I bought a set just in time for the london strobist meetup.

Phottix Stratto Flash Trigger System

The Strato is sold in a number of flavours, I bought the canon version because the Sony version wasn't available and I wasn't sure if the reciever would have a Sony Style Shoe. I contacted Phottix and they were able to tell me that the Strato units are all identical and that only the remote release cables are different. The set costs around £25 on ebay and in it you get a trigger, a receiver and a cable to trigger your camera. If you don't want to buy from ebay, you can get them from for a little extra money, they also sell replacement cables. They didn't have a contact email address so I phoned them, and they were very helpful. They even phoned me back when I asked them to.

Phottix Stratto Flash Trigger SystemWhat attracted me to this system was the reciever. The reciever has a hot shoe on top for mounting the flash and a cold shoe with tripod mount underneath for mounting to either a camera or a tripod. There are 4 micro switches for changing channels and a big power button that you push once for on and hold down for a few seconds to turn the unit off. The obvious advantage of the design is that you can connect the reciever to the flash without cables. Cables have always been a point of failure for me so eliminating then is a big benefit. The whole thing is sturdy enough that I am happy to leave it connected together in my bag, which reduces my setup time. The power button is another potential problem area as it could get pressed by accident. Though keeping the receiver connected to the flashgun may mitigate that risk somewhat. No doubt it would be easy enough to rig up something to stop the button being pressed. The receiver is powered with a CRV2 battery, which isn't exactly ideal. AA's would have been better.

The trigger is a perplexing piece of design it is long and thin with a telescopic antenna, which can make it unweildy especially if you turn the camera on its side. The battery in the trigger can't be changed without unscrewing it and its one of those weird 12volt jobbies again not ideal. The trigger button can be used to test fire the flash or if you are remote triggering a camera, a half-press will trigger focus and a full press will trip the shutter. There is no other sync socket on the trigger, so if you shoot Hasselblads you'll need something to connect it to the trigger. An unmodified Kaiser Hotshoe with PC cable ought to do the trick nicely. Again the trigger button could be pressed accidentally, so it would be wise to rig up something to protect it from accidental presses.

The range seems plenty good to me. During the strobist meet I thought I was getting misfires, but it turned out that someone else in another room at the other side of the nightclub was using the same trigger system and we were on the same frequency. I had no problems with flash synchronisation, it synced at 1/250s without fail. As well as my SB28s they flash works with my SB24 and Sunpak 383. It doesn't work with the Jessops AF360D but that's no big surprise as the Jessops flash is very fussy about which shoes it will fit on.

I've ordered another two units and will be shooting with them exclusively. If I have any problems with them I'll let you know. However, before you buy it might be worth checking this thread on flickr as there is more information about compatibility, if you are a London Strobist you can always ask to try mine out with your flash at the next meet.

update: This flash trigger is also available from DealExtreme for considerably less than you can get it on Ebay

Monday, 27 April 2009

5 Minute Product Shot

Its been a couple of weeks since I've been able to post to the blog. Life has been very busy what with models and photographers being herded for the London Strobist Meetup Group and my old school band reforming. I have a few things lined up for the blog, but they are time consuming to put together. So here is something quick and easy.

I was round at my mother's house the other day and just as I'm about to go home she says, she has a pair of Vivienne Westwood shoes, and could I photograph them for her. Fortunately I carry my SLR and flash with me everywhere I go, so I was able to do a quickie shot for her.


shoes-42The setup was very simple. I arranged the shoes on her leather sofa, aimed the flash at the white wall to create a fairly soft light. And to get a little light over to the opposite side I put up a piece of which card. In the set-up shot the bounce card is a little too far away, for the final shot, I moved it so it was just outside the frame.

With a little more time I could have finessed the light a bit, got some nice highlights on the leather but I literally had to shoot and go.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Grasping for Inspiration Video

I wrote about a shot that I took at the recent London Strobist Meetup in Camden. Inspired by the likes of Chase Jarvis and a number of other photographers who have been doing similar things, I have posted a video montage of the sequence of shots leading up to the final image, warts and all. There are two shots that came out of this session, the one that I wrote about and another that came about through rotation of the camera. You'll notice that a lot of the shots are very similar, that's because I had the picture in my head and spent some time trying to get the model to match that. As David Hobby says, when you have the lighting right, its time to start taking pictures, not time to stop. The music in the video is Soul Migration by Light Manuzi with whom I have struck a stoneage deal, I'll be shooting some pictures of them and they are letting me use their music for my videos.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Grasping for inspiration

I couldn't get upLast weekend I found myself lying on the ground under a railway arch with this menacing chap reaching for me. Fortunately he wasn't mugging me for my camera, he was just posing for me. I had organised a strobist meetup in a small garden area under a railway track in Camden. (with the help of Rams and Masood) We had 16 photographers, 4 models and I had told them it was going to be a film noir shoot. Unfortunately despite the great location, I was really struggling for inspiration. The arches were too high and too short to allow me to make use of the tunnel entrance for composition and the walls just looked like brick walls. The whole hard light film noir thing wasn't working for me at all.

So I took a step back looked at the location and thought about what feature I liked the most. I was obviously drawn to the entrance, but I also really liked the roof so I had to think about how I could shoot a portrait using the roof. After that crazy idea it all started to flow for me. I had to lie on the floor, so he had to be looking down on me. Why was he looking down on me? Because he knocked me over. Why had he knocked me over? Because he wanted something I had, so he had to be reaching for it. I had the image almost fully formed in my head now all I had to do was make it reality.

I set up a bare SB28 on the ground to the left of the camera pointing up. I think I zoomed it out and set it at low power 1/32 or so because it was going to be very close to my model Nath Nathan the composition was working for me on the initial shots, but the ceiling was too dark and I couldn't bring it up without completely nuking the scene in the background so I put another flash behind Nathan on wide angle pointing straight up into the ceiling at full power. I could have dropped the ambient light a bit further and got more detail out of the tunnel entrance, but I actually liked it as it was, there was enough detail to see the trees, also that ambient was working quite nicely to soften the light from the one bare source on our man.

How about the composition? The choice of 17mm lens meant I could get the sweep of the ceiling and the tunnel opening in the shot. I had to get Nathan to lean over me and he pretty much got the pose nailed straight away, but there was quite a bit of fine tuning to do to get it right. I wanted him leaning camera left to get a bit of a diagonal going, I remember directing him to spread his legs a little and I wanted both his hands in the right place. Now I would be lieing if I said that I thought about the design this deeply when I took the shot, but what works in this photo is that there is an implied trangle between his eyes and his hands. I would go as far as to predict that when you look at this image you will look at his eys first, then his left hand (camera right) and then his right hand (camera left) and then back to his eyes again. This wouldn't work unless there was that big patch of white sky in the shot pulling the eye down to his right hand. Triangles create a lot of stability in an image and there are plenty of them to be found if you look closely, both implied and real.

The image used here was taken from the jpeg straight out of the camera with just a 10x8 crop to remove some unwanted background. I could use the raw file to pull more detail out of the background, but I like it as it is. While I have your attention, why don't you go and see what my fellow strobists did on the day. No lack of inspiration there.