Thursday, 10 July 2014

Let there be Light! Part One.

Part of my Lumedyne Kit

There have been two major changes in my career as a photographer which have affected and altered the way I work. The first was technological and saw my transition from analogue to digital. The second was more of technique and saw my transition from shooting in mostly ambient light to that of a studio & off camera flash. This second transition coincided with my move away from editorial photography.  The change in direction wasn't always seamless and there was a fair bit of cross-over between the move from Editorial to Events, a grey area you could say and it was during this grey period that I discovered the wonderful world of  The Strobist, the online mecca for all things Off Camera Flash and DG28, the blog and website of ex Times Educational Supplement chief photographer, Neil Turner.

Truth be told,  the first time I was introduced to the technique of off-camera flash was by John Arthur (Time/Life, Stern) and his small band of Wolverhampton based freelance photo-journalists of which I was a member and John,  the leader. Along with Dave Clapp and Dave McKay (ex The Independent) and a few others, we stuck, clamped and hung our numerous Vivitar 283's and 285's from every conceivable surface. We bounced light off walls and ceilings (as long as they were white) or used home made bounce cards if no walls and ceilings were available. We did anything and everything in our efforts to create better, softer more directional light including stealing toilet rolls from public loos. We had no shame.  Alas I must admit I was never really comfortable with the notion of mixing ambient and daylight balanced flash and strongly adhered to the keep it simple rule of press photography. Peanut slaves, home made flash cards, sync cords and mini stands just seemed a little over the top in my book but the resulting pictures proved me wrong. We were indeed creating something new and fresh. Our overall objective was to make flash look natural by moving the key light away from the camera and by bouncing/diffusing the light to give us that classical 2/3rd balance between fill-in (flash) and ambient light (or visa-versa). No radio slaves, no shoot through brollies and no Sto-Fen Omibounce. More importantly. No Ebay! Those were the days when necessity was indeed the mother of invention..To this day I can't walk pass an abandoned rubber band without picking it up!

So we wind the clock forward twenty years and I've still got my Vivitars (along with my Minolta Flash Meter) but everything else has changed. My twin Canon 550EX flashguns would no longer suffice if I wanted to progress as an professional events photographer and I was presented with a stark choice, by my one time mentor Ricky Turrell, Bowens or Elinchrom? In the end and in no small part due to DG28 I chose neither and invested my money in an American lighting system called Lumedyne. Years later, Neil moved on from both the TES and Lumedyne and now shoots as a freelance using the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra System. Me, on the otherhand stand by my original purchase and I stand by it still for four main reasons:

1. The Lumedyne seamlessly integrated into the system of light generators and light modifiers that I  already had (or would get in the future). It also suited my manual workflow and my dislike and mistrust of all things E-TTL. Please note: The use of a good Flash meter is essential if you're going to shoot manual daylight balanced flash. I have three!

My first ever flash meter, The Minolta 4.

2. It's modular design enabled me to use either battery or AC mains to power the Lumedyne between one to three strobe heads while on location.

3. I could power three heads from one Central Control Pack setting the power output symmetrically on two of the heads and asymmetrically on the third. (Words cannot describe just how sweet this option is).

4. The versatility and the modular design of the Lumedyne system allowed me to use it to light both event and editorial photographic assignments.

The Lumedyne setup as a three headed dragon

To my knowledge, the Lumedyne is the only hybrid battery/AC mains powered Portable flash system that can do this and the three headed configuration of my modular system would later prove to be invaluable when I followed the trend and started to shoot Low-Key "Pellier Noir" style event portraiture. Apart from a third head, I can fit the entire kit inside a medium sized Billingham kit bag and roll everything along including stands and modifiers on a small foldable hand cart. Years of constant use has proved it to be both reliable and durable as well as portable and I haven't regretted for one moment it's rather large original purchase price. With the passing of time, modern D-SLR's have dramatically increased their ability to gather light and to create ever larger file sizes, so has the Lumedyne matured with age. The only criticism I have of the Lumedyne is it's modelling light. Lumedyne USA, if you're reading this blog, you're not working hard enough on a bright and cool running LED modelling light, which would make my working life as an photographer (as well as the working life of my Lumedyne) so much easier.

This group photo was setup and shot within five minutes using all three Lumedyne heads.
This is how the picture came out of the camera.....untouched by Photoshop.

 In fact, apart from my dye sub printers, studio flash has been the biggest single investment that I've made since becoming an event photographer. My first proper pair of studio lights were Chinese made with a Bowens bayonet. They were tough as old boots, came without the bells and whistles of a internal fan and did exactly what they said on the tin. Today, if you're interested, Lastolite do a studio head which is almost identical to mine (only this time they're fitted with air cooling fans).   These heads are large and basic compared to their better equipped and lighter competition such as the two big boys rivals of Bowens and Elinchrom but what these unbranded Chinese studio strobes lack in techno wizardry, they make up for in sheer toughness. My two heads are industrial in their application to the job of event photography and from what I've heard on the grapevine, so is the Lastolite. 

The Lastolite Lumen F400 watt Studio Flash. Big, basic and built like a brick.......