Does using pro photo gear really matter?

The amazing Profoto B4 Battery generator and Pro B head kit for rent from High Output Charleston

The amazing Profoto B4 Battery generator and Pro B head kit for rent from High Output Charleston

I admit it; I’m a gear horse. I love having and using the best possible tools to create my photographic images so I get asked frequently if have top line gear matters, and in a nutshell, yes it does. But just because you can’t afford the latest gear doesn’t mean you still can’t use it. There are rental houses across the globe that can get any photographer loaded for bear with just about anything you can think of. I’m very fortunate to have two of them here in Charleston SC; Shoot Rentals (www.shootrentals.com) and High Output Charleston (www.HighOutputCharleston.com) and today I’ll highlight High Output.

Most who know me can agree that I’m a disciple of light, whether using speedlites, studio strobes, LED panels or good old-fashioned worklights with compact fluorescent bulbs. I wish I had the budget to purchase the top-line Profoto lighting gear, but it’s not in the cards at the moment. So I do the next best thing; rent. You may be asking yourself “If you have all the other gear including professional mono-lights, why Profoto?”, It comes down to performance and consistency of the light. If I am shooting product and have the luxury of waiting a few seconds for the lights to recycle, my Calumet / Bowens lights are awesome. Working with a subject that changes expression or moves may be a different story. Have you ever taken a photograph only to notice an even better expression a split second later? You take the shot and realize that the light didn’t fire. The moment is gone. Or maybe the next shot the lights haven’t fully recycled but still fired without as much gusto, leaving your next image underexposed. Maybe not so much of an issue if this is your hobby, but a major problem if you do photography for a living!

I don’t know too many people that have an extra eight to sixteen-grand lying around to pick up a new Profoto B4 Air 1000 or two, and I certainly don’t. And I think even if I did, does this make good financial sense even if I did have the cash? For $145 I can rent almost $9k in top-line Profoto gear for the day. If I have the right client and want to use a $4500 Broncolor Para 177 modifier to get the exact look they are after, I can rent that too (and keep $4250 in my pocket for other expenses).

Does this mean I use this gear on every shoot? Nope, my gear including Speedlites, Quantum Q-Flashes and my trusty old Calumet Travelites can handle the every day stuff. But it is sure nice to know I can lay my hands on the best gear at a moments notice without the expense to own & maintain day in and day out!

(Special thanks to Liz Bruer for the loan of her daughter Penny for the test!)

Consistent output & color out of the Profoto B4 Air 1000 kit, shot with the Canon 1Dx, 24-70 2.8L at almost 12 frames per second without missing a beat!

Consistent output & color out of the Profoto B4 Air 1000 kit, shot with the Canon 1Dx, 24-70 2.8L at almost 12 frames per second without missing a beat!

Consistent output & color out of the Profoto B4 Air 1000 kit, shot with the Canon 1Dx, 24-70 2.8L at almost 12 frames per second without missing a beat! Don't forget, this is a battery powered flash!

Consistent output & color out of the Profoto B4 Air 1000 kit, shot with the Canon 1Dx, 24-70 2.8L at almost 12 frames per second without missing a beat! Don’t forget, this is a battery powered flash!

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2015 – The year of CunningFox Photo Education

Contrary to popular belief, I have not been trapped by a large piece of office furniture or kidnapped since the end of December!

As some of you may know, I have been very fortunate to partner up with other wonderful photographers over the past four decades and last year brought together three of us on a new project. It all started from a desire to create something bigger than each of us was capable of by ourselves, and to be able to “give back” through speaking engagements, workshops and mentoring. The culmination of several months of meeting and brainstorming resulted in CunningFox Photo Education, with partners Douglas Carr Cunningham and Iveta Butler.

We began in earnest with a free monthly speaking series hosted through the City of North Charleston, featuring photographic topics for all levels of photographers. Douglas was able to bring ThinkTank camera bags on board as our first corporate sponsor, allowing us to give away some of the best bags in the industry to our participants!

At the same time, we’ve been working hard to finish The Charleston Darkroom, the premier black and white darkroom in the region, along with a workshop / classroom for lighting, posing, product and presentations. To say all of this has been a labor of love for us is quite the understatement and we are so looking forward to sharing this with the photographic community. Best of all, we get to have a blast doing this together.

For now, I leave you with a few images to show what we’ve been up to. Normal service to resume soon!

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Sharing Knowledge, Part 3; The ProActive Photographer & Lighting

I have enjoyed learning the craft of photography from many mentors throughout my life. Each and every one of them has helped shape the way I see light and create my art. Now that we shoot digital, the funny thing is, I find a lot of photographers (myself included) straying from those lessons sometimes. With digital, it’s so easy to let the new breed of technology do all of the heavy lifting. It makes us lazy…. This trust can also get us in trouble.

A long time ago, my friend John Harris told me; “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I think this also applies if one wishes to be a ProActive Photographer.

The other day, another photographer asked me what I thought the best light modifier was. I thought about it, and replied with “It depends.” It depends on what kind of emotion you wish to evoke from your subject and the viewing audience. There is no “best” light modifier that will do everything for you. Kind’a like saying a straight blade screwdriver is the best. Not good if you need a Phillips Head!

This also runs true when I have photographers ask me; what is the best lighting system to purchase? The two biggest variables to consider are; Budget, and how & where will it be used. How much money do you want to spend? There are some fabulous systems available, starting around a few hundred dollars and going up into the multiple thousand dollars per light range. Are you primarily lighting portraits and events? Then you may never need the extra features such as consistent color temp throughout the power range and ultra-short flash duration. Also with portraiture, more power is not necessarily better. Like to use large apertures for that beautiful creamy bokeh (and less retouching)? A lower output system used closer will give you nicer light than a light that has to be moved quite a distance from your subject to become usable at f/2.8!

I usually recommend renting the lights you are thinking of purchasing before dropping all of your hard earned lucre right away. If you are new to off camera lighting, try to keep it simple and rent only one or two lights and see how they handle. You can always use reflectors and panels to create the look of more lights (and it will help hone your “lighting eye”) should you need to fill shadows. This will apply whether you are looking at new Speedlights, Studio Strobes, or for that matter any lighting in general. Better to spend a few bucks to find out if they are a good fit for what you want to do and your “style” than being out a bunch of money to have something sit and eventually get sold at a loss.

Here are a couple of resources that I would recommend

If you’re near to Charleston SC; www.charlestonavgear.com

Nationally; www.lensrentals.com

                   www.borrowlenses.com

                   www.adoramarentals.com

One other item that is often overlooked is a hand-held flash meter, and is a “must have” if you wish to be ProActive in your lighting! By using a hand-held meter, you are taking an incident reading (the light falling on your subject) instead of a reflective reading that your in camera meter has. We all know that the in-camera meter can easily be fooled by a wide variety of conditions, often leading to either under or over exposed conditions! Besides, once you know how much light is falling on your subject, you can easily adjust for the correct amount, instead of trial and error. By the way, you can often find great deals on lightly used flash meters on your local craigslist, photo clubs and photo forums.

One last tidbit to leave you with; Shadows are just as important as light. Work at becoming subtle with your lighting and don’t forget to keep shadows! Remember, there is only one “main” light, images become confusing to the brain when you have more than one light source at the same intensity.

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Have fun and enjoy the journey!