Thursday, 31 July 2008

Dealing with problems while staying open to opportunities

So here's the're doing a portfolio shoot for a model. You get lucky with a lovely sunny day and have organised a good time for the shoot so the light is spot on. You've chosen some pretty decent locations to take the shots, and you're getting on well with the model. One of those good vibe shoots.

It's a relatively fast moving shoot, and you don't have an assistant available to help you, so the lighting is simple - single light stand, 550EX and a shoot-thru brolly. This gives you the option of hard light with the brolly out the way, or softer light through the brolly, and still remains easily portable. The model has brought along a voice activated light-stand, although she mistakenly thinks he's her boyfriend. In this case, he is coming in useful as voice activated ballast to keep the brolly from acting like a sail and blowing the light stand over.

Here's an idea of the setup (taken during a previous shoot)...

It's a pretty reliable setup. Canon 550EX providing the grunt, fired by a pocket wizard. The two are connected via a hotshoe adapter which screws on to the light stand. Gives me freedom to shoot from pretty much anywhere, at any angle, without any misfires (speaking too soon...).

In my hand I have my 40D, pocket wizard on top, 70-200 lens on the front. Also got a 15-30 lens for shots such as the top one and a 580EX as backup if my 550EX dies. It's easier to swap a flash on the hotshoe than change batteries, if you want to keep the flow going.

So, back to the scenario, everything is working fine. You're shooting away, with no problems beyond the re-charge rate of the 550EX being slow with 1/1 power firing every shot. It's a bright day, and one 550EX is being maxed out. You decide to opt for a shot in out of the sun a touch, so pick up the light stand and walk with it.

Give the model some direction about where to stand, then fire a shot off. She's a silhouette against the background. First thought is batteries on the 550EX have given up. A quick check of the back shows the rear is showing ready to fire, and I do a quick test pop to see it definately is. I get a reassuring pop and decent re-charge sound. Pocket wizard batteries? Hit the test button and it shows a correct triggering via the red LED. Must be cables? Check them and everything is connected fine! Um...

So you've got a problem, you've done all the diagnostics you can right on a shoot, and it's coming up short. What do you do?

What would you have done in this situation, with the kit available? Have a think, and then scroll down to see what I did...

OK, here's what I did...

I had a relaxed laugh, and made a quick joke about my equipment in the least nervous sounding way possible. It shows I've not lost my cool, and I'm not worried...still keeping up the relationship with the model. It also shows confidence in myself as a photographer by making jokes when my equipment is failing, rather than breaking down and crying. And thirdly, it's giving me time to think "oh crap, what do I do now? *quiver*"

I had the obvious option of forgetting flash and shooting ambient only. I actually did take a couple of shots with ambient light to give me some thinking time. It kept everyone around me relaxed about the situation.

If you remember from above though, I also had a backup flash in the form of a 580EX, to use if the 550EX died on me. I therefore had a basic master/slave optical setup available to me. I could therefore stick the 580EX on in place of the pocket wizard and fire my 550EX. A perfectly adequate solution, but now I was losing my backup flash if the 550EX ran out of juice.

So I whipped the 550EX off the light stand and replaced it with the 580EX, and used the 550EX as master to control the 580EX in slave mode. Why? Well, I knew the 580EX had full batteries which would give the most shooting time with these heavy full power shots. Meanwhile, the 550EX which had already been worked quite hard, could take a relative retirement just firing triggering flashes. Apart from having to think about line-of-sight issues with optical triggering, I was back to full steam ahead.

So what was the down time on the shoot? About 30-40 secs spread either side about 1-2 mins shooting. I took about 10-15 secs when I had the problem trying to diagnose it. I then dismissed the setup as a no-go, and continued with the shoot opting for ambient light only shots. Having formed a plan, I then returned to the light stand, swapping the on-camera pocket wizard for my 550EX, and putting the 580EX on the light stand, slipping it in to slave mode as I tightened it on. I then slipped my 550EX into master mode, and disabled it from firing anything other than triggering flashes.

It's important to have backup options on a shoot. Many photographers use any old flash because they have radio triggers to fire them in manual mode, but if this happened to them, they'd be stuck with ambient only. It's important to have a second relatively bomb-proof way of working, and ideally one which doesn't require equipment which is only use as backup equipment, or else you'll end up carrying around so much more stuff.

One other thing that occurred to me on this shoot was trying to stay open to other ways of working. As I mentioned, it was a beautiful day, with great light. It's easy to get into the trap of only lighting shots, so it's good to stay open to the possibility of ambient light shots.

In the case of the following shot, I was working with flash off to the right of these steps, and I happened to notice some light reflected off a nearby glass building was giving a lovely line of light up the steps. I asked the model to move so she was sitting right in the light, and grabbed off a few shots, before moving back to the other setup. Ended up being one of the nicer shots, and with nothing but what nature provided. Remember to stay open to opportunities!

I'll let you out of your suspense...

The wire had obviously been pulled or shaken a bit too much on the hotshoe adapter, and one of the soldered connections had become lose. An easy fix afterwards at home with a multimeter and soldering iron, but far from obvious and easily fixed while doing a shoot!


C F said...

Sounds like a very fun filled shoot. The results look pretty good.

I can't help wondering what other shots you may have gotten when she was sitting on the step...?

n506 said...

Got a few other similar shots, and closer in head and torso shots. Like I said though, just grabbed the chance, then went back to where I'd set up for another shot. As it happened, this shot ended up being nicer than the one I'd planned. Amazing how the right light can just transform a location, and I hadn't given the steps a second look till I saw that light fall on them!