© Michael Roscoe, with thanks to fieldinternational.com
Many say that the key to a successful freelance career, especially in the current economic climate, is flexibility. So while most studio photographers are used to shooting studio-sized subject matter, they should also consider working with objects on a grander, industrial scale. In particular, they should think through how to light them.
If you have the choice of shooting with ambient or flash light, the latter comes with a few advantages. Firstly, flash heads are generally much more powerful than tungsten or HMI lamp heads, and have a much larger power range from minimum to maximum settings. It is also much easier to alter the power output of a flash head. On location in large industrial spaces they also offer another advantage - the ability to negate ambient light, allowing you to control the levels even when the object can't be moved and ensure it stands out. It helps if your camera has a flash sync speed, and a camera such as the Nikon D3x delivers a useful 1/250s to help cut out any unwanted fluorescent, tungsten or daylight present.
Many of the latest flash heads offer remote controlled flash triggering, and power adjustment control from a hot-shoe mounted unit. These remote controlled units are usually radio-enabled and can therefore work long distance and around walls and corners, unlike the infrared equivalent. I really saw the benefit of this when shooting in an industrial setting. Flash power control also came into its own in a large space, because when shooting from a high position such as up a ladder, on a balcony or in a basket at the top of a fully extended folk lift truck, it is difficult and time consuming to get down and alter individual flash heads. Many manufactures offer radio triggering power control from a hotshoe-mounted unit.
It is also worth considering software solutions for even more remote lighting control from a laptop. Manufacturers such as Broncolor and Profoto offer straightforward applications allowing you to adjust modelling lamps and control individual or group power over a number of heads and packs and to save the settings for future set-ups or reference purposes.
Stand and deliver
We all know that investing in the right tools is essential, and working on a large-scale shoot in an industrial environment is certainly no exception. In it, kit such as humble light stands need to be able to reach lofty heights while remaining stable, even in often-draughty warehouses. Needless to say, any normal studio equipment will need to be weighed down with numerous sandbags, but you could always look for more solid solutions from the TV and film world. Much of this gear is made by manufacturers you will already know, such as Manfrotto's Avenger range.
Avenger light stands are mostly used to support large HMI lights, whether outside or in the studio. They can certainly handle being blown about. At the top end is the latest Avenger model, curiously named the 'Long John Silver' stand. You probably won't ever need one and, costing upwards of £3500, it requires a Hollywood-sized budget. But its USP is that it is incredibly well-made, and can hoist a light up to around 6m and support up to 120kg. The other end of the Avenger product range portfolio is the Baby Backlite Stand - better for low-level lighting as it has a maximum height of 1m, weighs a feather-like 1.4kg and is able to support around a 4kg load. I used a Super Wind Up 29 stand costing around £1100, which somewhere in between. Its solid stainless steel and chrome construction feels very high quality and strong, and although it weighs in at a bulky 35kg, it can be easily wheeled around once set up. Its wheel brakes root it to the spot and its 130cm diameter footprint ensures it feels rock steady, even when holding a flash head at 3m high. And if that isn't enough, it can be further extended with an extension arm or boom. It should be more than enough for most photographers' requirements, even in the biggest industrial space.
1. Check your insurance to ensure you're covered if your kit is stolen or damaged while working away from the studio. Also ensure you have public liability insurance, to protect you if anyone is injured by, for example, tripping over a power cable or a falling flash head.
2. You may have to organise suitable clothing. A high visibility jacket, hard hat and steel toecap boots may not be this season's must-have accessories, but may prevent a folk-lift truck driving into to you and will demonstrate you took due care and the necessary precautions to prevent accidents.
3. After finding out how much time you have to light and shoot the object, find out the best time of day to shoot it. It may be necessary to arrange a late night or early morning to find a quiet time.
Wireless lighting solutions
Elinchrom's EL-Skyport system allows photographers to adjust the power settings and trigger the flash directly from the hotshoe-mounted unit. It is also possible to adjust the power and modelling lamp setting of a flash head, either individually or simultaneously. The Elinchrom Skyport RX set costs £188. Photographers who work in a busy studio can also programme the lighting into four groups and eight frequencies, so that it won't affect or set off other lighting set-ups. The EL-Skyport system delivers reliable flash triggering of up to 50 metres indoors. Elinchrom lighting can also be controlled from a computer with the EL-Skyport Computer RX USB set, which costs £252.
Most Broncolor products, including the Scorro pack and flash heads, offer radio triggering with a hotshoe-mounted RFS Transmitter, which costs an extra £199. The transmitter also delivers wireless radio control of the power output over a range up to 300m but it is not possible to adjust the power of individual flash heads or adjust modelling lamp settings from this unit. More advanced control can be achieved with free Broncolor software which allows users to control settings from a computer with an RFS Transceiver, which costs £328.
Profoto's radio control system allows its flash generators and monobloc flash heads to be synchronised or controlled by using an Air Remote or Air Sync. The Air Remote offers most functionality, including the ability to adjust flash power and modelling light control from individual flash heads. The Profoto system is particularly useful for large lighting set-ups, where it can command an unlimited number of generators and heads clustered in up to six groups on eight channels. Computer control is also possible using Profoto Studio 2 software and an Air USB where it provides full control of a generator from individual or group power adjustments and modelling lamp controls that can be saved for future set-ups or reference. Air Remote: £170. Air Sync: £123.
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