Day 5: Lighting Gear Week Wrap-up


Well, we’ve made it to Day 5, and we’re wrapping up with studio lighting for on-location shoots. Shooting on location has its own challenges:

  1. When you’re shooting on location, one of the biggest hurdles you may have to face is electrical power. Even indoors, you might not have access to an electrical outlet anywhere nearby to power your lights (believe me, I learned this the hard way at a bridal shoot in an old church). So that’s the first consideration.
  2. Secondly, if you’re shooting outdoors in daylight, you’re going to need a fairly significant amount of “flash” power, and perhaps even a long throw parabolic reflector (attached to the front of your strobe) to shoot the light from your strobe farther and brighter than you normally would.
  3. On location, you often wind up with bigger “props” in your shots (like pianos, cars, motorcycles, boats, furniture, etc.), or you wind up doing group shots where you need a lot of coverage.

For these reasons (among others), I recommend to my friends the same set-up I use when when I’m heading out for an on location studio-style shoot, where my main weapon of choice is:

  • An Elinchrom Ranger RX 1100 Watt/Second Kit (which includes a Battery Operated Ranger RX Power Pack, a Freelight S Lamphead [your strobe flashhead], Varistar Kit [a high-end shoot-thru umbrella-style softbox], Battery, Multi-Voltage Charger, Sync Cord, and a Hard Case for Travel). The kit goes for $2199 at B&H (here’s the link). Note: that’s the Flashhead seen in the photo shown above, where the Flashead is fitted with a honeycomb grid spot attachment on the front to narrow the spread of the beam.
  • An Elinchrom 74″ Octabank, which is the ultimate softbox (your Freelight flashhead is mounted facing away from your subject, and it fires directly into the inside of the giant Octabank and the light reflects and travels back to your subject creating the most wonderful, wrapping, gorgeous, light from strobe I’ve ever seen, period!). It’s big in size, and big in price, coming in at $1,109, but you get what you pay for. In fact, in this case, I think you get more than you paid for.
  • Although you could buy a second Freelight S Flashhead for your RX pack (which would run you an additional $729), but that large Octabank covers such a wide area that I usually use it all by itself (along with a reflector, of course), but if I feel I need a background light, or a hairlight, believe it or not, I just use a Nikon SB-800 Hot Shot flash set to Slave mode (in Slave mode, the flash of light from the Ranger flashhead automatically triggers the SB-800 to fire at the same time).
  • I would also recommend buying an Avenger A420 rolling lightstand (I hang my Ranger RX Battery Back off the stand, as seen in the photo above), so the whole thing rolls around as one unit, without having to pick anything up off the floor. If this “hanging off the stand” thing makes you a bit queezy, you can buy a little shelf that will attach to the stand so it sits flat.

Some things you’ll really like about this set-up are:

  • You don’t need to worry about plugging in, thanks to the battery pack. The Battery pack is pretty small in size, and comparitivly lightweight for a battery pack.
  • It can power up to two flashheads, and you can control the power of each from the battery pack itself.
  • You have serious top pro-quality studio lighting anywhere you want it; on the beach, on top of a parking garage, standing in the middle of a field, or up in an office building.
  • It’s rugged as all get-out, and everything but the Octa and the Lightstand fit nicely in one medium-sized hand-held carrying case.
  • When you’re not shooting on location, it makes a killer studio strobe that plugs into a standard electrical outlet
  • Once you use it, you’ll be hooked for life. The first time I ever saw anyone using an Octabank for a location shoot was Joe McNally, and when I saw how magical that light was, I knew I had to get one, and I’ve been in love with it (with a passion that knows no bounds) ever since.

The Downside

  • The Octa is big. Biggity-Big. But it has to be really big to create that “magical” quality of light. Did I mention it was large? It is. Plenty.
  • The modeling light only stays on for 30-seconds to conserve battery power. However, if you’re using Skyports as your wireless triggers (which I highly recommend), you can wirelessly turn on/off the modeling light right from your camera position.
  • This pro rig costs “pro” money. The total for the Elinchrom Ranger RX Kit (with battery back and one flashhead) and the 74″ Octabank (not including the Avenger Lightstand), is $3,308.

The Good News

$3,308 sounds like a lot a first, but you can’t even buy a pro DSLR body alone (i.e. a D3, or a Canon Mark III), for $3,308. If you’re a working pro, this rig will pay for itself in no time because the quality of what you’ll be able to do on location will soar. If you’re a serious amateur, and you set this rig up, not only will you look like a pro, but other serious amateurs will stand aside and let you by, as they gasp in awe and wonder. That’s gotta be worth somethin’.

By the way; in case you’re wondering how I make the determination between using SB-800s and diffusers or umbrellas, vs. bringing out “The Big Guns” of my Octa and RX kit; it’s actually pretty easy. If it’s a “Down and Dirty” job (get in/get out, one person shot, and either time or space is the major consideration) then I use the SB-800s. They do a nice job, but they’re not Ranger RX. I use the Ranger and Octa combo when I want the best possible quality of light, with maximum softness and flexibility. Basically, I use it when I want magazine cover studio lighting quality when I’m outside my studio, and the Ranger and Octa bring exactly that.

Note: You can also use different Elinchrom softboxes with this kit, and I’ve used the 53″ MidiOcta I mentioned yesterday with it a number of times (perfect anytime you think space or ceiling height my be a consideration), and Elinchrom’s 39″x39″ Rotalux square softbox.

So, there you have it; exactly what I would recommend to a friend (especially one with discretionary income) to get if they wanted absolutely pro-quality studio lighting on location. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do the FAQ today, so I’ll try and run it Monday (thanks for your patience everybody).

Have a great weekend everybody, and go get some great shots! :-)

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