Lighting Gear Week Q&A


First, thanks to everyone who participated in my “Lighting Gear Week,” last week. There were a lot of great follow-up questions, and I wanted to answer them as they were posted, but I’ve been on critical deadline on a new book, so I couldn’t get a chance to answer them (at least not until now).

So, I put this together to address some of the questions from last week (and I’m paraphrasing some of the questions for clarity), and I hope you find it helpful. (NOTE: All five days are covered here, so for the other day’s questions, make sure you click the MORE link below). Here goes:

Day 1: Budget Off Camera Flash

Q. I’m not the getting the whole “firing the flash through the umbrella on a stand thing?” Can you show us a photo of how that looks?

A. Sure (see the photo below).


Q. Nikon’s SB-600 is a lot cheaper than the SB-800. Can I get away with using it instead?

A. Yes, technically you could get away with it, but honestly, I’ve never met anyone who bought an SB-600 that at one point didn’t say, “I wish I’d gone ahead and bought the SB-800,” so I can’t recommend it with a clear conscience. I’ve also never met a single person who bought the SB-800, who later said “I wish I’d bought the cheaper model with less features.”

Q. Can you guys do some videos on Kelby using the off camera flashes?

A. Joe McNally, the master of on-location flash, has finished recording a class for us, live on location and I’ve seen some of it, and was there on location for other parts, and it is absolutely brilliant. I’ve never seen anything like it (I’ll do a post when it goes live on the site).

Q. Can you show us how to make the SB-800s and the Canon flashes work wirelessly? I’ve read the manual and I just can’t figure it out.

A. Well, here’s the thing: I did two step-by-step video tutorials that show exactly how to set-up wireless flash for both Nikon and Canon cameras, but the videos were created for people who bought Volume 2 of my book, “The Digital Photography Book” and I posted the links to those videos right in the book (check out pages 10 and 12 for the links). Since I created those videos as a special bonus for people who bought the book, it wouldn’t be right to post them here, but if you’ve got the book—go pull it out, and turn to those pages.

Q. How did you trigger the flash you’re holding in your hand in the photo at the top of the page from Day 1?

A. I didn’t. It was just a sample photo from the book showing how you fire the camera with one hand and hold the flash in the other. I needed a photo showing wireless flash, so I used that one. I never thought it would have been so closely examined, or I would have brushed my hair. ;-)

Q. Can I use a transmitter, like a PocketWizard or Skyport to fire off camera flashes?

A. You betcha. Put the transmitter in your hot shoe, and connect a receiver unit to your Nikon or Canon off-camera flash.

Q. I already have one off-camera flash—do I need to get a second for casual/creative work?

A. Nope—you can do an awful lot with just one flash, but I would definitely get a reflector (it makes a very inexpensive fill light).

Q. I have a Nikon D40x, could some one advise me on how to use a wireless flash on it?

A. It doesn’t have a “Commander Mode” built-in, so you’d need to get the Nikon SU-800 Commander Unit, and that will control your wireless flash or flashes.

Q. Where can I learn more about wireless flash?

A. The best site, hands-down, is David Hobby’s “The Strobist.” There’s nothing else like it on the web (here’s the link).

– – – –
DAY 2: Taking Off Camera Flash Up A Notch

Q. Is there an advantage to using a diffuser over an umbrellas?

A. I sure think so. The only other use for an umbrella occurs if it starts raining. However, a Diffuser, besides being more flexible (you can move it anywhere, and fire multiple flashes through it), also is “A diffuser!” You can use it for outdoor natural light shoots, and it works miracles; creating soft light in the worst possible conditions. So, a diffuser does “double-duty.

Q. I saw that your Location Kit at B&H photo is sold out. Do you know when they’re going to be back in stock?

A. I just checked B&H today, and they’re back in stock again. Here’s the link.

Q. Do you feel the Lastolite Hot Shoe Softbox (reviewed by Laurie Excell in Photoshop User) is an option for a portable lighting setup like the one you are suggesting?

A. Honestly, I haven’t tried the “Lastolite Ezybox” yet, but if Laurie (who runs NAPP’s Gear Desk) gave it five-stars, that’s good enough for me—I’m going to go ahead and order one.

Q. I have the D300 and the SB800â¦and for the life of me have not been able to get the SB800 to work wirelessly without using my popup flash on camera. I understand that there are preflashes that need to occur, but I believe my flash is firing even when I've "commanded" not to. Can you help???

A. I can help. You do have to pop up that flash, but in the D300 you have to switch your pop-up to Commander Mode. It will then only emit a light pulse—just enough to trigger the wireless flash, but not enough to light your subject at all. If it appears that you it is throwing some light on your subject, you don’t really have it turned off [it should read as two dashes (- -) ] in that menu.

Q. There’s only one problem with "The Scott Kelby Location Kit". The clamps from Manfrotto won’t fit to the tripods from Impact in the way Scott is mounting it on the movie file from B&H-photo. You need some adapter screws.

A. They actually come with two tiny screw-on adapters that you need, but because they’re so small, some people miss them in all the packaging, but look for them—they are there.

– – – –

DAY 3: Shooting with Westcott Spiderlite TD-5s

Q. How do you use a Sekonic Light meter to meter these continious Fluorescent lights?

A. Since the light is continuous, just like natural light is continuous, you’d meter it the same way you would if there was no softbox, and just real window light (at least, that’s what I do).

Q. Are Spiderlites dimmable?

A. Nope. They have three levels of brightness (low, medium, and high), and that’s it. I always leave mine set at high.

– – – –

Day 4: Pro Quality Studio Flash

Q. Did you forget to tell everyone that they get free Shipping from B&H Photo if you’re a NAPP member?

A. Yup (I was focused on the whole lighting thing). I just went to B&H to see what the shipping would be on the Wish List I put together. The US Shipping was $49.20 (but the RX-600s I recommended are already out-of-stock, so I used the RX 300’s for calculate the shipping, and they may be lighter, so the shipping might be slightly higher), so as a NAPP member, you’d save nearly 1/2 of your annual membership on just that one order.

Q. Do European NAPP members get free B&H Shipping?

A. I don’t believe so, but keep letting B&H know you want it, and you never know.

Q. How do you compare your Elinchrom Gear to Profoto gear?

A. I’ve only had one Profoto strobe and I never had the first problem with it, but since it was just one piece, it wouldn’t be fair for me to do a comparison with just that one strobe (no profoto softbox, even), vs. an entire Elinchrom system. I do think price vs. value is important, and the Elinchrom stuff, for the high level of quality you get, is absolutely a killer deal. By the way, the photo at the beginning of this Q&A shows the 53″ midiOcta softbox.

Q. Shouldn't it be two A420 Lightstands on your B&H Wishlist?

A. You’re absolutely right. Thanks for catching that (I’ve updated the wishlist accordingly).

Q. Are you gonna cover backdrops/backgrounds?

A. Unfortunately, not in this series, but that’s a good idea for a future series on studio accessories (but not next week—it’s too close to Photoshop World). :)

Q. I would be interested in hearing in more detail why you are more satisfied with the Elinchrom units vs the units you were using.

A. Three things really drew me to them:

  1. I want consistency. I wanted all my strobes to work the same way, to use the same style of softboxes, to have the same output, fit on the same stands, etc. Cobbling together different rigs, and not having the right speedring for the strobe you just mounted was really starting to wear me down (and waste a lot of time).
  2. I really loved the idea of running the entire studio from the top of my camera (from the tiny Skyport Transmitter), or from my laptop with the Skyport software. Once you do that, it changes everything. As Terry White (who bought the exact same set-up) told me “When you told me about the Skyports running the power of the lights, I thought, ‘yeah, that might be cool,’ but dude [yes, he said “dude”], “I had no idea how much I would love that feature.”
  3. Portability and usability. The Elinchrom softboxes fold up like an umbrella with the speedlight still attached, so set-up/teardown takes just minutes. There’s a little handle on the back of the strobes that makes positioning easy (it’s the little things), everything’s lightweight yet rugged, and the softboxes themselves don’t only produce great light–they look great doing it. Design matters, especially to creative people (although I must admit, the strobes themselves have a bit of that “old iMac” look to them, but what clients and people on the set mostly see are the softboxes, which look great!).

Q. OK, you've got my curiosity up. Can the Skyports totally replace the PocketWizard Plus?

A. They have replaced mine in the studio (Though, I still have keep them for my SB-800s when I can’t use line-of-site triggering). I think PocketWizards are great—they never break down, and they just plain flat out work. They just wouldn’t do for me what the Skyports do with those RX strobes, so I switched for all my studio work.

Q. I have a question about the RX600's. Will they work with the Ranger battery packs for location work?

A. The connectors on the Ranger are totally different, so I’m going to say “no,” but there may be an adapter that lets you use them—-I’m just not aware of it. Maybe someone out there who has tried it will post their experience on this.

Q. Scott- did you give up on the monster Octabank? I LOVE mine!!!

A. Absolutely not. It’s my in-studio “go-to” light when I want the absolute most luxurious light possible. There’s nothing like that Octa, but for everything else, I use that 54″ mini.

Q. Scott ┠that McNally guy convinced me to get an Elinchrom Ranger pack and head setup⦠I found an old one on eBay and I love it. I know they are big bucks but I've never regretted it. I've often considered buying a second one. Your thoughts??

A. I’m thinking about the same thing. They’re around $729, so I have to wait for a birthday, Father’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day (hey!), or some other semi-legitimate reason for my wife to buy me one. Here’s the link (That’s not a hint. Unless you’re my wife).

Q. What light meter can work wirelessly with the Skyports?

A. I don’t know of a meter that fires the Skyports like some of the built-in Sekonics, do. I’m not saying there’s not one out there—I just don’t know about it.

Q. Can you tell me which strobe would you recommend using inside of a Lastolite hiliteâ¦I've just ordered one but I need a strobe strong enough to fill the inside of it.

A. Believe it or not (are you ready for this), my answer is: Any old strobe. I usually turn the power down to around 1/4—you need much less light than you’d think. Just remember to put a reflector on it (to keep the heat off the material), and aim it at the back of the Hilite.

– – – –

DAY 5: Studio Lighting for Location Shooting

Q. What are the set-up and take-down times of the Elinchrom 74″ Octabank?

A. Although McNally totes this puppy about everywhere he goes, he has a brawny assistant (named Brad, the Brawny Assistant) that sets it up for him, and Brad will tell you—it’s a little bit of a load to set up. I’ve done it myself a number of times, and although one person can certainly do it, it’s easier with two. It takes about five minutes to put the rig together (though Brad can probably do it in three. But then, he can squeeze toothpaste back into the tube).

Q. Scott now you seriously need a video on Kelby Training on using the Elinchrom Ranger outdoors. I guarantee it would be a best seller!

A. Is it OK if Joe McNally does it instead? Because he did. On location, doing a fashion shoot at an abandoned ice factory. Amazing stuff. I’ll let you know when it goes live.

Q. You wrote, "When you're not shooting on location, it makes a killer studio strobe that plugs into a standard electrical outlet." Is that correct?

A. We do it all the time. It is a lead gel battery (like a car battery) which isn’t effected by being plugged in all the time.

Q. If I bought this on-location system, would I still be able to use it as my main studio system as well? Do you have both systems?

A. You can use both on location and in the studio, which is exactly what I do. It’s great anywhere.

– – – –

Well folks, this officially (and completely) wraps up my first ever Lighting Gear Week. Now, if the question you wanted answered wasn’t covered here, you’re kinda outta luck, ’cause I’ve got to get back to work on other stuff. But I hope the questions I answered here were of some help, and I hope the series helped to remove any fear you might have about a really fun side of photography that more and more people are getting turned on to these days

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