Totally Geeked Out Gear Friday

Several months ago I received an email from a reader asking how and why I used my Canon strobes for on-location lighting. The how is pretty easy to illustrate as seen in the images below.

Small Strobes + Pocketwizards + Small Softboxes = Light-Me-Silly

EzyBox HotShoe w/ Canon 580EX & FlexTT5

My basic on location rig consists of the following:

Canon 580EX II Speedlites – A real work horse but a bit pricey. Throws a lot of light for a small strobe but gets hot and eats batteries. For a serious Canon shooter, there is really no other choice.

Canon CP-E4 Battery Pack – This is battery food for your Canon Speedlites. Very pricey but holds 8 AA batteries. Don’t leave home without it.

Pocketwizard FlexTT5 & MiniTT1 – Just say no to cords! I rented a set of these to try out and was sold after two minutes. Just say NO to Canon’s ST-E2 infrared transmitter. Works in full manual mode like a champ.

EzyBox HotShoe w/ Canon 580EX & FlexTT5

Lastolite Ezybox Hostshoe – This softbox unfolds in about 10 seconds. After spending hours setting up a conventional softboxes, you’ll love how fast this thing gets you to work. Now available in 24″ x 24″ and 30″ x 30″ sizes.

Manfrotto 3373 Aluminum 6′ Stand – Folds to 19″ long and weighs a little over 2 lbs. What’s not to like?

Photoflex Weight Bag – Just add water. Whoever invented this was a genius. Beats lugging around sand-bags all day long. Holds my favorite margarita mix (kidding).

Photoflex Weight Bag

Think Before You Light
The “why” is a little more difficult to explain. I tell this story all the time. I had a nice little weekend gig for a very small Houston manufacturer of oil field widgets. They needed some product shots for a new brochure but didn’t have a lot of money to spend.

I rented a pair of Westcott TD5 Spiderlites after watching a Scott Kelby video about them. The TD5 Spiderlite is a compact fluorescent lamp & softbox providing daylight-balanced continuous light which sounds perfect for product photography.

Working with these lights couldn’t be simpler and I had everything setup in 30 minutes and began to shoot. Since the lighting is continuous, you don’t need a flash trigger or cords and adjusting the lighting is accomplished by turning on or off each of the four bulbs and by positioning the light/softbox closer to or farther away from the product. Since the lights are compact fluorescents, there is no heat to speak of and you can position the light/softbox really close to get that wonderful soft, wrapping light that makes a product really “shine”.

Did I mention that no cords or flash triggers were needed? After about an hour of shooting their stuff I’m just about ready to pack up when an employee comes over with his trusty Nikon D90 and asks if it’s OK for him to take a few shots of the widgets for their web site. I begin to tell him that his camera isn’t going to work with my strobes & trigger when it dawns on me that THERE ARE NO STROBES and his wonderful little D90 will take complete advantage of the beautiful continuous lighting I’ve spend the past few hours setting up.

Talk about a blinding flash of the obvious (no pun intended). Continuous lighting works only too well in the field, which is why it was the first and last time I’ve used the Westcott Spiderlites on location. Yes, I got paid for my work but that senior moment cost me half of what I could have earned.

Lesson learned!

4 thoughts on “Totally Geeked Out Gear Friday

  1. Guess I need to rent the PW setup to see just how effective they are with a 580-EXII setup. If I am going to spend another $500 for wireless, it needs to work simply and reliably, or I am going to be an unhappy camper. Have you had any major problems with interference from your flash?

    • Greg,

      Thanks for reading. Most of my on-location work is industrial in nature and I shoot industrial equipment with people operating it. I’ve never had any issues with my PWs due to interference from the strobes or from the industrial equipment. However, much of the time my strobes are placed within 20 feet of where I’m shooting so I have no real-world long distance experience with them. Your results may vary.


  2. Great information, as usual, Jeff. But one thing – don’t hate on the E-TTL cords. It recently dawned on me – and after reading Syl’s Speedlighing site and chatting with him – that a 24″ or 33″ cord from Zebra Flash is what I need to get my light off my Canon. They are affordable and work with my 430 EXII, which, gives off a nice bit of light itself. If I had to wait to buy one or two 580’s, PLUS PW’s, well, we’re up over a grand and in my situation, that money could be best used in other ways (i.e. mortgage, diapers.) While cords may be somewhat limiting, they should be considered as a practical alternative.

    • Mark,

      I carry an old 12 foot PC sync-cord as a backup and certainly understand the cost issues for all this “stuff”. It’s actually cheaper to buy a set of AlienBees with battery packs but my days of lugging around 30 lbs of lighting gear are long over. If I can’t fit everything in my Airport Security roller and Tenba Roadie (rolling grip case) I won’t use it on location. My lower back problems make lugging and setting up big strobes almost impossible these days and since I’m a one-man show, I tend to travel light (no pun intended).

      I also don’t have to buy diapers so my cash flow is a bit healthier these days.


Comments are closed.