Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Flash on a stick

What the hell is he on about now? Is the question that probably flashed through your mind when you saw the heading.

All will be revealed. There are times when you want to position your flash but cannot either secure it or you are in a crowd and it would be difficult to get the flash where you want it. A classic example is a friend of mine who photographs skate boarding. There is no way he can position a tripod or flash stand to get a front lit skater boarder mid jump whilst he photographs just off head on. The solution is a flash head on a stick held by an assistant and triggered either by wireless or by a cable. The preference is obviously wireless and as I have Canon gear I can use a ST-E2 trigger and maintain wireless control of the flash settings or I can bang the flash on manual and use a Skyport.

I used to use a monopod as the 'stick' but found that most are shorter than I actually want and most are heavier than I want. I now use a simple painters extension tube (available at any hardware store). I can extend it to any length I want to a maximum of about 8 feet, it is lightweight, it does not have any catches etc to snag on things and best of all it is cheap. A simple 1/4" bolt on the end gives you a mounting for a standard 'cold' shoe or you can just tape your flash to the end. I have mounted a Manfrotto 1/4" extension on mine which is very secure and gives me a firm base for the 'cold' shoe.

For special effects like creating pools of light on location without having to set up stands and boom arms it is a real time saver. You can also use it at parties/gigs tethered to the camera to just position the light right where you want it. I also use it if I am having a day where lumping a camera with a rotating bracket and flash permanently mounted is uncomfortable or likely to get damaged. With the pole in the crook of your arm you can still shoot with both hands on the camera and you don't need to rotate the flash every time you rotate the camera.

So, maybe not quite as daft as it first sounded.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Cheap Umbrellas and making them better

Cheap umbrellas are cheap for a reason. They typically do not have the nice thick stem walls that the more expensive ones do and so are prone to crushing were you tighten them to a flash head. They also do not usually have the nicely chamfered end for easy insertion into the flash head mounting.

There are two common umbrellas stem diameters. There is the 8mm (largely universal and will fit just about any head) and there is the 7mm (used by Elinchrom). Obviously the 8mm will not fit the Elinchrom 7mm mounting. If you invest in Elinchrom flash heads (which are very good) then be prepared to also invest in a range of 7mm umbrellas.

The manufactures own umbrellas tend to be expensive. This is not unreasonable as they are typically made to a much higher standard than the cheap ones available from Ebay for example. However, the quality of light from either is very similar. To avoid or reduce the chances of crushing the wall on the umbrella stem you need some 7mm dowel (6mm for Elinchrom). As the cheap umbrellas rarely come with a fancy chamfered end it is simply a matter of running a bit of general purpose glue down the stem and then pushing in the dowel until it will go no further and then pull it back a 1/4 inch. Cut off the excess dowel and job done. You may wish to lightly file the end of the stem to make it more rounded and easier to fit into the flash mounting whilst you are in DIY mode.

All umbrellas tend to protrude from the flash mount and are usually at a height just right to take some ones eye out. Drill a 5mm hole in a wine bottle cork about 2cm deep and fit to the end of the umbrella shaft. If some one does catch themselves on the umbrella shaft you will do far less damage.