The Profoto Pro-8 Knows You Like it Fast

You remember at the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where Jeff "Surf's Up" Spicoli hires Van Halen to play his birthday party? Why on earth would someone do something like that?

Because they can.

Which is exactly why Profoto hired Annie Leibovitz to shoot a series of portraits of Conny Dufgran, (co-founder and chairman of Profoto) for their 40th Anniversary. Not a bad day at the office.

Leibovitz used a new Profoto Pro-8, of course, because showing up with a bag of old Vivitar 285's would not exactly have been cool. Not that Annie has even seen a 285 in the last 20 years, I'll bet, as ahe uses Profoto. And besides, the Pro-8 has roughly the same recycling rate as an M240 Bravo. Which is nice.

Going by this video, the new high-end studio strobe comes with a soundtrack of singing angels, too. As well it should if it can keep up with a D3 firing on full auto at the lower power settings.

That's not the camera beeping along with each exposure. That's the flash signaling that it is ready to fire again.

Holy crap, is that thing fast. My guess: They swapped the regular caps in the power pack for flux capacitors. (When you hit 88 MPH, it is ready for the next frame before you actually shoot the current frame.)

Matt Hill, the man behind the curtain at the Profoto blog, was on the "A" cam shooting the behind-the-scenes video (embedded above) from the photo shoot.

Hit the jump for Matt's behind-the-scenes comments from the behind-the-scenes video, and a bonus, 100% gear porn video of all of the knobs and switches on the new Ferrari-of-Flashes Profoto Pro-8.

As always, it is the details that make the photo. The more I see of this lady at work, the more I realize how little she leaves to chance. Which is why I am always making mental notes when I am watching her videos.

Says Matt:

"Eckhard Heine, Profoto's other co-founder, has since passed away and when Annie was developing the concept for the shoot, I hear she wanted to honor their long relationship by including him in the photograph.

The large chalkboard you see behind Conny on the interior locations is hand-drawn schematic of one of the earliest Profoto flash generators. I saw one of Annie's crew drawing it on the chalkboard in our warehouse during prep for the shoot.

If you look closely at the right-hand side of photograph on our webpage, you will see on the computer screen a schematic from the Pro-8. The juxtaposition of old and new in one photograph... very subtle, in my opinion."

That background makes the shot, IMO. Neat thinking -- and execution.

Okay, how many photographers does it take to screw in a modeling light bulb? Well, lessee...

"There were four people (including Annie) listed as "crew", three Photo Assistants, two working on production, one on-set coordinator and four people listed as set designer, two on-set and two that were not."

Yeah, pretty much the same way I roll on a portrait shoot.

Also wedged into the scene were the Profoto documentation squad: Matt on "A" cam, Max Hull on "B," and Ab Sesay shooting stills. Matt edited, and for all I know did the background singing vocals, too.

Matt goes on:

"It was a fun day. Annie shot shot the second and third locations that day at our office. The first was at a marina in City Island at 6:30am."

Here's the result -- click for bigger in a new window:

©2008 Annie Leibovitz

More behind-the-scenes stuff from Matt:

"The setup was fluid - busy assistants like Nick Rogers setting and metering lights. During the shoot, you can see that the lights were moving until Annie saw what she wanted happening. It was a wonderful process to watch live. You can hear her asking Nick, 'Just a little bit lower to get the eye, please.' The stop-motion segments really show how she shifts the lighting constantly.

In retrospect, I learned that your first setup is simply that - a good place to start. Look, evaluate, and adapt until you get what you want.

I hear there is a lot of talk about her shooting rapid bursts of frames - anything I say about that would be a guess. Perhaps she was stretching her legs since the Pro-8 can keep up with the D3?"

(Yeah, just like the M240B, except that you don't have to bore-sight the Pro-8 a little down and to the left because it doesn't walk up and right when you fire it like the 240 does...)

"Annie was using the flash power at a very low level and shooting at a higher ISO (I heard 800 at one point). I can see how powerful that technique can be with low-noise processing and modern DSLRs. She blends it very well. Seeing all the diffused, bounced and ambient sources blend is akin to a well-performed symphony of light."

(Aw geez, Matt -- I was right there with you until the "symphony of light" remark. You still have stars in your eyes, dude...)

"The third and final set of the day was in the most unlikely spot - our Service Department. It was cramped, full of manuals, tools and work going in and out. Having a large crew on the shoot, plus our video/still crew and other people interested in seeing what was going on made it exciting. This is the shot you see featured for the 40th Anniversary, and that desk belongs to a one of our Profoto technicians."

Yeah, well. I am just thinking how much better the piece would have been with a third video camera in the mix. For next time, you have my number.

And now, your moment of knob-twiddling, dial-caressing, wallet-busting zen:

Official price is listed as: "If You Have To Ask..."

Thanks for the video, Matt -- and for the color commentary.


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Anonymous jason said...

damn, that is a tad fast!


January 02, 2009 1:11 AM  
Anonymous travel package said...

Very nice blog. Happy new year

January 02, 2009 1:32 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Byrnes said...

Thank you for this post. I sincerely appreciate seeing Annie work behind the scenes like the video in this post. Seeing someone of her stature and magnitude working is insightful and a worth while experience.

Thank you,


January 02, 2009 1:54 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Awesome. Doesn't she usually use Canon?

Btw, Happy New Year Dave!!!

We heart you.

January 02, 2009 2:09 AM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Many years ago I used an M240 in basic training. If anyone wants to lend me a Pro-8 and D3 I'm willing to do the test and tell you which is better.
(I promise I won't try to disassemble and then reassemble the pro-8 in less than 60 seconds...)

January 02, 2009 2:52 AM  
Anonymous David Apeji said...

Really cool post, David. You have started this year with a bang. I wish you all the best for 2009.

January 02, 2009 3:32 AM  
Blogger J. said...

If I suggested shooting the president of the company on a boat they would call me an a-hole. I guess that's the difference between me and her. That and the talent and fame and money.

January 02, 2009 5:26 AM  
Blogger Don said...

Sweet lights
But if you want a little less weight
you might want to switch that m240b for a MK48 mod0

now if I could just hit the lotto I could afford some Prophoto gear.

January 02, 2009 5:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how much equipment Annie has ever had to actually pay for? As far as the Profoto gear goes, I bet the color temp is just a little bit more consistent at each power settings than the 285.

January 02, 2009 6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David: Perhaps you can comment on the best way to get a computer screen to show up properly in a shoot like this. Also it is interesting that the circular fluorescent work light is turned toward the camera.

January 02, 2009 7:05 AM  
Blogger Charlotte Justine said...

Wow, that's crazy! Thanks for the post!

January 02, 2009 8:22 AM  
Anonymous Dan Murdoch said...

A little off-subject...
The subject in the boat photo has a beautiful quality to it that I'm sure is a result of post production. Does anyone have a lead to techniques that would produce similar results?

January 02, 2009 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Gregg said...

When you absolutely, positively, got to kill EVERY ... in the room; accept no substitutes.

Ok, an AK falls short of either a P8 & D3 OR a M240, but all will get the job done.

January 02, 2009 11:03 AM  
Blogger Heipel said...

I'm with you David, the "crew" seemed a tad small in number... HAHA!

Nice results though, of course.

Smokin' gear.

January 02, 2009 11:03 AM  
Blogger PC said...

Clicking on the videos shows the "This video is no longer available" message. Is this just me or does anyone else have that problem?

January 02, 2009 11:35 AM  
OpenID stephenzeller said...

I really dig the M240B reference. One of these days you'll have to get underway on the ship with us and you can throw some lead into a killer tomato. Heck, how about the .50 cal too?

January 02, 2009 11:52 AM  
Blogger Kurt Shoens said...

Responding to a question about photographing computer screens: they are an ambient light source. If you're filling the image with the computer screen, then it's a simple ambient exposure. You'll want a long exposure on tripod for a CRT to smooth out the refresh.

My LCD is about 8-9 EV (ISO 400, f/4 to f/5.6 at 1/60th).

If you're combining some non-moving environment, then you expose for the ambient screen and add flash (as needed) for the environment. If there's too much other ambient light, then you might cheat as below.

If you have possibly moving objects (you know, like people) in the picture, then you can cheat if the exposure for the screen is too long or you want to overcome the ambient lighting in the environment. Take two pictures on-tripod. One is pure ambient exposed for the screen, one is a flash exposure for everything else, and combine in post processing.

January 02, 2009 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually don't like the photo in the boat. It almost seems like it was taken with a point-and-shoot. The color of the boat's wood is inconsitent (subject's left versus behind). The bright sky to the subject's right is distracting. The cables are running through the subject's head. etc. It does not look like one of Annie's finest efforts.

-- rpsip

January 02, 2009 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Nathanael Gassett said...

Daaaaaang. It recycles faster than my brain can process information.

January 02, 2009 1:12 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

The nerd in me wants to know what's on the chalkboard behind him.

Wait, she didn't ask him to take off his crown this time?

January 02, 2009 1:23 PM  
Blogger David said...


All is fine in the cloud. Clear your browser's cache. That should do it.

January 02, 2009 1:23 PM  
Blogger GLPhoto said...

To Jake,
Read the blog/article.

January 02, 2009 2:55 PM  
Blogger Wounded Healer said...

It's interesting to see at the 1:50 mark, Annie's assistant is using a light meter...

January 02, 2009 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what glass Annie is using here on her D3? Thanks

January 02, 2009 3:29 PM  
Blogger CAMERA WORK said...

wow! That is crazy fast. I love it when we get videos on here. Thank you

January 02, 2009 4:24 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Umm, this fits the "less gear, more brain" mantra how?

The finished portrait at the workbench was nicely done and a good exercise in balancing strobe with a constant source. But let's see an OA post describing how DH would have done this with a used 285 and a few clamps from Home Depot.

January 02, 2009 4:29 PM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Great video Dave showing a master at work. Must admit my main interest was seeing how she interacted with her client and that she used a posing table.

Posing tables are not readily available in the UK and I bought mine from the States last year :-)

January 02, 2009 4:55 PM  
Blogger Daniel Bartel said...

The Profoto Pro-8a Air Power Pack costs $11,000. Nope, that's not a misprint. It's eleven thousand dollars.

January 02, 2009 5:22 PM  
Anonymous Richard Cave said...

M240 up and to the right, LOL. ;-)

January 02, 2009 5:33 PM  
Blogger MIA said...

I can see why the Strobist motto "Less Gear..." is gone! Geez, my wallet's hurting just looking at that stuff. My favorite was "radio control from your computer.." Oh, yeah, that's what I need.

With two references to 1980's movies in your commentary, you may be headed for Teen Movies Anonymous.

I really liked the attention to detail on the lighting. One thing I learned early on playing with Lighting 101 exercises is that small changes can make important improvements.

Thanks for the post!

January 02, 2009 6:07 PM  
Blogger Ronalds Šulcs said...

Insane power and speed combination.

January 02, 2009 6:41 PM  
Anonymous jeremy earl said...

geez! everyones got a d3 but me! grrrr. i love this behind the scences stuff, its nice to see how she massages and adjusts the lights consitantly, much easier to do with assitants. that was so much old school A.L., i likey.

i'll second the computer screen question...

January 02, 2009 7:06 PM  
Blogger THE SINGLE LENS said...

This is an interesting video I worked with her a couple of times in her studio, assisting her set designer. I do remember there being way more assistants though. maybe she's working more intimately now?
she's pretty serious when she's working, but she's a really nice lady.
very good site keep up the great work,thanks!

January 02, 2009 7:14 PM  
Blogger Curtis N said...

There's a limit to how fast you can suck light from a wall socket.

Ya'll can do the math. No way that thing recycles up to specs on a typical 120v 20 amp circuit like we have here in the western hemisphere. You'll be tripping breakers unless you power it way down and select a slower recycling speed.

January 02, 2009 7:42 PM  
Blogger tmarriage said...

But it doesn't go to 11.

January 02, 2009 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what type of umbrella/softbox was used?

January 02, 2009 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

tmarriage, they made 10 brighter.

January 02, 2009 11:09 PM  
Anonymous virginia photographer said...

Now plug it in tethered - That'll slow yar down 'me hearty!
It's always fascinating to see we all pretty much do the same thing.
Cartier Bresson would scoff at such repetitive shutter slaps. "yo only need one frame my friend!".
Interesting film 'er video.

January 03, 2009 1:15 AM  
Anonymous Tito Van Morrisson said...

Oh, God. There go the days photographers used a single lens, natural light and their trusted Leicas for their entire careers.
I could swear the shot in front of the blackboard could be taken with a 285 bounced to the side wall, but whatever.

January 03, 2009 3:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any idea of which lens she was using???

January 03, 2009 6:04 AM  
Anonymous Johnny Heinonen said...

Hi David!

Using the Ikea lanterns, might find it worth watching...

Opposite of cold this time (I know, you are probably gonna make a comment in you tube: "That's hot!"

and the resulting pics:


and the beauty shot with the big lantern:

Cheers, Johnny @

January 03, 2009 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lamp on the desk curiously resembles a profoto ringflash painted white.... I wonder....

January 03, 2009 3:05 PM  
Blogger Robert said...


Amen. It was about five minutes of gear porn fun to watch the ProPhoto flashes blasting away. (How did they hide the dilithium plasma conduits feeding into the softbox? ;) But I would have gotten so much more out of this if we had gone through the exercise of reverse-engineering such a setup using portable flashes.

For starters I see at least the following: a.) Big soft source (shoot-through umbrella) for the face, b.) Constant source from the workbench light and c.) One or two restricted strobes to hit parts of the background.

No, it wouldn't have the recycle time of the warp-powered Prophotos. But one should be able to put together such a shot without a truckload of gear and an army of assistants.

January 03, 2009 5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always have to wonder when I see a super star's final images, "how would those do in the Strobist Flickr pool?" That fact of the matter is that we are all capable of becoming the next "Insert star photographer of choice."

The question is whether we have the guts, the imagination, the determination - The sheer unmitigated gall, to believe and to pursue with faith, the reality that we are able...

I can't stand Ann... Seriously! She makes me nuts, but for all that she has dared to believe about herself, and for all that she has dared to become, I thank God for the Ann's of the world, who use enough just enough expensive gear to allow the rest of us to accept our self imposed limitations as the unfair facts of life. It's the only thing that keeps us sane, under-priced, and able to live with ourselves. One of these days... No, really. I'm gonna do it! Budget allowing...

January 03, 2009 8:25 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Great video - Thanks for posting it David!

Thats a whole lot of power, really fast. I would still have a really hard time justifying the expense of the power pack needed to take advantage of the strobe's top speed, even when shooting faster paced commercial jobs.

For those curious about the lens, it looks like she's (and I'm 99% positive) using the 17-35 2.8

January 03, 2009 8:48 PM  
Anonymous SoniaK said...

Always love watching the Annie shoot! Someone mentioned the soft light source being a shoot-through umbrella. It looked like her fav octagon softbox to me.

Did any of you catch when the video ended there were several other Annie videos available. Check out the 6-min one on her shooting the espresso calendar in Italy. Very hot stuff. Over 18 y.o. pls.

January 03, 2009 9:53 PM  
Blogger Aberazzi said...

WOW that is a fast power pack, I can only dream to afford that sucker one day.

The only problem I have with Annie is if you do watch the other videos, like the Lavazza campaign one. You will see the true way she does her photos. She does not edit them digitally like ourselves, nor does she actually mess with her own lighting. Like the Profoto blog said, she had somewhere close to what 8 people on set....I'm lucky if I can even find one person to help me when I do a shoot.

In the world of bottomless pockets, anything can become reality.

January 04, 2009 1:32 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Hmmm, do you think this could put the Canon vs Nikon debate to rest? We have seen Annie use a Canon for the Louis Vuitton campaign and a Nikon here.

Could it be that the camera is just a tool? That the photographer's skill, attention to composition, light, and experience are what really matter?

I'm just saying...

(for the record I use a Canon XSi, but I'm open to anything, Hasselblad whatever)

January 04, 2009 8:49 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED!!!

January 05, 2009 1:48 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Anyone know what she's using for that Softlighter's boom arm?
Looks a lot more flexible than a lightstand...

January 05, 2009 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Holy crap, is that thing fast. My guess: They swapped the regular caps in the power pack for flux capacitors. (When you hit 88 MPH, it is ready for the next frame before you actually shoot the current frame.)"

i was LOOOOOOOOOOOOOL on that :-))

good one !

January 05, 2009 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Kenneth Jarecke said...

Flux capacitor... strobe is actually recharged before you shoot the first frame...funny stuff. Of course you'll want to upgrade to the cold fusion model.

January 05, 2009 3:58 PM  
Anonymous craig'd said...

Curtis N is correct about amps from a wall socket... I have to trim back my 20 year old speedotrons to slow recycle when in a household location.

It depends on time though. A pack on very low power might be able to do it. GFI outlets will probably trip though still.

Commercial locations are slightly better, they usually have bigger breakers installed. I still use slow recycle if I can though, because finding the breaker box in an office building can be time consuming.

People using the high speed full power recycle of these power packs will generally be in a studio setting, where the electricals are designed for it. Our studio has 40 amps per circuit to handle 2 speedo packs on full power/fast recycle.

January 11, 2009 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Portland Advertising Photographer said...

Who else but Anni to photograph the owner of Profoto.


January 14, 2009 1:20 AM  
Anonymous Collin said...

Ha, she "chimps". good to know we all rely on the back of the camera. She has had a phenomenal career (read "At Work" She really is awesome! Oh, and those lights are pretty cool too.

January 20, 2009 11:57 PM  

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