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On Assignment: Inside the Soft Box

Shooting locavore and farm-to-table photos for a HoCo project took me to nearby Triadelphia Lake View Farm, where I photographed raised lettuce beds. They literally grow the lettuce in terraced roof gutters on tables, which extends the growing season, uses less water and frustrates the resident bunny population.

I've shot in greenhouses before, using the diffuse plastic as a ready-made light source. But this way you don't get detail in the sky. If the backlit plastic is your light source, the light is gonna be diffuse and the plastic is gonna be white.

However, in this case I wanted a little more punch to the light and some color in the sky. Solution: Turn the whole fricken' thing into a soft box and shoot inside the box…

Actually, I was not planning on lighting the lettuce farm this way at first. I was traveling pretty light for these shoots, with a single body, coupla zooms and three SB-800s. But when I am shooting outside in daytime I always throw a big light kit into the trunk just in case -- a Profoto B600 and head, big stand, Softlighter II, Magnum reflector and a PC cord.

This way I can either work light or overpower the sun if I like. In the latter case, the SB's can serve double duty as accent lights.

As soon as I got there and did a few ambient-only test shots, I knew I wanted to create some harder light and leave detail in the sky. So rather than task light Jenn watering the lettuce I choose to blast the Profoto right through the greenhouse roof from the outside. This would flood the whole space with light and bring it up to the level of the sky. The diffuse ambient would serve as fill.

A B600 in a Magnum reflector puts out a ton of light. Even at a distance (and through the plastic) I was only using this thing on half power and had f/stops to burn. I was using my D7000, and wanted to overclock the sync with the bigger flash. At 16MP (and pretty good files) what the heck, right?

Until I tried to plug in the PC cord. And that is when I noticed that my new D7000 does not have a PC jack.

I'll say that again:

The $1,300 ($1,500 w/battery grip) Nikon D7000 does not come with a PC jack. Or a ten-pin remote jack, for that matter.

Really, Nikon? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, what with the SB-700 and all. But where I come from, the presence of a PC jack is one of those bare minimum things you expect in a Big Boy camera. Sure, 1080p video is great. But you spend the 25 cents on a PC jack for the camera first.

Yeesh. Next time we drop $1,500 for a Nikon, do we need to check to see if it includes a manual mode?

Not having PW's with me (didn't think I would need them) I ended up having to shoot with an on-camera SB-800, which triggered another SB-800 behind me, which triggered the Profoto's slave.

Here is the setup photo, including the trigger SB firing inside the greenhouse. Not to sound like a broken record, but the PC thing really irks me. A PC cord is your failsafe backup when the radio gods dislike you for any number of reasons. Grr.

We only had a few minutes' shooting time before a rain shower put the kibash on any big lights outside the greenhouse. So we went with what we had and moved inside for a detail shot.

Always get a detail shot. It gives the designer flexibility. And if you are a freelancer, the designer helping herself to a little more flexibility also adds a little more to your paycheck when you are paid for the extra usage.

I usually don't shoot TTL, but detail shots were made for TTL flash. The camera is in manual mode, with the ambient being underexposed a predetermined amount. That becomes your shadow exposure. Then the flash, on TTL, becomes your key light.

Handholding a TTL-corded SB-800 with a LumiQuest Soft Box III makes this ridiculously easy. Just frame it, then adjust the position of the soft-light flash until you get the shaping that you want.

Next: Open Air Home Studio


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