Assisting on the James Balog Iceberg Shoot

strobisticebergRemember the post about the Stunning Nikon site and the iceberg shoot? Turns out one of the assistants for the shoot checked in via the comments and left some extra info about working with speedlights in what can only be described as "extreme shrinkage-inducing" waters.

That's Jeff, above, trying in vain to thaw his hands with an SB-800. His notes, which include a couple of neat ideas for stretching the range of a CLS shoot, are after the jump.

Hey all-

I'm James's assistant and just found out about strobist, and can provide all sorts of detail for all these shots. I'm the guy in the red hat in the first photo, helped design all the lighting and was basically in charge of all the strobes.

First off, we never used more than 8 strobes in any one photo, usually in pairs of two strobes on a stand. We used a couple of Justin clamps to keep the lights on the stand. Most of the shots, however, were taken with just four strobes, and sometimes even two. The camera was obviously on a tripod for all of them, and everything was triggered through the Nikon commander unit.

The the first shot and the sixth shot on Stunning Nikon were lit with just four of the strobes, two on each side. All batteries were lithium-ions, and the recharges were actually very fast. We were using the extra external battery pack, so it totaled 10 AAs. We didn't use the extra add-on battery adapter to the actual flash unit because we figured we had enough power already and we didn't want that extra battery to obstruct the sensor. The lights were not always putting out full power, so we probably could have gotten by with fewer lights even.

Ben (another assistant) and I were standing out in the freezing cold water up to the top of our waders, holding onto the light stands. There was one time when an iceberg almost took out a stand, but I luckily caught it in time. Yes, I was quite worried that one would fall in the water, but fortunately that never happened.

Getting the strobes to fire was a bit trickier than indoors--just so much more space to cover, and needing to maintain line of sight with all the lights. On the fifth shot on the Nikon website, I had to do some interesting trickery to get the lights to sync. It was lit with just five speedlights, and covered that entire space. Three lights on the left side out of frame, one on the close foreground iceberg, one on the middle ground iceberg, and one on the far back.

The tricky part were the two lights on the right hand side, hidden behind the big iceberg, that had to light the right side of the middle ground and far away iceberg. While all three lights on the left side were triggered by the normal commander mode, the others weren't in line of sight with the camera, so I had to set them to function as a slave. As we were shooting though, we realized that those two slave strobes were firing, but weren't getting picked up by the exposures.

I realized the pre-flash was tripping the slaves, so we had to do a FV lock on the camera. The FV lock calculated the exposure for all the lights, then we would take the actual shot. That shot combined the commander mode, the slave mode, and the FV lock. (Oh, and for the light that was really far in the back, maybe around 70 feet or so, I shaped some aluminum foil around the sensor to help pick up the light from the other strobes).

So I think that's it. I'm glad you guys appreciated the images so much. James definitely appreciates all the comments.

And please check out our current project, We're undergoing a major renovation to the website right now that should be up in a couple months, that will show a lot of the footage we've been gathering this year.

Thanks much, Jeff! We very much appreciate the extra layer of detail and extreme CLS tips.

Related links:

:: Original post, more pix ::
:: Nikon Stunning site :: (New D3 stuff up there, too.)
:: Extreme Ice Survey ::


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