On Off Assignment: Blown Shoot

Last Wednesday, I had a shoot fall through at the last minute because of a miscommunication with the subject. He was one place and we are at another, gear unpacked and two assistants at the waiting.

No shoot. Just wasn't gonna work with our various time constraints. We'll re-sked. But rather than pack it up and go home, we decided to make some use of our time and do a little testing.

Okay, So Now What?

Brad Snyder and Dan Rick had responded to a quick query I put up last week looking for an assistant for an environmental portrait shoot for the Howard County Arts Council. I went with two early responders in case one did not show. Of course, they both did. Maybe I shoulda scheduled two subjects instead ...

Since we were to be shooting outside on a sunny day, I had brought along a WL600, a big Octabox and a deep-dish sports reflector in addition to a couple of SB-800s. That second light mod might seem a little out of place, but I had been itching to test it as a portrait light source for quite a while. So that's exactly what we did.

The inventively named 11R Reflector (c'mon, Paul, where's that famous imagination?) is designed for long-throw sports lighting. It throws a 50-degree beam which is almost two stops brighter (1.8) than the standard 7" AlienBees / White Lightning reflector.

And being 11" across at the business end, it is not a totally hard light source, either. Much like the SB-III it takes the edge off a little compared to a normal reflector. This not-hard / not-soft quality is a very interesting zone to me.

So, let me get this straight: 1.8 stops more light than a standard bare reflector, a beam that I can easily control and soft enough to get really interesting -- and powerful -- light up close? That's gonna set me back some clams, I am thinking.

Nope. Thirty five bucks. It is a total no-brainer for AB/WL owners, IMO. The sports guys use them for long-throw lighting in stadiums (stadia?) for more control and efficiency. But I first started thinking about it after talking to Peter Yang about his William Fallon portrait.

And they appear to have another model coming out. It is an 11", deeper dish (30-degree throw) and just $30. And they are doing grids for it, too. I'll be trying that one out as soon as it is available.

Testing With Brad

We actually tried a lot of cool stuff here, but my favorite was this daylight portrait of Brad. A White Lightning 600 with an 11R sports reflector was the main light, up high and right in front of him. You can see the hard/soft look I am talking about, and as a bonus we were able to keep the key off of the wall because of the 50-degree beam.

We are working well over the full daylight, and we are in the shade, too. So the ambient is not much of a factor at all. That (no ambient fill) means we are going to have to do something about the hard, direction shadows under Brad's chin.

So we stuck one of the SB's on front of Brad on the ground, pointed up, and dialed the power up until it wrote in some detail underneath (and on the shirt and hands) without calling too much attention to itself. Can't remember what the setting was, but I wanna say 1/4 power. Nothing that would slow down the shooting pace.

But that flash is gonna throw a big, film-noir-looking shadow behind Brad on the wall, so we partially disguised that with a second SB aimed at the wall and held by Dan, our resident VAL for this shot. It was set to a similar, middle of the range power setting. The WL600 was dialed way down, as the 11R made it very powerful within that narrow beam. And the beam width gave us total control of the wall's tones, too.

I like this sculpted light look, even more so that I can do it at full-blown sunlight levels if I need, and all via battery power. (I was using a Vagabond II battery on the WL600.)

Here is the wide shot, which shows the light locations, just how far we were working over the shade ambient and even the full sun light levels nearby. This is almost all flash -- coulda shot it at midnight.

In fact, this would have been better at night because we could have let that sodium vapor light burn in to texture the wall around it. If you recognize the location, that's because it is right around the corner from where we shot another daylight portrait last year. (We are in the alcove on the left in the second photo down.)

I love that wall for its tone and texture. If you are local to Columbia, MD, it is right under the fountain near the People Tree at the lakefront.


So, from a botched assignment, we got a really neat first look at what (for me) is a new portrait light source. I can recommend it as a very versatile and cheap addition to any AlienBees (or White Lightning or Zeus) shooter's kit. Hard but soft, with a controllable beam and very powerful.

That last part is important, as it also means you can back an AB up long distances to get a more evenly lit scene if you are lighting something big. Hard to go wrong for $35.

And the no-pressure test was a great first step. Just two days later I used it as a main light in an indoor portrait shoot, with an actual subject present and everything, and expect to be doing more with it in the near future.


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