Royce Bair's Night-Lit Landscapes

There are no AC plugs near Delicate Arch in Grand County, Utah, where Royce Bair made this night landscape shot. So all of his flashes needed to be battery-powered to illuminate the 20-meter tall formation.

Two of his light sources were Norman 400B's, weighing in at 6 lbs and from which he needed a total of 48 pops to make the image.

But his Big Gun required only two pops to balance with the Normans. That 110,000 lumen light source weighed about a pound, all-in. And it ran off of a 9-volt battery.

You old farts more seasoned folks know where I am going with this. Bair's big gun, fired from camera left, was a single-use flash bulb. (Or in this case, two single-use flash bulbs.)

Flash bulbs are very different than strobes. Battery-powered strobes step up the voltage from the battery and store that energy in a capacitor. It is released all at once into the flash tube when a circuit is completed in synchronization with the shutter of the camera.

Flash bulbs — and yes, they are still made — have this energy stored chemically inside the bulb itself. That energy is released when a voltage is applied to the terminals of the bulb. And a bulb can contain a lot of energy. In this case, think roughly equivalent to a full pop from a Profoto 2,400ws flash.

In this case Bair lit the right side of the arch with a 400B – 20 pops at 200ws — with a red/magenta gel. Inside the arch was courtesy 8 pops from a yellow-gelled 400B. That's a lot of light, and it was only because of the 10-minute exposure (for the night sky) that he had time to manually pop the flashes that many times.

The light from camera left came from two manual pops from flash bulbs. In this case a Meggaflash pf300. The bulbs cost about $13 each here (WARNING: Cheesy autoplay music) and are for one-time use.

As you can see the pf300 has a #102 base, which makes reflectors and triggering hardware relatively easy. That's the same as a normal (Edison base) light bulb. So your reflector can be a cheap Smith Victor or an (even cheaper) Home Depot shop light reflector.

Instead of 110v AC, you connect the lamp base terminals to, say, 9v of DC to pop the bulb. Bair uses an in-line capacitor which is charged by the 9v battery between pops as a little extra insurance voltage.

Synchronization for the bulbs is not the same as for electronic flash. They are much slower — remember the "M" and "X" setting on old cameras. This particular bulb needs about 1/30th of a second to fire completely. But this is no problem for 10-minute landscape shots, as you can pop them manually.

You can find out just about everything you need on the manufacturer's website. Of particular interest are the safety notes.

For instance, that 110,000-lumen flash bulb can potentially be fired by static electricity. During which they are very hot. The folks at MeggaFlash specifically warn against carrying a bare bulb in your pocket, what with all of that shuffling.

(Swish, swish, swish, POP [YouBrieflyHaveTheBrightestGenitalsInTheWorld] and then … pain.)

Nevertheless, they work just great for the landscapes that Bair likes to shoot. Check out his stunning gallery of night landscapes on Flickr if you get a chance.

Photo at top ©Royce Bair


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