Equipment: Overview of the Gear
So let's talk about gear. I know everybody's super excited about gear and that's a huge part of how this is possible is that the gear has evolved to this level. And just so you know on my website and on my blog, this is a picture of my blog. There is pretty much a complete listing of everything down to a can of red bull and you know, the things I use to clean my lenses with of what I use for gear. So I'm not going to go through every single thing I have because as you saw in my closet, I've got so much gear it's ridiculous. And I'm a total gearhead. I really get into the gear just like everybody else. Even though I try to talk a game that I'm not all about the gear. But it's fun to talk gear. So just to give you the basics. I only own two DSLRs right now. A Nikon D4 and a D810. And I rent other cameras or lenses if I need them. Everything here, these aren't all the lenses that I have, but there are most of them. The 70 to the 24 to Let's see, the 14 to the 85 tele converter. I think...
there's a 50, a 24 and a fish eye there. G-tech hard drive. There's a hoodman loupe, there's extra batteries, there's a couple speedlights in there. And we'll pull the table in and talk a little bit more about that. Here's also, this is a little bit of an older picture. But it shows some of the cases I use. This is hard to tell how big that is but it's a giant Lightware case that usually holds my lighting while I travel. I don't usually take that out into the field. It's usually how I fly with a punch of battery-powered strobes. And some cases, some soft box, you know I have ring flashes. This is my surf housing tripods. Headphones, stuff for video, and I have so much more than this. So many different bags. I also have a Hasselblad now that I just bought a couple years ago. Not specifically for high speed sync, but definitely I do a lot of high speed sync because you can sync at all shutter speeds with a Hasselblad. So just to get a little farther into this. I think, maybe there's another slide here. For strobes these days, you know the ELB400 has been around for awhile. It's been a great little strobe. And I have what's called a pro media gear. It makes these little brackets that I put on top of it that just gives it a handle. It also is solid metal so you know just makes it a little tougher even though that's a really tough strobe on it's own. This is the new EOB1200. Which is I think the only one in the Western Hemisphere right now outside of Switzerland. It's a prototype they sent me a few months ago to do certain projects with. And it is amazing. So you know this is obviously quite a bit bigger than the 400, but weight wise I think this is nine pounds for the pack. And you get about 225 shots. Total it's about 13 pounds. So it's currently, or will be when it comes out on the market here in a little while. The lightest battery-powered strobe event for 1200 watt seconds on the market. And so just you know, in terms of what you can do with the ELB 400, you can light something. You know if I put this modifier, the long throw reflector on the ELB 400, I can light something from 20 feet away and overpower the sun. That high noon, full sun. With the ELB 1200, I can do the same thing but from 60 to 100 feet away depending on the conditions. On a full sun day 60 feet away, I can overpower the sun with this reflector. With clouds, 100 feet. Or maybe just a little bit more. And it's not like this class is all about trying to light things from a really far distance away, we'll talk about how the high sync works for creating amazing portraits. It's super shallow depth of field. Wide open at f1.4 as well. The D810 has pretty much become my main camera when I'm using strobes. Either the D810 or the Hasselblad just because the resolution at 36 megapixels. I'm addicted to high resolution images. You saw that huge printer in my office. I have made six foot long prints from this camera. And they look insane. They're even better from the Hasselblad. Here is the hoodman loupe. And this is a kind of critical little gizmo to have for lighting outdoors. If you're not shooting tethered, if you aren't standing out there in bright sun, it's really difficult to see what's going on on the back of the LCD. So being able to put this onto your LCD on the back of the camera or even the Hasselblad and see what's going on with the shadows. How the image's looking so you can correct it right there. I still do use a light meter. This is a Sekonic Litemaster Pro. It's their new one that the touch screen and it actually has the link chrome module in it. So that it talks both to the sky port and to the pack. And so if I change the power here for each individual head, it will change it on the packs and on the sky port. So it's a great system for really dialing it in. And pretty much every manufacturer has their own version of this I think to some degree. This is a Lastolite gray card. I think it's called the easy balance gray card. Which is great for doing custom white balances. So when I'm shooting portraits, typically I'll have the subject hold this, and I'll do a custom white balance with my Nikons. With the Hasselblads, I do it after the fact. And the camera's a little different. The Hasselblad actually has the best skintones I've ever seen out of any camera. The best color of any camera that I've ever used, so I don't use this for the Hasselblad but it's always good to include at least one shot so I can do a little color correction in Lightroom with it. The last little thing I have here on the show and tell table is a light tools grid. Which not really people see these very often, so I just thought I'd pull this out. It's going to be a little on the big side, but light tools is a company out of Canada that makes these incredible, you hear that snap and pop? These incredible grids that are rigid so that they don't fall. They're used a lot in the movie industry so if i hold this horizontally, you see how the grid is staying perfectly flat? And I'll just stick that underneath the table here. But those are really nice for especially for portraits or if you're trying to set up a rim light outside, they snap on to the front of the soft box. And they make them for just about any soft box made in the world it seems like.
I guess just an initial question though I know we're gonna probably get into how some of this gear works. But Dean McCain asked, are you able to get those shots that are 60 to 100 feet away because of the capabilities of the strobe or the modifier, the battery pack or is it kind of the whole package?
It's the whole enchilada. And it's because of the high sync technology which I know people are dying to talk about but we'll get there. We have to do a bunch of stuff to talk about before we get there so you understand how it works when we do get there. It's the battery packs and the strobes. It's also the modifier a lot. And then it's how we sync with the camera. And in this case, the camera actually does matter as to which, I haven't tried it with all the different cameras. I know it works great with Nikons. It works really well with Canons. I'm sure it works great with Sonys and Panasonics and Olympus as well. But I haven't actually tried it with that. And it's a little different with the Hasselblad but this is still, it's not experimental. The high sync and hyper sync stuff. But it does take a lot of experimentation on our part as photographers. The ELB 1200's just coming out on the market here I think sometime this summer or fall. The ELB 400 has been out for awhile. And when I'm in the studio, often I use their monoblock version. The ELC Pro HD just because it's a plugin and it's a little easier to use in the studio. And we'll talk about other brands and their options. Go ahead.
Sorry I had a quick question.
You may get to this later on, but I just wanted to know, so you have medium format and you have the 810. I know that there are trade offs for either one, when do you make the decision to use the medium format over your 810?
Excellent question. Anytime I can use the medium format, I'll switch to it. But the autofocus is not, I mean Nikon has perfected like unbelievable follow focus or continuous focus. The Hasselblad has continuous focus but it doesn't really track stuff. For portraits, for landscapes, anything that's stationary, I'll typically go with the Hasselblad. If I have the lens choice. I have lenses from 24 up to 210 millimeters I think with the Hasselblad. You know if I need a 300 or or something longer, I'll definitely be shooting with the Nikons. If it's like surf photography, I'm not using the Hasselblad typically. If it's action and I can predict the movement, like a mountain biker doing a jump or something, I can focus on the jump with a Hasselblad and still get those shots. If I'm doing something like rock climbing where they're not moving that fast, I can shoot with a Hasselblad. It'll slow me down a little bit, but it'll still get pretty amazing images. If I'm throwing a light a huge distance, like probably more than 60 to 100 feet, I'll stick with the Nikons because the higher shutter speeds at eight thousandths of a second will allow me to darken the background. And we will talk about how that's possible here in a bit. But it's picking and choosing. And sometimes honestly it's not about a matter of whether I could use the Hasselblad, it's a matter of whether I can carry it to the location. Because having two complete different kits and taking strobes gets a little logistically challenging if you're trying to carry this stuff by yourself. Or even with one assistant. You might have a hundred pound backpacks on both yourself and the assistant just to carry two ELB 1200s and this and stands and light modifiers and jackets, food, water, everything else so sometimes if I'm really far away from the car, I'll have to choose which one I'm doing and it's usually the Nikon if I'm in doubt. But the reason I brought this is for the high sync shutter speeds in normal flash mode. And also because the image quality. And for portraiture especially. That's a big reason why I brought the Hasselblad is because I wanted to take my portraiture to a higher level. And we'll talk about that as well. Light modifiers, I mean every brand has their light modifiers. Big reason I chose Elinchrom is because they have some pretty amazing light modifiers. Including this Octabank here. That's one of the standard light modifiers for pretty much portrait photographer on earth. These guys, it's amazing when I'm shooting sports, I use this thing all the time. The high performance reflector. Just about every company makes something similar to this. It's also known as a sports reflector. The beauty is that these aren't that expensive and they're pretty durable. So you can see this one's pretty banged up because it's been all over the world. It's even a little mashed from traveling in my suitcase and you just bend it back out. When I'm shooting portraits, I might use some of those other light modifiers. I talked about the light tools here. Other things we can talk about with gear, you know light stands. I seem to destroy light stands in an alarming rate. I've gone through so many light stands it's amazing. The Hollywood Beefy Baby is one of my favorites, but it weighs 14 or 15 pounds. So that's kind of hard to carry too far from the car. I've been using these Avenger light stands. And then I've injured their Manfrotto light stands. They're the stacker stands. And they actually haven't self-destructed after five years so they're my current top dog light stand. Gels, I don't use gels as much as I used to, but I still do use gels. I have several different cases for transporting gear, and you know standard disc reflectors here as well. They don't really go out in the field much these days for portraits. As you evolve your lighting, how you use the gear you have will change and you'll simplify or take more with you. I also have flags. I don't know if they're in here. The Matthews RoadRags Flags, they're on my blog. They're like a little tent pole that you put fabric on. And they're flags that you can take with you that aren't rigid, hard flags that are super hard to travel with. And they fit into a bag that's not a whole lot bigger than this one. So you can take two flags with you. And flags are something to block the light with. You know I also use a backpack to block the light. Or I'll just have somebody stand in front of the light if I need to block the light. So sometimes when you're on location, you just use whatever you have. In terms of backpacks, this is kind of some climbing gear and you'll see how we use some of this. This is a bunch of traditional climbing gear. This is my ascender set up for getting up on a rope to shoot above a climber. Static line. I typically use a static line, not a dynamic rope for shooting climbing. I realize we're getting super specific here in terms of the climbing. This is a f-stop backpack that allows you to open it from the back and put your gear down in the snow or the mud or whatever and not get your cameras dirty. It's great. It's also great for carrying lighting gear. Though typically, when I am shooting some of these adventure sports, I'm not taking photo backpacks with me. Typically I'm taking a Black Diamond or these bigger, giant backpacks. And I'm putting the strobe, let's say into a little f-stop ICU that's padded. So it's just this strobe itself. The head will be in a separate one. So everything's in padded little containers and I'll just stuff it in there with the padding gear or the outdoor gear or whatever it is I'm taking. And then you can see here, just variations. I use the low pro street and field system. It's been around for quite awhile now. And these top-loader bags and lens cases to really specifically tailor the gear for when I'm really going back in two or three miles or 20 miles or however far in we're going. And you know if I'm shooting rock climbing, I'll have this set up where it's just one camera and two lenses. If I'm shooting mountain biking, I'll have two or three lenses and a different selection. If I'm shooting sea kayaking or something where I need a waterproof case, I'll go for this. If I'm shooting surfing, it's a different waterproof case and it's just one camera that you take into the water with you. So I tailor the gear very specifically for each shoot. And it's a custom pack job every time I create the kit to go on the assignment.
How tall of a minimum height do you like your light stands to be when you're out in the field? Like when we're looking to purchase one, how tall should they go?
For the rock climbing and stuff like that, the highest you can get. But of course, the tall stands are also the heaviest stands so it kind of depends. I've got stands of all different heights and sizes. You know the super lightweight guys you can put your speedlight on. It's also how tall the stand can fit in your bags. So I do have giant rolling light stand cases that can fit pretty much any stand including C stands. But then you get to this point of how much money is the client willing to spend on baggage. You know if I have 10 bags and it's just me and an assistant, we might be paying an extra thousand dollars in baggage fees. So that's why I say it's a custom pack job. There's no rhyme or reason. But if I'm shooting rock climbing, then I want the biggest stand that I can get because it's usually going to be on the ground. But then that also comes back to my pre-production of figuring out, as you'll see in Smith Rock when we shot rock climbing, where the climb is and if there's ground that goes up to the arm level with the climbing. Because I want the light at least on level with the climber or above. Not pointing up from below. So depends on the situation. Good question though. So let's keep going on the gear here. Outdoor gear. You know I've had several shoots. I remember doing one for Climbing Magazine in South Dakota. And I took a relatively giant down jacket but I froze my buns off on that morning shoot. I swore to myself when I got home, I was going to buy the biggest stinking down jacket you've ever seen so I didn't freeze on the shoot because I could barely even hold the camera steady because I was so cold. So taking care of yourself as a photographer. Water, food, clothing in the outdoors. I shot a lot in Patagonia where it's raining sideways and the wind's blowing 60 miles an hour. It really pays off if you want to get decent images. Especially if you're going to be shooting with lighting. You've got to be comfortable yourself to stay out there and set stuff up. And if you're not, then you're just not going to do it. So all the considerations to think of. And of course, there's way more gear on my website. So the main things for me are these two Elinchroms right here because they're both battery powered. We will talk about other gear options here from other brand manufacturers. So it's not like I'm just saying this is it. But this is what I found works really well for me. The main reason I've chosen Elinchrom is weather-proofness. For me it's the one strobe on the market that can take pretty much anything you throw at it and survive. We took this behind a waterfall just a few weeks ago. I really can't talk about that shoot. I've tested that thing in pretty much every condition except for just throwing it into the water and it survived with the head plugged in and this open. So I mean, I'm blown away this thing's still working because what we've done to it and beat it up and dropped it several times. This is the one of the three that they gave me that looks somewhat new. So that's why I chose it to bring. But the other two are pretty scratched up and pretty beat up. And that's a huge deal. If you're gonna lug this stuff way out there, not just this but your cameras, the hope is that they're durable enough to really survive so you can actually use the thing. So I bet there's a few questions out there.
So we did have a question that came in from story and pictures,
And he said you mentioned road rags, can you tell us again how do you mount flags in the field? Are you bringing another light stand? Or some other way?
It's a multitude of ways. So that's a great question because flags are not something a lot of people are using with lighting these days. And these road rags that I have, I think they make them in 18 by and 24 by 36. So they're giant. A, you either bring another stand. Which is a little bit of extra weight. And I'm typically not using C stands with them, but I will have a grip head that's like a solid steel head so those are kind of hefty. And I'll put those on the lighter weight aluminum stands. And then with the stands, sometimes I'll either a I'll take these, I don't think I had a picture of it. But I'll take a canvas tote bag that you get at Whole Foods or wherever you go shopping for food, instead of sand bags. And when I get to the location, I'll start filling them up with rocks or sand or whatever we have there to create a sand bag and put that on the stand. So if I take a lighter stand and put the tote bag with rocks in it, I can lock it down in somewhat windy conditions. If it's super windy then you're gonna have a hard time setting up a soft box or anything too big. But the alternative is to take tent cordage and stake out your stand. Just like you would a tent. And usually I use a minimum of three. And I tie these just above the first knuckle on the stand. So somewhere up here. And I take tent pegs, and I use a rock and drive them in. And that stand's pretty stable. And maybe I'll take a tote bag and put rocks on it as well. And that's a lightweight way of locking down your stand. Or throw my camera bag on there. It just depends on how many stands. But for my flags, I'll either put it on a stand, but more often than not, I'll have another athlete or somebody else who's out there with me. It may not be an assistant. It may be I'm working with two or three athletes and I'll say hey, Joe or whatever their name is, can you hold this flag right here next to the light? So improvise is the key thing there.
Right I was gonna say, but there's a lot of MacGyvering out in the field in the remote locations
Where you are.
And figuring out how this works. There's a lot of MacGyvering in some ways for the high sync and hyper sync stuff.
Yeah another question came in about do you, with all the gear that you have depending on where you're going, how big the planes are, do you ever have to check in some of your camera bodies and lenses versus being able to carry them on? And you showed a pelican case but are there any other suggestions
The Pelican case is for checking in stuff?
So far. I mean we'll see how it goes here in the next few years. If I can't get on the plane with this guy, I'm not gonna get on the plane. I'll be like I'll fly tomorrow on a different flight. Because that's worth more than my car. I've always been able to get the cameras on the plane. I check the lighting gear every time I get on a plane. That's why I have the Lightware cases which they're like lexan foam wrapped. I mean they're like this thick on the size. I can stand on this soft sided case and it doesn't even move. And they only weigh nine pounds. So they're a little nicer for traveling with gear because they weigh like a third of the weight. If you get a big Pelican case, that's like 22 pounds and you haven't put anything in it. And in the United States you only have 50 pound limits unless you're flying international. So the Pelican case at nine pounds means I can put a whole other kit of this in there because it weighs 12, 13 pounds less than the Pelican case. And for my part, it's just as solid as the Pelican case, it's just not a thousand percent water-proof. It's somewhat water resistant but it's not a Pelican case. So it's tricky. That's where I try and take the least amount of camera gear. If I need more camera gear than I can take, like we're shooting video or something, I'll ship stuff in Pelican cases to the location. Or I'll give some to my assistant to carry as well.
How often do you have an assistant out there with you?
With lighting, that's a great question. With lighting I try and have at least one assistant all the time just because there's so much going on. The best sandbag for your stand and your light is an assistant holding the stand. Because then they can also manipulate the light because I might be hanging off a cliff. And for me to come back down, walk over however far away the light is, and adjust it and then go back up and try it out would be kind of crazy. So just having an extra pair of hand out there. If I'm doing really big lighting like the surf shot, I might have three or four assistants. A, because it might be 600 pounds of gear that we have to walk a quarter mile or half mile away just to get it to the location. And then unpacking all that stuff and putting it together would take a long time if I just had to do it. And before we go on a shoot, if they don't know my gear, because for me, I'm not so worried about an assistant actually knowing my gear. My test for an assistant is pick up this 80 pound bag, walk a hundred feet, walk back. Hey you're hired. Bang, alright let's go. I can show you how everything works. I just want you to be able to physically get it there. So that's a very direct way of thinking about the assistant thing. I have so much gear it seems ridiculous these days. But this is the thing. And this is also why I chose to do lighting on this intensive level because it's so much more effort. You're carrying a lot of weight. And often I'll go out with one camera and a few lenses and at least one strobe and I'll carry a 60 pound pack. Which is not that bad. And just the fact that you set up the light and you did something really creative will set your work apart from the rest of the pack which is really hard to do these days in photography. There's so many good photographers out there. So many of my peers are doing amazing work. How do I set myself apart from all those other photographers? Or at least apart from a large portion of the other photographers out there? A big part of it for me is with lighting. And that's the one way I think we have left to really take it to a different level. Or at least one of the ways I should say.