The Aurora Orion light kit arrived on my doorstep at the busiest time of the year for me. At the end of the summer I take hundreds of high school seniors and thousands of “one shot” photos of the underclass students at high schools. So while it has taken me a while to get around to writing the report, I have used these lights to take thousands of pictures, and I was really glad to have a light kit that I could just pick up and walk out the door with and have all I needed in one really nice travel bag.
High school senior photography has changed dramatically in the last few years. With looser yearbook standards and the ability to see what you get with digital cameras, many photographers who previously did major business in the senior market are now seeing sharp declines. With this in mind, I decided to ask four of the top names in the business about how they maintain a strong presence in the senior market. All have their own style and way of doing things and all are exceptional photographers.
Photographers all have their favorite light modifiers. Some like umbrellas, some softboxes, others parabolics, and then there’s the beauty dish, which seems to be a combination of a softbox and a parabolic. For those not familiar with the beauty dish, it’s a round but narrow modifier that you attach to your light. Think of it as a parabolic reflector painted white inside and flattened. If you stopped there, and you could, you’d have a pretty harsh light that makes a well-defined circular pattern with distinct shadows. But there is another little modification that makes a very big difference and also softens the light considerably while still maintaining that circular pattern. There is a bulb cover or center bounce dish that blocks the direct light from the flash and bounces it back into the dish. When used this way, the light output sits midway between a softbox and a parabolic.
Let me tell you about my first experience with a Vagabond Mini. I was teaching one of my lighting workshops, using a flash unit with its battery pack. The light and battery pack were a kit I’d purchased as a combo. We’d been shooting a while and the battery pack was almost dead when one of the other photographers there told me he had a Vagabond Mini in the car. We unhooked my dead battery, and using the AC power cord from the flash unit, proceeded to just plug in to the Mini and keep on shooting! And shooting, and shooting… You see, this thing really supplies a lot of flashes and can be used with many flash units. But let’s start at the beginning…
Like most professional portrait photographers, I use Photoshop every day. Yet, because Adobe Photoshop is such a powerful program with so many tools available, it also comes with a significant learning curve. And when it comes to facial retouching, there are several tasks involved that do not always make Photoshop the best choice for everyone, especially those who want to do the job and move on.
The Einstein monobloc strobe is listed at 640 watt seconds (ws) of power, has a bright 250-watt modeling light that can vary proportionally with the flash output, a 12 flash per second (fps) claimed capability, and a constant 5600˚K color temperature, no matter what the power level. Also, a claimed nine f/stop range, from 2.5 to 640 ws, and Paul C. Buff’s proprietary IGBT technology fill out the bill. It’s solidly built, using a Lexan housing instead of metal. It’s not very big, but is bigger and about a pound heavier than the company’s AlienBees units that many photographers, including myself, use.
Several of my fellow portrait photographers have been using cool lights for years. Interestingly, they have not abandoned their flash units but continue to use both, depending on the situation. Having been a strobe/available light photographer for the most part, I was eager to both find out how well they worked and for what subjects they’d be most suited. Interfit was kind enough to send me their very economical ($340 street price) set of two lights, each with an eight-sided softbox, so I could find out for myself. Could they do everything my studio flash units could? Were they a better choice for some subjects than others? After a few weeks of testing, I had my answers.
One of the biggest advancements in recent years in flash photography has been the ability to use your camera-compatible flash off-camera and wirelessly. Canon, Nikon, and others have developed their own systems where you can control multiple units that not only fire at the same time but also can be put into groups with their own settings.
I really like extreme lenses. Extremely wide, extremely fast, and extremely long lenses will all allow you to create unique images that stand out from the crowd. When I heard about the Sigma 8-16mm lens I wanted to get my hands on one and start shooting, so I asked my editor if I could borrow one from Sigma for testing. He wanted to know what I was going to do with it, so naturally I told him: take portraits. You might, as he did, find this a little odd—taking portraits with a wide-angle lens, and a very wide lens at that. After all, don’t photographers usually use long lenses for portraits?
Why are photographers taught to use long lenses for portraits? There are four basic tenets behind this reasoning: narrow angle of view, shallow depth of field, flattering perspective, and a comfortable working distance between you and your subject. However, flip these “rules” on their head and you’ll see why I like working with wides: wide angle of view, great potential depth of field, unique perspective, and, oddly enough, working right in your subject’s face. In short, I use the special nature of a wide lens to give my portraits a new and unique look.
Photography is all about light and photographers are always looking at ways to modify it. Visit any studio of a working pro and you’re bound to see softboxes, umbrellas, cones, snoots, grids, beauty dishes, parabolic reflectors, etc. Each has their purpose in changing the shape and/or character of the light. Using the same light source, you can modify it from a sharp, harsh, point light source with distinct shadows to a soft, even light source with very little or no shadows. With that in mind I decided to give one of these modifiers a test, the Paul C. Buff PLM v.2.