Using Big Lights on Location

© Matthew Jonas 2010/Evergreen Newspapers 2010

If you have read any of my posts about lighting you know that I was raised on the lighting traditions of David Hobby. I worked with him during the filming of the DVD he put out on lighting 101 when I was living in Delaware. I have been a small light shooter since I started working in newspapers. It was a necessity born out of portability and speed. Lately I seem to bringing a lot of gear with me to do the job of one big light. So I have made a change.

© Matthew Jonas 2010

Enter the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Pro A set. These ultralight weight, battery powered, 400 watt second, durable strobes are just what I need. The kit I am using is made up of 2 Ranger Quadra A Heads with 13.5cm reflectors, 1 RQ Pack, 2 RQ Batteries, 2 cables, a shoulder strap for the pack, a SkyPort transmitter (more on this in a bit), 2 stands, 2 umbrellas (more on this later as well), AC adapter with country specific plugs and 1 case that everything but the stands and umbrellas will fit into very nicely. The photo above shows how the kit is packaged.

© Matthew Jonas 2010

I don’t work in a studio, so studio strobes that require a 110v power outlet were out of the question. I needed something that was as portable as my old Nikon SBs are and can be set up or broken down almost as easily. The Elinchrom Rangers work off of a very tiny powerpack/battery combination. As you can see by the photos below, the pack/battery combo is really small and light weight. The yellow piece next to the AC power port is a standard fuse found in most domestic cars. This is a nice feature because if you blow a fuse, you can snag one from any car care store or big box retailer.

© Matthew Jonas 2010

There are many things to like about this kit but there are a few downsides. The first is the cost compared to other systems. The Ranger Quadra Pro Set A retails for around $2500.00. Ouch. It might be easy to justify the price when you actually start using it and understand the versatility it can add to your photography. There are a lot of cheaper options to consider these days.

The second downside is the cost of light modifiers. Umbrellas are nice, but not really the best solution in all circumstances. At the time of this post Elinchrom only offers 1 softbox that will work with these without an adapter. The heads also use a non-standard umbrella shaft size – 7mm. Most umbrellas and umbrella boxes are 8mm or larger. There are some third party umbrellas that are compatible but once again they come at a premium price. A single reflector with 3 varying grids can run upwards of $200. To use this set efficiently you would want to have at least 1 softbox for fill and then a gridded spot for the key/hair light etc.

I have found that it is possible to use my Lastolite Ezyboxes without buying another speedring. My 24inch x 24inch Ezybox will fit over the standard reflector and stay put without any modification. For some reason my smaller 15inch x 15inch Ezybox will slip off easily. I end up using a couple of small clips to secure it in place.

The third downside to consider is that the powerpack is asymetrical, meaning you won’t get 2 400 watt second heads out of the same pack. It ends up being a 66%/33% split ratio, so your first head will be running at 268 watt seconds and the second head will be running at 132 watt seconds. This may not be a deal breaker for some but it would be nice to have an equal split. Speaking of the powerpack, if you want a second one you are looking at around $1100. The Kit ships with two 11.5 foot cables for the heads. In actually using them I find that they are about 5 feet too short to work with. If you want a large softbox on one head and then want to use the second head for a hair light on a boom you will almost certainly have to spring for another cable. The 11.5 foot cables are of course brand specific and about $100 each.

And finally, Elinchrom uses the Sky Port wireless system which is built in to the power pack. I have always used Pocket Wizards and will continue doing so after trying to get the Sky Ports to work. Indoors I get misfires. Outside they work great. My PWs work great inside and out. Enough said.

So now that the review is out of the way, how did I light the picture at the top of this post? The subject is a 15 year old cyclocross racer from Conifer. The story will run in the High Timber Times sports section this week. Its the only photo that was going into the sports section this week so I figured it would be a nice big vertical.

I met the racer in Morrison and grabbed my camera, a Canon EOS 1D Mark II N, a Canon 16-35mm lens, a single big light, power pack and a light stand and headed out into the field. I set the strobe on full power, set my white balance to cloudy and placed the strobe high on the light stand to the right of my camera. I saw that there were a few clouds in the sky so I waited until they passed in front of the sun. I underexposed the background by a couple of stops and just worked the angles as the clouds moved in. The whole shoot took 15 minutes if you count the time it took to walk into the field. Pretty nice light from such a small package. Below is another picture I made in case we decided on a horizontal.

© Matthew Jonas 2010/Evergreen Newspapers 2010

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