Last month I had an accident that almost took my life.
While attempting to ice skate for the first time, I tripped, fell and cracked my skull open. It turned into an intense life experience that set me on a wild adventure through the medical system and a month long recovery. As you can guess, by the third week of doing nothing I was going nuts! I had all these new ideas, and inspirations just clambering their way out of the crack in my skull. I needed to shoot!
Before the accident, I spoke with the awesome folks at Lumo Pro. They wanted to send over a few of their LP 180 Manual Flashes for me to test. So I had new gear, new lighting ideas, and a free Sunday to work with fellow photographer Gina Manning. Perfect!
Manning and I wanted to really put the strobes to the test. As a challenge, I wanted to see how many different looks we could get in one room with only two speed lights. We made some rules:
- No makeup
- No wardrobe changes
- Two lights
- Two stands
- Handful of gels
- Two reflectors
I do my best work when dealing with restrictions. Overcoming obstacles helps me come up with ideas that I could never preconceive. I find myself in this position on jobs all the time honestly; it is a lot more fun!
In 2012 I taught myself how to use speedlights. Before that, I was lighting my photographs the same way I light my films - constant light sources. That forced me to shoot at high ASA, creating heavy grain. A photographer friend of mine suggested I try speedlights, so I got my hands on a few Nikon SB800’s. At the time, they were top of the line and had a lot of great features - Almost too many! They seem focused on TTL shooting, which to me seemed like a complicated way to cheat. I had to dig deep to figure out how to use them manually and the entire time I kept wishing they were just simpler to use. I started researching Nikon’s smaller units, but only the SB800 and SB900 can work with wireless control. So in order for me to use the wireless setup I have to spend $400 – $500 dollars per speedlight. Sure I would cough up $500 for my Key light, but I usually shoot with at least 4 lights and spending all that loot on edge lights is ridiculous.
In the current state of the photography business it is getting harder and harder to get paid the fair amount for a gig. The only way I can survive is by keeping my overhead down. That means finding a more affordable lighting solution.
Enter Lumo Pro. I stumbled across their speedlights on Ebay. For $200 I can get a reliable light source that can be triggered via wireless, and it’s all manual! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them!
I unpacked two of them and mounted them on C-Stands for maneuverability, while Gina picked out colored gels. Lately I have been obsessed with under lighting subjects. I am a huge fan of the cinematography used in House of Cards and Hannibal. Barely lit faces and dark silhouettes cut by under-exposed backgrounds. I wanted to recreate those looks with the strobes.
I started by using the window (daylight) as my key and the Lumo’s as edge lights and fill. Shooting at about 1/64 power, they worked perfectly. Flashed every time!
I decided to change it up a bit and blow out my edge light. I cranked them up to the highest setting and found the units first obstacle. Shooting at Power: 1/1 it takes the flash about 5 seconds to recharge. Not really a huge issue for shooting still life, but if you needed to capture action at high shutter speeds and require a big output from your flash, it could be a problem. Waiting for it to recharge between shots could cause you to miss the action. Once I reset it to a lower output, it refreshed as quickly as my camera did.
Another piece of gear we tested was a used Nikkor 135mm T3.5 lens. I got this puppy basically for free with a $50 gift certificate to a local camera shop. I needed a better portrait lens, and sure the 3.5 t-stop is a turn off, but I figured ‘what the hell. ‘
Paired up with the Lumo’s, I was able to capture some gorgeous shots at 150 ISO! The old lens captured this beautiful de-saturated color and beautiful lens flaring.
Next up was the low lighting test.
I have yet to be impressed with the light manipulators in the photo world. The soft boxes and umbrellas always seem flimsy and too thin. I definitely need to play with some options. I usually fall back on my cinematography techniques; bouncing light off bead boards, muslin, or reflectors. I had my assistant make me a bunch of custom made snoots that fit snugly on speedlights for control. They range in length with a black end and a white end for more spread. Some are even stuffed with a black honeycomb to give the light a pinpoint focus.
For these shots, I used the two Lumo’s. One with a long snoot focused on Gina’s face, the other was being shot through two layers of diffusion and an umbrella to give the shadows some detail. The sun was going down behind the curtain and blinds giving awesome texture to the fabric but was quickly disappearing. I had to get the shots fast!
Both Gina and I shot non-stop for at least 5 hours and the Lumo’s performed perfectly on one set of battieries. Pretty awesome for a $200 speedlight and a great addition to my kit!
- Mike Pecci