VLX Part II & Guide to Using Strobe Outdoors

September 23, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Awhile ago, I made a blog post that included a review and my first impressions of Paul C Buff's Vagabond Lithium Extreme. In this blog post, I share some more thoughts on the unit after using it in the field, and also include some tips and tricks to using flash outdoors.

 

The VLX continued to work well with the Broncolor Scoro units on location. However, a small caveat I noticed to using the Scoro: Sometimes, if I raised the power of the Scoro in multiple stops, the unit would shut itself off when running from the battery. (Ie. Raised from power '4' to '8' and instead of charging up to 8, it would attempt to charge but the power pack would restart itself). Not sure why this would be happening, unless the Scoro is just trying to pull too much charge, can't get it fast enough, so it restarts. This seemed to happen more often when I was not in slow charging mode. In any case, this issue is completely fixed by raising the power more slowly- a stop at a time, waiting for the ready beep, another stop, waiting for beep, etc. It doesn't affect the firing at all.

 

Feedback from Paul himself told me that as the Scoro draws more peak current, voltage drops and the Scoro resets itself as a protection measure. Again, this is not harming the power pack, and the issue is solved just by being a little patient. Again, for the price, it provides a very competent ability to take your existing flash on location.

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Below is mostly unrelated to the VLX unit itself, but it does show you how the flash works in action with the VLX and also provides some information on location lighting.

It is key to remember that, when using off camera flash outdoors, the photographer is in actuality making two separate exposures -- one for our ambient scene and one for our flash. 

In this sense, it is the same as studio photography: The aperture you choose will determine how much (or how little) light from your flash ends up in the scene. However, outside, the other variable to play with is shutter speed: Shutter speed will determine your ambient (environment) exposure. 

 

Ambient exposure level is found first (seen below.) 

 

Nothing to really write home about here, folks. Like, at all. :) There's little to no light on her face (but that's how we want it), and she has a nice rim light on her arm and down the side of her hair, which gives us a nice separation against the background with the trees. I adjusted my shutter speed until I found a reasonable level of environmental light that I wanted to use in the photo -- there is sufficient light on the flowers in the background, as well as the path. I was able to keep detail in the sky, but still get an interesting sort of spot light effect from the sun.

Now, we add the flash, and that's where the magic happens...

The result is a really beautiful photo. I changed positions slightly, to get the sun out of the frame in this instance, and I was able to adjust my shutter speed even lower (to let in more ambient light) to get the flowers in the background a little more prominently lit. The softbox for the off camera strobe is approximately 5 feet away from the subject to camera right. I simply set the strobe to a reasonable power level (approximately 200 joules, if I remember correctly) to get an acceptable recycle rate, and adjusted my aperture so that the flash would work with the depth of field I wanted -- flowers sharp, but trees a little soft.

The key with using off camera flash on location is that you now control your light, and the sun does not control you -- you are able to use it to your advantage. 

The above photo was shot around the same time as the previous photo! However, by adjusting my shutter speed even further (higher this time, but be aware to stay below sync speed!), I was able to "knock out" the background to almost completely black, while still keeping just a small hint of sky and environment. I also got an interesting reflection on the sunglasses from the softbox. 

 

One of the original testing photos (we had some equipment bags in the back!). This time, the softbox was much closer, creating bigger catchlights in her eyes and a softer light on her face. I was in rather close with a wide angle lens (not a usual practice for portraits) to get more of a "in your face" sort of look. Again, by playing with your shutter speed you control the light in your environment.

 

This is another example of the "in your face" effect. I thought the sky in the background was very interesting; however, this sort of lit shot would be impossible to capture without off camera flash. The sky was still too bright when I had a proper exposure on my subject. However, on the flip side, if I tried to get a proper exposure on the sky, the subject was almost a silhouette -- that's when your light comes in. 

 

Lastly, one final example of showing just a hint of your environment ( the sky in this case and the outline of trees) but still being able to proper light your subject.

The above light was set so that we truly do see a silhouette of trees only. Robert (the male model and fellow photographer) was kind enough to trade off on the camera to grab this shot of me. :) (Thanks, Robert!)

In photography, it all boils down to your creativity and your control, and we get this through light. "I'm a natural light only photographer" usually means "I don't know how to use my flash" photographer. However, when the sun isn't cooperating, you can't stop the shoot and tell the client that they will have to wait until the environment works out! 

When you control the light, you control your photo. 

 

Hopefully, this helped and gave a few tips and tricks. Get out there and play with your flashes! Even a small speedlight off camera through a small softbox can get you wonderful results. We can read as many articles and watch as many tutorials as we like, but only by getting out there and shooting it will we accomplish anything. 

 

Please, if you have any questions, respond in the comments with any questions, or shoot me an e-mail at andrew@a2mphotography.com

 

Thanks so much for reading!


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