Location lighting by Paul Ellis

Last Saturday I ran this year’s first Location Lighting Workshop and the sun came out, which was an unexpected surprise. I enjoy running this workshop when the sun shines, as I always get a kick out of teaching people how easy it is to blend flash with daylight (to either fill in or over power the ambient light).

I normally use either a Profoto or Broncolor battery pack but for this workshop I decided to use an Elinchrom Quadra battery pack. For those of you who don’t know, this pack is tiny and weighs a fraction of the other packs (thanks to a light weight lithium battery) and the heads are also miniscule. Now the problem with trying to over power daylight on a sunny day (it was a Sunny 16 day on Saturday – 100 iso, 1/125, F16), in order to under-expose the background to get a strongly saturated blue sky, is that you need lots of flash power (or your flash close to your subject). The Elinchrom pack has a maximum power of 400 W/S, whereas the Broncolor/Profoto packs have 1200 W/S, that’s 1.5 stops difference, that doesn’t sound a lot and it isn’t when the ambient light isn’t strong but on a sunny day it’s a problem.

The alternative method to under-expose the sky would be to use a fast shutter speed but the problem with this is that Focal Plane shutters in DSLR cameras cannot syncronise with flash faster than 1/200 (Phase One Leaf shutter lenses can sync as fast as 1/1600). So I decided to hire a Pocket Wizard Mini TT1/Flex TT5 combination and try their Hyper-Sync* with the Elinchrom Quadra. Hyper-Sync is very clever and is transforming location lighting with flash. Hyper-Sync allows the use of very fast, short, shutter speeds with flash speeds down to around 1/4000. This is now opening up completely new territory for the location photographer to explore. It is also making the need for expensive Leaf shutter lenses redundant. So I connected the tiny Elinchrom Quadra S head* to a 2 metre Elinchrom Octalite and managed to sync at 1/4000 and this allowed me to use a wide open aperture of F2.8 in very bright sunshine.

* Elinchrom make two Quadra heads, S and A. To use Hyper-Sync you must use the S (Standard) head and not the A (Action) head. This is because Hyper-Sync works by clever timing with flash duration and the duration of the Action heads is too short for Hyper-Sync to work.

* Don’t confuse Hyper-Sync with HSS – High Speed Sync. HSS on a Canon flashgun (FP on a Nikon flashgun) allow the flash to be used at any shutter speed, down to 1/8000, but it isn’t true flash. It pulses the light to simulate a continuous light source and because of this, it isn’t very powerful (although you can daisy chain several flashguns together to get more useable power).

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Location lighting course information