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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Tools For Travel


The Photo Traveler’s annual collection of gift ideas

This Article Features Photo Zoom

photo traveler
Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans
It’s the time of year to leave some gentle hints for friends and family as to what toys a traveling photographer might want to receive during the holiday season. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to another year of cute photographer ties and little statuettes of elderly bearded photographers sitting behind ancient view cameras (and, believe me, they’re harder to sell on eBay than typewriter ribbons). Once again, the Photo Traveler has tracked down inexpensive (if you’ve just been good) to more expensive (if you’ve been very, very good) items of interest to shooters on the road.

Let There Be Light...Modification. I’m a big flash fan, and I find that one or two small units can help me create interesting photographs wherever I go. A lot of times, though, I like to modify that light, either spreading and softening it with an umbrella or diffuser, or concentrating it with a snoot or a grid spot.

Up until now, there have been many choices of aftermarket accessories that spread and diffuse the light from a small flash, but if you wanted to concentrate, or restrict the angle of that light beyond the zoom range of the flash head, you were left to a lot of inelegant DIY remedies, usually involving large amounts of gaffer’s tape, paper tubes, Velcro® and Blackwrap foil.

Photojournalist David Honl stepped in and created a great modular system of light modifiers for small flashes that are elegant, durable and save you from covering your expensive unit in sticky adhesives (www.honlphoto.com). First, you have Velcro®-lined Speed Straps that wrap around your flash reflector (with no tape or sticky adhesive!). To those straps you can connect one of two snoots (a long one and a shorter one) or grid spots with two different spread patterns, or a couple of gobos (“go betweens” or light blockers). He also has a series of precut colored gels that attach to the straps or the grids. The most exciting of these are the grid spots. Experienced light jockeys know that a honeycomb grid in front of your flash provides a nice, smooth-transitioning light restriction. Previously, you could only find these made for big, professional AC flash units. The Honl grids are exceptionally well made and lightweight and a welcome addition to any shooter’s lighting bag of tricks. Estimated Street Price: Speed Strap ($9.95); Speed Snoots ($19.95 and $24.95); Speed Grids and Gel Kits ($24.95 each).

Pop Goes The Radio. Don’t you just love the wireless TTL control on the Canon and Nikon flash units? To have cordless control of our flashes is one of the great joys of the digital age, and yet like a true photographer, you always can wish for more! That’s because of two limitations of these systems: 1) the distance from the controller to the remote is limited (to the 16- to 40-foot neighborhood, although your results may vary); and 2) the requirement that the remote flash be within line of sight of the controller.

Traditional radio remotes, of course, overcome both those obstacles for firing flash units, but at the cost of losing your TTL control, your ability to change the exposure value of the remote flash from your shooting position. Not a big deal, you say, until you try tweaking your exposure for a remote flash that’s set up, say, high in a tree so you can do fill-flash of a bird feeding its young in a nest. Do you want to tweak that output? If you do, you’re climbing that tree a few times!

Or, in a situation that I run into more as a travel shooter, say you’ve set up a few remotes in a disco in Rome or Ibiza for that killer nightlife shot that your editor craves. When the action heats up, (usually in the wee hours) and it’s shoulder to shoulder on the dance floor, do you really want to slither through the crowds to tweak your flash ratio? (Well, actually, maybe some of you do, but I’m too old for that kind of stuff anymore!)

An ingenious fellow named Kevin King at RadioPopper has given us the best of both worlds (www.radiopopper.com). RadioPoppers are radio remote units that take our flashes’ TTL remote signal, convert it to a radio signal and send it to the remote RadioPopper unit on the flash, which in turn decodes it into the cordless TTL signal again. The result? Cordless TTL control, with radio remote range and no need to stay in “line of sight.”

I’ve owned my RadioPopper P1 (there’s a P8 on the drawing board, which will offer eight different radio channels for those who have to shoot in pack situations like press conferences) transmitter and receiver for a few months now, and it works extremely well. There’s a bit of awkwardness and touchiness in the way you have to mount both the transmitter and receiver (and you’re back to gaffer-taping and Velcro®-ing things onto your flash, like the fiber-optic cable of the receiver over your flash’s receiving eye). So I don’t keep the units permanently mounted on my flashes. Instead, I break them out only when I get into a situation where I need to “hide” a flash around a corner or in the next room, or if the distances between me and the remote flash are too long for the visual signal.

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