Saturday

RadioPoppers in the field

I've had my RadioPopper transmitter and receivers for a few weeks now and have enjoyed playing with them. But most of the time that's happened in fairly predictable situations where I mostly had the chance to check the range and reliability of the units.

Now, though, I've had a couple of opportunities to use them in somewhat more demanding situations, where I didn't just have to get them to fire my flashes but also had to adjust them "on the fly."

One feature I offer as a part of my wedding photography is an engagement portrait session. This gives me a great chance to get to know the couple a little better and also lets us make some photos in a more relaxed (and fun) environment that we might have on the wedding day, when there's so much else going on.

Pez gets a treat at the start of our shoot at the Tidal Basin. As you can see, we're working in
fairly dark shade under that overhanging limb, but the Jefferson is in (almost) full sun.

Mary & Kevin live in the DC area and, like many couples, wanted an engagement portrait that placed them in the city with all it's rich history. And they wanted to include their dog, Pez, which is something I always encourage couples to do. Having their favorite pet along gives them something to focus on and can make for some nice interactions, especially if they would otherwise just be thinking about how they were out in public drawing so much attention to themselves.

Even though the famous cherry blossom trees were not in bloom, the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial offers some great places to shoot, and we ended up there. Because the trees were completely filled in with summer greenery, the spot where we started out had them completely in the shade, and pretty dark shade at that underneath the overhanging canopy of boughs.

I'm using a basic crosslighting setup on the couple. It's a little hard to see
the flashes in the trees, so I've helped you out here with extra obviousness.


Behind them, though, the Jefferson Memorial was mostly in bright sun, though the few passing clouds that afternoon caused my meter readings for it to swing back and forth by 2-3 stops. Because our space is limited (you can't interfere with other people's access and enjoyment of the park, and the walkways are fairly narrow) I put one SB-800 on a stand a little way in front of them and parked another behind them with a snoot on it to avoid any spillover in to my lens. The "front" flash just had the diffuser dome on the flash along with a 1/2-CTO warming gel, and the back flash was undiffused but had a 1/2-CTB (blue, cooling) gel on it.

Mainly what I wanted was to put Mary & Kevin in a situation where they were framed by the trees and I could juxtapose them with the monument in the picture at a reasonable size. This meant I had to shoot "long," or use a telephoto. I slapped on my trusty 70-200 f/2.8 zoom and ended up finding just the composition I wanted. This was achieved by laying on my stomach in the mud about 75 feet away shooting through the trees. I couldn't even see my flashes, but the RadioPopper P1 could and they fired reliably every time.

I always say that pictures like this are why God made washing machines, because
I was sprawled flat out on my stomach trying to get just the composition I wanted.


And because the sun kept going in and out of the clouds I kept having to adjust my exposures to match them to the monument, even changing it several times in just a few minutes. Fortunately the RadioPoppers let you take advantage of i-ttl's high shutter speed flash capabilities, and the image above was made at 1/1600th of a second at f/6.3. This enabled me to keep from blowing out the bright-white memorial while not having to use tons o' battery power lighting them.

I've been very impressed so far with the RadioPoppers. I'm sure I'll put them through much more in the months ahead, but so far they have lots going for them. When I shoot these kinds of portraits I'm often working on my own, so I try to keep the amount of gear I have to schlep down to a reasonable level. And the RadioPoppers keep me from having to do a lot of running back and forth to adjust my flash output.

Because we were shooting fairly late in the day (which is the right thing to do) we lost our light before too long. Walking back through the park toward our cars, the August heat and haze and the slight overcast created a really nice moody effect, and I asked Mary & Kevin to just walk along the path to the parking lot a couple of times so I could shoot some more photos. No lights, except that big sun that I always joke about carrying around in the trunk of my car. As it happens, those last photos ended up being my (and their) favorites, but if we hadn't lucked in to that scene I would have been thrilled with the results we already had. And I don't think I could have made those nearly so smoothly if it hadn't been for the RadioPoppers.

My motto is, "Always use natural light. And always use flash."
Here, I'm just using the one.


Aside from the RadioPoppers, these photos were made with a Nikon D3, a Fuji Finepix S5, and SB-800 flashes.

1 comment:

Brian Sullivan said...

Tom, Thanks for the post. I just recently dicovered your blog after my newfound interest in Radio Poppers. My px units should be here tomorrow...
I think my favorite is the photo with the monument in the background.
Do you often warm your flashes when shooting in the shade? Also I think you are shooting RAW but how would you set your WB in this situation?

Thanks,
Brian