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  1. #1

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    Gary Fong, DIY alternatives, Sunpak 555 and Fashion Runways

    I was shooting the Knoxville Fashion Week runway show last night. All I had for light was my trusty old Sunpak 555 speedlight - whose sensor on auto is very reliable - and a homemade diffuser, which I eventually jettisoned.

    Many other "photographers" present were using Gary Fong light diffusers that look like tupperware jars attached to the flash. They were all shooting digital. Among other things, I did shoot several rolls of Portra 400 (at 800 ASA). There is no doubt that I was the only person shooting film in there.

    The end of the runway was at least 25ft from the photographers, and the middle of the runway was probably 40ft or so away.

    One older guy had his Gary Fong pointed at me - I was sitting behind him and the runway was in front of him - so I assume that at best he was using the edge of the light diffuser. My homemade diffuser was wasting light and draining the battery on my flash, hence my jettison - but I assume that that must also have been be the case with the myriad Gary Fongs. It seems to me that they are designed to optimise bounce flash -- you point them up at a ceiling and have a nearby subject, and the resulting light is part bounced and part direct. That doesn't work so well in a large hotel convention room with a farther away subject.

    I got the impression that most people in the room didn't understand light, and if their Gary Fongs worked at the show, it is only because they chose high ISO's on their digital "cameras."

    I am trying to figure the best "simple" lighting methods for similar shows. The ambient light is quite low, and multicolored. I have decided that the best approach is to use a flash strong enough to become the dominant light, but without totally swamping the ambient lights. But I want to do this without wasting light so as not to suffer attendant battery drain - so I am thinking something like a 10" X 10" speedlight softbox.

    The trouble with that is that the 555's light sensor is right under the strobe, so would be blocked by such a softbox.

    Any ideas? Is there a remote sensor for the 555? Alternatives to an on-flash softbox?

  2. #2
    ParkerSmithPhoto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by newcan1 View Post
    I got the impression that most people in the room didn't understand light, and if their Gary Fongs worked at the show, it is only because they chose high ISO's on their digital "cameras"
    Uh, seriously? Their digital "cameras"?

    If these distasteful digital photographers didn't understand light, but you do, then why are you asking such a rudimentary question?
    Parker Smith Photography, Inc.
    Atlanta, GA

    Commercial & Fine Art Photography
    Portrait Photography

  3. #3
    markbarendt's Avatar
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    The 555 seems to be TTL capable, if your camera is also, then the sensor on the flash doesn't matter. If your camera isn't it may be time to upgrade.
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

  4. #4

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    My camera is TTL (Nikon N90s), but for the 555 you need the appropriate TTL module installed, which I do not have. I have a remote sensor for the Vivitar 283, which is quite respectable, but I really like the Sunpak - more battery power and more accurate sensor. I suppose the alternative would be to take some flash readings with a flash meter before the show, and then dial the Sunpak on manual. The problem is that the ambient light is typically different before the show (full house lights etc) and I'm not sure if that would affect the flash meter's reading. Also it would not be practical to change settings during a runway walk to accommodate pictures at different distances.

  5. #5
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    You haven't mentioned TTL, but I'll address it too.

    The 555 has modules for different cameras for dedicated and TTL operation, and a non-dedicated, non-TTL module also. They connect to the flash with a cord, so they can stay with the camera as the flash is moved around. The modules also have their own sensor; on TTL cameras the flash can be set to "A" to use the module's sensor when the module is connected to it, or the blue dot for TTL (there's also "M" for manual, of course). On non-TTL cameras, the module will act as a remote sensor when the flash is set to "A".

    The universal, non-dedicated, non-TTL module is STD-1D. Modules do not connect directly to the 555. The EXT-11 cord is necessary, and allows off-camera flash. It's coiled, and can extend to about 3 feet.

    I have the Bronica sensor, which has no contacts on the module's foot, as the separate TTL cord connects to the body. I suppose, but don't know, that any module with hot-shoe contacts on its foot would be able to trigger and control the flash on the flash's "A" setting.
    Last edited by lxdude; 05-06-2013 at 12:33 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    I do use a digital device in my photographic pursuits when necessary.
    When someone rags on me for using film, I use a middle digit, upraised.

  6. #6

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    An event photography I met a few years ago always used 1 or 2 layers of mat acetate over his flash.

    I don't know the guide number of the Sunpak 555, but given a shooting distance of 25ft, you might find the mat acetate just enough diffusion. At 25 ft, you might be concerned about too much diffusion.
    "Far more critical than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know." - Eric Hoffer

  7. #7
    lxdude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mgb74 View Post

    I don't know the guide number of the Sunpak 555, but given a shooting distance of 25ft, you might find the mat acetate just enough diffusion. At 25 ft, you might be concerned about too much diffusion.

    The Guide number is 150 with ISO 100.
    I do use a digital device in my photographic pursuits when necessary.
    When someone rags on me for using film, I use a middle digit, upraised.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by lxdude View Post
    You haven't mentioned TTL, but I'll address it too.

    The 555 has modules for different cameras for dedicated and TTL operation, and a non-dedicated, non-TTL module also.
    I was aware of this, but didn't realize that the module stays with the camera. I'll keep a lookout for a Nikon module. Thanks for the info.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by mgb74 View Post
    An event photography I met a few years ago always used 1 or 2 layers of mat acetate over his flash.
    I know this is apparently a rudimentary issue, but I am still in two minds whether acetate diffusion will make much difference at these distances. I think that diffusion scatters light; in a small room that may cause light to reach the subject from different angles (a bounce effect if you like). But in a cavernous convention hall, any non-direct light would likely be lost. In fact, my home made light sphere wannbe works extremely well in a typical room of a house, but looking at some of my event pictures, it really didn't change the look of any pictures compared with ones I took without it. My conclusion thus far is that I need something to enlarge the size of the light source; I was thinking something like a 10x10 softbox on the flash, but that gets me back to my auto sensor issue. And even that may not make much of a difference.

    One photographer at the Knoxville event who knew what he was doing actually used two strobes with umbrellas, providing a large, soft area of light and greatly mitigating any shadows behind the models, but in a small photo area with many photographers at the location, there is a limit to how many people can do that. I am usually there for only one or two designers, and believe that others have a better demand on the space. Hence my desire to brainstorm on what might be the best solution for a small light on a camera bracket.

  10. #10

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    Since you don't have the working space, straight flash on a bracket. And make sure the flash is about a foot away from the lens axis, to eliminate red-eye.
    You might be able to arrange to put up a remote flash on a stand, if no one knocks it over. That will give you off-camera flash angle. And it won't take up a lot of space and it won't block the vision of the audience like an umbrella would.
    Don't bother with diffusers. In a large area like that, where is the light going to bounce off of? Just a waste of light and battery power.
    The only use for a diffuser would be for a wide angle lens where the 555 does not throw a wide enough light pattern to cover the lens. Then I would use a FLAT diffuser over the front of the flash, not a tupperware bowl sending light in a 360 degree circle.

    What I would do is to experiment with various DIY light modifiers to see just what the effect is in a BIG room.

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