Portable Power: Big Lights On-The-Go

Portable Power: Big Lights On-The-Go

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Ok… so we are shooting on-location. Woah, hold on. What does “on-location” even mean?! That all depends on you, the photographer, or you, the client who has hired a photographer. A lot of new photogs out there will toss around words like “on-location” to describe in a round-about way of saying they don’t use lighting. Which translates to they haven’t invested in either the knowledge, the equipment, or both in order to utilize lighting for on-location shoots. Photographers who spin their own reality using catchy words in an attempt to sound marketable, allthe while misinforming the public can drive me crazy at times. On-location does not mean you are having to settle for anything less than amazing.

I bring up this odd tangent at the very beginning of my post to make a key point. That point is that on-location does not mean I can’t bring the power and control of my lights with me where ever I go, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. I repeat, I’m bringing more than just my camera to the party. I use every single piece of lighting equipment that I use in the studio in that big, wild, endless possibilities of an environment we call “on-location.” It’s the world around us, every part of it. And I’m here to tell you that every single part of it can be lit with off-camera lighting to create your own vision. A vision that couldn’t happen without bringing your own lights along for the ride.

BTS shot above, you can see how remote of a location we are in, considering we are using big strobe lights.

There is this huge movement to use hot shoe flash units to do work in the field, heck, even in the studio (hot shoe flash units are the guys that can slip onto the top of your camera for light. They can be used for off-camera lighting as well). Yeah, sure, they are cool… at times. The pros: they are small, light-weight, and take batteries so they don’t need external power. The cons: they are small, super expensive, they are a fairly weak light source, they run on batteries, they are not nearly as consistent at a larger strobe light, and they reek havoc on my wireless triggering system due to interference, which further decreases my flash firing consistency. Hot shoe flashes have their place in the world, but when I’m with a paying client and I have the ability to, I bring my big studio strobe units with me to do the job. My large strobes pack a serious punch and will allow me to manipulate the environment in ways those little hot shoes only dream about, and I have a kickass, assortment of large light modifiers for the larger lights. So… I bet your next question is “ok, big shot, that all sounds great, but you need wall power to drive those lights, how do you get that ability to do that in the middle of nowhere?” That is where portable power units come in. I use all AlienBee lights and modifiers, so the logical choice for me was the Vagabond power system they make. This of course will work for any lights that use your standard wall plug. A single Vagabond can run between 6-8 lights! And I can run 4 big lights and pop of over 250 shots before I need to seek another power source. I’ve taken my big lights to all kinds of extreme places where you wouldn’t ever think of seeing big lights. That’s why I used a shoot I did a couple months ago to illustrate just how possible it is to bring big lights and power to places where you think you’d be limited to just hot shoe flashes or even just “natural” light. They are not the coolest photos I’ve taken, but definitely one of the more remote locations. Somewhere that you couldn’t whip out an uber long extension cord and siphon power off of a nearby building.

We hiked out to a waterfall in the middle of the woods for this shoot. Now, a disclaimer. The downside to using big lights, big power… weight and size. Hopefully you are like me and have some friends/assistants that can help you pack gear. But look at me, I’m still here, alive, I packed the gear, it was harder than taking just some hot shoe flashes with me, but I got the shots that couldn’t have happened otherwise.

So if you are a client and are needing some great on-location shots, you don’t have to compromise with a “on-location/natural light” photographer with limited capabilities. Photographers, you don’t have to bow down to what mother nature tosses your way or “work with it.” Take control of your shots, invest in the knowledge, the equipment, and take the shots that make people stop at look at your photos. Make them say “woah, cool, that looks fake,” because it’s executed so well.

Again, this shoot was powered by an AlienBees Vagabond II power system. It’ll run ya about 300 clams. I’ve been using my current Vagabond for well over a year without a single complaint, it’s a workhorse.

Thanks goes out once again to my great friend, Andy Lahmann, for shooting BTS stuff for me on this outting.