Testing a lightweight alternative to big flash for shooting outdoors in the heat wave. It takes a certain camera.

Now is when it gets too hot to live and work in Texas. I would guess the heat has already effected my brain because I haven't retreated to a more temperate clime yet. So jealous of Michael Johnston just kicking back in the cool woods of upstate New York. He probably can keep his ice tea cold just by setting it on the back porch.... But we have heat advisories from the National Weather Service for the next few days, in the Austin, Texas area. We're looking forward to heat indexes of around 110 degrees (f) during the afternoons and today those will be compounded with wind gusts of 20-25 mph. Just imagine a nice, humid, convection oven...

And, of course, we have an outdoor advertising portrait scheduled for 1 pm.

Now, normally, I'd grab the big Elinchrom Ranger RX AS with the two heads (30 pounds+/-), four C-stands (two for lights and two for diffusion scrims/sun blockers) four sand bags and various other goodies. I'd head over to the location and set up a big softbox and we'd shoot like that. We would need the big rig if were shooting with one of the full frame Sonys, and that's the way I used to shoot exterior with the big Nikon D810 but, I'm just not feeling it today. I'm out to reduce the load in deference to the heat. 

I mulled the shoot over and suddenly remembered something really cool about the Sony RX10 series of cameras; they have mechanical leaf shutters (or switchable electronic shutters) and can sync with flash all the way up to 1/1250th of a second. This is a great thing because it means I can use a smaller, battery powered flash, sync'd at a higher shutter speed and get the fill flash I want for the image outdoors. However, we never take any information on face value when $$$ is involved so I grabbed the RX10ii (it has the built in ND if I need it...) and started testing. 

Using a Nikon AS10 hot shoe to PC cord adapter I could trigger just about anything that has a reciprocal PC plug but I wanted to see if I could use the Cactus V6 radio trigger along with the Cactus RF60 flash instead. I didn't know exactly what the performance parameters of the triggering mechanisms were in terms of max sync speed but the easiest way to find out is to test. I switched the camera to mechanical shutter speeds and ISO 100 and then started firing away starting at 1/1600th. 

No love at 1/1600th so I dropped down to 1/1250th and there it was: full flash sync. Bright across the frame. Not wanting to leave anything to chance I tried an entire range of shutter speeds down to 1/60th and all worked well. Just to be thorough I pulled the RX10iii out of the drawer, tested it in the same way and it too passed with flying colors. I dropped it into the bag next to the model 2 to serve as a back up. I'll be shooting as long a focal length as I can, commensurate with getting the background scene I want but I know I won't need to go longer than the equivalent of 200mm in this job.

The ability to sync flash at a wide range of shutter speeds is a good thing if you are shooting in contrasty daylight and need to fill in shadows. We'll take this feature and combine it with the way I usually deal with sunlit portraits. We'll find the background I want first and then figure out the relationship between subject and background that is most pleasing. I'll set a base exposure for the general scene. I'm aiming for f4.0 as my base aperture at ISO 100 so I'll be nudging right up to the shutter speed 1/1250th and might need to accommodate the sun by switching to f4.5 to get perfect exposure. Alternately, I could engage the ND and drop down nearly three shutter speeds to play around 1/250th. 

I'll put a diffusion panel or light blocking panel about two feet above my subject's head and sand bag it well. This takes hard light off my subject but it also drops his exposure at least two stops under daylight and that's where the flash comes in. I'll use it to bring the exposure back up on his face but without the squinting that the constant sun would cause. 

But I have no intention of using raw flash; that would just be replacing one hard light source with another. I'll use the flash in a modifier. Today I'm going to go with a smaller, 32 inch, collapsible Westcott octabank. It's quick to assemble and is a nice, soft source that lends itself to being used in close to the subject.  

Other gear includes: Wide brimmed hat, sunscreen, cooler with water, tripod, etc. 

I look forward to spending an hour in the heat and then getting back into the air conditioning. 

Image from a hot Summer day at Barton Springs Pool. Taken with the predecessor of the RX10; the Sony R1. A wonderful camera with a smaller than APS-C sensor and a permanently attached, Zeiss zoom lens. The tradition continues.

Last week our yard was emerald green. Who knows how close to this west Texas desert scene we'll end up in a week or so..... (Olympus EP-2 and Pen F 60mm f1.5).