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The Big Gun


At various points in my life, I’ve had a second occupation as a professional photographer. Mostly mundane stuff like product and loss (insurance) photography but both paid well and most importantly for a gadget dude like me, allowed me to accumulate a decent quantity of pro equipment. Some of it is somewhat old but that doesn’t mean anything outside the the Snob Wars.

I needed to do so product photography so I dragged out my Big Gun flash system, a Speedotron 6 flash head, dual power pack Speedotron D-400. This is a full-boat studio flash system that duplicates the sun for a millisecond at a time and draws enough power for an instant that TVA probably notices. It weighs in at over 50 lbs. I have a dedicated 2-wheel luggage carrier to wheel it around. But damn, does it make the light. And to think that this is the next-to-smallest unit Speedotron makes. This is a system that was designed back when men were men and film was slow.

Digital cameras give us much more latitude than film, of course. I don’t really NEED high powered strobes. Indeed, I usually shoot with compact fluorescent lighting. My camera color balances to that just fine and since the light is on continuously, composition is much easier. However, sometimes it’s nice to be able to hand-hold the camera and shoot with strobes.

I see so many poorly lit and under-lit photos on the net that I thought I’d take a moment and post some properly exposed photos. I didn’t go to any great trouble with these and I’m only using 2 flash heads. With another head or two I could get rid of even the trace of shadow that is present.

The Setup

Flash setup

Here’s the simple setup. Two flash heads with umbrellas and a hunk of plywood suspended on the backs of two chairs. I prefer soft boxes but I don’t have room here. Yeah, I know it’s messy but I (comfortably) live in a 3 room cabin so spaces must multitask.

For the task at hand, a backdrop will be attached to the blades of the ceiling fan and will drape down over the plywood. This provides a nice uniform background and aids with diffusing the light and eliminating shadows and hot spots. For this article I just shot some stuff laying around.

Flash 01

Just for reference purposes, here’s a photo of the Speedotron power pack taken with my Nikon CoolPix 995 with its built-in flash. OK but nothing to write home about.

Flash 02

Ok, here’s a the same shot but this time with the Speedotron on half power. Better but the background is still not lit.


Now we’re cooking. The power pack is well-lit and the image “snaps”. The background is also well lit. Notice the reflection of one of the umbrellas on the old TV in the background.

Flash 04

This is a photo of one of the tools laying on the plywood, a butane match. Notice how uniform the lighting is. There’s just a hint of shadow but its very soft. I can either eliminate that with another flash head or just photoshop it. There is just a little “burnout” (all pixel values full white, 255) in the highlight at the end of the match but that’s OK since the area contains no detail. If the burnout mattered, I could fix it by photoshopping a little.

Flash 05

Here is a wider shot of the tools. Again, notice the soft shadows and the proper lighting of even the sides of the tools. The oil can is burned out but that’s OK because it’s pure white anyway and is in the background.

OK, got to get to work so that’s all for now.


Posted by neonjohn on February 6th, 2008 under Photography

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