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|| News Item: Posted 2006-03-30

In the Bag: Small Lights, Big Look.
By Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times

Photo by Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

Photo by Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

Basic lighting gear consists of 2 SB-26 Nikon Speedlights, 1 SB-28 Nikon Speedlight, 2 Nikon SD-8A external battery packs for the strobes, 2 speedrings, Pocket Wizard transmitter and receivers, Bogen tabletop tripod, Canon strobe foot, bags of colored gel
I've been asked many times what equipment I use for lighting. The core of my off-camera, portable lighting gear consists of Nikon SB Speedlights: 2 SB-26s, 1 SB-28 (even though I shoot Canon) because they have PC plugs built into them (that's how I attach them to Pocket Wizard receivers). The SB-26s also have built-in slaves which come in real handy.

I use Pocket Wizard radio remotes to trigger them and I'll modify the light with softboxes or with umbrellas. They're all packed in a Lowe Pro roller case. Depending on the situation, I may throw a couple of lights, a softbox and a couple of stands into a sling bag and take that with me.

I've reached a point in my career where I just want to travel as lightly as possible.

Also in the case are colored gel swatches (mostly for color correction and sometimes to jazz up the scene -- sparingly) and small pieces of neutral density gels. A couple of plastic bags hold extra cables and some Wein slaves. I also have a small, tabletop Bogen tripod fitted with a coldshoe for placing a strobe in the background or behind a planter. The plastic strobe foot Canon provides with their strobes works great too.

I also have two, Dynalite Uni 400jrs but they don't get used much. I've used them twice in about two years. The biggest drawback is the weight. The heads and the Jackrabbit batteries get pretty heavy. Plus the larger size makes it difficult to place them in tight spots.

The Canon strobes can be fired remotely too, but since they use infrared, they must be placed in the line of sight. You can't place one around a corner or in another room and successfully trigger it (unless the space is very small and/or the walls are HIGHLY reflective). Because the Pocket Wizards use radio frequency, you have greater flexibility in strobe placement. I do have two Canon Speedlite 580 EXs but they're mostly used on-camera.

Photo by Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

Photo by Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times

One Nikon Speedlight in a softbox and placed to the left gave a clean highlight on the guitar and provided a dramatic sidelight on Pepe Garza, program director of KBUE-FM 94.3/105.5 in Los Angeles.
The Nikon strobes are used in the manual mode and I dial up or down on the power to get the exposure I want. Having done it so many times, I know the basic exposure for the strobe at a certain power level and certain distance from the subject. Afterwards, I'll adjust the exposure and placement of the lights to get the look I want.

The Speedlights are powerful enough to use outdoors in bright sunlight even in a softbox (provided the light is close to the subject) but can be dialed down to 1/64th power for portraits shot wide open. I have two SD-8A external battery packs for the strobes to help with recycling times (especially when shooting full power). Dialed down, you don't need the external packs, as the strobes recycle fairly quickly.

Another point to consider is cost. Most of you already have a couple of these strobes. Use them as your studio or on-location strobes. You'll still need speed rings (to mount the strobe and softbox), a multi clamp (to attach the whole rig to a stand), softbox and light stands but these are items you'll need anyways even if you went with a set of Dyna-Lites.

Make the most of what you have before you decide to spend a ton of money.

(Myung J. Chun is a staff photographer with the Los Angeles Times. His videos from various Sports Shooter educational events can be found in the "Special Features" area of He is also Bert Hanashiro's principle adviser on car purchasing matters.)

Related Links:
Chun's member page

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