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|| News Item: Posted 2008-05-28

Photographer's Toy Box: Going small with speedlites
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by

Speed Grids from Dave Honl
Everyone knows I'm a "Dyna-Lite Kind Of Guy" …meaning I generally use portable studio lighting equipment for my location portrait work.

Maybe it's old age or maybe it's reverting back to my childhood that I have really taken to this whole strobist movement that has become so popular with Dave Hobby's very informative and very entertaining website:

Heck even my newspaper has gotten on the strobist bandwagon of sorts and one of our "tech talk" columnists did a big splashy piece on Dave and his website (including a cool video by my USA TODAY colleague H. Darr Beiser:

But I think what spurred me on to "going small" with some of my assignments that require lighting, is the discovery of two oldie but moldy Vivitar 285 strobes tucked away in an even older Domke bag in that back of my closet. That bag was my location lighting kit back in the … well, never mind when.

Though I hadn't used these strobes for probably over 20 years, I popped in some batteries and, HOLY S*** they powered right up and fired like I'd used them just yesterday.

I began totting these around to supplement several speedlite strobes I had and when I need to "run & gun" a portrait shoot, this kit began to be my lighting method of choice.

Lighting in a (small) bag …what a concept!

The great thing about Dave's website is that he brings large light concepts to small light hardware. Using "naked heads" is just as bad (actually worse) on the small strobes than with my 2 - 1000 ws Dyna-Lite packs and 4 - heads.

Controlling the light, both what you bring to the assignment and what's available on location at the time of the shoot is important.

Umbrellas, softboxes, LumiQuests, Sto-Fen domes, Fong Dongs all help control and/or soften the light. And it is these accessories and how you use them is often what makes a portrait something special or a disaster of pixels that looks well, ordinary.

Another cool thing about Dave's site is all of the DYI accessories he writes about. Currently on my "to-do" list is a beauty dish made out of a rubber salad bowl, an empty case blank CDs and DVDs are sold in and other assorted items found in any hardware store.

One thing I tried to make and it was a miserable failure was the DYI grid spots for the speedlites. Using black drinking straws, it looked on paper like it would be easy to make and work really cool.

Like most photographers, I like to tinker, love to use new gear right away before reading the manual (RTFM my colleague Bob Deutsch always yells at me) and think I'm sort of handy. But I just could not make the DYI grid perfect and it really didn't work as well as I'd hoped (too much light spill over).

Well, leave it to ingenuity, a photographer's entrepreneurial spirit and now photographers have a well-made set of grids for their small shoe-mount strobes that REALLY work. And work well.

Photographer Dave Honl was already making an assortment of accessories (snoots and gobos) and his new Speed Grids fit right into this line of "lighting in a bag" philosophy of the strobist community.

The thing about 'going small" is of course the lack of power. Big difference between my Dyna-Lite 1000ws powerpacks and my SB800s (or Vivitar 285s). Often times you have to bring in the strobes a lot closer to the subject than you'd ordinarily like, which makes flare an issue.

The Speed Grids attach quickly and easily to your small strobe and with either the _ or the tighter beam 1/8 grid, you can place light where you want and also reduce your chances of getting stray light into the lens causing flare.

The light of course is focused into a narrow beam, which can make for some dramatic lighting possibilities or make putting accent light on a subject a little easier. The light through the Speed Grids loses about a stop but is very nicely feathered, like the more expensive grids for studio strobes.

Of course you can go the DIY method and use black wrap, black drinking straws and gaffer tape to build snoots or grids yourself. But for my money (and time) finding the tools that really work is the route to go. (And they are just damned cool - looking!)

(For more details about the Speed Grids, go to this link on Dave Honl's website:

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