What’s the Difference? is a series of video lighting tutorials. Each episode responds to a single question. In this episode, Jared Platt compares shooting with and without Freeze Mode activated on his flash. The entire series, including all videos, articles and lighting diagrams, is available at our website. And feel free to leave a question to Jared in the comment section if you have one!
Freezing a moment in time has always been the hallmark of the photographic arts. In the 1870s, Eadweard Muybridge used photography to freeze the gallop of a horse and proved that during gallup, all four legs leave the ground.
In this case, our lighting challenge was not to freeze a galloping horse, but to freeze the explosion of a water balloon. We filled an entire basket with small water balloons and asked our baseball player to swing away, while we compared the difference between a set of standard studio flashes and a set of Profoto B1 and B2 Off-Camera Flashes set to Freeze Mode.
The Set Up
Our shot was taken outdoors, in the shade of a house, with a black felt backdrop behind our baseball player. With a long lens (Canon 70-200 L IS 2.8), we were able to set the camera far enough away not to be soaked by the spray of the water. But the flashes were a different story! Our flashes would be soaked, so we covered them in clear plastic to keep them dry.
Two of our flashes (modified with reflectors) were placed behind him on either side as hair lights to separate him from the backdrop. The third and main light (modified with a reflector) was placed just off frame left. The position of the main light was nearly at a 90° angle from the camera. This cross lighting, together with the hard nature of a reflector as a modifier, created the dramatic volume you see in the shot. This volume was very important in showing the shape and texture in the water explosions.
Our camera settings were set at 1/200 sec at f9 at ISO 800. Of course, 1/200 of a second could never stop action, but in the shade of the building, at f9, with a neutral density filter on the lens, any hope of capturing ambient light was lost, so our shutter speed was unimportant. Any exposure made was a result of our flashes and, therefore, our ability to freeze the action was dependant entirely on the duration of the flash.
Without Freeze Mode
We first employed a couple of studio monolights without Freeze Mode functionality. Their shortest flash duration was somewhere around 1/600 – 1/1800 of a second, which is quite long and not all that capable of freezing fast action.
In the resulting image, you can see that during that long window of exposure, the bat and the water have traveled a good distance, which was recorded by the camera. This is why you see the water droplets as streaks of water. The explosion presents itself as directional motion, which is interesting in its own way and may be exactly what you are looking for. But this is the extent of the capabilities of a typical flash. Truly freezing water at this velocity is not an option.
With Freeze Mode
For our second shot, we used exactly the same setup. But our hair lights were swapped out with Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flashes with Zoom Reflectors, and our main light was swapped out for a Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash with a Magnum Reflector.
The B1 and B2 both have a setting called Freeze Mode. In Freeze Mode, the flash duration can be as fast as 1/19,000 second, which will freeze water at this velocity. With Freeze Mode activated, we were able to truly freeze the water explosions and see what our eye could not see.
In the resulting images, you can see the individual water droplets and the crystal clear waves in the center of the explosion.
Both shots have their value, and there is a good reason to want to do both. The motion in the first shot shows the explosive movement, while the second shot allows us to see the water frozen in time.
However, most flashes can only get you as far as the first shot. The Profoto B1 and B2, on the other hand, allow us to capture images with both a longer and a shorter flash duration. This gives you more creative control over your artistic vision, and more control is always a good thing.