Fashion photographers, commercial photographers, product photographers – they all shoot with flash. Amongst nature photographers, on the other hand, the use of flash is less widespread. But Jasper Doest shoots with flash. And he just tried the Profoto B1 off-camera flash. Here is what he has to say of it, in his own words:
In the field of nature photography, there’s still some hesitance against the use of artificial light sources. I don’t agree with this. Just as long as you use your flash in an appropriate way.
Try to practice balancing the light on a stuffed animal or a human model. You’ll notice that if you point your flash directly at your model at full power he or she is not going to be happy. It could even cause temporarily eye damage. So be careful with this. Another reason why you do not want to do this is that it creates very harsh flat light. Artificial light is meant to control the quality of light, not as a compensation for lack of light quantity. When you learn how to control the quantity and to balance the light from the right angles you will find that using a flash unit in a natural environment does not cause any problems for you and the welfare of the animals.
I remember struggling with flash some years ago. The light wash harsh and it wasn’t until I started experimenting with off-camera flash that I started to understand the power of this magic little light source. As I gained knowledge, frustrations appeared as well. While speedlites are nice and compact, they do not keep track of the camera while bursting several frames per second. Also, the output wasn’t as always as consistent. However, there was no other option for me, unless I’d start using external battery packs, which would be a big loss in flexibility.
Then, the announcement of the Profoto B1, at the end of last year, draw my attention. Perhaps this flash unit is best described as a battery-powered, cordless flash. Profoto calls it nothing more than a off-camera flash, which is exactly what it is. But after testing I found it is way more than that. This flash has the maximum output of 500Ws, roughly ten times stronger than an average portable speedlite. That might seem like an overkill, but since the energy range can be brought down as low as 2Ws, the light can be adjusted beautifully well. While doing so, you gain a lot in recyclingtime compared to a regular speedlite. This is a huge advantage. You often start firing a short burst of frames when the action starts, shooting through the actual moment. Often you’ll find that at the ultimate moment your speedlite didn’t fire. The quick recyclingtime of the B1 makes firing bursts up to twenty frames per second a piece of cake. Now your flashlight will be able to keep track of fast camera’s like the Canon EOS-1D X.
It gets even better when used with the Air Remote TTL-C, although it is a pity this only works with Profoto flashes. It would have been great if this would have worked with speedlites as well, so that you can easily combine different lightsources. But one has to switch to the optical slave mode on the Profoto B1 in order to do that. However, the Air Remote TTL-C remote proves to be a great tool. The remote allows you to control multiple flashes remotely from your camera to find the right balance for your shoot.
I happily took the Profoto B1 for a spin in Portugal and Ireland last month in combination with two of Profotos many Light Shaping Tool. I decided to use the Softlight Reflector White for my wide-angle approaches as well as the NarrowBeam Reflector for long distance work. Although the NarrowBeam reflector is not recommended by Profoto in combination with the Profoto B1, it does extend the range to a certain amount. While I used to work with softboxes, I decided to go for a Softlight Reflector White as it is less sensitive to wind. Softboxes often start flapping in the wind, which doesn’t work well when working with wild animals. A hard reflector like the Softlight Reflector works a lot better that way. The light has slightly more punch than a softbox, but I actually liked that and the light still curves very nicely around your subject. The large surface creates a beautiful soft light, nicer than I used to see with the speedlite-softbox combination and also the ‘catchlight’ in the eye is round, which makes it all look very natural.
At one point the wind did get a bit too strong though and got grip of the reflector. The whole set hit the rocks and for a second I thought I would have ruined my photoshoot. While there was some cosmetic damage on the outside of the flash unit and the reflector, I was amazed to find out the B1 worked just fine after the incident. It was the ultimate test. The B1 was Jasper-proof. Something I can’t really say for some of the equipment I’ve used over the years while working under rough circumstances.
That convinced me. The Profoto B1 is now part of my regular toolbox. Later this year Profoto will announce a firmware update for the B1, which will enable HiSpeedSync. After this update, I will only use speedlites when a compact system is required.
See more of Jasper’s images at his website.
Learn more about the B1 off-camera flash here.