Richard Walch Puts the B1 Off-camera Flash to the Test
Richard Walch had long fantasized about combining action photography with rocks colored red and blue with light. But it was not until the B1 off-camera flash was introduced that he and his team discovered a solution for how to do it. Read the story and learn how.
About a year ago, Richard Walch saw a picture of Chefchaouen, the ancient Moroccan city famous for its blue-rinsed stonewalls and alleys. It got him and his partner in crime Marcel Lämmerhirt thinking about doing something similar with light. Eventually they came up with the idea of bringing trial biker Thomas Öhler and flat land BMXer Viki Gomez to the Carrara marble quarry in Italy and color it red and blue with flash lights and color gels.
“The idea was to combine stunning bike action with great scenery,” says Richard. “We wanted to do something that would appeal to people who like action photography as well as those who prefer something like landscape or architecture photography.”
The challenge with such a shoot is that you need a fast and mobile flash to capture the action, and a powerful flash to light up the scene. There are not many flashes like that. But Richard and his team found a solution.
“The shoot would not have been possible without the B1,” says Richard. “Speedlights aren‘t powerful enough, plus we really needed the Light Shaping Tools. At the same time, we had to follow the bikers around the quarry, so we needed something cordless and portable. Before the B1, there was no flash with all these features.”
At the Carrara Quarry
Once Richard and his team arrived at Carrara, they were reminded what a bustling environment it is. Huge machines hauling 40-ton blocks of marble were constantly circling around them, and the team had no choice but to stay moving and shoot where there was space.
“Most of the shots were done at one of two locations,” says Richard. “There is a tunnel that leads into this huge, cathedral-like opening in the heart of the mountain. It’s absolutely amazing. This is where all the shots with the blue colored rocks and the portrait were done. The excavators also dig deep into the sides of the mountain, which results in these stunning marble terraces. This is where we did the shots with the red colored rocks, plus all the shots with the valley in the background.”
In the Heart of the Mountain
Richard and his team faced a number of challenges in the heart of the mountain – most of which can be summed up in a simple fact: they had to shoot cordless.
“Shooting without cables or cords was an absolute necessity,” says Richard. “First of all, there were obviously no wall sockets there. Secondly, you have to be respectful of the bikers and give them the space they need to perform. In other words, there couldn’t be any cords on the floor. Thirdly, and this is probably the most important thing, the bikers are not standing still. They are constantly moving around, which means that the assistants had to hold the flashes and chase after them with the lights.”
The team used four B1 off-camera flashes for these shots. Two lights were mounted on stands and equipped with Magnum Reflectors and blue color gels. These were the background lights, lighting up the marble walls. Assistants, who chased after the bikers with the cordless units in their hands, operated the other two B1s. In the middle was Richard, shooting wirelessly with the Air Remote TTL-C attached to his camera.
“It was a sensational feeling shooting without any cables or cords,” says Richard. “Honestly, after shooting like that for an hour, you think that’s the way it should always be.”
Marble Terraces and Metal Machines
As previously mentioned, the team also did a number of shots at the marble terraces out in the open. The setups they used here were in most cases similar to the ones inside the mountain. The red walls were created with two B1 off-camera flahes mounted on stands and equipped with Magnum Reflectors and red color gels, while the handheld B1s were equipped with TeleZoom Reflectors to throw the light over long distances.
“This shot would’ve been impossible with a speedlight,” says Richard. “You need a much more powerful flash. To give you some perspective, the two B1s lighting up the stonewall are 160 meters from each other. That means that each flash covers an area of 80 meters! The same goes for the handheld B1s that we used to light up Thomas as he rode around the quarry.”
The fact that the assistants holding the main lights had to move around meant that the amount of light hitting the subject constantly increased and decreased. This would have been an issue if Richard had used a flash without TTL. Luckily this was not the case.
“If it weren’t for the B1’s TTL function, I would have had to constantly stop and manually adjust the power output to get the right exposure,” says Richard. “Now, we didn’t have to do that. The bikers could just do their thing, the assistants did theirs and I did mine – without any interruptions.”
The Hero Shot
The team rounded off the day by shooting portraits of Thomas and Viki. By now it was getting late and everybody was tired, so Richard decided to use a well-proven setup.
“I call it the hero setup,” says Richard. “You need three lights to do it. We had a B1 with a Beauty Dish as our main light, and one B1 with a Softbox RFi 1×4’ with Softgrids on each side. This setup gives you a quite soft and flattering main light, while the rim light defines the muscles and the face bones and makes you look strong and powerful … like a hero.
“So, what I did was that I quickly placed the lights and asked Viki to pose for me. I then set the Air Remote TTL-C to automatic mode and pushed the release button to get the right exposure. Finally, I switched to manual mode and dialed down the main light two stops and increased the rim light two stops. Click! Bam! I had my shot. It literally only took me a couple of minutes.
“I believe this opens up a world of possibilities for photographers. You can easily go fully automatic and just point and shoot and not have to worry about anything except what is in front of you. But you are also free to go manual and get as creative as you want. It brings you a whole new workflow. Once you try it, it changes everything.”
See more of Richard’s work at his website.
Learn more about the B1 off-camera flash at the Profoto website.