Trial by Fire: Brian Smith shoots a fire eater during the golden hour
Whenever Pulitzer-prize winning photographer Brian Smith works with new equipment, he likes to put it to the test in the field. Recently, he tried out Profoto’s new Sony-compatible Air Remote TTL-S by photographing a fire-breather on location in the limited window of the golden hour before sunset.
“When I’m trying something new, I want to test the limit, throw in a few variables that I can’t control—like fire,” says Brian, whose Pulitzer came from photographing the Olympics, a world in which fractions of seconds mean everything.
“Things often work flawlessly in the studio and then you go out on location and find out what the problems are,” he notes. “Photography is easy when the stars align. The trick is to pull it together when it looks like a disaster.”
To get his images, Brian used three Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flashes, one light with the OCF Beauty Dish White above facing the subject from slightly above and two B1s with Profoto Zoom reflectors and ½ CTO gels behind the subject. He and fire eater Cirque Bishop started by doing some test runs to get the framing right and get some ideas for different options.
“Getting the light to 95% of what you want is one thing. That last 5% is difficult,” he explains. “The back lights create a rim. They open up details but keep the feeling that you want. They don’t overpower the scene but show it the way they eye sees it but the camera doesn’t otherwise capture.”
Staying out of the line of fire
When shooting, Air Remote TTL-S was not only immensely useful, it was almost a life-saver. “A big plus was the ability to change the output of the flash heads from the Air Remote instead of literally walking through the line of fire.”
Brian also took a close-up portrait of Cirque wearing hoodie using through-the-lens metering and high-speed sync. “I had not used Profoto with TTL or HSS, so I used both,” he says. “High-speed sync is great for when you want a rich, saturated background but shallow depth of field.”
And what did Brian think of the Air Remote TTL-S after 30-odd years of shooting manual?
“It definitely won me over. I particularly like that once you have a TTL exposure you like, you can simply switch the remote to Manual to lock in that flash output.
“With the Air Remote TTL-S, there’s no delay and you don’t lose the sync speed. I could shoot at a native 1/250 without issues. The Profoto equipment was bullet-proof. No missed sync issues. The flash fired perfectly at 1/6400.”