Challenging product photography in a tradeshow environment with the Profoto A1

10 June, 2018

Written by: Ariel Adams - Founder; Editor of ABlogtoWatch.com

Established in 2007, aBlogtoWatch.com publishes watch buying guides, timepiece reviews and horological articles viewed by over one-million people worldwide each month. ABTW strives to provide enthusiasts, consumers and watch collectors with the highest calibre of watch related information.

Shooting wrist watches in hectic, mobile environments helped teach me much of what I know about photography. As the founder of aBlogtoWatch.com, a lot of what I do is capture as descriptive, and as beautiful as possible macro photography of incredibly reflective small products with no ability to set up a shot in advance. This is the world of a professional watch blogger, and there are few types of photographers like me. Profoto regularly helps me take vivid pictures of high-end timepieces in my home studio, and recently I and the aBlogtoWatch team took a few Profoto A1 wireless flashes with us to a watch tradeshow in Switzerland.

There is not a large selection of camera or lighting gear designed to facilitate easy portable macro product photography for users like me. The problem always comes down to light. Direct strobe light on wrist watches is the enemy because it causes glare. Too little light and your pictures will be unusably dark. This is the challenge of low aperture photography when a maximum depth of field is necessary – one always needs to maximize light to compensate for the small aperture size. Most of the time photographers simply use a tripod – but what if you can’t?

With often less than five minutes per watch while visiting with brands at the Baselworld tradeshow, using a tripod is both unrealistic and highly inconvenient. Hand-holding my Canon 5DSR is the only option – something this body really doesn’t like. I need to match a high shutter speed with a small aperture which means I need huge amounts of light. Don’t forget that it needs to be highly diffused or non-direct light.

This is where an off-camera flash like the Profoto A1 comes in, specifically when paired with the Profoto Air Remote. You can use the A1 on-camera like a traditional on-camera strobe, but for my application using it as an off-camera flash is a better idea. You can even pair a group of flashes to create multiple sources of light at the same time. While I am very familiar with flashes that Canon produces, I was excited about the A1 because of Profoto’s noteworthy reputation for getting a lot of light out of a small package (in a modern tool). The Profoto A1 turned out to be all of those things.

While a slight learning curve is required, I did find Profoto’s user interface and overall control ergonomics to be superior of that Canon and most other brands. Intuitive design in specialized camera equipment is a blessing to find, and Profoto makes it clear they are putting a lot of work into functionality as well as form.

On the supplied detachable foot, the A1 sits solidly. Its head is magnetic and allows for various attachments such as the included diffuser (which is a very high quality). The ability to turn the bezel of the head of the flash to adjust the flash zoom is really handy. The A1 body even has a switch to go from TTL to manual mode quickly. By having these features available at a finger tip as opposed to having to sort through menus gave me more time to focus on actual photography as opposed to setting up my gear.

The A1 seemed to realize that my lighting needs required maximum power when in TTL mode. I’m not sure how, but the lens realized that I needed maximum light so it amped up the power to 10 virtually all the time. Maxing out the strobe for hours on end didn’t seem to phase the A1 at all and it didn’t heat up (seemingly dangerously) as I have seen from other flashes when they are continuously used at max power. A1 spare batteries might not be bargain-priced, but they are easily swappable. One missing feature in my opinion would be the ability to charge the battery while it is in the flash using the included USB port. The port (whose cap seems to too-easily fall out at times) is seemingly only used for firmware upgrades (and that’s great you can upgrade the firmware on the A1). It would have been a great feature to be able to charge up the flash while on the go using a portable battery or mere USB cable for power.

My recommendation is that photographers planning on several hours of high-power flash photography with the A1 opt to bring along several spare batteries. I want to note that when used on-body, the A1 sips less power compared to my particularly energy-draining application. I personally like the flash off-body because it allows me to maximize where and how I can bounce light.

Profoto likes to say that their products are for “light shaping,” and I agree. I exist in the “light wrangling” spectrum of light shapers seeking to direct as much light as possible to my subject without actually pointing the light on the subject. This is a challenging and often frustrating task that requires the most high-performance and portable lighting equipment possible. Profoto’s A1 flash system easily handled the most challenging wrist watch tradeshow product photography environments and helped the aBlogtoWatch.com team take beautiful pictures in often not beautiful rooms. My recommendation is that anyone who has invested in the Profoto eco-system of lighting products also include the powerful and never-more-portable A1 “world’s most portable studio light” into their travel gear.

 

 

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Written by: Ariel Adams - Founder; Editor of ABlogtoWatch.com

Products used in this story

Air Remote TTL

Wirelessly connects your AirTTL light with your camera