Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Seven ways to trigger your flash off-camera for creative light placement
Radio transmitters are similar to optical wireless transmitters except they use a radio signal instead of an infrared signal to trigger the flash. You need both a transmitter and a receiver unit for this system to work. The big advantage using a radio transmitter is the increased range and reliable sunny day performance. Radio transmitters don't need line of sight.
Radio wireless systems come in a variety of configurations. I really like using the Elinchrom Skyport system to trigger my flashes. It has a small transmitter that's attached to the camera hot-shoe and a receiver that's attached to the flash via a small cord. I can't adjust speedlight output or use high-speed sync with the Skyports, but they work fantastic triggering my flash in Manual mode.
Skyports offer another huge advantage to my shooting. I use Elinchrom lighting equipment, which is also triggered by the Skyports. Being on the same wireless system allows me to use both speedlights and studio packs in the same image. I'll often shoot a portrait using my Nikon SB-900s as accent lights, with an Elinchrom Ranger studio pack and head—shot through a large octabank—as my main light.
Another type of radio transmitter is the PocketWizard. PocketWizards have long been the standard wireless transmitter for many photographers. Recently, they began producing the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5, a new dedicated radio wireless system for Nikon and Canon flash, offering the same control of optical systems but in a wireless system. You can change output, control three different groups and use high-speed sync with this system. It works with both Canon and Nikon flashes, and is upgradeable to work with new cameras that are introduced.
RadioPopper offers another wireless trigger system that takes a different approach to wireless flash from its predecessors, with some notable advantages. The RadioPopper PX system uses a transmitter that fits over your dedicated optical transmitter and a receiver that fits onto your flash. This system works by converting the optical signal into a radio signal, transmitting this to the receiver, which then converts the signal back to an optical signal for the flash receiver to use. What this means is that all the functions I have available on my SU-800 are available using the RadioPopper PX system. Since the signal is converted to a radio signal, I don't have to worry about line of sight or interference from the sun. The system is simple to set up and use.
But where the RadioPopper really shines is the distance and reliability it offers. I've been astounded at how far I can trigger my speedlights using RadioPopper. While the official range is stated as 1,500 feet, I've done tests and triggered my flashes close to a third of a mile away—and they never miss a shot! Since I shoot a lot of adventure sports, this extended range allows me to use flash on mountain bikers riding on a distant trail or kayakers paddling in a canyon below me.
Tom Bol is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Colorado. You can see more of his photography at www.tombolphoto.com.
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