Challenge Part 1: Setting myself a challenge


I’ve mentioned a few times about setting yourself little challenges to help you learn photography, so I thought it was about time I set myself one and blog about it along the way so you can see how I learn and hopefully see the results from beginning to end.

So my challenge that I am setting myself is to finally learn off camera ‘strobist’ style lighting. It’s something I’ve been wanting to learn for ages but have never really set my mind to it. So it’s about time I did it.

For the type of photography I am interested in most, which is wildlife photography, flash doesn’t play a big part in it, so it’s something I have never really had to learn. Now the evenings are getting darker and colder and there is less wildlife about, it’s a great time to learn something new.

So, first things first.

What is off camera ‘strobist’ style lighting?

Well, the term strobist comes from a web site set up by a photographer called David Hobby which was all about using small flashguns to light the image. So basically creating studio lighting effects with single or multiple cheap flashguns that aren’t attached to your camera.

Just check out these web sites for more info:

Strobist blog

Strobist Flickr Group

So if you’ve looked at those sites, you should now know what I mean when I say ‘strobist’ style lighting.

So where do I start? What is my plan?

Well first of all I need to get the right equipment, so I need to do a bit of research. The perfect place to start is the Lighting 101 section of the strobist site.

That tells me I need a flashgun (I’m going to start off with only one flash to keep things simple) and a way to trigger that flashgun. That is all you need to get going.

I already have a few cheap Centon flashguns, but they don’t really give the control I am after, and my Sigma flash seems to be playing up and is not proving to be reliable, so it’s time to get a ‘new’ flashgun. Now, I don’t want to spend hundreds of pounds here, so a brand new all singing all dancing flashgun is out of the question. So second hand is an option, so it’s off to ebay.

Unfortunately, thanks to the success of strobist, cheap flashguns with the control you need are very hard ot find or very pricey, but there are a few bargains to be found if you are lucky. I wasn’t lucky and my search for various Nikon SB-xx flashguns wasn’t going well. I then read about the Vivitar 285HV which the strobist site recommends as a perfect flashgun for this sort of lighting. A bit more searching and I found a new one for just over £70. A bit more than I wanted to pay, but at least I know I have the right tools for the job. So that got ordered and will hopefully arrive in the next week.

So, that’s the flashgun sorted. Now, how do you trigger it?

There are lots of ways to trigger a flashgun that isn’t mounted on the camera. You can use the on camera flash and a slave module fitted to the flashgun which detects when the on camera flash fires. You can use a cable that connects the camera to the flash or you can use remote triggers.

After a bit of research and a lot of reading, I went for a set of cheap radio triggers sold by a company in Hong Kong called Gadget Infinity. They produce a radion trigger called the Cactus v4 and you can read lots about them on flickr and other forums. While they aren’t the best and most reliable, they are great for learning and most of all cheap.

So, I have spent £100 or there abouts, which is a bit more than I would have liked to, but when you look at the sort of photos that you can achieve with a simple set up like this, I don’t think it’s too much to pay compared to a lot of photographic accessories you can buy these days.

So my equipment for this challenge consists of:

Sony Alpha a700 DSLR

A Tamron 28-75 f2.8 lens

A Vivitar 285HV flashgun

A Cactus V4 transmitter and receiver set

Rechargeable batteries are very useful too, but fortunately I already had a few sets of them.

So that’s the equipment, now how do they work together. Well once the flash gun arrives and I can set it all up, I will post the next stage in the challenge: Making it work.

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