Thursday, May 20, 2010

Radio Flash Triggering 101

Shooting at my first events, I heard the term "PocketWizard" thrown around a lot by other photographers.  At the time, I had no idea what it was, but with so many professionals mentioning them, I knew I had to have them.  Radio flash triggering will let you place your flash wherever you want, with no cables anywhere.  Why is this so important?  Because direct flash from on your camera has a very flat look.  Sure, this can be improved with modification, or by bouncing the flash, but you won't be able to achieve the flexibility and incredible look that you will get with an off-camera radio-triggered flash.

4 wireless strobes triggered via PocketWizard Plus II system.  2 Nikon SB-800's in box with blue LumiQuest FXtra gels, 1 Alienbee B1600 camera left aimed to light whole scene.  1 AlienBee camera right next to box aimed up high to light athlete.

As I'm sure you can guess by now, PocketWizards are radio triggers that allow you to place your flash off camera.  You will need both a transmitter and a receiver, but most units now have both features built in.  The initial investment is fairly pricey, about $180 per unit with 2 units required to trigger one flash.  One unit goes on the camera in the hot shoe or by cord, and the other attaches to your flash by hot shoe or cord.

Radio triggers work by sending out a frequency instantaneously as you click your shutter.  This frequency leaves the transmitter on top of your camera, is received by the receiver wired to your flash, and triggers it.  It's really quite amazing how so much can happen so quickly.

Most radios will have several frequency settings.  If you plan on shooting at events where several other photographers are triggering with radios, purchase one with the most settings you can find.  I recommend the PocketWizard Multi-MAX radio with it's 32 channels.  Since I'm usually out shooting in the woods with no other photographers around, the standard PocketWizard Plus II radio works great for me and is fairly affordable.  It's range is 1600ft, and like all radio triggers, can be used through walls!  No line of sight required!
1 Nikon SB-800 triggered via PocketWizard Plus II's on the stair next to right railing aimed at skier.

Since I don't have the newest generation of PW's, I have to set my flash manually or on Auto mode.  Unless the radio's you pick are designed for TTL(and most are not) you will have to set yours up this same way.  TTL or Through-The-Lens will not work with these because they don't relay output amounts from the camera to the flashes, or fire the required pre-flash to do this.  TTL has always worked using infrared signals from the flash to the camera.

This is why I plan on upgrading to the new Control TL PocketWizards, which allow me to control my settings from on camera, and will work in TTL mode!  If you only have one shot at capturing a great image, TTL can make sure that your exposure comes out correctly. With manual you will have to meter first, or fire test shots until your sure you have it right.  (As of the time of this article, Control TL units are only available to photographers using Canon gear, Nikon is supposed to be released sometime this summer or fall)
1 Nikon SB-800 aimed up at biker from behind wall on left, triggered via PocketWizard Plus II's.

There are other options out there as well.  If you want a cheaper alternative, check out the the AlienBees CyberSync Transmitter ($59) and receiver ($89).  You'll definitely want the battery powered versions for much easier use, unless your only shooting in studio.  These will work well for any type of flash.  If you use AlienBees already, check out their brand new Cyber Commander, which allows you to control the Bees from your camera!

RadioPopper provides full TTL control radios for Nikon and Canon and is one of the few products to provide this!  It is one of the most expensive options, but is an extremely solid system, and the only one to sell a Nikon compatible system until the new PW's come out.

If your ready to take your photography to the next level, and want to use your flash creatively, or need to trigger them from far away, than Radio triggers are a must!

That's the BUZZ for Today!  Please check back soon for more.


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