When you want to play outdoors, and battle that extremely powerful sun, you need to be packing serious power. The kind of power that the Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS can deliver. I decided it was time I took a break from the canon speedlights and work with some real power. 1100WS of light is what comes screaming out of this little power pack. Ok it’s not that little, and weighs in at around 8kg’s but the heads are lightweight and the whole thing comes in a carry case. When you know what results you can achieve, you won’t care about the weight, its expected anyway with a portable location kit like this. Besides, It beats carting a big generator around thats for sure. (TIP: Use a strong assistant!) This post is a bit of a run-down of my experience with the Elinchrom kit, but also a bit of a behind the scenes look at the two shoots I used it for with two wonderful ladies. Enjoy…
I’m no stranger to the portable Elinchrom Ranger kit, I’ve used them on various occasions in the past to create some great glamour pictures. The one thing I haven’t done however, is headed out in the middle of the day and tried to fight the sun with it. So that was the plan on this particular weekend. In need of some subjects I called in a couple of friends of mine, the lovely & experienced Gemma along with Miss Universe WA Finalist; Alina. Just one of the perks I guess of being a glamour photographer for so long. 🙂
I actually shot both these girls on different days, one Saturday and one Sunday. That way I could shoot two different locations at the same time of day with that harsh high sun.
I had the Canon 5D MK II with the 24-70 2.8 L and the 70-200 2.8 L. Thats pretty much my main gear that I use 95% of the time. We also had a 7D on board as a backup body. Obviously we had the Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS kit thanks to my friends at Camera Electronic. Now in order to trigger the Elinchrom Ranger pack we needed some kind of wireless trigger and Pocket Wizards was the answer. One Pocket wizard transceiver for the cameras hot-shoe, and one for the Ranger pack acting as a receiver. With that wireless setup you will never have to worry about missing a shot. I really wanted to try out my Yongnuo RF-602 wireless triggers but I wasn’t able to find the 6.35 female phone jack needed to connect it to the ranger pack in time. I am told it works perfectly and the past few months I have found my Yongnuo triggers to be just as reliable as the Pocket Wizards, and they have a hot-shoe connection for use with speedlights. Very handy and cheap too!
I was using the Elinchrom S-Heads. I would have liked the A-heads as they can freeze action a bit better due to a faster flash duration, but that wasn’t neccesary for this shoot. Unfortunately I couldnt get hold of the large modifiers that I wanted either. I was going to try a large beauty dish and a large softbox but I had to settle for a couple of small Portalite softboxes. I forget the size but you can see them in the BTS (Behind-The-Scenes) photos. I was actually amazed at the quality of light they managed to put out though. I guess when your in direct sunlight, anything else looks soft. Apart from that we had a reflector or two, the Sekonic L-358 light meter and thats essentially our gear setup for the day. Oh… and sandbags! Love my sandbags.
SETTING UP THE RANGER KIT:
Straight away when setting up for the first shot, I was suddenly reminded about one of the limitations to these kits which I encountered last time. The 3.5 metre heavy duty cables that connect the heads to the power pack, are not long enough! It isn’t a problem if you’re only using one head, but if you decide to use both heads, more often than not I found that the length was very restrictive and I would often have to compromise how I setup the lighting. If you want a head on either side of the camera for instance, and you want to jack those heads up high on the light stand, then you are going to have cables dangling in your frame. So if you are planning to buy this Ranger RX Speed AS kit, and you think you will be making use of both heads, I would highly recommend looking at getting a 4m extension cable from Elinchrom. Little pricey, but that freedom is well worth it in my opinion. Some photographers only use the Ranger for one head, and depending what your shooting you may not need much distance between the two heads so it won’t be an issue. For me though, Id be getting my hands an extension cable.
Using pocket wizards to trigger the Ranger wirelessly worked perfectly just as you would expect. However, they did put us at a disadvantage compared to the Elinchrom Skyport wireless triggers. With the skyports being native to Elinchrom, the transmitter sitting in the hot-shoe of your camera is actually capable of increasing/decreasing the power that the Ranger power pack is putting out. So you have full control without having to walk up to the battery pack all the time. Just listen to what your assistant with the light meter is telling you and adjust power accordingly. When using the skyports though, the receiver actually shares the charger input. So if you are indoors and want to plug the ranger into a powerpoint while you shoot so the battery wont die, then you won’t be able to when using the skyports. You will have to choose whether you want the wireless power adjustability, or have the confidence knowing your battery pack won’t go dead since its plugged into the wall. With the battery rated at 250 full power pops, I have never needed to plug it into the wall, and you can get spare batteries for them anyway.
Ok so we are dealing with bright sunlight right, so if we refer to our sunny 16 rule then our ambient light is probably going to be sitting somewhere pretty close to F16 @ ISO100 with a shutter speed around 1/100th. This poses absolutely no problem for the 1100WS from the ranger. In fact the Ranger is rated much higher at about F64 @ ISO100 and 1/250th sync speed from 2 metres. Thats a lot of juice! It’s good because you can throw any light modifier in front of the head, and you still wont have any trouble overpowering the sun. That’s important because your big light modifiers will allow you to get an excellent soft quality of light, not just quantity and I cant stress how important that is in most applications.
So anyway, In order to let my models stand out a bit more I wanted to drop the ambient light a bit. So on most of these shots I think I stopped the camera down to F18 – F22 (some shots I still at F16, play around and see what works for you). Then using the Sekonic L-358 light meter I boosted the power on the Ranger until I had a proper exposure for my model. Underexposing the ambient light is going to help give us that really nice saturated blue sky, and help make my subject stand out.
RECYCLE TIME BETWEEN SHOTS:
On the Elinchrom rangers you can choose whether to shoot at a slower recycle time and get a lot more shots out of it(rated at 250 full power pops), or you can opt for a faster recycle time at the cost of losing approx. 50 full power shots. Fast Recycle time for me thanks! Unfortunately I don’t think I’m able to review the recycle times properly. The recycle times I was experiencing were quite slow and I fear that I may have had the ranger unit on the slow charge setting because I was waiting a good 5 seconds for some shots. Either that or this old hire kit that I was using has seen a lot of action the past few years and it is struggling to cope these days. I can’t be sure. This wasn’t an in depth review, I just decided to talk about my experience after the fact. Friends that use this unit though, are well impressed with the recycle times, and I have seen it first hand and its one of the reasons I’m looking into buying a set. In the past when I have used this unit I have had no problems with the recycle times.
Most of these photos so far I have made use of the sun as a backlight, which gave us a nice highlight on the modelshair and a little later in the day it also acted as a great seperation light from behind. With Gemma I also took a couple frames without using the sun as a third light source. The image at the top of this blog post was shot completely with flash. My assistant held a diffuser up above me to block the sunlight, and then I let the flash heads do their thing. One head with a softbox lighting Gemma from the front, and the second head lighting Gemma from behind. The power output to these two heads is not equal. Head A will take 2/3 of the power and the second head will take 1/3 of the power. So that makes the second less powerful head a really useful backlight. Whenever I use a backlight I like to keep it roughly about 1-stop of light less the main light so the effect is more subtle. This works great with the Elinchroms.
DONT FORGET ABOUT NATURAL LIGHT:
When I gear up and head out to a shoot, I don’t let the gear determine how I’m going to shoot. I won’t use strobes just because I have them. Don’t get me wrong I am totally addicted to off camera flash and the results it yields, but I am always analysing the natural light in a scene and looking for different ways to shoot my subjects. The shot below of Gemma was shot using only the sun as a main light source, and a reflector to the cameras left for a bit of fill to kill the harsh shadows. This is one of my favourite photos from the shoot. So just remember to keep your options open when out on assignment, and be open to mixing things up!
Here’s Alina showing us her skills with the camera capturing a frame of me with my guard down.
There’s no doubt the Elinchrom Ranger kits are a very well built unit intended for the rugged outdoors and they pack lots of power, its just a matter of whether they will suit your requirements or not.
If you’re in Perth give Camera Electronic a call on 08 9328-4405 and arrange to grab one of their hire units for the weekend and test it out for yourself!