Over the years I have bought and tried many different pieces of gear that I thought might make my work a little bit better and give me the power to create the images that were in my head. Below is a list of the gear we use to make pictures consistently similar in style and quality. This is the stuff that wasn’t sold off after trying it and being disappointing. The stuff that did the job, took the punishment and kept on trucking. For the most part I do not buy the cheap stuff. I specifically look for gear made in the US, Japan or Europe and avoid Chinese made gear because it has just ended up in the trash or given away.
The Radio Popper transmitters/ receivers are probably the most used transmitters that we own. They give us the ability to adjust the output of strobes from the top of the camera with up to four groups of lights. They are pretty tough and work are excellent in consistency second only to the Canon wireless system. But Radio Popper gives you a way to control a variety of strobes including Paul C Buff Einstein 640 strobes. Canon only allows you to control Canon strobes. Radio Popper is made in the United States and has a repair facility in the northeast.
I’ve found that these work best with alkaline non rechargeable batteries. The devices seem to have a hard time reading the amount of power left in the rechargeable batteries and do not function well with those in them.
I’ve had a great many light stand over the years and I am torn between the two best options: The folding 10 foot three legged stand or C-stands. I like the C-stand because it is heavier, is stainless steel which is hard to dent and is strong enough that I can stand on the legs. It is designed to take a log of punishment but is also designed to have a grip move it around for you. The three legged folding stand is made of aluminum, is lighter, can be knocked over quicker and can be banged up a lot easier. This does not stop me from bringing both to most of my gigs. If you decided to go with C-stand arms on either stand you will have to get the arm and the grip head to make it usable. I’d check them out in person at a camera store but here are my suggestions at Amazon.
The most consistent way to remotely control strobes is using the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter and Canon 600rt speedlites. It is able to control 5 groups of strobes manually and TTL even at high speed. The downside of this system is that you can’t control any other strobes except Canon’s newest strobes, you can’t control any non Canon strobes, and the unit is not as quick and easy to use as Radio Poppers. For this reason I do not use this lighting system unless I want to shoot high speed or there is something jamming the frequency that Radio Popper uses. Unfortunately I don’t have much experience with Nikon’s proprietary system so only my Radio Popper suggestions are valid for Nikon users.
So far this is simplest way I have found to grid or gel a speedlite. It has it’s drawbacks and is overpriced for something made in China but I like some of the options they have come up with.
I like Magmod but I feel like the their gels and holders are stupidly overpriced for something made in China. So I cut my own gels out of sheets of gel and use the Magmod gel holders to hold down gels. That way I don’t care if something gets lost, left behind or destroyed. The color correcting gels that we use the most are Lee #204 (full CTO) to balance the flash to the color of warm, tungsten lights ( or LED equivalence) and doubled up blue, red or green theatrical gels to add some color to the backgrounds during a reception if the clients did not opt to pay for lighting effects. I buy color correcting gels by the foot from a local cinema supply house but if that is not something that is near you you can find this basic option at Amazon.
So much of lighting is being able to quickly put my strobes where I want them to be. There are all kinds of gizmos out there that people are trying to sell to you and to be honest there stuff was either to specific to a purpose or trying to fill a niche that wasn’t needed. Here are a couple of things that have made my life easier in certain situations.
It took a long time to accept that the Paul C Buff gear was good. I’ve been using their stuff for years but was always longing for much, much, much more expensive strobes because they were the standard for commercial and fashion photographers. With the advent of the Einstein 640 I stopped yearning for those other strobes because it was a great strobe that was made to be punished. PCB strobes are made in the United States and is reasonably priced to buy and to repair. They offer a great selection of modifiers including parabolic dishes, umbrellas, soft boxes and grids. This strobe can be remotely controlled using Radio Popper and PCB Cyber Commander to control the output of the strobe from the top of your camera. The Cyber commander is overwhelming in it power to control lights and if you are mixing speedlites and PCB strobes it is not a good choice.