Shooting with Alida Herbst + Phottix
Now that we’ve returned from this series of European fashion shoots with celebrity designer Alida Herbst, we’re excited to be back in our Stateside studio to begin sharing the results and behind-the-scenes processes with all of you — our fellow photographers and Unifiers!
This adventure took us across the pond to Alida’s studio with a specific photographic aim: a fashion-forward approach featuring several of Alida’s dress designs on location in London and Spain. We knew one thing: We didn’t want to travel so far (with our three children in tow!) just to botch the job. So we called on Phottix to help us do it right…
(*Join thousands of photographers who are part of our online education family ComeUnity, equipping you to unify your art, business, and your life! You’ll also get more bts videos and lessons from our recent shoots in London and Spain coming up…)
Phottix was very kind to sponsor our shoots with great equipment, including their Indra500 and Mitros+ systems — all controlled by the same powerful Odin II TTL transmitter. The most remarkable fact about Phottix’s Indra system, in my opinion, is how the Odin brings everything together in simplicity! You can read my technical review in this month’s issue of Shutter Magazine (available online and at Barnes&Noble booksellers everywhere). But here is the rest that I never could have fit in the magazine’s pages. Here’s what we’re talking about…
First thing first.
Before I explain how the Indra and Mitros+ systems can be seamlessly combined together, it’s important to understand the differences between them. The Indra system consists of portable yet powerful studio-style strobes. These Indra strobes — or “monolights,” as Phottix and others refer to them — range in power from the Indra500 (capable of 500Ws blasts at full power) to the Indra360 (capable of 360Ws — you get the idea!). To give you an idea, the typical camera flash that mounts to your camera’s hot shoe maxes out at about 50Ws or 60Ws. So the Indra500 monolight with its external battery pack is the equivalent power of approximately eight to ten flashes stacked together at full power. But a lot less cumbersome! Strobes like this pack such a huge amount of power because it is often required for more dramatic effect, especially when shooting
outdoors and battling to control brighter outdoor ambient light conditions.
The Mitros+ system, on the other hand, consists of small but full-featured “pocket flashes” that replace your typical camera-branded flashes, whether they be Nikon, Canon, or Sony. Depending on your camera’s brand name, you would need to purchase the Mitros+ flash specifically made to communicate with your camera. For instance, the Mitros+ flashes I used were designed to work only with Nikon, which is my camera system. But it is definitely worth noting that a single Indra strobe can communicate with any of the camera brands I mentioned above — Canon, Nikon, and Sony! This is great news, because once you invest in a Phottix Indra, you can continue to use it for life even if you choose to change camera systems. (Only your transmitter or Mitros+ flashes would need to be upgraded.)
Here is where it all comes together! As you may already know, I’m a heavy user of off-camera flash (ocf). My mission and style, though, is not too heavy-handed. I’m usually not looking to create overly exciting bursts of light or distracting special effects. Instead, my goal is…
…to blend the ambient light together with my flashes in a way that appears natural and allows me to use locations I like even if the available ambient light is less than perfect at the time. Yet my use of flash is important to direct the viewer’s attention subtly where I want it. It reveals the shape and depth of my subject’s features, brings out textures in fabrics, casts mysterious shadows, sets the mood, and more.
Flash gives me flexibility. And the more powerful the flash, the more unlimited that flexibility!
Phottix was the first high-end U.S. light company (and still the only one I know of) to produce both studio strobes and small flashes that all work together! Finally with Phottix, I can use just one system for every demand I have — whether I’m shooting commercial fashion on-location in London with the aid of assistants, or whether I’m running and gunning solo for a fast-paced hotel wedding. In terms of versatility, a system like this allows me to clean out a closet full of accessory gear I’ve collected over years — literally to set aside every PocketWizard and RadioPopper transceiver, clean out boxes full of brackets and adapters for various flashes, and discard rolls of Velcro and tangled balls of wires and PC cords that once provided at least an inconsistent solution to my lighting predicament.
Why does a photography need more than one light option? If you don’t know yet, you’ll figure it out quickly as you begin to shoot more. Think about it. As wedding and family photographer, I need to move extremely quickly throughout a full day of candid, “uncontrolled” events. How do you compose and properly light every brief moment in time, making each appear as beautiful as a staged commercial shot that takes many minutes or longer to set up?! That skill takes a lot of experience, but I am only able to do it well because I have instant access to my very small, battery-powered flashes at all times. I keep a trio of flashes attached to my SpiderHolster belt that I can whip out at a moment’s notice.
But combining enough small flashes for the needs of a studio photographer, well.. it becomes insanely expensive and looks like a ridiculous d.i.y. project gone wrong.
Through the nearly 10 years of my career, I have to admit that I’ve struggled a little to create the fashion-inspired portraits I envision for my couples. We get it done with small flashes, but the results never came easily or immediately. I typically got the more dramatic light I look for by combining the power of three or more small flashes together, trying to get enough power out of them by mounting them together on the same light stand. That’s a lot of AA batteries to keep track of and a lot of troubleshooting to do when any part of the system starts misbehaving. Beyond that, pushing my small flashes to the breaking point like this really slows batteries’ recycle time, which can make it impossible to capture the natural “in between” moments and expressions I value so much. That’s where you need a better solution. I had never wanted to use a larger studio strobe because…
…it seemed too bulky. Even more importantly, using a larger strobe meant I couldn’t use my small flashes as accessory lights anymore!! Why on earth don’t the other big name flash companies make both studio strobes and pocket flashes? It’s always just one or the other, isn’t it? But I crave simplicity in my life. I needed the creative freedom to control multi-light setups without having to purchase and carry multiple, bulky, and expensive studio strobes. So I love that Phottix gives me the flexibility to throw a small flash behind my couple as a backlight, to separate them from a dark background for example. No one needs a giant strobe for that — you’d have to set up a second giant flash just to use it on its lowest power, and it would be pointless! As you can see from this shoot in London (and more to come from Asturias and Gijón, Spain), just one very portable Indra500 in my bag allowed me to keep the momentum of our shoot going. For maybe the first time in my career, I never stopped once to deal with my flash. No replacing or waiting on recycling batteries, and no broken adapters or malfunctioning receivers (everything is built-in). And every light setup I could desire was at my fingertips with just one monolight, since all my secondary lights literally hung from my hips on a SpiderHolster. It allowed us to get by with a skeleton crew as we traveled easily even on London’s crowded streets.
I liked the naturally lit images I was getting as the sun set (below). But I wanted to create an edgier look that would sculpt our model’s bone structure, and carve out the intricate details of Alida’s dress design (see following images using Phottix Indra500).
Using an CTO-gelled Mitros+ flash as a backlight, I created a warm sunset-like glow in the model’s hair. The Odin II controller allowed me to control this Mitros+ flash while maintaining the Indra500 as my key light. Even at dusk, I appreciated the Indra500’s extra power because it allowed me to position the key light far from my subject and keep it clear of some wider compositions.
Getting it right in-camera means less Photoshopping later!
Here again, I was able to control multiple lights all from my camera. An assistant far away on camera-left held a small Mitros+ to create a rim of light across the model’s back, separating her from the background. The Indra500 remained my key light on camera-right…
The combo of these two portable lights beautifully revealed the “Easter eggs” of Alida’s designs — like the pant-shaped interior below this wedding dress’s outer fabric.