This is not about balancing. This is about killing the sun. Killing like in "Go ahead, make my day, punk*". And it is about shooting in the worst conditions, at noon, in bright sunlight, with no shade available. And no concept or location neither. Now, go ahead ... make my day.
Spontaneous shootings. What could possibly go wrong when shooting outdoors? A bad day in the field is always better than an average in the studio, thats what they say. So when I got a call from a model well known to me, I was all in and on my way. We met at noon as we both had appointments later on that day. Noon. No clouds, but sun. And a nagging thought that I might have packed my stuff too hastily ... something I might also have forgotten.
Our location was chosen as a result of deep and elaborate thinking and practical consideratios - i.e. a place with a convinient parking opportunity at hand. Some kind of valley representing the background. Well, this ain't San Francisco, nor Paris, Tokyo or London - this is the German province. It's also known as the middle of nowhere. That's exactly where my model Misplaced got changed, while I unpacked and discovered that the nagging thought was for real, as I had forgotten the transmitter for the strobe. Luckily, I did not forget to pack a flashgun and a cord, so this was pressed into service as an optical transmitter. Limiting my movements somewhat, whilst being virtually tethered to the power pack.
First set was a conventional setup in terms of lighting, with the background slightly underexposed and the strobe recovering the model from what would be an underexposure of about 2 thirds of a stop. With the strobe only on moderate power, the sun still cast unpleasent patterns on the model's face. Therefore a diffuser - a Lastlite TriGrip on a stand, fixed with the ever so convinient Mathew Clamp - was put between the model and the sun. You'll see that it did not cover Misplaced - the model - entirely, as there are some bright spots still visible on her elbows. Could have fixed that in Photoshop. Must have not.
Main was a Elinchrom Deep Octa 100, with a silver diffuser cap attached to it, but no diffusion sheets to maximize its efficiency. Shot at 200th, somewhere below f/4, and a Neutral Density Filter attached to the lens.
She wore white for the second set. Which lead to the initial strategy of also turning the background all white, light and airy. Either with ambient only, or with the strobe dialed in on a similar value as read by the cameras' reflective metering. I kinda liked it. But as we had already shot in the same direction in the first set - and with no other options available - the background became increasingly boring. I mean it was kind of dull right from the start - but after some exposures it just did not get any better.
Time to get rid of the sun, calling all wattseconds to battle station. In a conventional workflow your desired aperture and maximum sync speed are dictating your route, while when aiming for the dark side of power you have to follow whatever you can get out of your strobes. Just like Calahan in Dirty Harry, bigger guns are a better choice when fighting the sun. But even with 400 WS as delivered by the Ranger Quadra you still can get somewhere. In my case I got f/22 at 250th of a second (f/7.1 plus 8xND). That's enough. Finetuning the exposure for the white dress - that's about it. Adding a second Ranger, bare, just because.
Overpowering the sun calls for some serious wattseconds, equalling big, heavy and also expensive power packs. If you are shooting with a DSLR that is, as this will limit your shutter speed to 1/250 or less. *Any* High Speed synching does affect your control on the individual zones of an image, as your flash light becomes a constant light source, just like the ambient is. But more on that in a different episode. Just don't buy your gear with only that overpowering the sun scenario in mind - like many enthusiasts tend to. Most of the time you 'll need a portable strobe that delivers also a very low power setting. And this is what makes the Quadra so universal.