Sunset shoot with Valerie - working with the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 200 1/250 @ f2.8

After we left the studio, we headed out with model Valerie Wessel to the west side of Maui to try to catch the sunset.  At first we were planning to go to 505 Front Street in Lahaina, since the water is usually pretty calm there.  While driving along the coast however, we came across this old fallen tree on the side of the road that was halfway in the water and I thought it would make for some interesting photos. Besides, it kinda sucks these days that you have to pay for parking nearly everywhere in Lahaina.

We started on top of the fallen tree with the model's back towards the sun.  Our lighting was a WL1600 with a 7" reflector, powered by the Vagabond Mini Lithium and triggered with the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1 trigger.
PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Transmitter for Canon TTL Flashes and Digital SLR Cameras
We just got the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1transmitter and TT5 tranceiver a few months ago and have been using them on a few wedding shoots to trigger an off-camera strobe. One of the things I like about the TT1 is the lower profile it has on the camera as opposed to the Plus II tranceivers.

PocketWizard PWP-TR 801-125 PLUS II Transceiver (Black)PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Transmitter for Canon TTL Flashes and Digital SLR Cameras


Another nice feature of the TT1 is the ability to do what is called HyperSync, which allows you to exceed the native flash sync speed of the camera when using a non-Canon flash such as the WL1600.  The TT1 comes with software that runs on PC or Mac and lets you plug in the TT1 via USB and tweak the internal settings of the TT1 so that you can fine tune this ability to your particular camera/flash combination.

In this case I was using a Canon 5D mkII which has a sync speed of 1/160.  The Hypersync feature of the TT1 allowed us to crank the shutter speed up to 1/500, with the only catch being that the WL1600 had to be set at full power.  Dropping the power level of the flash down meant we had to back down our shutter speed to 1/250.  You can find out more about the TT1 and hypersync on this blog by Adam Swords.


Couple of drawbacks of the Flex TT1/TT5. First the build quality of the hotshoe mount blows chunks is relatively poor. The TT1 is designed to mount in your camera's hotshoe, then you have the option to have a flash mounted on top of the TT1.

Although the hotshoe on top of the TT1 is sturdy metal, the foot of the TT1 that slides into your camera's hotshoe is made of plastic.  Freakin' plastic. Mounting a Canon 580 EX II flash on top of the TT1 stresses the plastic foot to the point where it will eventually snap off.  Which actually happened to me during a wedding the day after I had received the unit.

Luckily I was able to order a replacement hotshoe mount (actually bought several 'cause I just KNOW it's going to wind up breaking on me again) and it is relatively easy to replace.   Directions for how repair the hotshoe foot on the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5. The procedure for the TT1 is roughly the same.

The second problem has to do with range.  When using the TT1 and TT5 with a Canon580EX or EXII flash, you are limited to a range of about 20-30 feet.  Anything past that and the flash triggers intermittently.  Pocket Wizard says this has to do with RF interference generated by those particular flash models.  Some of the solutions they suggest are:

1. Use the the AC5 RF Soft shield on your flash.  I don't care for this since it blocks access to the flash controls and makes the flash look like a saggy sock puppet.
2. Use the AC7 RF Hard shield on your flash.  I didn't go this route either because the design of the AC7 hard shield prevents you from using an external battery pack with the flash.  What the hell were they thinking?!?!
3. Use an older model Canon flash, like the 550EX.  (This is what I've been doing lately when using the TT1 at weddings)

Sorry for the rant, I got sidetracked for a minute there.  Ok, back to the shoot.

Using the TT1 and a shutter speed of 1/500 while firing the WL1600 at full power allowed us to easily overpower the afternoon sun.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 100 1/500 @ f11

Just for kicks, I also wanted to try out the RadioPopper triggers so that we could experiment with what could be done with small flashes in this setting.  We rigged up a painter's pole with a Canon 580EX flash and the Radiopoppers and fired off a few shots.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 100 1/1000 @ f8

Had to fix a little underexposure in Lightroom, but I liked the effect that we got with it.  Having the 580EX on the painter's pole really made a difference as it was easier to get the light up higher and closer to the model for a better lighting angle than we could get with the WL1600 on the standard light stand.

To do some wide scenic shots we turned Valerie around and shot from the other side of the tree.  This time we used the sun as her main light and filled in the shadow areas with a silver California Sunbounce Mini reflector held by Ronald.  Use a circular polarizer filter on the lens to pull in more detail in the sky.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 100 1/160 @ f5.6

We then moved to the branches of the tree that were half submerged in the water.  We used the reflected light of the Sunbounce as Valerie's main light and used the sun as her rim light. I swapped out the circular polarizer for a neutral density filter so that I could shoot with the aperture wide open and blur the background.  Used a faster shutter speed to freeze the water splash.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/1250 @ f2.8

For this image I needed a higher camera angle to put the ocean completely behind the model so I stood on two of the larger branches of the fallen tree, trying to keep my balance and not drop the camera into the surf.  Probably should rethink my no-camera strap policy when shooting in these kinds of environments.

Also need to send props out to both Ronald and Valerie for this shot.  Ron for being willing to get completely soaked in the surf as he got the reflector in close for the best lighting.  Valerie for her ability to hold the pose and expression steadily and patiently as wave after wave crashed into her from behind while waiting for me to get the timing of the shot right.

For sunset, Valerie changed back into the blue dress that she had worn in the studio.  We used the WL1600 light  and the Flex TT1 trigger for the rest of these shots, this time adding a beauty dish to the mix.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/250 @ f8

Had Valerie whip the dress around a bit to add some movement to the image.

 Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/500 @ f8

The original plan we had for going to 505 Front Street was so that we could get the model almost neck deep into the calm water and do a headshot to show off the makeup against the sunset.  Since by now it was too late to change locations, and the surf conditions by the tree prevented us from attempting that particular idea, we compromised and did an implied nude shot against the sky.

Since Valerie was wearing a nude-colored swimsuit underneath the dress, this was relatively quick to set up. We had her pull the top of the dress down to around her waist and adjusted the placement of her arms and the angle of the lighting to hide the swimsuit top in the shadows of this image.

  Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/250 @ f5.6

The wind started to pick up which made for some nice dynamic images towards the end of our shoot together.
 Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/250 @ f5.6