Monday, January 7, 2013

Pocketwizard Experiment

January 5, 2013

The snow in our backyard had cured like some cheeses form a nice crust. It was solid and had a nice snap to it as I shoveled where I thought the side walk should be. As made way I noticed the birds where feeding in our trees. A chance to experiment with gear seemed to present itself.

Our backyard after a blizzard dropped about 20" on us.

For the past year, instead of shooting, I've been thinking about how I want to photograph a subject. One technical aspect I want to explore is how to use my radio flash controllers a lot better. I've been using Pocketwizard controllers for a while now, mostly at close range. I realized the birds in the trees might be a good chance to test the range limits of the gear.

Basically, I set my camera on a tripod aimed out the door of my three-season porch. In the hotshoe went a MiniTT1® Transmitter, with an AC3 ZoneController attached to it.

Lots of snow & clear sunny days at the house.

In a bush near the tree where the birds feed I mounted my flash unit. I used a Canon 580exII, attached to a FlexTT5™ Transceiver. Due to radio interference from the flash I also used a AC5 RF Soft Shield. The flash was powered by a battery pack, and everything attached to the bush using a Joby Gorillapod wrapped around a sturdy branch.

At first the camera was about 50' from the flash head. I set my TC-80N3 to fire the shutter every 15 seconds. I aimed at a spot on the tree I thought birds may appear, manually focused, and set my parameters for the exposure I wanted.

Initially the flash would only fire intermittently. I'd known that there were issues with radio frequency interference from the 580ex II flash. Most reviews seemed to all point to 50' as a max distance, and I was at 50'. I took the TT1 off the camera, walked up the flash unit, and began to manually fire the flash. As I walked back to the camera I kept firing the flash until it no longer fired. What I discovered is that I had a maximum of 46' from the TT5 for the flash to fire.

Dark-eyed Junco
Photo of the Day: A Black-eyed Junco using the described method. I need to do more experimenting to achieve the results I really desire. I'm not entirely pleased with this shot. It's way too harsh!

After rounds of letting it shoot in both manual mode, and aperture priority, I found more consistent results in the latter. I was also able to capture a few birds as the day passed. Mainly though, I realized I need to experiment a lot more using this gear in order to get the results I want. At the time of this writing I've already made sure to update the firmware, as well as reprogram all my units.

I am eager to do more experimenting. I can visualize a number of applications where I want to use flash in this manner. All I need do is perfect this technique. To that end I also posted about this on the Canon Digital Forum, hoping to eventually garner some input.