XMT Campaign Shoot
Behind the scenes with the new Generation X range! In this video, #TeamBowens photographer Steve Brown gets hands on with the revolutionary XMT location flash system. Read about the shoot and what Steve thinks of the exciting new kit below.
Freezing time - even when it's freezing
Aaaargh! It was cold on that lonely Suffolk beach at 6 a.m.
Very cold indeed…. especially if you’re running up and down unforgiving sand wearing nothing but a big smile, a pair of short shorts and a vest top, trying to please a top action photographer and a Bowens production team.
Explains London-based photographer Steve Brown: “We were carrying out a day’s test shoot using the brand new Bowens Generation X XMT flash heads. The video production team and I were well wrapped up against the freezing cold and still shivering – but leading endurance runner Susie Chan just wore her normal gear as we asked her to sprint up and down the beach over and over again – and still she remained cheerful and friendly – a real star.”
The Bowens’ brief was to capture and freeze action with the XMT 500 all-in-one battery flash system, complete with its TTL technology; high-speed sync and nine stops of flash power.
Steve decided he wanted to use a real athlete for the shoots on the beach and later in nearby woods – and athletes don’t come much more real than Susie Chan. She’s an acclaimed ultra-runner – that means she tackles any distance over a 26-mile marathon – perhaps even a hundred miles. Earlier this year she set a new world record for treadmill running when she clocked up almost 70 miles in 12 hours.
Says Steve: “I didn’t want to photograph a model who can maybe run twenty yards a couple of times. I wanted a visual story about a real runner – a leader in the field. I found Susie on Instagram and she agreed to work with us on this XMT project.”
At 5/30 a.m close to Lowestoft, the duo made its way down a winding country lane to the beach.
Adds Steve: “We meandered past some fields and a pig farm – and that journey in itself was a great illustration of why having the Bowens back pack with the lights is fantastic – just so easy to carry. Photographers don’t want to have to be lugging a huge and heavy bag of kit down muddy trails.”
They located the beach, met up with the video team and set the lights up – all in freezing temperatures and a strong, unhelpful breeze.
“I briefed Susie that I needed to capture the purist sensation of running – the body movement,” he notes. “The challenge was that it needed to be right at the focus point we had set up to take the picture. We literally drew a line in the sand so Susie could then take a nice long stride just as she hit that point – and make sure she looked good with her arms and legs all in the right position.
Position is important because there are a couple of points in a stride, as you run, that look superb – and a couple of points that look awful. We needed her to hit the right point in her stride and the right point on the beach, additionally, we needed a good pose. Facial expression isn’t something you think about if you are running but this makes a big difference when you need great photographs of someone running.”
Time and tide:
On the beach Steve used his Canon 5DMK11 along with two new XMT 500s and a 60x80 softbox – and managed to execute a successful shoot despite questionable weather. “We did have a brief interlude when the sun popped out between the clouds” smiles Steve, “We were shooting from the other way at that point so we had to quickly spin the lights around to take advantage of the natural light – but I didn’t mind that because having the controls on top of the camera meant I could quickly adjust for light suddenly coming through the cloud.”
He adds: “The only real challenge on the beach was that as we started shooting the tide began to roll in and one of the lights ended up standing resplendent in a few inches of water – but hey, they are Bowens lights, they can take it.”
Shooting in the woods:
In the afternoon (before a Hollywood movie-style rain shower brought the session to a premature halt) the team embarked on an entirely different shoot dynamic.
Explains Steve: “This part was quite unusual because we clamped the lights to the production crew’s Range Rover. I was lying in the back of the vehicle with the lights clipped onto the roof and we drove along with me photographing out of the back while Susie was running along behind. This was a brilliant example of why it’s so cool to have lights with no trailing wires – this means it’s simple to adjust from inside the car when they are outside the car.”
Steve embraced the XMT TTL functionality. “I don’t always use TTL but on this occasion it worked well and gave us the results that we needed. You simply set it up if you perhaps want things a little brighter or darker – and it just does it. You don’t have to think about it.”
For even more lighting control on location the new XMT includes High-Speed Sync, enabling shutter speeds up to 1/8000sec and compatible with Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras.
Enthuses Steve: “This is a very big deal for me. Previously I have struggled, only controlling ambience up to 125th of a second. If it happens to be a bright day you have a problem because you would then need a 3000W head to accommodate that situation.”
“If you can only control the ambience with shutter speed up to 125th sec then the only way to make it darker is to make the aperture smaller – and then you need more flash. So, if you don’t have a hugely powerful flash and you need to shoot at f16 or something then it’s difficult – whereas if you can make the ambience darker by shooting at say 3000th of a second you can be shooting at f3.5 and then you don’t need as much flash power to give a stylised, flash-lit look.”
The XMTR trigger system:
Operating on the worldwide 2.4GHz frequency, this system enables all main features and functions of the XMT, including flash modes, power output and modelling to be set from the camera position.
Says Steve: “This is a real benefit for location photographers. If, like me on this shoot, you’re lying on a beach early in the morning and you’ve got right down in position – stretched out full-length in the sand, the last thing you want to be doing is jumping up and down changing settings on the flash. It is inconvenient and slows the whole shoot down. On this shoot, I just checked the back of the camera and adjusted accordingly as Susie ran by. And twenty seconds later when she jogged by again I could already be set up with different lighting.”
The nine stops of flash power (full-1/256):
Photographers can use the XMT to perfectly expose a subject while underexposing bright sunshine. Notes Steve: “This functionality is very useful – I have also used the XMT inside, and having the facility of very low power is really handy.
Ultra-fast recycling times-faster than ever before:
For photographers like Steve, keeping up with fast action is vital. “When Susie was running behind us in the woods I was able to shoot as many pictures as I liked. I have done so many shoots in the past where I was forever waiting for the lights to recycle – and it was truly painful. XMT has exiled that demon.”
XMT and batteries:
An easy-swap battery offers up to 500 full power flashes from a single charge. Steve reports: “I love how easy they are to switch. The indicator on the top means you can quickly assess what is left. We shot most of the day and our XMT batteries weren’t even half-empty when we finished. Additionally, it’s important to note that other lights have batteries that clip on the outside and that would make me nervous when handling or transporting the lights. Now everything is within this single tube – and you can just forget about that problem.”
The XMT gives me total freedom to focus on location. I haven’t got to worry about something falling off or about tripping over a cable. It’s about being able to set-up, forget about it and get on with being creative.”