Think Tank Airport Security

Always short of space to put things, and never one to shy away from adding to my number of bags, I recently bought myself a Think Tank Airport Security™ V 2.0 bag. This huge rolling bag (allowed onto aircraft in the USA, but too big for most of the world) now holds my lighting gear.

Not cameras or camera gear: just my lighting gear, like so:


Airport Security V2 Roller Camera Bag

That holds all my  clamps, ball heads, five Pocketwizards, three or four speedlites, cables, grids, gels, my light meter, and more. In addition, the side compartment holds the other Honl Photo modifiers, a gray card, and other small materials.

Michael's Big Lighting Bag

Michael's Big Lighting Bag

This bag is well built and has many cool gadgets. Such as three separate locks (two of which can be opened by the TSA). Emergency backpack straps. Many removable compartment sides. Two lockable cables to attach things to it, or it to things. A rain cover. Many things I will not need, like a tripod mount.

Small areas that could perhaps be improved:

  • The cutouts do not fit large Canon bodies (they are on the wrong side), so you need to remove your lenses if you are to use this as a camera bag. Quite an oversight.
  • Not quite enough internal compartment dividers for my liking: I had to add one or two dividers from another bag.
  • The lid hinges at the bottom, so things may spill out from pockets in the lid when it’s open.
  • The front external compartment is a little too small.
  • The external “laptop compartment” seems a bit of an afterthought and is rather insecure (yes, it has a cable to attach to the laptop – still not quite secure enough for me).
  • The uneven bottom made it a one-hour job to decide how to fit in all my gizmos. But that’s OK.
  • The handle that you use to roll the bag is flimsy and even has a warning, “do not lift by this handle” – that is a design flaw, if you have to warn people how not to use a product.

But those are small gripes. It’s a fantastic bag.

Michael’s Quick Judgment: recommended. This is one huge bag – where I carried two before. Anything that reduces my bag numbers is good. This bag does it in style and with intelligence. And all my lighting gear in one bag, in neatly arranged divisions: utterly fantastic.

GF1 self portrait

A self portrait I took a few minutes ago:

Michael Willems, photo by Michael Willems

Michael Willems, photo by Michael Willems

I shot this with the Panasonic GF1:

  • Camera on manual, f/4.0, 1/60th second, 200 ISO
  • Using multiple-point autofocus
  • Pocketwizard on the camera
  • Pocketwizard on a 430EX flash, connected with Flashzebra cable
  • Flash set to manual, 1/32nd power
  • Honl Photo Traveller 8 softbox on the (handheld) flash

To lower the noise (“increase the signal to noise ratio”, for engineers) I exposed to the right (i.e. I exposed high, but without actually overexposing anything) and then pulled back a stop in Lightroom.

The 20mm lens (yes you can use 40mm, for that is what it is, for portraits) gives me that wonderful sharpness. Click and view full size to see how sharp it is.

The Honl softbox gives it that nice soft look and the unique round catchlights.

And I have said it before: for creative photography, lighting a subject is as much about what you do not light than about what you do light.

Postscript: And here’s one more: son Jason just now (similarly lit, also shot with the GF1)

Jason Willems, photo Michael Willems

Jason, shot with GF1/430EX

Pocketwizardry Tip

Quick tip.

When using Pocketwizards to fire your flashes or speedlites (use Flashzebra cables for the latter if necessary), perhaps for pictures like this:

Evanna Mills by Michael Willems

Evanna Mills, photo by Michael Willems

You get a choice of three settings: local, remote, or both.

Local means “when triggered, fire the device connected to the Pocketwizard”. “Remote” means “when triggered, use your radio transmitter to fire the remote devices that may be listening”. Both means both.

Tip: In any normal situation, set your device to remote on the camera, and to local on the others, that have a flash attached.

Why not just set them all to “both”?

  1. Many radio signals will be sent each time, leading to an increased chance of confusion.
  2. More power is spent this way too.

Yes, I know, radio all over can even make things more reliable. But in my opinion it is as likely to make things less reliable. And yes I know, radio does not use a lot of power and the PWs last forever on two AAs. But “forever” does not actually mean “forever”. The longer you make the batteries last, the better.

It’s one of those engineering things.

PS: in the menu on the right, you can sign up for email notifications every time I post – which is typically once, or sometimes twice, a day. Handy and recommended so you do not miss anything.

Have you ever seen the rain?

Evanna Mills, photo by Michael Willems

Evanna Mills, photo by Michael Willems

Model Evanna Mills, photographed on yesterday’s Pro Workshop featuring Joseph Marranca and myself. Liz Valenta did the make-up.

It was raining.

Actually, it was a garden hose.

Lit mainly from behind, plus additional fill from the front. With the exposure set manually to create a dark background. The lights were both simple speedlites, fired using a pocketwizard.

And here’s one more. Now I am shining that back light through the black umbrella, making it almost white:

Evanna Mills, photo by Michael Willems

Evanna Mills, photo by Michael Willems

You see how much you can do using very simple means? This is what we teach on workshops, and it is also what photographers should keep in mind at all times.Simple technique can do a lot.

That portable studio

So when I pack by bags to do a location shoot, like today’s executive headshots shoot, you saw in a recent post that I bring rather a lot.

And what do I use? How does it look when it’s all set up?

That setup process, which takes about 45-60 minutes including carrying it all from the car in stages, results in this:

This setup consists of:

  1. A grey backdrop. I like grey because you can make it any colour, from black to white.
  2. The main (“key”) light: a light stand with Bowens 400 Ws monolight in a softbox. This is fired by a Pocketwizard (just visible, top left)
  3. The fill light: a light stand with a Bowens 400 Ws monolight into an umbrella. This is fired by the slave cell.
  4. The background light: a mini  light stand with a 430EX Speedlite, with a  Honl speed strap and a Honl 1/2 CTB gel. This light is fired by a Pocketwizard, using a Flashzebra cable.
  5. The hair light: another a light stand with a 430EX Speedlite, with a  Honl speed strap and Honl snoot. This light is fired by a Pocketwizard, using a Flashzebra cable.
  6. A stool.
  7. The camera set to 1/100th sec, f/9, 100 ISO, and equipped with a PocketWizard to fire the other flashes.

It doesn’t look like all that much, but when you write it out, and then add the power cables, connection cables, bags, and so on, it’s quite a lot.