From Brooklyn to Africa with the Profoto B1

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In the spring of 2014, I traveled to Ethiopia, Africa, from Brooklyn, New York, in pursuit of a change of pace, and the desire to create some unique imagery along the way. As I have stated in a previous post, I have always been intrigued by the history and culture of Ethiopia. The trip was kind of like a birthday present to myself.

I have always been an early adopter of technology that I feel makes life simpler. I really don’t consider myself to be a gear head(person who loves having the latest gear). I remember first hearing about the Profoto B1 back in November of 2013. I was really interested in seeing one in action myself, but never got the chance to. After reading some reviews, and watching a few videos, I was all in as far as purchasing one. The fact that you can take this unit on location and not worry about cords or a pack was enough for me. The TTL aspect didn’t appeal to me, as I haven’t used TTL in years. I only shoot in manual. No cords, decent power, and good battery life was enough for me. I actually was considering selling off my beloved, but seldom used Nikon SB 900’s to contribute to the purchase of the B1, but I elected to keep them. Hey, call me nostalgic.

I placed my order for one via B&H’s website in January of 2014, but had to wait a while, due to the fact that they were, and continue to be wildly popular, and were on back order. After a month and a half wait, I received the B1, and put it straight to use. I am big on practicing lighting, and I wanted to get a feel for this unit, before I took it on location, or used it while shooting for a client. I could tell almost immediately that this was a serious piece of gear. The thing is built like a tank, and is so simple and straight forward to use.

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When the thought hit me about traveling to Africa, it was a no brainer to take along the B1. It was either the B1, or one of my Paul C. Buff kits, which includes a chord, head, and a small battery pack. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like the Buff kit, but if you travel a bit, you know that weight requirements on international flights can get a bit hairy at times, and the less kit, the less weight. Another bonus was the fact that one of the camera body’s I was taking with me on the trip has a V-grip with an integrated Profoto flash trigger, which gives me less things to lose(pocket wizards and sync cords). I was however, sacrificing on power. The B1 is a 500WS unit, while the Buff kit I would’ve taken would have given me 640WS, plus a bit more battery life. I figured, hey, I like putting myself in situations that are limiting anyway, so, why not. Limitations force growth, and foster creativity anyway.

The Sun is very harsh and unforgiving in Africa, and open shade is a luxury. I learned that the hard way when I traveled to Egypt in 2009. Different country, but almost identical when it comes to the harshness of the Sun. So, the B1 would more than likely have to be cranking at almost full power for any portraits I made. I took along just three modifiers with me to Ethiopia. They were, a Paul C. Buff 64 inch soft silver plm, a Fotodiox(yes, I said Fotodiox)12×56 inch strip box, and a 70 inch Elinchrom Octa. As for cameras, I took my Phase One P40+, and my two Fuji cameras, an X100S, and my XT-1. The Fuji cameras were my walk arounds, and the Phase was for the more “serious” stuff.

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I ended up staying in Ethiopia for two weeks. For four days of the first week, I visited Lalibela, which is in the North. Lalibela is a very holy town, and has a ton of history. I visited all of the rock hewn churches that are visited by people from far and wide, but didn’t photograph too much. I wanted to just experience that part of my trip. Sometimes physical photographs are not necessary. For the remaining days of the two weeks, I visited the South, which is know as Omo, or the Lower Omo Valley. The Lower Omo valley is rich in history and tradition. It is where approximately forty two, to forty six different tribes exist, and still live very similar to the way they have lived for thousands of years. I visited six tribes, and had the great opportunity to photograph some of the tribes men, women, and children. The people are absolutely beautiful there, and in my honest opinion, it is very hard to take a bad portrait of someone. I did however, make just one portrait in Lalibela, and it is the one you see just below this paragraph.

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For every image you see here, I used just one light for my key. The rest was the ambient light. My modifier of choice, or convenience, was the 70 inch Elinchrom Octa. It’s just so damn easy to set up, and it throws light beautifully, and can be used in a variety of ways. However, I did use the B1’s built in reflector for a couple of the portraits. Camera was the Phase One. The B1 performed flawlessly, it never missed a beat, and I never fully drained a battery. I did have a spare battery with me, but it was rarely used, unless I didn’t have access to electricity, or forgot to charge the one I had in the unit itself. All in all, I am pleased with the B1. I use it often these days. For me, the B1 was a good fit, because I am mainly a one light photographer. I do plan on purchasing another unit sometime in the future, for use as a fill light. I am kind of on the fence though, because I am kind of hoping that they come out with a B1 with more power. Maybe an 800WS unit(DO IT PROFOTO!!)? We’ll see. To view the entire series, head over to my website, and under my personal projects, you will find, “The People of South Ethiopia“.

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