Paul C Buff Einstein 640 – Field Tested and Reviewed

We took PCB's Einstein out into the field and put it through it's paces.

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Our Einstein mounted on a C-Stand, spilling light into a 7′ umbrella.

Einstein’s backfacing LCD Screen with more information than you can throw a stick at.

Let’s face it – flash photography is daunting. It’s so daunting that some people try it once, only to never return. Even if you have a good handle on the principles of flash photography there are still a myriad of issues that can crop up and turn a simple photo into a complicated affair.

Dials, lighting ratios, radio & wireless triggering, power range, compatibility with lighting modifiers are some of the issues that confront a photographer every time he takes his lights into the field.

So, how does the Einstein deal with all of these problems? Let’s start by saying that there is no magic button on the back of the Einstein that will tap into your imagination and render the exact lighting that you desire. But it does have a few great options that allow you to interact with the light so you can easily achieve the light you’re looking for.

I’m going to throw a dart at the board here and just start with a random topic: White balance.

I am not a huge curmudgeon when it comes to a flash’s color balance. I tweak the color in nearly every photo I take in post to suit my taste and therefor it’s never been a big issue for me if one frame has a slightly different temperature than the next.  There are some people, however, who very much rely on their lighting system to produce the same quality and temperature of light consistently between each frame. You know the types, they color balance before each shoot, read every element of their set with a light meter and talk with precise and measured words, often in a German accent. That’s all fine, and if that’s you, good news, the Einstein totally caters to your needs.

On the back of the Einstein lives a small LCD screen, and this screen holds a deluge of information. So much more than the usual per-stop digital-number readout. This screen, which is actually a visual portal to all of the things that make the Einstein so great, allows you access some amazing sub-features. One such feature is the ability to switch between action and color mode. Action mode allows the light to have a dramatic power drop after it’s main light burst. This power drop allows you to capture action at speeds of 1/13,500! There’s a good chance that even your camera can’t capture action at those speeds.

I tried action mode out this week in the studio and it absolutely amazed me. This feature will freeze the action in a perfect stand-still. No motion bleed what-so-ever, only clear, clean, crisp edges no matter what action is happening in front of your lens.

But, if you’re more concerned with color temperature, then switch over to Color mode and all your color balance woes disappear. Normally, as your average studio light repeatedly flashes it’ll slowly change color temperature over the course of a session. Same with changing it’s power. Dial in more or less power and you’re also changing the color range every so slightly. The Einstein has some really smart internal logic that combats this problem with astonishing results. From their website, “In Constant Color mode, the emitted color temperature is held constant at 5600ºK (+/- 50ºK at any power setting or input voltage).”  That’s pretty impressive.

Some of the less glamorous but essential features every photographer relies on are also represented in the Einstein. Things like a modeling light and radio channel selection. While we’re on the subject of radio/wireless functionality, PCB offers a very cool wireless system known as the CyberSync system. The Cyber Commander is the main piece of hardware that attaches to your camera and allows you to control your lights remotely. The back of the Cyber Commander showcases an LCD screen that looks very reminiscent to the one on the back of the Einstein.

One thing missing from the Einstein unit that other flash units, like Elinchrom’s, have built in, is a wireless receiver. Instead, you’ll have to purchase a separate, “transceiver”, for the fairly reasonable price of $29.95. When you consider the cost of the more expensive studio light systems, this small extra price barely factors into the equation.

Now, let’s talk about some of the more the practical applications of this light and how it’s going to make life easier in the long run. I will attempt to describe these features in the context of some real world applications. To help me out in this endeavor I spent some time with the light in the studio and on location so I could relay some first hand accounts.

Power Range.

Action Sports Portraiture with the Einstein

The ability to dial in your strobe is the most essential feature of all flash systems. Some systems use half, third, or quarter stop increments. Some systems use analog sliders or dials to choose between full or lowest power.

The Einstein allows you to dial in your power at 1/10 of a stop increments. This is really handy when you need to fine tune every aspect of your shot. And, with Einstein’s 9 f/stop power range, there’s plenty of room to either over power the sun, or add a touch of fill to a candle lit seen. At it’s lowest power range I was able to use my camera at f/2.8 and get a creamy quality of light while retaining a dreamy level of focus. Add in some more layers of diffusion and you’ll be able to pull your camera into the f/1.4 range.

The first shoot I used this light on was a gritty, high-contrast sports portrait. The light need to be punchy, with a lot of zap. I set the Einstein to exactly -6.0f power. How did I arrive at that number? Well, I played around a little. I don’t use light meters. Personally, I think light meteres are a piece of dinosaur-age equipment left over from the dinosaur age of photography. Your camera, it’s LCD screen and your eyes are the Light Meters of today. So, when I am lighting with the Einstein, I am using it’s fine incremental selector to dial in the light I want.

Doing this is as simple as pushing either the up or down buttons until you’re happy with the result. I also had the Einstein set to action mode to freeze-frame his hair as he swung his head around before each push of the shutter.

Getting Out of the Studio

The photo we just used as an example was a studio photo which we then composited into a matching background. Now we want to explore what happens when you take the Einstein into the world. For that, we headed straight into the wilderness – which just happens to be a small forest near the studio. Hey, it’s what we got, so it’ll just have to work.

We took one Einstein, one 2×3 Softbox and one mobile power source with us. In our case, the power is coming from a PCB Vagabond Mini. I’ve had this Vagabond for years and have used it with my older AlienBees on many occasions and it has always gotten the job done. Not surprisingly, the Vagabond powers the Einstein without issue.

In the Woods with the Einstein 640

Here in our wooded location, it’s already pretty dark, so we need to set the camera to take in some ambient light. The 9/f stop range of the Einstein lets me take the power way down, almost to the very bottom, to give me just enough light to make our subject appear out of the darkness. With the help of a grid on our softbox, you can see that the Einstein was able to paint just enough light on his face and hands to give him an almost ghostly, coming out of the shadows appearance. I am highlighting this because many studio flash systems, including some very expensive solutions, aren’t viable at low power — meaning sometimes their lowest setting isn’t low enough. Sure you can set your aperture to adjust for this, but what if you want to maintain a dark scene while retaining total control over depth of field? The Einstein’s power range lets that happen.

Final Thoughts

I haven’t come out and just said it outright, but hopefully you’ve been catching the hints — the Einstein 640 is just as good, if not better, than most of it’s more expensive counterparts. ProFoto and Elinchrom systems will always have their place in the studio, but so does the Einstein. It has the performance of the big name strobes and features that can only be found on the Einstein. I’m so confident and in love with this system that I am already preparing to have an all Einstein studio.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.

Three Point Lighting Tutorial featuring Paul C Buff’s Einstein Studio Light

Three point lighting can mean any lighting set up that uses, (you guessed it!), three lights. Somewhere in your camera or speedlite manual there is a hastily drawn diagram illustrating a simple 3 point lighting arrangement.

Word of caution though, those diagrams are terrible and will probably leave you in a lurch when photo-time arrives and you go to take your first picture only to realize that your lighting set-up isn’t gonna cut it.

The lighting scheme I am going to share with you today is an alternate set-up; and when done right it opens the doors to some pretty interesting possibilities. First, let’s discus what you’ll need:

  • Three lights
  • 2 strip light soft boxes
  • 1 umbrella/medium soft box/octobox

The biggest difference between this set up and the ones you’ll more commonly find online is that two of our lights will be effectively behind and to the sides of our subject, rather than two lights in front.

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Diagram of our 3 Point Lighting Technique.

I forgot to get a good production photo during the shoot. Which by the way, is a no no. You should always get a good production photo during the photo session so, if you have to come back and revisit the set for pick-ups, you’ll have a good visual reference to which you can match the lighting accurately. Luckily, I’m familiar with this set up, so not having a production photo isn’t too bad in this case.

This diagram to the left illustrates the basics of the set up. Two strip lights behind the subject, and one light in front of the subject. The lights in the back are positioned so that they are pointed at the subject’s shoulders. The vertical height of the lights depends on the height of your subject.

With strip lights, it’s important to know that even though they may be very tall, the ‘hot-spot’ of light is still centered in the middle of the box. That means I usually end up adjusting my strip lights so that the middle of the box is lined up with the top of my subject’s shoulders. If that isn’t giving you enough vertical coverage, then tip your strip lights so the top of the box is leaning towards your subject. Why does this work? A light source appears brighter the closer you are to it. Tipping the top of the strip light towards your subject will project more light onto their head, while the brighter middle area of the light will be a bit more dim because it’s slightly further away. Using the inverse-kinematic laws of light to your advantage, how cool is that!?

The light in front of our subject was a 22″ beauty dish. This doesn’t have to be a beauty dish, however. It can be an umbrella, a soft box, even a huge octobox. For our purposes, however, we were going for a slightly zappier, edgier light so a beauty dish was the perfect choice.

We placed the beauty dish on a C-Stand with a boom arm and leavered it over our subject. The light should be just high enough to be out of the frame of our picture. You don’t want it too high, or else you’ll fill your subjects eyes and cheeks with shadows. Keeping it just above the camera’s line of sight will render some nice shadows while still dishing some light into the eyes.

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Strip Lights

For this photo, we really want the edges of our subject to be defined. For this reason, I suggest you adjust the power output of your strip lights before you start fiddling with your main light. I know this is a little backwards from conventional lighting logic, but these strip lights are tasked with making our subject pop out of the background so this is where most of our lighting power will be coming from.

You can tell that you’ve done it right when you do a test shot and your subject is completely outlined in light, but the center of the subject’s face is in near-total darkness.

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Main Light

Next step is to dial in your main light. In our case, it’s the 22″ beauty dish from Paul C. Buff. Also, making it’s debut in my studio, is the PCB Einstein. I’ll get to the specifics of this light a little later on this post, but for now let me just say this: WOW, this light is awesome.

Okay, back to the Beauty dish. Once you have your strip lights producing the right amount of edge lighting on your subject, you are ready to introduce your main light. Start low, as in, power that light all of the way down. We’re trying to add just enough light to bring out the eyes and the features of the face. More precisely, you’re aiming for something like 1 stop under what would be considered optimal exposure. If your studio light doesn’t go low enough in power, just walk the light away from your subject until it looks right.

In my case, the light was about 2 feet away from the subject, with Einstein running at 1 stop above it’s minimum power.  For my beauty dish, I am using a sock diffuser to help spread a little light into the shadows – but even with a diffuser on a beauty dish, your light will remain relatively sharp.

Compare the image to the left with the one earlier. You can see that the main light adds a subtle, but dramatic difference.

Using this lighting set-up gives you a very striking final frame. The edge lighting lifts the subject off the background and the main light adds a ton of mood to the portrait – but don’t stop there!

This lighting set-up can be used outside of the studio. It will work with nearly any suitably moody envorinment. It is, perhaps, a little too dramatic for corporate portraiture, but it works great on athletes, or theatrical personalities.

This technique also works particularly well if you are doing a composite image. So, how do we go about doing that? Well, let’s explore further!

The Background

I started this project knowing that it would ultimately end as a composite in Photoshop. I shot our subject on a gray seamless because the background doesn’t really matter. The gray just gives me a nice blank color to lift our subject off of in Photoshop later. So that leaves us with the question, “What is our background going to be?”

Well, it’s a sports themed shoot, so I went out scouting for sports themed locations. The locations don’t have to be specifically tied to sports either. Basketball, for instance, has a long history of being played in run-down inner-city courts. So go find a shabby court, or even an old alley way. You just need to tie the background to personality of the photo.

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I decided to be a little more specific with my photo and I drove around town looking for a suitable series of locations that would match my pictures. I finally found a high school football field that would work perfectly for what I had in mind.

I walked around the field until I decided on a composition and then I began to shoot bracketed shots. The reason for the bracketed shots was because I knew I would be merging these into an HDR image. Why HDR? Well, the light on our subject is dramatic, so the background should be dramatic too!

The picture to the left represents the HDR we’ll be using in our final photo.  I created this by merging 3 photos in Photomatix and then Tone Mapping the result in lightroom. You can use whatever process you are most comfortable with in terms of your own HDR images.

Once we’ve gotten our background prepped, and we’ve cut our subject free from his gray background it’s time to marry to the images into one composite.

How you put your photos together, and the visual treatments you apply are completely up to you. There’s no real step-by-step, and it all comes down to personal style. Since my vision was to have a gritty sports portrait, I spent a lot of time making sure the final image conveyed the attitude I wanted. I also spent a lot of time doing things we normally do with our portraits; retouching, dodging & burning, liquefying, etc…

Below is the final export.

Final Thoughts and little more about the Einstein Light.

I’ll be writing up a full review on the Einstein within the next day or so, but I just wanted to quickly add how impressed I am by it’s features and performance. It played a large part in allowing me to achieve the image I wanted.

In regards to the lighting scheme I’ve laid forth in this post, I just wanted to say it’s not something I came up with on my own. I’ve seen a lot of great work from great photographers, all of which have influenced the way I approached this particular project. I suggest you go out and get inspired too!

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Commercial Portraiture with the Amazingly Talented Chef and Artist, Steve Baity

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Chef and Food Artist

I love photographing interesting and fun people – it’s part of why I got into this line of work in the first place. Steve is just such a guy. He’s an accomplished chef and food carver. Yes, food carver. He takes everyday food items and turns them into work of art.

Sculpting with Food

As I started to set up for the shoot, Steve began to carve and assemble a gorgeous food sculpture. It was hard to keep focused on my tasks while he was working at his craft. It was way too tempting to just watch him as he worked.

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You can see a diagram below of the setup used to create these shots.

Photographing the 4th of July at the McKinley Presidential Monument in Canton, Ohio

i love photographing fireworks — the mckinley monument has some of the best.

Fireworks offer so many amazing opportunities for amazing photographs and no other day delivers in the U.S. like the 4th of July. These pictures were taken by Benjamin Lehman during Canton, Ohio’s Fourth of July celebrations at the McKinley Presidential Monument. The monument itself is such a strong, beautiful piece of architecture that it serves to make photographing fireworks here that much better.

Enjoy!

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Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Ohio, Northeast Ohio region.

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