While looking through my bookshelf the other day I thought about how cool it would be to share with my readers those photographers whose work has inspired me and some of their books that are references I go back to time and time again. Hence, I thought I would start a new vein of blog posts (that I will add to regularly) where I share those books that have inspired me greatly over the years. Please note, that for everyone of these I post, I have contacted the photographer in question and have asked permission to post any images and/or book covers.

Early on in my career, I didn’t have the money to purchase photography books. Instead I would go through hundreds and hundreds of photographer’s websites. I still find a lot of inspiration online and on Instagram but I have to say there is nothing like holding a physical book in your hands, feeling the heavy paper stock and sitting with a book full of stellar images. If you can afford it, I highly recommend buying photography books that grab you. If you can’t afford to buy photo books, head to your local library.

For anyone paying attention to the photography space in the last few decades Dan Winters is a well-known photographer. He has worked for a wide variety of clients ranging from Vanity Fair to National Geographic to Wired Magazine in the editorial space and just about every Hollywood studio there is producing a wide range of movie posters. If you have ever opened up a copy of Wired Magazine in the last few decades then you have seen his work. He has inspired all of us, at all levels. I have heard other very well-known portrait photographers whisper his name and say things like “the god of lighting” when they speak of him. He is a photographer’s photographer, who wields incredibly skill, and he is an artist as well as a photographer. I was lucky enough to meet him briefly a few years back when he did a book signing here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In our twenty minute conversation, I realized a few things about Dan. He is not only a great photographer but from what I can tell he is a great human being. I know saying that after a short conversation might seem presumptuous but even so, you can tell a lot about a person from a conversation like that. He is also the best conversationalist I have ever met. He instantly put me at ease and engaged in the conversation sincerely. He was completely present. It isn’t often you meet people like that everyday, even people you know very well. Without further ado, let’s jump into Dan’s books that have inspired me.

The Road to Seeing: In his book The Road to Seeing, which I have spoken about before here on the blog, he is very open about his process and what it took to create the images contained in the book. In this book he also lays out his entire career path, which is fascinating to read about. I never knew about his fascination with model building, but it makes total sense, and helps to explain how he can build such elaborate sets and props for his images. His focus on each and every shoot is very apparent in the book as well – as the quote below indicates.

“I make it a habit to approach every picture as if it were my last” – Dan Winters, The Road to Seeing

This book is a gorgeous. It will make every photographer jealous. I say that as a high complement of the layout and design as well as for the images. If you love photography, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Road to Seeing. I am pretty sure you will enjoy it just as much as I did. I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it – and there are very few photography related books that fall into that category. It is much more than a fine art photography book as there are hundreds of pages of stories sharing what was going on behind the scenes as well as essays about his path as a photographer and how he sees the craft.

Last Launch: All of Dan’s books are incredibly inspiring, but I have to say that Last Launch is my favorite of his fine art photography books. This is because I am a total space geek and really wanted to be an astronaut. When I was young, I could list off all of the Space Shuttle missions and tell what happened on each one. I was fascinated by space travel and the Universe in general, which is why I got a degree in Physics. Last Launch was Dan’s personal project to document the last launch of the Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor Space Shuttles. The images in this book not only show the launches with Dan’s signature look, which I might add is quite different than normal launch images–and much more compelling, but also includes detailed images of the shuttle, the shuttle cockpit and the gear involved in launching into space.

Periodical Photographs: In his first book, Periodical Photographs, Dan provides an overview of his editorial work photographing a wide variety of top celebrities. In my view, if you want to see some of the best portraiture being produced in the modern age of photography then this book is a must see. It is out of print but you can still find used copies, though these come at a high price. On Amazon the least expensive used copy right now goes for $182.33. A new copy starts at $515.40! That should tell you about the quality of this book and the importance of the images that reside within. Highly recommended.

America: Icons and Ingenuity: In America: Icons and Ingenuity, we see a compendium of Dan’s work that includes images from Last Launch, Periodical Photographs and The Road to Seeing as well as a few new images. If you are new to Dan’s work and want to get one book that shows a wide range of his images then this is the one to get. America also contains several of his works on paper, his close-up images of Honeybees as well black and white images.

All four of the books listed above are quite different and each deserve a decent amount of time to digest. Dan also has another book, which I haven’t even seen: The Grey Ghost: New York City Photographs. This book contains images of New York City captured in the early part of Dan’s career when he lived in NYC. I will definitely check it out the next time I am down at the Photo-Eye bookstore here in Santa Fe. 

As you might be able to tell, Dan’s work really resonates with me. I am a huge fan. I tried not to gush too much, but it is hard not too. As someone who has been an artist (from very early on) and has lived a life filled with creativity I can see the artistic sensibility in all of his images. If his work inspires you, check out his website at www.danwintersphoto.com and also pick up a few of his books.

Thanks for the inspiration Dan and for allowing me to post this blog with your images. I look forward to seeing where you go next.

Disclaimer: I am sponsored by Elinchrom and have worked with them for over 12 years now. This product was sent to me to try out. I am a big fan of their products as they work exceedingly well for my work. They are also tough enough to withstand the torture I dish out. This isn’t necessarily an in-depth review as there isn’t much to review other than it works perfectly. 

Last week Elinchrom announced the ELB 1200 Dock. The ELB 1200 strobe kit is already an incredibly powerful, lightweight and versatile 1200 Ws battery-powered strobe but with the addition of the Dock, Elinchrom has made it much more versatile so you can have one lighting solution that works both in the studio or out on location. Having known that the Dock was coming for a while, I asked if I could get one to work with in my Cutting-Edge Lighting workshop, which happened this past week at the Santa Fe Workshops. During the workshop, we spent two days in the studio and two days on location. In the studio I used the dock for a demonstration and out in the field we used the ELB 1200 Air batteries. The dock made for seamless integration in the studio and allowed us to use the modeling lamp for hours without worrying about battery power.

The dock snaps on to the bottom of the ELB 1200 in the same way that the batteries attach so it is easy to swap out the battery for the dock. When using the dock, you get the same level of performance as with the battery. The recycle times are pretty much the same as with the battery. I know the Elinchrom website says the pack recycles 0.1 seconds slower at full power with the Dock connected but I honestly couldn’t tell any difference. Even with the dock attached the power pack is still relatively lightweight at 11 lbs (5 Kg), especially compared to other studio power packs.

During my demo for the class, we used one ELB 1200 with the modeling light on as a continuous light source (that did not fire) and another ELB 1200 in Strobo mode with an Action head. As you can see below, we were able to experiment quite a bit and get fairly creative with Deollo Johnson, a good friend and a very talented martial artist.

There isn’t much to say about the new dock aside from the obvious fact that it works great and does exactly what you would expect. For those that already own the ELB 1200, note that you will have to update your firmware on the ELB 1200 pack so that it will work with the new dock. Other than that, snap it on, flip the switch and you are in business. The dock has a fan to keep things cool, but I never even heard it while using it for nearly three hours on a relatively hot day. All in all, this is a great addition to the ELB 1200. I will definitely be adding a few of these docks to my strobe kit.

My thanks to Elinchrom for shipping me the dock to use in the workshop this past week and for letting me try it out before it was announced. The dock is another home run for Elinchrom.

It is wild to think back to 2014 and 2015, when Céline Cousteau gathered a team of adventurers, myself included, to head into an extremely remote section of the Amazon to document the issues indigenous tribes are facing. Over the course of those two excursions, approximately five weeks time in all, the crew captured the footage for this forthcoming movie under some intense conditions. Those two trips were some of the hardest, most dangerous expeditions I have ever been on – and that is saying something coming from an adventure photographer.

I have been sitting on the best images from that expedition for over three years now and they will be released along with the film here at some point later this year. I did write an article about the first expedition in my Summer 2014 Newsletter, but other than that the best images have still been held under wraps along with the film. I can’t wait to show them to the world. Now, in an effort to finish off the very last bits of the film, Céline has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the Animation and Music for the film as well as fund an impact campaign for the tribes.

From Céline’s Kickstarter email:

Tribes on the Edge tells the story of these rainforest guardians whose survival, diminished by multiple threats, is symbolic of our own human survival. In the Vale do Javari, where the largest concentration of uncontacted tribes in the entire Amazon lives, the importance of protecting people and the environment is even more crucial as they are most vulnerable.

The film not only allows us to share the story of the indigenous peoples of the Vale do Javari — it is a catalyst for advocacy and action.

The Kickstarter campaign funding will be used to put the finishing touches on the Tribes on the Edge film and to create an impact strategy meeting in the Amazon with indigenous leaders and NGOs.

The Tribes on the Edge documentary is more than 90% complete and the impact campaign is gaining momentum. This Kickstarter campaign will not only help us finish the documentary, it will also allow us to make a journey to the Amazon and work hand in hand with the very people we are working for. During this trip, we will propose researched projects, present possible NGO partners, and align with the Indigenous Peoples of the Javari to create an impact strategy that will be led and governed by the tribes themselves. This expedition will also allow us to screen the film for them.

If we can reach 30% of our goal on Kickstarter in the first week, we’ve been advised this will greatly increase our chances of achieving our funding goal. It helps us catch the eye of Kickstarter and visitors to the site and gives us an opportunity to be featured on their front page. This could give us twice as much exposure, so it’s akin to doubling your donation when you join us at the onset of this effort!

The old saying goes “be the change you want to see in the world,” and we want you to be that change with us! Your help could be the decisive factor in our efforts to support the indigenous peoples of the Javari and the natural wonder they call home – the Amazon!

Check out our brand new website click here.
Watch my latest interview about TOTE that just aired on WABC-TV click here.
And of course please join us on our Kickstarter page.

Please, if you are so inclined, click on the multiple links above to learn more about the project and to donate to the Kickstarter campaign. There is much more to come on this grand adventure and worthy campaign to tell the stories of the tribes and also help them direct their own future!

I realize this blog post isn’t going to be that exciting–or that popular. Not many photographers these days actually print their images anymore. It is often said that there will be a giant hole in the photographic record from the last ten or fifteen years because images rarely make it off the hard drives and onto a piece of paper. Ink and paper is still the most archival storage format on the planet. But besides this fact, when you kick the bucket, who is going to dig through your hard drives to pull out those epic, once in a lifetime images and save them for the world to consider twenty, sixty, or a hundred years from now? If you want to make sure your work can stand the test of time, then making prints of your images is the only sure fire way they will be remembered a century or more from now. Here in this blog post, I want to detail an additional back up of sorts, this one being physical prints.

I realize that any photographer that starts talking about “legacy” or how “they will be remembered” is probably getting on in age. I am not a spring chicken anymore, but I still have another few decades in front of me in terms of my career — or at least I hope that is the case. As an adventure sports photographer I have used up seven of my nine lives already. I didn’t expect to live past forty years old, but here I am. I have nearly bit the dust so many times that I don’t really know how or when that time will come. Hence, that is why this article is coming out now and not twenty years from now. The other issue is that I have so many images I want to print, and preserve, that doing so off and on as I create them is a lot easier than trying to print three copies of five hundred images in the future.

I have previously detailed how I back up my digital archive of images here on the blog in a post titled, Storage and Archiving Digital Workflow. That blog post detailed how I back up my digital content on a variety of hard drives and RAID arrays so that I have access to all my images and also protect then from being lost when hard drives fail. My digital archive is extremely well organized and all of my images have metadata and caption info embedded in them but the reality is there are still half a million images in my digital archive. That is a lot of images to go through.

For the last few months, I have been making large 17×22-inch prints of all my best images. Why am I doing this? It is a matter of creating a record of my images that is easily stored and will last far longer than any hard drive ever will. According to Wilhelm Imaging Research, my prints should, if they are stored correctly, last upwards of 200 years. It might seem tedious to make prints of your best images and put them into dark storage, but it is not really that hard.

I am generating these prints using my trusty Epson 3880 ink jet printer with my favorite paper, Ilford’s Gold Fibre Silk. I have chosen Ilford Gold Fibre Silk because it has spectacular longevity, and it also reproduces my images beautifully. I chose the 17×22-inch size because it is the largest flat sheet that Ilford produces for this particular paper. I could certainly print larger images on my larger Epson 9880 but storing images printed on rolled paper is much more difficult, and making hundreds of prints larger than 17×22-inches would be quite expensive. Printing my images on 17×22-inch paper is not inexpensive by any means. I figure between ink, paper and several archival boxes to store them in it is around $8 to $9 USD per print. I am also making two to three prints of each image. I am making three copies of my very best images and two copies of my second tier images. To store the prints, I have found the Archival Methods Museum Drop Front boxes (shown above and below) to be the sturdiest and most archival option available. So far, I have just been laying the raw prints on top of one another in the archival museum boxes. This seems to work well since the paper is only printable on one side.

In all, I am looking at printing multiple copies of between 200 and 300 images. That means somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 to 700 final prints. Making that many 17×22-inch print obviously is not cheap. In terms of total cost, if I make three copies of 50 images, and two copies of an additional 200 images, that comes out to around $4,400 USD in printing costs. I could certainly make it less costly by choosing a less expensive paper and/or choosing a smaller paper size, say 13×19-inch sheets instead of 17×22-inch sheets. Doing the printing piecemeal also helps to spread out those costs so I don’t have to absorb it all at once. Heck, making 250 prints is going to take some time so I am making a few dozen prints a week as I have time between assignments.

Having multiple printers here in my office, and living in a dry and dusty climate like New Mexico, I already have to make at least one 8.5×11-inch print each week on both printers just to keep the ink flowing. If I let those printer sit for three or more months at the very least I will have to spend some serious money on ink to get them working again. Hence, making several 17×22-inch prints each week also helps keep my printers working.

I thought I would put up this blog post to show what I am working on in the background right now. In this digital age, I have to say making a print is still a marvelous thing. Every time a new print rolls out of the printer it gives me a new perspective on the image — and a new appreciation for how beautiful prints of images really are. If you are interested in purchasing a print, please check out my print pricing on my website here and send me an email at info@michaelclarkphoto.com to get the process rolling.

  • Anthony Kearney - Hi Michael,

    Why do you print with a large border as opposed to fully borderless prints?
    Is it for handling purposes?
    Thanks.

  • Michael Clark - Anthony – Indeed, I print with a one inch border just for handling. I could print closer to the edge but it would only add another inch or so. The 17×22 inch paper is ideal for 6×4.5 medium format aspect ratios, not so great for the 2×3 aspect ratio that most DSLRs use. I also use cotton gloves to handle each piece of paper the whole way through so no oils from my skin contaminate the paper. That just helps it last longer.

Disclaimer: I am sponsored by Elinchrom and work closely with them on some products. I did not work with them on the ELB 500 but I did see prototypes six months before it’s release. Elinchrom has been kind enough to lend me an ELB 500 TTL kit to test out and shoot with for a two month period so that I can thoroughly test out this exciting new product. Here in this review I will give my honest thoughts about the ELB 500 and how it stacks up against my venerable ELB 400. 

Earlier this year, Elinchrom announced and launched their first TTL strobe kit, the ELB 500 TTL. It was perhaps a bit of a surprise to many, but I know they have been getting a lot of requests for a TTL strobe kit for some time. In Elinchrom style, it was natural that it mirrored the form factor of the ELB 400. At this point I have only had the ELB 500 for about six weeks, but that has given me enough time to get to know how it works and run it through a variety of situations and testing. For myself, I wanted to see how well the TTL technology actually worked and how effective the High Speed Sync (HSS) was compared to the Hi-Sync (HS) techniques I have been using for years.

First off, let’s talk about the technology. Through the Lens metering (i.e. TTL) has been around for decades, most notably in Nikon and Canon speedlights, but it was Profoto who first incorporated TTL into a more powerful strobe when they brought the Profoto B1 to market about five years ago. Since then, dozens of strobe manufacturers have copied Profoto and have brought similar style 500 Ws TTL monobloc-style strobes to market, many of them with similar features as the B1 but at one-third the cost. Until the ELB 500 TTL, Elinchrom had resisted the urge to add TTL to their strobes. This is partly because a TTL strobe uses IGBT flash technology, similar to speedlights, and all of the previous Elinchrom strobes used variable voltage control technology. Variable voltage strobes generate a flash burst by varying the energy (i.e. voltage) introduced into the flash tube and thereby generating different power output levels. In contrast, IGBT technology, which stands for “Isolated-gate bipolar transistor,” uses a high-speed switch to turn the power on and off rapidly. IGBT technology is what allows TTL to work. The IGBT technology allows the camera to register how much light is reflected from the subject and then turns the flash off instantly for a perfect exposure.

Why would anyone want TTL incorporated into a strobe? For years, those manufacturers that didn’t have a TTL strobe on offer cited the various issues surrounding TTL technology like varying exposures from flash to flash. While those issues still exist, the main reason for TTL is the same as it was with speedlights: ease of use. TTL is essentially Auto mode for flashes. Without really having to think much, anyone can post up a TTL flash and take a picture knowing that the subject will be well exposed. For many photographers that makes flash photography a lot easier to learn. I admit, I have railed against TTL in strobes for years now. I just didn’t see why I needed it. But, after using the ELB 500, I have to say, it is quite nice to have the TTL exposure as a starting point because it allows you to get the lighting dialed in much faster than manual flash with a light meter. I can see now why the Profoto B1 has been so popular. A TTL strobe is just plain easy to use.

To get the most out of the ELB 500 TTL, you will have to have either the Elinchrom Skyport Plus HS transmitter (and upgrade the firmware) or the new Elinchrom Transmitter Pro. At this point, there are only Canon and Nikon versions of the Transmitter Pro. I am sure Elinchrom will be adding versions for most other camera brands as soon as possible. As a side note here, I upgraded the firmware on my Skyport Plus HS (Nikon) and it works flawlessly with the ELB 500 TTL. It is nice to see Elinchrom offer the firmware upgrade for those that have long been invested in their gear.

The image below was captured using the ELB 500 TTL in TTL mode. This was shot in a studio against a black background. In my experience so far, the TTL works incredibly well on the ELB 500. It is much better than any other TTL I have used and light years better than the TTL of yore built into my Nikon speedlights. [Side note: While I have shot once or twice with the Profoto B1, I do not have enough experience with it to say how the TTL capabilities of that strobe compare to the ELB 500 TTL.] Of note, the image below was also shot in HSS mode. We will get to the HSS mode here in a bit. I will just say that it was ridiculously easy to get a well-exposed image using TTL and HSS together.

Before getting into HSS, let’s talk about the form factor and how the ELB 500 is in use. One of the things I really appreciate with the ELB 500, and all of Elinchrom’s offerings, is that the flash tube is exposed so that it can fill up a softbox or a beauty dish as it is supposed to. I recently used the Profoto D2 monoblocs on a shoot and those, with the enclosed flash tubes, are a bit of a disaster when to comes to various light modifiers, especially with beauty dishes. Retaining the exposed flash tube, as with the ELB 400 and ELB 1200, allows the ELB 500 to spread the light evenly in any light modifier, which is one of the major advantages of strobes over speedlights.

I am also a big fan of pack and head style strobes. Monobloc style strobes, like the Profoto B1 or the Elinchrom ELC Pro HD which have the electronics and the flash head built into a single unit, seem to be in vogue now but in my experience they can be a pain to use. Having a pack and head system where the flash head is attached to the power pack with a cable allows for making adjustments on the pack, which is usually suspended from the light stand, much easier. It is also safer when hoisting lights high above your subject. With monoblocs, and I have two of the Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 1000 Ws monoblocs, I often find that I have to lower the flash down to eye level just to change a setting that can’t be adjusted from the transmitter. When using heavier monoblocs you need a much heavier light stand to deal with all of that extra weight compared to a simple flash head. I realize that just pulling a monobloc out of the bag and locking it onto a stand is quite convenient. But the few extra seconds it takes to connect the flash head to the power pack in my experience is worth it. Plus, the power pack can act as a sand bag when hung off the stand. In most cases the power pack isn’t heavy enough to be a full-on sand bag (unless you are working with one of the high-end studio strobes from Broncolor or Profoto that weigh in excess of 25 pounds) but it helps secure the stand. As far as I know, the ELB 500 TTL is the only pack and head style TTL strobe on the market, so if that is your preference as it is mine, this is the strobe for you.

One other sweet feature of the ELB 500 TTL is that you can plug it in to an electrical outlet and use it just like a studio strobe. Elinchrom calls this feature “Active Charging” and it works very well. For the photographer that works both in the studio and out on location this is a very exciting feature. Without the active charging, the ELB 500 gets 400 full power pops, which is pretty amazing. That is likely more than you will need on any location shoot. In addition to active charging the ELB 500 has full asymmetry, meaning you can dial the A and B flash heads to any power ratio as needed as long as the two don’t exceed 500 Ws total.

Also, at 3.4 Kg (6.92 lbs) the ELB 500 (with a flash head) is still relatively light weight. As with the ELB 400, you will need to use the Elinchrom Quadra Reflector Adapter to mount the ELB 500 onto larger light modifiers. Unlike the ELB 400, there is only one flash head for the ELB 500. The ELB 400 flash heads will not work with the ELB 500. But, if you have the old ELB 400 flash head adapter it will work on the ELB 500 flash heads.

Now, let’s get into the High Speed Sync (HSS) capabilities of the ELB 500 TTL and how they compare to the Hi-Sync (HS) technology found in previous Elinchrom strobes. For those of you who are not familiar with HSS and HS and how they differ I highly recommend that you check out this article I wrote for the Elinchrom blog, HS vs HSS: What’s the Difference?  One of the issues with Hi-Sync (HS) was that it created a gradation from the top of the image to the bottom since this technology takes a slice of the light emitted from the flash. While the graduation was easy to correct, using a graduated filter in Lightroom, it was noticeable in some situations. With HSS, because the light is pulsing extremely rapidly to light the entire sensor evenly, there is no gradation. Below, the image on the left was shot in HS mode with the ELB 400 and the HS flash head and the image on the right was shot in HSS mode with the ELB 500. The red box outlined in the lower portion of the left image shows that area where the gradation is noticeable, when compared to the right image. While this isn’t that big of a deal, I just thought I would show the difference here.

When using the HSS mode on the ELB 500, the transition to HSS is seamless (at least with my Nikons). When using both HSS and the TTL modes, you can essentially set your camera up however you want and the transmitter will produce a good exposure for your subject if the flash has enough power. As I said above, this is extremely convenient. Switching into TTL mode and out of it is as simple as pressing the TTL button on the transmitter, and when switching to manual from TTL, the last flash output settings are retained so you can easily adjust the lighting as you want.

For much of my work the last few years, I have been using the HS technology to light up athletes who are far from the flash head. The HS technology has allowed me to overpower the sun from 20-feet away with the ELB 400 and close to 60-feet away with the ELB 1200. Hence, I wanted to see just how efficient the HSS is compared to my trusty HS. To figure this out, I set up both the ELB 400 and the ELB 500, both with the Elinchrom High Performance Reflector mounted on the flash heads, and placed them 20-feet away from the subject, which in this case was a Christmas light in my backyard. [I realize the image below is total crap, but it was just a test so I could understand the differences here.] Both images were shot at ISO 200, 1/2,000th second at f/2.8. Below, the image on the left was shot with the ELB 400 at full power (424 Ws) in HS mode and the image on the right was shot with the ELB 500 at full power (500 Ws) in HSS mode. It is easy enough to see that the image shot in HS mode with the ELB 400 is brighter, and hence there is more light output by HS than with HSS. I have always known that HS is more efficient than HSS but how close they are here is the surprise. When I pulled these two images into Lightroom and equalized the brightness I found there was about a 1-stop difference. When taking into account the power output of each strobe, since the ELB 400 is 76 Ws less powerful than the ELB 500, the difference between the HS and the HSS is approximately 1.3 stops. Personally, I was blown away that there wasn’t a much bigger difference. Elinchrom has managed to make the HSS much more efficient than I would have thought. In their marketing materials, Elinchrom talks about this being the “Most Powerful TTL light ever”and I have a feeling how they have optimized the HSS functionality is what they are talking about. I did not have a Profoto B1X to test how their HSS compares to the ELB 500 but that would be a very interesting test.

After I tested the ELB 500 HSS mode, I sent my results to Elinchrom and was told that the HSS is even more efficient with Canon cameras so your mileage on this test might vary depending on which camera you use. Note that Hi-Sync (HS) also seems to be more efficient on Nikon cameras in my experience. Regardless, the fact that Elinchrom has been able to make HSS so efficient is quite remarkable.

After this test, I wanted to really push the HSS capabilities of the ELB 500 from farther distances. I found that the ELB 400 in HS mode still was able to light up the subject from 30-feet away on a cloudy afternoon whereas the HSS mode of the ELB 500 in the same scenario wasn’t able to match it. That one extra stop for some scenarios is a big difference for my work. I realize that lighting up a subject from 20-feet away, or even 50-feet away with the ELB 1200, is a very specialized lighting scenario that few photographers will ever need. For most photographers, especially those capturing portraits, the ELB 500’s HSS mode will be plenty powerful for just about any scenario they are likely to face.

While reading the FAQs on the Elinchrom website regarding the ELB 500 TTL, I noticed a question about using HSS and HS simultaneously. The answer from Elinchrom was surprising. You can indeed us HS on one pack (like the ELB 400 or the ELB 1200) in tandem with HSS on the ELB 500! To test this out, I shot the multiple-exposure image below with a two light setup using both HSS and HS. The main light coming in from camera right was an ELB 500 TTL in HSS mode and the rim light coming from camera left behind the subject was from an ELB 1200 in HS mode. This multi-exposure image (created in-camera) was shot at ISO 100, 1/2,000th second at f/5.6 with a Nikon D850. The fact that I can use one strobe in HS mode and another in HSS mode is a huge selling point for the ELB 500 in my mind. It means my older gear is not obsolete but can be used right alongside the newer ELB 500 even when shooting in High Speed Sync mode. As far as I know, Elinchrom is the only strobe manufacturer to make strobes that use both HS and HSS flash technologies and they have optimized them both to work incredibly efficiently and in tandem.

At this point in the review, you might be thinking the ELB 500 TTL is the do-it-all strobe solution. But, as with all of these IGBT 500 Ws TTL strobes, there is one chink in the armor that I have found. That chink is flash duration. As with the Profoto B1X, and many of the other 500 Ws TTL moonlights, they have wicked fast flash durations at low power settings. The B1x has flash durations as fast as 1/19,000th second. The ELB 500 TTL has a flash duration as fast as 1/20,000th second. The Godox AD600 Pro has a flash duration as fast as 1/10,100th second. These units achieve these wicked fast flash durations at the lowest power settings. But at full power the flash durations are quite slow. At full power, i.e. 500 Ws, the flash duration of the ELB 500 TTL is 1/250th seconds (t0.5), which is very, very slow as far as flash durations go. At 250 Ws, one stop down from full power, the flash duration is 1/854th second (t0.5) in the Action mode. At 125 Ws, two stops down from full power, the flash duration is 1/1,886th second (t0.5) in the Action mode. The Godox AD600 Pro has a similarly slow flash duration of 1/220th second at full power. Interestingly, the Profoto B1x has a flash duration of 1/1,000th second at full power (t0.5), which is faster than the ELB 500 and the Godox but still not fast enough to freeze motion reliably.

Why am I making a point here about flash durations? For most photographers, this won’t matter at all. If you need to freeze motion then you just jump into HSS mode and shoot at a high shutter speed to freeze the motion. But, if you are trying to freeze the motion with the flash and overpower daylight at the same time the flash durations matter. For a long time now I have shot motion blurs of athletes blasting by me and then froze their motion using a fast flash duration. One of the hallmarks of Elinchrom strobes is that they offer multiple flash heads (for most of their battery-powered strobes) and have the Action flash heads that have fast flash durations even at full power. Hence, with an ELB 400 and the Action flash head, I can use that setup at full power (424 Ws) to freeze the motion of the subject even when shooting with a 1/10th second shutter speed. With the ELB 500 TTL, I would have to drop down to 125 Ws to get a fast enough flash duration to freeze motion reliably. For some photographers this won’t be an issue, for others this will be a limitation for the ELB 500 TTL.

When shooting with leaf shutters, like with my Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi, I can sync at all shutter speeds up to 1/800th second. On other Hasselblad’s, like the X1D and H6D cameras, they can sync at up to 1/2,000th second. But, the catch here is that the flash duration needs to be shorter than the shutter speed. Hence, at 1/800th second (the top shutter speed on my H5D) the t0.5 flash duration needs to be around 1/2,000th second minimum to work with my H5D. Otherwise I would be clipping the flash and/or have issues with how quickly the transmitter triggers the flash. When using the Hasselblad, the ELB 500 TTL is fairly limiting because of the slower flash durations at the higher power settings. I realize for most photographers this won’t be an issue. But with the new mirrorless medium format cameras that incorporate leaf shutters this could be an issue for more and more photographers. In the image below, I had to use my ELB 1200 and the action head to over power daylight and get a fast enough flash duration to work with the leaf shutters in my H5D.

Who is the ELB 500 TTL designed for? In my mind, and as seen on the marketing images put out by Elinchrom, the ELB 500 is designed for portrait, lifestyle, fashion and wedding photographers where the flash head is relatively close to the subject. And by close, I mean that the flash head is not more than 10 or 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters) away from the subject. That isn’t to say that it cannot be used to shoot sports with the HSS mode, but it may not be as versatile as the ELB 400 or ELB 1200 for that freezing motion at a distance. I realize that 80% of photographers out there are probably using a strobe for portraits of some sort and will have the strobe relatively close to the subject. The other 20% (or less) are trying to shoot action of some sort. So, for the vast majority, the ELB 500 TTL will be their best option for a battery-powered strobe within the Elinchrom line up.

In conclusion, I am very impressed with the ELB 500 TTL. It is so easy to use and setup that going back to my ELB 400 feels slow by comparison. I am not a fan of TTL in general, but I have to confess, it makes life much easier when trying to dial in the lighting on location. Not only that, it also negates the need for a light meter. On location, I typically start in TTL mode with the ELB 500 to get a base exposure and then I push the button on the Skyport transmitter to go into manual flash mode and adjust the settings from there. Flash on location really can’t get much easier. Add in the fact that I can use HS and HSS modes on different strobes simultaneously and that is icing on the cake. So, will I be upgrading to the ELB 500? I will not be selling my ELB 400s because they are so versatile and they are still stellar strobes. Hi-Sync (HS) is still the way to go for the vast majority of my work. The ELB 1200 is still my go to battery-powered strobe because I often need the extra power and versatility that it offers. But with that said, I can definitely see adding an ELB 500 to my kit for those shoots where it will work well and can help me be more efficient.

  • Alberto - Great review. Thank you. It seems Elinchrom is making a lot of interesting developments.

  • The NEW Elinchrom ELB500ttl… @ Marc Lebryk Photography - […] brave enough to try such a thing myself but he was very alive when he showed me pictures of this.  You can also read Michael Clarks review of the ELB500 […]

  • Jesus - Hi,

    I have the EBL 500 with the EL-Skyport Plus transmitter. How do I know when the EL-skyport transmitter is in TTL mode? I know I can change the power with the wheel, but did not found any TTL button on the transmitter.

    How can I put it on TTL mode? so it can choose the amount of light automatic ?

    Kind regards for you

  • Michael Clark - Jesus – you will have to upgrade the firmaware on your Skyport Plus HS transmitter and then the TTL icon will show up above the far left top button.

  • Jesus - Thank you so much!!

    I have updated it and now have the TTL mode. I found that the TTL is a little under expose, but manually adjustment a little up works perfect.

    Looking forward to get the ELB 400 with 2 HS heads by black Friday and maybe will save some money, your review and comparison have help me to make this decision. Overall I love the colors from the Elinchrom flash.

    Best regards

  • The NEW Elinchrom ELB500ttl… – Marc Lebryk Photography - […] brave enough to try such a thing myself but he was very alive when he showed me pictures of this.  You can also read Michael Clarks review of the ELB500 […]

  • Peter - Hi Michael

    Been looking for usage info with leaf shutters. Thanks for mentioning it. A few questions though. Hope you could help.

    1. Which trigger did you use with your Hasselblad? The ones listed are Canon and Nikon only.

    2. Would ELB 400 be a good option instead of the 500 for a 1/2000 sync or is it only the 1200 version that is compatible, because of faster flash duration?

    3. Have you used the Profoto/ Broncolor equivalent with the H5D/ H6D? How do they fare?

    Best

  • Michael Clark - Peter – See my Elinchrom articles here on the blog. I use the Skyport Plus HS, now called the Skyport Transmitter Pro. I have the Nikon version, but I don’t think it matters. They all work on my Hasselblad H5D 50c WIFi. And yes, andELB 400 or 1200 is a better option for use with leaf shutters because the Action flash heads have much faster flash durations than the ELB 500 TTl. I would not recommend the ELB 500TTL for use with leaf shutters. I have used Profoto strobes on occasion when i have to rent them, but I have not used Broncolor. I am sure they could work well but since I shoot outdoors mostly, and prefer pack and head systems, not mono blocks, the Elinchrom ELB system is my preference.

I am very excited to announce that the image above has been chosen for inclusion in the 2018 Communication Arts Photography Annual, which will be published in the July/August 2018 issue of Communication Arts (CA). The CA Photography Annual is one of the most exclusive photography competitions in the world. The Communication Arts Photography Annual competition has been held for the last 59 years making this one of the oldest photography competitions in the World. From the Communications Arts press release, “Of the 3,401 entries to the 59th Photography Annual, only 127 were accepted, representing the work of 123 photographers, making the Photography Annual the most exclusive major photography competition in the world.”

For those not familiar with Communication Arts, here is a description from the press release of the magazine, which is more like a high-end book than a magazine: “Communication Arts is a professional journal for designers, art directors, design firms, corporate design departments, agencies, illustrators, photographers and everyone involved in visual communications. Through its editorials, feature articles and the annual competitions it sponsors, CA provides new ideas and information, while promoting the highest professional standards for the field. With a paid circulation of 25,000, CA has a rich tradition of representing the aspirations of a continually-growing and quality-conscious field of visual communications. Now in its 59th year, CA continues to showcase the current best—whether it’s from industry veterans or tomorrow’s stars—in design, advertising, photography, illustration, interactive and typography. Everything is reproduced with printing technology and attention to detail unmatched by any trade publication anywhere.”

For me personally, getting the email that another one of my images made it into the Photo Annual, and especially this image in particular, is a confirmation of how we knocked it out of the park on this assignment. [My first image to be included in the Communication Arts Photo Annual was in 2016.] When I got the news I was overjoyed as this image is from one of my best assignments ever–and it has been winning quite a few other awards as well. Along with the notice, I also received an email that I could announce that my image was included in the Annual, even though the July/August issue is yet to be published.

The above image was shot for Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography. It was widely published to promote the Hi-Sync capabilities of the Elinchrom ELB 1200. This image was created during the Lighting the Spirit project, which was described in detail here on the blog.  This image was created using two ELB 1200 strobes with the HS Flash heads, a Nikon D810 with a Nikkor 14-24mm lens. To see the rest of the images from this assignment check out the Lighting the Spirit Gallery on my website. For a behind the scenes video detailing this assignment check out the Chasing the Shot video produced by Red Bull.

My thanks to Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography for giving me the opportunity on this major assignment, especially to Bram Dauw and Charlie Pinder who helped put this shoot together, and also to Simon Whittle, the CEO of Elinchrom. Also, my sincere thanks to Communication Arts and the five jurors who chose the winning images: Noah Dash – Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, Todd James – National Geographic, Erin Mayes – EmDash LCC, Jerry Takigawa – Takigawa Design, and Sarah Wilmer – photographer. And finally, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rafa Ortiz, the kayaker in this image, who worked incredibly hard to help us create an amazing set of images for Elinchrom.

The Spring 2018 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

This issue includes an editorial asking for feedback on the Newsletter, a review of the new features in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, an article detailing my recent big wave surfing shoot at Peahi– also known as JAWS, an editorial entitled Embracing Failure, and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Spring 2018 issue on my website at:

http://files.michaelclarkphoto.com/spring_2018.pdf

If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.

Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.

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