Welcome to the IGTV series we’re doing every two weeks on Profoto’s Instagram called “Slice of Pye.” We’ll cover a myriad of topics, discuss lighting principles, and showcase a ton of Profoto gear in action over the course of the next year, so please join us over on IG.
Tune in to our next episode: May 13th at 2 PM PST!
In this episode, we make it easy to understand how to use radio flash systems, specifically the Profoto Air Remote TTL, as well as the B10 Plus and the A1x. Luckily, the Profoto menu is already intuitive and user friendly, and this video will break everything down into easy-to-follow tips. Watch the full episode below.
Video for Radio Flash Systems Made Easy | Slice of Pye, Ep. 19
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We wanted to create a series of reference videos for you to look back to if you had issues with your gear, questions about settings, and troubleshooting your flashes. This video is for portrait photographers who are relatively new to using radio flash systems for off-camera flash and looking to use it on-location, whether for engagements, weddings, or any other portrait sessions.
Tip 1: Understanding Radio Vs. Wireless
When it comes to flash technology, the terms “radio” vs. “wireless” (or even vs. optical) simply signify different ways of controlling off-camera flash. You have a camera and a flash that is set up away from the camera, and whether you’re using a radio or wireless system determines how you’re getting that flash to fire and light the shot. The difference in the technology is pretty significant in that wireless systems deal more with line of sight and other nuances that generally make them less reliable than radio systems, which are now built directly into the flash units. Radio systems can be triggered from long distances and line of sight is not an issue.
In the image above, shot at Malibu Rocky Oaks, I was standing hundreds of feet away from the couple and my B10 fired reliably with every shot. Wireless, optical, and other flash systems in the past did not offer the same level of reliability, range, and flexibility found in today’s built-in radio systems.
[Related Reading: 10-Step User Guide to Setting Up Your Profoto Flash Gear]
Tip 2: Understanding Channels
A “channel” simply denotes a radio frequency. All of the flash units within a given area that are set to the same channel will communicate with each other. Adversely, all gear that is not set to the same channel will not communicate with one another. It’s that simple.
Here is how to adjust your channels on the Profoto Air TTL Remote:
Toggle the button on the lower right side of the display on the remote to select one of the eight available channels (see the image above). You can do the same on a Profoto A1 or other flash that you can use as an on-camera remote to trigger off-camera flashes. For the A1 follow the steps below:
- Press the center button
- Scroll down and select Channel
- Choose one of the available channels
Again, the remote and external flash units must be set to the same channel in order to communicate with each other. Here’s a simple analogy. Think of channels as a school building with classrooms inside of the building. Imagine there are four classrooms, as illustrated above, and each one is sealed off from the next. Nothing that is said in one classroom can be heard in the next classroom, and so on. These classrooms, then, operate like the channels in a flash. One channel will not communicate with another. What is communicated in channel four, stays in channel four.
Tip 3: Know When to Change Channels
By default, flashes are set to channel one. That’s fine if nobody else is around. However, if multiple photographers who are using the same brand of gear occupy a shared space, then having all of the flash units set to the same channel is going to cause trouble. Each time one photographer changes a setting or fires off his or her flash unit, it will affect the other photographer’s gear, changing their settings and triggering their flashes. It will feel like a ghost is controlling your system. Also, because multiple devices are using the same channel, there’s a chance you may lose a little of the consistency you would otherwise have in terms of flash performance. If this happens to you, it’s time to change the channel (on your flash, that is).
Tip 4: Know the Difference Between a Group and a Channel
To better understand the difference between a group and a channel, let’s return to our school and classroom analogy.
Whereas before we had four classrooms (or channels), we now will look at a single classroom/channel. Within a single room, imagine there are four students and each student represents a different group (A, B, C, and D). Students in group A can be told to do different things than students in group D, etc. For example, I might say, “Students in group A, I want you to speak louder,” which translates to setting a higher flash power for all units set to group A. At the same time, I may want students in group D to be quieter, or in other words, flashes in group D should fire at a lower power setting. Or, I may want everyone in the classroom to speak at the same volume, and I would set all of my flash units to the same power level. All of the flash units can be set to fire, but they don’t have to be set at the same power level. Having the ability to assign the flashes to groups makes that possible. As a reminder, make sure each flash is set to the same channel as your remote.
Here is how to adjust your groups on the Profoto Air TTL Remote:
First, press A, B, or C to select a group and then dial in the energy/power level and turn the head on or off (depending on whether or not you want a specific group to fire). If you want to change one of your flashes to a different group, you need to do so on the flash unit itself.
[Related Reading: Ambient Exposure vs. Flash Power | Slice of Pye, Ep. 17]
Tip #5: Practical Lighting Advice
Now that we’ve talked about how to set up your flashes and place them into groups, I’d like to share how I use flashes to enhance the photos I take. I use what is known as the C.A.M.P. framework, which you’ll find throughout our educational courses. Here’s what it means:
- C = Composition: Start with your in-camera composition. Always decide on the shot you’re looking for before you choose to set up anything.
- A = Ambient: After you decided on your composition, it’s time to dial in your ambient exposure. Do you want the scene to be brightly lit or perhaps something more dramatic? Set your ambient exposure in camera and take a test shot to see if you need to add or modify, light, which brings us to the next step.
- M = Modify: Should you need to add light, do so by adding only one light at a time, which will usually start with your key light. I typically assign this light to group “A.” Then, take a test shot to check your results in camera, and add or modify the light(s) as needed.
- P = Photograph: Take the photo. If necessary, make additional adjustments and work your way back through the C.A.M.P. framework.
If you need to add more lights, ask yourself if the additional light adds to the key light or functions independently. If the light is in the same position and is used to boost the power of the first light, then it can probably go into group “A” with the first light. If, instead, it’s going to be placed in a different position and function as a rim light or serve some other purpose, then assign it to group “B,” and so on.
Bonus: For all of the wedding and event photographers out there, here’s how I like to set up lighting for a dance floor (see the image above). My main light keeps the designation of group “A,” while I set my other flash units to group B in order to provide a nice rim light to the subjects.
In case you missed our last episode, you can watch them all on the Profoto IGTV channel! We hope you enjoyed this episode of Slice of Pye, please feel free to share or re-watch the IGTV video at any time to reference the material we covered! For more tutorials and lessons on the fundamentals of lighting, check out our Flash Photography Training System!