Are The Profoto B1s Really That Good?

Having worked with the new Profoto B1 strobes for a short while, I’ve finally challenged myself to ask this question. The B1 brings a lot to the table – self-contained monolights, remote control, 500 watt-seconds of power, and TTL control. Not to mention the expansive Profoto lighting modification capabilities. But how well do they work in the real world?

Being somewhat “old school,” I still prefer to meter my lighting to place my light sources in desired ratios. I’ve been doing this with the B1 lights as well, but recently decided to test the TTL accuracy of the equipment in which I’ve invested. The below portrait of a patient and accommodating Nancy Grab is an example.

Executive portrait of Nancy Grab for Five Star Professionals' feature
Nancy Grab, Union Bank mortgage banker

After placing my main light in a 45” white umbrella I added my hair light with a 20-degree grid. I set the Profoto Air Remote to TTL and fired my first test shot. To my amazement this is the result I saw. I was able to start working with my subject and concentrate on expressions and angles that would flatter her rather than fussing with lighting and interfering with her workday.

TIP: With the Air Remote and the B1 lights, you can take your first shot in TTL mode. Then when you switch the remote to Manual mode, the Profoto system remembers the power setting of the lights it just fired. So you can easily adjust individual groups up or down to tweak the balance to your liking from your initial TTL exposure. In the above example I didn’t make any further adjustments, and merely switched to MAN and left it there for the remainder of the shoot.

How important is this? In my world, I photograph executives and groups of business people and time is of the essence. I don’t want to keep a CEO or a $400/hour attorney waiting for me to get my lights right. So this system has helped me greatly reduce my setup time, and being able to adjust the lighting from the camera (while I’m shooting) helps me get the busy executive in and out so that they can get back to doing what they do best. Not having to look for electrical outlets (and then tape down extension cords and power cords) is another huge time saver.

On that note, and in the spirit of the season, this final image was a portrait of a man who is quite busy right now. I had the opportunity to photograph him with the employees of the Omni San Diego and a hundred very excited children. He definitely appreciates efficiency!

Two Profoto B1s set up to light Santa
Lighting setup for Santa — no wires!

Santa is ready to greet children at the Omni San Diego
Santa is ready

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a joyous holiday season!

The Ground-breaking Profoto B1

Yesterday was a very interesting day. I had an opportunity to work with the great people of Right Hand Events and Kaiser Permanente San Diego covering the groundbreaking of a new hospital here in San Diego. Aside from a terrific event with local business and political leaders, I was tasked with capturing a very challenging scene. The actual “shovels in the dirt ground breaking” happened a few minutes before noon – I know, every photographer’s favorite time of day to shoot outside – with backlit subjects and a highly reflective facade above and behind them.

Now in older days I would have brought out an Alien Bee and powered it with a Vagabond battery pack. Unfortunately this setting was the middle of a large parking lot, and I would be unable to ground the battery pack. And 640 watt-seconds was not going to match the harsh sunlight. So I brought out my trusty old Dynalite 800ws pack along with a Dynalite inverter (which doesn’t need to be grounded) and powered a single 4040 head with all 800ws blasting directly from the 7″ reflector. That’s a lot of power, but it was approximately 20′ from my subjects. And did I mention it was almost noon? Knowing the importance of these shots to Kaiser Permanente, I opted for photographic redundancy. I decided to photograph these key moments using two cameras and two lighting setups.

Profoto B1 and Dynalite lighting
Profoto B1 strobes flank a Dynalight pack and head

I added a PocketWizard to my new Nikon Df to trigger my Dynalite pack. A PocketWizard TT5n fired my Nikon D3 mounted on a tripod at a slightly lower angle. Atop the D3 was the Profoto Air Remote, which fired a pair of new Profoto B1s. Their combined 1000 watt-seconds was almost enough to match the sun, even at that distance. With a little adjusting in Lightroom I was able to produce a pretty good image – in the middle of a parking lot in midday sun, with no wires. The example below is from the D3, showing the hard-working ladies of Right Hand Events after successfully executing the groundbreaking. (The key images of the Kaiser Permanente team will need to be approved by their Public Affairs office before they can be shared.)

Right Hand Events' ladies break ground for the new Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Diego
Right Hand Events breaks ground for Kaiser Permanente

The B1s are impressive. Two lights with remotes and chargers fit neatly in a backpack. Their batteries are mounted “in to” the head, so nothing is left dangling and there are truly no cords whatsoever. These units are able to work in TTL mode – although currently only with Canon DSLRs. The Nikon version of their remote won’t be available until late this year. (Note that the strobes themselves are identical, only the remote differs. So even though you can’t purchase a Nikon version of the remote now, you can purchase the B1 strobes – and they will work with the Nikon remote as soon as that is available.) The TTL was impressively accurate in a studio demo with Canon cameras last week. The B1 also has an incredible recycle rate, able to keep up with the Canon shooting at high fps in the studio. Granted that wasn’t full power, but it was impressive nonetheless – and should be of tremendous benefit for anyone shooting action. If you have used these units please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

If you’re interested, these are now on my birthday list and my Christmas list… ;-)

William Morton Teaches at Tri-Community College

William Morton poses next to a poster advertising his Location Lighting class
William Morton and the Location Lighting poster

William Morton of Morton Visuals was invited to present a seminar at the Tri-Community School of Photography in Covina this weekend. William put together a 3-hour class on Location Lighting – Taking Control of Your Color. The 57 students learned new techniques to identify the ambient color cast in a location, match their lighting, and effectively neutralize all color casts in their finished image. Additional time was spent showcasing recent photo projects and examining both “behind the scenes” images illustrating how the images were captured and lighting diagrams explaining how the effects were created. Maintaining an accurate color balance was an underlying theme of all. Afterwards William reported that he was pleased with the turnout and the great questions posed by the students, even during breaks and afterwards. The students of Tri-Community were enthusiastic, and hopefully everyone left with a new idea (or three) to try themselves. Thanks to ASMP colleague Ramon Purcell for the company on the long drive, as well as the photos shown here.

William Morton teaches about Color Management at Tri-Community School of Photography
William Morton teaches about Color Management at Tri-Community School of Photography