The ELB 400 with 2 Quadra Pro heads combined with an Octobox 135 was my lighting gear for this experiment. The end result of this experiment could not have been more satisfying for me.
The Elinchrom ELB 400 is lightweight, compact, and easy-to-use. Furthermore, the two batteries, cables, lights and the rest of the equipment perfectly fit in my Lowepro Photorunner 100. Even though the ELB 400 is not as small as a Speedlight, it still appears handier and more functional. Indeed, in order to capture the same photography with Speedlights, you would have to travel with over 8 flash units.
The ELB 400 has only two ports, and a single battery allows you to connect both flash heads simultaneously. With just one flash head you can get up to 425W, which is enough to overpower the sun. Thus, when using two flash heads, the power is automatically divided, fuelling port A with 66% of the energy and port B with 33% of the total, a feature that is extremely useful for portrait photography.
To obtain an appropriate dimension in my photo shoot, I initially positioned the lights in a classic but effective cross position.
I used a 135cm Octobox at about a 45° angle to the subject and then placed another 120cm Octobox at the back, to separate the subject from the background. The Octobox 135 produced an unsurpassable, uniform, soft light. This Softbox actually made it the perfect companion for the Quadra heads. After a day or two, it quickly became an inseparable gear for our ELB 400 set.
The biggest difference between the ELB 400 and my Speedlight is the reduction of spots in portraits, partly because the light from the flash heads is diffused and because the Octobox acts as a second diffuser, which saves an enormous amount of time in post-production.
The new lithium batteries can trigger 350 shots at full power. In my case, the battery lasted at least for a 5-hour session with 600 pictures (at different powers), hence I had the pleasure of working, knowing I wouldn’t have to go home at the most interesting moment of the shooting!
Photographing strangers is a challenge for several reasons.
First, it tests your ability to engage quickly with individuals in order convince them to be part of your project. In that process, you must be both a professional and a salesman, highlighting the quality of the products and offering a number of benefits they cannot refuse. Being part of an international project and keeping forever a photographic portrait remembering the Pilgrims of their spiritual retreat, pushed them to participate in this experiment.
Secondly, photographing strangers also increases your ability to act quickly and with imagination. At times, six or seven pilgrims were standing in line to have their picture taken, with all the pressure that it entails. Conversing with the subjects and staying continuously positive and patient throughout the photo shoots, truly helped creating an atmosphere of trust between the photographer and the subjects.
Moreover, by allowing the subjects to relax, they were able to show their true colours, without forced poses.
During these eight days, with the 5-hour sessions, neither heat nor dust affected the ELB 400; it continued its flawless operation without any errors. The detailed OLED display on the ELB 400 fulfils its mission perfectly. No matter the distance, you always obtain a perfect capture even in bright sunlight. The setup menus have extraordinary functionalities and are conveniently designed; even the buttons, which are protected from dust, glow in the dark!
Finally, I can only say that I would love to do this again next year and have no doubt that this equipment has helped me streamline my work process and concentrate on shooting better pictures. This experiment has been a complete success!