A New Way to Freeze Time
Steve Brown likes to come at life from a different perspective. It’s a commercial photo-strategy that has served him well for the past fourteen years – as he now boasts a client list almost as long as the 100ft converted barge he lives on - just a stone’s throw from London’s Tower Bridge.
This is a multi-talented photographer who thrives on working under serious pressure both in the studio and on location, and is obsessed with speed – or more accurately: the freezing of speed.
Steve is a master at stopping life in its tracks - expertly capturing a single moment frozen in time using the fusion of experience, skill and the employment of latest imaging tools.
After graduating in 2002 he assisted other photographers for two years and used the money he earned to buy equipment – a decent camera and a set of Bowens Gemini heads (that he says he knew would never let him down) while he focused on building his business.
He inveigled his way into the music world and started shooting photos of small bands – later winning commissions to shoot much bigger bands for rock music magazines – before morphing into the more profitable area of TV publicity work, photographing actors and the sets on which they worked. He was commissioned to produce stills for the popular Doctor Who spin-off science fiction drama, Torchwood and then several series of Doctor Who itself. As his name became better known in the TV firmament he found a rush of work coming in from The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 5. Then big name blue chips like Sony, Hitachi and Shell starting dialling his number.
When Steve’s wife Lorna got involved with Roller Derby (a high-speed contact sport in which competing teams roller skate in the same direction around a track) he was hooked. He took pictures (at that time using Bowens Creo equipment) and then put out tentative feelers with other fast sports such as American football, ice hockey and baseball, that are still niche in the UK.
Now Steve is also hooked on Bowens’ brand new, state of the art Generation X flash system – which he describes as ‘a revelation that will completely change the way I work’.
He says: ‘Now with these new lights (XMS for studio and XMT for location work) I will be able to plan and execute much more interesting sports shoots. When you are constrained by flash duration you can shoot portraits – nice static stuff – but sport is all about movement and energy so you need to be able to capture that fast motion.”
He adds: “The simple fact is that the speed, precision and consistency of Generation X is better than any other flash system I have ever used. These are 100% the best Bowens lights ever.”
How Steve got a real kick out of the new XMS flash head:
“I met Shaina, a high-kicking martial arts expert, through the Brixton Street Gym organisation,” he says. I was mesmerised watching her practising some kata (patterns) with a bo staff – and I thought that capturing these fantastic round-house kicks that had so much speed and movement would just look superb.”
“And to be honest I has also acknowledged that I didn’t have the facility to capture this at such high speed – but I knew the new Bowens system was coming.”
In the studio shoot Steve used a total of five XMS heads (a mix of 750 and 1000w) with two strip softboxes plus egg crate grids on the back producing a sidelight effect; a small Octo90 softbox on the front and then two bare heads on the background.
“We set up the lights and then ran through the various movements she could demonstrate”, explains Steve. “I knew that the amazing fast recycle times on the XMS would be vital. I could just get her to perform and leave me to just shoot and shoot and shoot – and just see what point in the movement sequence was most compelling. Before Generation X I would have had to take one shot, wait for a couple of seconds and then move on and shoot the next one.”
He adds: “We agreed on a part of a movement that looked outstanding as a still image and then it was simply a case of trying to hit that right moment. There is probably one hundredth of a second within the sequence that is the moment you have to take the shot. I was just totally focused on capturing that nano-second and hoping that the camera and the lights would just work. I didn’t have to worry about it. They did.”
Fast freeze: no distraction
Explains Steve: “I had so much to think about in terms of tracking Shaina’s movements and pressing the shutter at precisely the right time that I couldn’t afford any distractions - like worrying about equipment functionality. With previous monoblocs I was limited to 125sec with a quite long flash duration so any kind of movement, other than very slow walking, was always going to start getting motion blurred. So being able to freeze motion like this with the new XMS is just fantastic.”
Generation X: shining a brand new light from £799 (incl VAT)
Offering the highest specification available from a single flash head, with faster recycling times and shorter flash durations than any previous Bowens models, Generation X provides users with fully digital and completely accurate flash power and colour temperatures – enabling faster image processing times and more time for creative input.
Says Steve: “This new system has definitely been engineered for speed, reliability and cutting edge aesthetics. The XMS looks great, works like a dream and is super-fast.”
“My older lights have the dial system which was almost a case of ‘suck it and see’. You dial in what you think is going to be roughly right and then you hope it is pretty much there. If not, you just adjust it slightly. But now I have the ability to calibrate in tenths of a stop – and you just know every light is exactly the same because it’s 6.3 or 5.7, or whatever. When I looked at the results of the shoot everything seemed in sync: the colour accuracy, power and all the different elements of the shot were consistent throughout.”
He notes: “That’s one of the great things I have discovered about Bowens over the years – everything just tends to work. Their lights don’t have 500 different features. You just turn them on to the right power and start shooting. They just work right out of the box. And they will keep working for decades.”
Hit the trigger and start shooting:
Steve loves the new XMSR radio remote control trigger too. “The amount of time I used to spend manipulating lights into position, then run over, take the whole stand down, adjust the power of the light, put the stand back up and then run back to shoot the next test shot, was ridiculous. It is so cool to now be able to adjust all that straight from the camera.
And the new ‘Sync Offset’ functionality means I can use any camera brand to shoot at high sync speeds up to 1/8000s – and that is really, really useful.”
The new ‘easy open and fast lock’ adjustment latch also enables simple repositioning and fine tuning.
“The days of having to tighten up a wheel and then move it and then tighten it again are over,” he smiles. “Now it’s On or Off – and you know it’s locked. And having the facility to just fold it back into the light itself is excellent. One of the challenges I used to have with the old Geminis was the large arm coming out of the side that then folds against the light. I tended to put my spill-kills over the heads of the lights and then fold the arm against them – so the reflectors all looked like they had been hammered out by dwarves. But this nicer, sleek shape on the Generation X heads is perfect.”
Concludes Steve: “For me the three key things about these lights are: the truly amazing ability to freeze motion; the ability to adjust everything from the camera - and the sensational new recycling times are actually almost as fast as you can press the shutter. Generation X enables me to just shoot and shoot and shoot. I love it.”