Monthly Archives: October 2016

Cold Facts about Cold Shoes, with a Couple of Friendly Tips

First, a subject alert, so that I don’t waste your time.  This is probably not of much interest or use to you if you don’t use portable flash units.  If you do, or if you think that you might want to use them, then this might save you some money, aggravation, and potential damage to your equipment.

As anyone who’s looked through my work will be able to tell, especially from the work in the “Fires in the Night” collection of portfolios on my website (and from the photograph featured in my last post here), flash lighting has been critical to my photography in recent years.  All of those works could not have been made without the use of my Canon Speedlites and my PocketWizard Mini/Flex ETT-L remote triggers (but what I have to say here will, in whole or in part, be relevant to anyone using any brand of portable flash units). 

This is a matter of what you use to hold in place your flash (and perhaps PocketWizard) units when you’re shooting.  As I soon discovered when I began using portable flashes, the most common type of cold shoe is badly designed for its task.  So many cold shoes, including those commonly supplied with light stand and light modifier mounting assemblies, look pretty much like this:

1-common-cold-shoe

What’s wrong with these?  First, some of them are made of metal, not necessarily a good idea for something that may come into contact with equipment that generates an electrical charge.  So you may read the suggestion, which I followed in my early days with flash, that you place a piece of electrical tape between the pins of your portable flash and the metal bed or platform of these standard cold shoes.  And if there is contact, you may eventually wear through the tape, and then. . . .

Second, the portable flash is held in place by that type of cold shoe in two ways.  One is a pin that screws into the side of the cold shoe, which you turn to press against the foot of the flash to hold it in place against the other side of the shoe.  It’s not usual for continual vibrations, like the kind generated by a car in whose trunk you regularly carry such cold shoes, to loosen and dislodge those little pins, which then may roll into cracks or crevices where they may never be found again.

Third, the other method by which that common type of cold shoe holds a flash in place is by relying on the flash foot’s own wheel to tighten its purchase on the side walls of the cold shoe.  Unfortunately, the side walls of some of these cold shoes do not provide a good fit for various flash units’ feet; they’re either too wide or too narrow.  But here’s the more serious problem:  the walls are on either side of the flash unit, and not on the “front” side, toward which you’ll most likely tilt the flash.  Even if you tighten the darn shoe pretty well, it won’t take much of a bump to send a Speedlite flying out that unblocked front end, in which case you better hope that you’re not set up on pavement.

Here, by contrast, is the best cold shoe that I’ve found:

2-nisha-cold-shoe

Why do I use these and recommend them highly to you?  First, you can see that it has (bravo!) not two, but three side walls, the third of which you should always put on the “front” side,  the one toward which your flash may be tipped.  Second, the size of the cold shoe’s bed is perfect; it has been a good fit for all of the flashes that I’ve used with it:  a Nissin unit, and, primarily, Canon Speedlites 430EX, 430EX II, 580EX, 580EX II, 430EX-RT III, and even the big flagship 600EX-RT.  Third, on the underside of the cold shoe is a sturdy, durable ¼” brass socket for placement on a light stand stud or attachment to a speed ring mounting assembly, or a triple-flash bracket, or a light bar.

3-underside-of-nisha-cold-shoe

If you need something to insert into that bottom socket through the arm of, say, certain speed-ring mounting assemblies, you can either use the bolt or pin that was supplied for the cold shoe that came with the assembly, or buy the right size of bolt (slotted for a flathead screwdriver, which would mean that you could use just about any coin in your pocket to screw it in or out) at a Home Depot or other hardware store.  And fourth, these Nisha units are about as inexpensive as you could want, at $5.99 apiece (from B&H).

WARNING!  I love B&H, and their salespeople invariably give you great advice over the phone, but ignore their Nisha cold shoe page where it tells you that the Vello Cold Shoe Mount is “A similar item at a lower price.”  I tried those Vello shoes and found them to be too tight for some Speedlites.  And I almost broke a flash unit’s foot trying to dislodge it from the tight rubber grip of the Vello shoe.  (At least that was the case several years ago when I tried the Vellos.)

I hope that this is helpful to you.  The Nisha shoes (and I’ve purchased and used a good number of them on various kinds of flash mounts) have never given me cause for disappointment or complaint.

At Home in the Secret

Photographers, or artists of any kind, are probably more aware than most people are of fortuitous coincidings, of happy or regrettable appearances and disappearances:  “I could kick myself for not having shot that scene the first time I saw it, and now it’s gone!”  Or:  “I sure am glad I photographed that building with the graffiti last month, because they’ve knocked the whole thing down!”  And, especially around Halloween, both great and popular artworks engage us with unseen forces, unexplained happenings, intimations of malevolent or benevolent magics.

Earlier this year, a bit of such elvish fortune occurred (as it does from time to time) in my photographic life.  Certain friends of mine who know my work would not be surprised that it would happen, as it did, around evening, in the woods.  (Evidence for such a view might be taken, for instance, from my website’s “To See in the Dark” portfolio.)

In late winter, the ground was beginning to thaw.  I was walking near twilight in a small wood near my home, when I happened on an abandoned livingroom couch.  It lay at the edge of a dirt path, flat on a wooden pallet.  I snapped a few pictures, as notes, thinking that perhaps I could have made something from it if at least I’d had a couple of flashes with me.  Even so, I thought it somehow fell short.

couch_in_woods_etc-by_lawrence_russ-_l0a0681

But walking back that way a month later, I found that someone or someones had, whatever their intention, arranged a gift for me.  The couch had been dragged about twenty feet from where it had been, onto sloping ground near the base of a tree.  Its bottom raised up more, the bulky couch tilted at an angle had now struck a livelier pose. The biggest surprise, though, was my discovery that neighborhood spooks, vandals, or photography sprites had painted in big black letters on the fabric skirt below the seat this single word:   “FLYing.”  Had I missed it the first time?  What did its author intend?  No way to know, but it was certainly good fortune for me.

I hurried home and returned with three Speedlites and a couple of light stands.  Dark woods, digital darkroom, and here it is:

at_home_in_the_secret-by_lawrence_russ

“At Home in the Secret” by Lawrence Russ

The felicity continued.  I wanted to submit the photograph for an exhibition, and the A Smith Gallery in Texas was soliciting entries for a juried “Habitat” show.  What could be more homey than a livingroom couch?  (Although, of course, mine was not in a comfy frontroom.)  Almost without thinking about it, just recognizing that I needed a good title and didn’t want something as obvious as “Couch in the Woods” or “Flying,” it popped up as if from behind a tree:  “At Home in the Secret.”  (I hope that you like it, too.)

A little twilit magic in it all — which continued when the “Habitat” juror, Julie Blackmon, chose the photo for the exhibition, and the Gallery’s owner, Amanda Smith, gave it a Director’s Honorable Mention.

http://asmithgallery.com/exhibitions/habitat/

My friends and fiends, in case you don’t hear from me again before Halloween, I’ll wish you happy hauntings now and hope that you like my darkling photograph.  And I won’t warn you not to walk in the woods at nightfall.

Come Celebrate My New Site-Launch by Viewing My New Site

"Uprooted" (by Lawrence Russ)

“Uprooted” (by Lawrence Russ)

My unhappiness with my website provider had grown ever since it was taken over by an outfit specializing in wedding mementos.  Of course, the new owners assured us innocent client-lambs that the quality its website services would not slip, but would, rather, reach new heights.  They announced a plan to create new templates that would benefit us in ways that the existing ones never did.

At the same time, for some mysterious reason, the images on my site began suffering from cases of the jaggies, visible pixelation at the edges of objects and in human flesh tones.  The tech support people denied that what I saw happening was happening.  Not only did that “nonexistent” problem never get solved, but it got harder and harder to get responses from tech support to any of my questions or pleas for help with the trial version of the new templates.  In addition, the wonder-templates were plagued with problems.

Finally, an immediate circumstance made it critical that I show my art off to better advantage.  So I fled the broken pixels and promises.  After researching other website providers, I packed my domain name and moved to PhotoShelter.  So far, I’ve been delighted with almost everything about it:  its templates’ many features, its speedy and useful tech support replies, its online help files — and, most of all, the great leap upward in the resolution and size at which my images are now displayed.  So I hope that you’ll feel moved to explore my new site, at the same URL as my old one:  www.lawrenceruss.com .

If you do, you’ll find that for the first time, I’m displaying in public a portfolio (in two parts) of my oldest, longest-running photography project, comprised of images taken at Devil’s Glen in Weston, Connecticut.  The place is a kind of sacred site for me, despite its name (though the name’s not irrelevant to my feelings about it or to some of my experiences there).  I’ve exhibited a number of my photographs from the Glen.  “The Power That Builds in Solitude,” for instance, accompanies the July 20, 2011 post (“Summoning the Genie’s Power – Part 1” of this blog, was published as a Merit-Award winner in COLOR Magazine, was selected for juried exhibitions in Oregon and Vermont, and has been written about as part of an “ideal bachelor pad” — not the way I ever saw it, but there it is — in an online design mag called HOUZZ.  Until I launched my new PhotoShelter site, however, I’d never shown a group, much less a portfolio, of images from the project, as I have here:  in “God and Nature in Devil’s Glen,” Parts 1 and 2, in the PLACE AND PRESENCE collection tabbed on my site’s home page.

 

 

Yes, I know I’ve laid out more territory on the current site than anyone is likely to explore in one visit, but I hope that you’ll get lost in it for a while, and that you’ll want to return to it more than once for further adventures in various kinds of forests.