It is fun to read about—and fun to play with and review—sexy lighting gear that can cost as much as a small car or the newest camera that has more megapixels than grains of sand on a Hawaiian beach, but sometimes the thing that makes the difference between a great session and just an average one is one of the more un-sexy tools. It is not unlike the right size wrench in a toolbox. If we don’t have the right one, nothing else is going to fit.
Super Clamps, Magic Arms, and Justin Clamps—sounds like characters in the latest super hero movie but these are just a few of the tools every “on-location” photographer should have in the bag. Or at the very least these should be in the in the car so you can grab one when needed.
Now I AM biased. I am no fan of straight, unmodified, natural light. Yes, you CAN get great images, but since everybody seems to be touting themselves as a “natural light photographer,” I want to do something those people cannot—or will not—do. Virtually every outdoor session I do uses a flash/strobe or at the very least, a reflector. This does cause a logistic issue, however. When using lightstands for the speedlights or strobes, having an assistant is almost a necessity here in the Colorado wind! This is especially true if umbrellas or softboxes are used. Then there is the problem of where to place a lightstand—sometimes there is just no good space/place.
Super Clamps and Magic Arms to the rescue! If you have a tree branch, a fence, a car, a railing, a sign post, or any reasonably stable solid object, we can use one of these tools or a combination of them to hold our flash, strobe, reflector, or even the camera itself.The Super Clamp/Variable Friction Magic Arm combination allows us to affix our flash and position the arm in precisely the correct configuration. In this example I used the brush guard on my SUV. Which, by the way, is the ONLY thing the brush guard has been used for. Hey, it came with the vehicle. If you need to raise the flash, just loosen the friction wheel, position it where you want it and tighten it.
Need something higher? Find a higher object to place it. Another indispensable tool is the 175F Justin Clamp. This wonderful device has a strong spring rubber lined clamp, a receptacle for mounting on a standard lightstand stud, a threaded female 3/8” fixture and a ball head with a cold shoe for attaching a flash or radio trigger. Talk about handy! Using a Super Clamp AND a Justin Clamp together can be used to hold a reflector. So it is not just speedlight positioning that can be solved by these devices..
The use of these handy tools is obvious for outdoor portrait work, but how about for those of you that do some sports events? Here are some images from a sports workshop I attended a few years ago. These were taken at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Handily, just a short way from where I live!
Here is a Nikon flash on an umbrella adapter that is mounted on a Super Clamp. As you can see the clamp is attached to the steel railing over the track at the Velodrome. A Pocket Wizard is used to remotely fire the flash. I could then get in a position to take advantage of the fill flash to get the image of the cyclist. Now for a really extreme use of these tools, here is a photo of the very accomplished sports photographer Mark Terrill attaching a $5000.00 camera to a motorcycle along with a flash and Pocket Wizard so he can get images of cyclists right behind the motorcycle. It worked! So for those times when you do not have an assistant and lightstands just do not fit the bill, I hope you will consider these often overlooked items for your toolkit. They are not a replacement for a heavy-duty stand for holding a studio strobe and a large softbox, but for fill flash, an accent/kicker light, they are perfect.
The little softbox is the Lumiquest SoftboxIII - perfect for fill, accent/kicker, or closeups. The Lumiquest Ltp soft box is also perfect for this as it is about twice the size.
Here is the "stuff":