I traveled dangerously light to Beijing, gear wise. I knew I was heading into a bigger project than I had anticipated, but by the time I knew that, I was locked into a tourist visa, and the carnet was set. So whatever was listed there was what was coming. Nothing more.
Took in one D800E. Lenses were standard issue 14-24, 24-70, 70-200. On the exotic side, I took in my ancient 28 f1.4, a 35 f1.4, and an 85 f1.4. Done. My other camera was a (gulp) film camera, a Fuji pano, with a 40mm lens. I also had a little rangefinder, for wandering neighborhoods, which has not happened.
Not a recommended pack, truth be told, but I knew if the D800 went down, I could borrow some sort of Nikon here. So far, so good. One day of assigning to go, and everything has worked, though I did crack the viewfinder in the pano camera. Sigh.
Other stuff. Three SB-910 units, two Justin clamps, two PW PlusX units with cords, Lastolite micro speed light soft box, and an 8 in 1 umbrella, which just did squeeze into my suitcase. No light stands, or big shapers. No tripod. Three Iosafe external drives, cords, chargers, Lexar cards, readers, international power strip. The ever present Think Tank roller, and a Guru Gear backpack. Advil. Sunblock.
Given the new parameters of the production job I was facing, I recommended lighting to my client, citing a Profoto distributor here I hoped they would reach out to. They instead, unannounced to me, went out a bought a bunch of stuff, and sent it to my hotel room to make sense out of. There were some good things, like an Elinchrom Ranger, and a 59” Rotilux soft box. And a super boom, two stands of undetermined origin, no umbrellas, a small soft box with a Hensel adapter ring (that stayed in the box), a couple Manfrotto super clamps, which have gone unused, a pretty funky, spring loaded c-stand, and that’s about it. How to make all this work together as a coherent field kit?
Shopping! I went to this huge building, bulging with photo shops, called Wukesong. For three straight days, I was everybody’s darling in there. The amount of gear dripping from the walls in these bustling little shops is impressive, if strange of name.
First thing I did was purchase a couple of big rolling cases to go into the field with. My client did a smart thing, buying gear, but did not connect with the fact that you can’t take it in the manufacturer’s boxes onto location. Got two of the biggest rollers I could find. No names on the cases. Got two incredibly cheap umbrellas, a big reflective, and a smaller shoot thru. Grabbed a sizable beauty dish, and blessedly, found an Elinchrom coupler for it.
Dukes, a Beijing based writer/shooter, loaned me his Induro tripod, and I managed to find two camera plates for it. Gels? I found a sheet of “3200” in a shop that is the strangest shade of tungsten I’ve ever seen. Grabbed a generic reflector pan, as, strangely, the Ranger kit came without one. I had one sync cord that did come with the kit, and it has hung in there. Dukes also loaned me a circular reflector/diffuser that’s about two feet across.
But, my biggest problem was syncing with the Ranger pack. I had two PW units, but no way to plug them in, and there wasn’t a hope at Wukesong of finding PW to Elinchrom cords. I could have brought mine, but had no idea this was the lighting kit I would be presented with. So, I’ve simply been old school about it, hard wiring camera to pack when I can, and then radio triggering to an SB, clamped to the stand by the pack, and firing into the slave eye at low power. Rube Goldberg-esque, but it works.
Our Temple of Heaven day was typical, in that almost all the pieces came into play. We started in early morning with a not great but not bad quality of available light, and worked our way through beauty dish with a reflector, beauty dish with SB fill, beauty dish without diffuser sock, big reflected umbrella with two speed lights on TTL, and then, finally, good sunset light. We had two hours in the am with the monument pretty much to ourselves, and then two hours in the late afternoon, so we had to move fast. Stood down in the middle of the day, as the models would have been cooked in these gowns in the Beijing heat, and the Temple of Heaven is just chock-a-block with folks during the day. Many thanks to the supervisor who arranged all this! I met him, and thought, what a cool business card this dude must have: Supervisor, Temple of Heaven.