Acclaimed automotive photographer Sarel van Staden puts the Profoto A1through its paces.
I’m a commercial photographer with a passion for lighting techniques and for cars. For years I photographed cars using different styles taking inspiration from other automotive photographers such as Tim Wallace. My passion slowly progressed towards creating fine art images of cars. Every car is designed by an artist in their true right and I wanted to capture their art using low-key lighting which would accentuate the curves and lines of the car.
Lighting the reflective surfaces of cars and especially black reflective cars is not easy. To create a low-key light source for such cars, is even more difficult. The light modifiers available on the market didn’t give me the results I needed. The lead to me custom building modifiers.
After many months of research and a fair amount of trial and error, I eventually had the custom built light modifiers to create the low-key lighting effect I wanted. I reverted to the basics of creating soft light and fine tuned these principles to create a light source and modifier that gives focused diffused light, or as I refer to it, the FDL technique. By keeping the light source as close as possible to the car, I was able to overpower ambient light resulting in the desired matt finish on the surface of the car.
Needless to say, I was very excited to have been given the opportunity to test the Profoto A1as the light source for the FDL technique. It was with much excitement that I opened the box delivered by the courier – as it contained the long anticipated Profoto A1.
Ever since I heard of it’s launch I wanted to, and looked forward to using it to create car fine art images. This was by no means going to be a side by side comparison with other flashes, nor a technical review. I was keen to see what it could do, shooting what I shoot and the the way I shoot. I needed a light-weight, easy to handle, low-key light source, to accentuate the car’s natural curves and lines.
Profoto calls the A1 the “world, smallest studio light”, but as 90% of my work is done using speed lights, I would treat it as such. Opening the black box with it’s all too familiar branding on, had all the other photographers in the studio gathered around me in no time at all – clearly this was going to be a show-stopper. First impressions are meant to be lasting and in this case the first impression came as no surprise. The supurb built quality was obvious and the lay-out of the buttons, the big dials and large LCD screen made navigating the settings easy and almost intuitive (who has time to read a manual, right?) This flash is easy to use – in fact much easier than the speed lights I am used to.
The A1 is lightweight and small enough making it perfect for the FDL-lighting technique, which calls for a handheld light source held close to the car and at different angles for about 50 exposures. From these 50 images I normally select about 20 which are later layered in post processing to make the final image. A pleasant surprise came from the battery. The Profoto A1 comes with its own rechargeable Li-Ion battery, which lasted much longer that the usual AA batteries.
Profoto is a brand synonymous with quality, precision and class. Needless to say the models I was going to testdrive this light on had to come from similar elk. I chose a black Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge, with high gloss black body panels and brushed steel and titanium on the hood and grill. The other models were a red Aston Martin Vanquish S and two McLarens.
As a shoot like this, yields approximately 500 images per car, I need the light source to be reliable, the white balance to be constant, recycling times to be fast and no overheating of the flash head. The A1 passed with flying colours, even after 1500 photos on a single charge of the battery. In fact, I had no much fun, that only after I reluctantly returned the A1 I realized that I had been using it in manual mode and that I never tried TTL. I am looking forward to test that in a future shoot.