Elinchrom Ranger RX
Most snow shooter use either Elinchrom Rangers, Profoto 7Bs of Alien Bees. I have the Elinchrom Ranger RX as my main strobe and I’ve been using it for about three years now. If you are totally unfamiliar with them then take a look at my comparison review with the Ranger and the smaller Ranger Quadra. I chose the Elinchrom pack for several reasons. They are cheaper than the Profoto ones (though still bloody expensive), they are MUCH lighter than the Profoto ones and physically smaller too. They also have a reliable reputation whereas I am forever hearing of Profoto owners sending theirs in to be fixed. I never considered the Alien Bees for my key light because I don’t think they are robust enough. The Ranger packs have 1100w/s of power which is only 100w/s less than the Profoto, a negligible difference IMO. They are extremely resilient to inclement weather, I regularly use them in the rain and heavy snow without any protection and I even used them for 2 weeks straight in -20 Celcius without a single issue. In three years of heavy use I have had to replace a battery pack, but other than that nothing has gone wrong. The one major difference in operation between Ranger and 7b is that the Ranger has it’s fastest flash duration at full power and slows down as you power down. The 7b is he opposite and speeds up as you power down meaning you can achieve faster durations with the 7b. Having said that I’ve never had an issue and with the A head the Ranger is fast enough for my needs.
Elinchrom Freelite A Head
Elinchrom offers two heads for the Ranger packs, an S head and the A head. I’m going to keep this one simple, buy the A head. It’s not much more expensive and it is a faster duration. You will never find yourself wishing for a slower duration with the A head but if you buy the cheaper S head, trust me you will wish you’d spent the extra $100. This one is a no brainer.
The multimax is the more expensive Pocketwizard transceiver but it brings with it a ton of features that make it well worth having a pair. 32 channels is the first reason, as you will find at many events so many people are trying to use PWs that you need 32 channels to find an empty one. Secondly it can be configures to be an intervalometer for shooting timelapses and thirdly you can program all sorts of flash delays into it for getting tech and syncing remote cameras with flashes. I certainly don’t see the point in having ALL multimaxes, but at least one and probably two are a great help. They are by no means perfect though, as with any Pocketwizard product they often freak out and don’t work properly, miss-firing at critical moments for no explanation. Don’t expect to get anything close to the range that they claim you can. 100ft seems to be about right when you are in the mountains, and regularly less than that. At any given park shoot you will find at least two photographers swearing blue about their Pocketwizards. The problem is that so far, there is nobody else who has made a better product so we are stuck with them.
Pocketwizard Plus II
See the notes about the Multimax above for reliability issues with the whole Pocketwizard line. Basically these are functional enough that there isn’t anything better out there right now, but they are still a pain in the ass for snow shooting. In studios and urban situations they are great but out in the wild they can be real trouble. Still, they are WAY better than optical triggers and IR transmitters.
Pocketwizard Flex TT5
I haven’t used this one enough to comment on it yet. I had a TT1 transmitter which was about the worst piece of crap I’ve ever paid money for and eventually I got this one to try instead. Hoping the adjustable aerial will add some range to it because the TT1 was terrible.
I use 4 of these Nikon SB-80 DX flashes as my fill lights. They are old now and you have to get them on ebay but they work a treat and they have 1/1000 duration at full power which is the minimal speed you need. They also have optical sensors and sync-sockets for easy connection to PWs. I’m not worried about sticking these in harms way because they are quite cheap so I won’t worry if one gets hit by a skier. So far they have been great though. People always ask why I use Nikon flash and not Canon and the simple reason is that the Nikon flash durations are faster at full power. I want to use these at full power almost all the time and I need at least 1/1000. Canon flashes you have to power down a stop to get to that speed and I don’t need TTL compatibility as I’m always shooting flash work fully manual anyway. Canon flashes also don’t have a sync socket meaning you have to buy special hot shoe adapters to connect slaves to them. If you can find this model on ebay then great, but if not then any of the newer Nikons will work just great too.
Canon 580 EX
I rarely use this flash and don’t consider it a necessity for ski shooting at all. I never take it with me on big trips because I dont need TTL flash for my work. I prefer to work manually and on camera flash just doesn’t cut it. For off camera work the Nikons mentioned above are much better. The only reason I keep this is for my occasional journalistic work as things like FIS world cup events or competitions when you need to get up close and shoot athletes on podiums. I never use it for action at all.
Westcott Illuminator 4-in-1 Kit
Good for portable backgrounds of a little fill light or diffusion on a portrait. I also use it as a white base to shoot products. I’ve literally found a million uses for this thing.
Best value softbox/mbrella combination out there. Even Annie Liebowitz uses one of these for her key lights! Its compact to store and quick to setup. Doesn’t get a ton of use for my work but you got to have at least one for the odd portrait.
Hard to find these but they are bomb proof metal stands. Don’t bother with stands that have plastic screws. Make sure you get all metal ones as the plastic gets brittle in the cold weather. These ones are less expensive than the Manfrotto equivalents but are harder to come by. Mine came from Vistek in Toronto. The come in all sizes and the main two that I use extend to 10ft.
NOW SOLD: Vivitar 285
These were the first flashes that I bought when I started to shoot skiing. They only have one switch to turn them on and one to adjust the power in 4 options. Keeping it really simple! But at full power their duration is a speedy 1/1000 which is what you need. They are cheap but treat them as semi-disposable. I broke about 4 in 2 years, but hey they are less tan $100 so not a big deal really! Get a couple of these and you can do great things…. see below one of my first ever flash skiing shots!