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15 November 2013

Some days you just need a Get Out of Jail, Free card. Yesterday was that kind of day here. Oh, we posted the important news and worked on a few reviews but at a certain moment we just had to stop and roll the dice, hoping to pick up that card.

Hexapop Setup. Five pounds.


Adorama had sent us a 20-inch Glow Hexapop umbrella for review and it had sat around a while waiting for a bracket so it could be used on-camera. The bracket had arrived along with a cable to connect a strobe mounted in the Hexapop to the camera's hot shoe. We had all the pieces and, taking a break, we had decided to put it all together.

In the photo to the right you can see how it all goes together. An SB-800 is poking through the back of the Hexapop umbrella. Both are mounted on the Hexapop bracket with a cable going from the SB-800 to the Nikon D300 below mounted on a Flashpoint Quick Flip bracket.

Weighed a ton. But we were undaunted. Excited, even. What could we shoot? What could we shoot!


We really didn't want much ambient light because we wanted to see what the Hexapop could do. So we popped the hood on the Honda in the dim light of the garage.

Ah, modern engines. They hide all the good stuff. Everything seems to have a cover. And there isn't enough room to slip your pinky finger between anything.

If you can find the dipstick, you feel like a MacArthur Fellow (without the cash).

But in the subdued ambient light, we liked the muted tonality of our dusty engine. So we lined up the shot, keeping the big umbrella aimed at the subject. That's easier to do with the Quick Flip than without it because you can move the whole umbrella above the camera or to the side.

We snapped the shutter and peeked at the LCD to see how the Hexapop had lit up the dingy scene.

Boy, did we like that image.


It was, with the exposure of 13 years on the road, nearly monochrome. And the soft light that fell on it gives you the idea that 13 years is just the beginning. We wished we'd taken shots of the engines of all the cars we've ever driven when we saw that image.

We sat down and let out a low whistle to express our enthusiasm. This is what photography is all about, we thought. And we remembered a poem by Patrizia Cavalli that we'll translate for you:

But to really get out of jail
do you have to know the door's hardwood,
the bars' metal alloy, establish the exact
color of the walls? To become
such an expert runs the risk
of becoming fond of it. If you really
want to get out of jail, just go,
at least with your voice, becoming a song.

We all tend to pore over spec sheets and twist our hair over every detail of a product as if anyone could tell by the image what camera, what lens, what Raw processor was used. And in poring, the light fades and we never pick up any camera at all.

That's the jail.

But we had picked up a camera. An old one. And a strobe. An old one. And put them together in a new umbrella (which is old technology nobody much writes about. And we had taken a photo. We had gotten out of jail.

And created an image we liked. When we brought it into our Raw processor, we tweaked it just a bit because we couldn't help tinkering with perfection before we printed it on a lovely Ilford paper we've been testing for a while.


And have been planning to test even more. Ilford Galerie Gold Mono Silk has been advertised as a black and white darkroom in a box. Just print on it to get the luscious tones you remember from your days inhaling glacial acetic acid. We'd talked to Ilford about that and they had conceded it does as well with color images, too. So we'd printed a lot of color images. Only color images, in fact.

Much as we liked the color prints, we really did have to print some monotone images before we could start writing the review. The plan was to print an image we've printed before so we could compare papers and printers. But since we had gotten out of jail free, we decided to print the Honda engine.

It wasn't entirely successful.


We're used to walking over to the printer and jumping up and down with glee over the gorgeous image it has just produced. There's a bare spot on the floor by the printer from our enthusiasm.

But this time we were a little disappointed. The Canon Pro-100 (which is just $99 these days) isn't here for printing black and whites even though it includes three monochrome inks (black, gray and light gray). With dye-based inks, it's the color machine. But we'd printed the other images on this paper with it, so we gave it shot. Just testing, right?

We were disappointed because the image printed warm rather than cool. Metal should be cool, blueish, not warm, leathery. Everybody knows that.

Back to the drawing board jail for us.


Even if we were tripped up with the first print, we had still actually managed to do some photography. We had tamed a strobe with a big but hand-holdable soft box and found a subject that intrigued us, tweaked it and laid the ink down.

Our voice, at least, had escaped the cell.

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