How to Set Up a Light Pole

How to Set Up a Light Pole

For few years I’ve been demonstrating how to use a flash on a monopod for custom lighting in a mobile package. I can easily move the light to where I need it, and even use multiple flashes (speed-lights) using small light stands. Aside from my teaching this at workshops, this has really caught on due to a YouTube video created by PocketWizard where you can see me actually using this technique. You can also see me using this in conjunction with lights on stands in my entire Light Like a Master course here on my site.

It’s easy to create a setup like this, but only if you know what parts to get and where to find them all. This article should help you with what parts to get, where to find them, and how to set it all up.

BryCox-Lightstick

What you’ll need:

  1. Flash
  2. PocketWizard Mini and Flex Radio Slaves
  3. Lightstand to flash adapter
  4. Cold Shoe Adapter (Manfrotto part 262)
  5. Monopod
  6. Light stand
  7. Gaffer Tape

1 – Flash

If you’re using a Nikon camera, then use Nikon brand speed-lights and if you’re using a Canon camera, then use Canon brand speed-lights.

If you’re using a different brand of camera like Sigma or Sony, then you won’t be able to use the PocketWizard Mini and Flex radios, and won’t be able to do eTTL if needed. However, you can still rig something using a manual radio as long as you also rig up a caddy (mentioned in #2 below).

Keep in mind that I only use eTTL to over power the sun on bright sunny days, something that only happens about 5-10% of the time anyway — the rest is completely manual. If you’re using a Hasselblad, Mamiya, Leica, or some other camera with a leaf shutter, you can use any flash without worry of sync speed but again, must use some manual radios.

2 – Radios: PocketWizard Mini and Flex Radio Slaves

I like the Mini for my camera and one Flex for each flash. The programing inside is brand specific, so you must get the Nikon version for use with Nikon cameras and flashes, and the Canon versions for Canon cameras and flashes. If you don’t shoot Nikon or Canon, you’ll have to get some manual slaves, and any of the other PocketWizards will work great for that.

For my setup, I shoot Nikon most of the time, and I really like the PocketWizard Mini and Flex line of radio slaves. The adapter I use hooks to them neatly, and the flash is attached via hot shoe rather than with a sync cord which means a good contact and the ability to send more info to the flash, like when I need to use eTTL now and then to overpower the sun.

I’ve tried other radios including other lines of PocketWizard and other brands as well in this rig over the years, and the problem is that other radios usually require some kind of caddy to attach the radio to your pole and then require a sync cord to fire your flash. Sync cords seem to cause trouble. It always seems that they are either going out, have a bad connection or a short, or just work intermittently. No connection is perfect, but I like the hot shoe connection better.

radio-caddy
Radio sync caddy options.

Some other brands of radios like Radio Popper require that you use a second flash on your camera to control the flash you have on your pole. This is a waste of a perfectly good flash in my opinion. If I’m going to have a second flash (which I always do), then it’s going to be either a backup flash or is going to be in the field as a second flash used for rim light.

The PocketWizard Mini and Flex systems allow you to run as many flashes as you have Flex units for – no need for a useless “Commander” flash on your camera.

3 – Lightstand to Flash Adapter

Monopods were not made for small speedlights, so you’ll need a little adapter to attach this rig. I really like this one linked below, and have a few of them, one for each flash plus some backup ones.

LumoPro-adapter

This comes with the brass attachment for a monopod that turns it into a lightstand top, and it also includes the black bracket for connecting your flash to any brass lightstand top. It accepts umbrellas as well, so you an be creative in how you use your flash stick.
http://mpex.com/lumopro-lp633-umbrella-swivel-w-flash-shoe-adapter.html

4 – Cold Shoe (Manfroto part #262)

This is crucial I think in connecting your PocketWizard radios to your flash adapter bracket. You don’t need it, and can attach the stand right to the hot shoe of the radio, but that connection is plastic to metal, and I’ve broken a couple hot shoes off my PocketWizards due to stress on the plastic, especially if a light stand gets knocked over. It’s better to order this metal cold shoe from your favorite camera store for a few bucks, screw it into the bottom of your PocketWizard, and attach your bracket to it instead. It’ll be much more stable and will save you some repairs to a very nice hot shoe.

A sandbag full of lead on your light stand legs will also help keep it stable and prevent it from tipping over, protecting your connections and gear.

5 – Monopod

Any monopod will do, but usually I’m holding the light stick with one hand and my camera with another. For that reason I want the lightest monopod I can get. As much as I hate buying any kind of gear at WalMart, I did find a $10 monopod there which has become my favorite monopod for this one purpose. I would never trust a camera to it, but for this purpose it is perfect. It is lightweight and small, and with some gaffer tape you can change the way it feels in your hands.

6 – Light Stand

If you have a second flash, or even if you want to take a break from holing your light stick with one hand, a nice light stand is a must. Get a couple in case you want to use both flashes on stands and be completely hands free.

My favorite stand for this is the auto-collapse type stand made and sold by Denny backgrounds. When you pick it up, the legs collapse, and when you set it down again, they pop out. It works really good and is perfect for moving around quickly.

Denny’s has two versions of the stand, and the lighter version is perfect for a small flash setup like this.
http://www.dennymfg.com/ProductDetailsNew1.aspx?PId=987544e6-4f8a-42df-a24d-052f620a2b4e&PTId=a49b9a28-32db-4529-b199-81bcb86d2c04

7 – Gaffer Tape

I dont’ trust the locking options built into a flash, that are supposed to secure it to a hot shoe. I prefer to secure it myself with gaffer tape. Unlike duct tape or other options, gaffer tape is made to be removed. It won’t leave a gummy mess on your gear and is a must for any rigging job, such as this.

Plus it is great for covering logos or for adding grip to slippery gear. I usually apply some to all my stands, and even add a little extra where I won’t be holding it, for tape storage, so I can quickly get some when I’m in the field and need some to secure something.

I really like these small rolls.
http://www.pictureline.com/superior-gaffer-grey-permacel-2-x60yd.html

BryCox-equipment1

Shooting Manual vs. eTTL

I shoot almost everything with manual flash and manual camera settings. The only exception is when I need to overpower the sun and then I’ll switch my flash to eTTL, and leave everything else in manual mode.

Use this flash technique in combination with the info in these two articles.

– 3 Steps to a Perfect Exposure & White Balance

– 3 Step Process to Lighting Women for Zero Retouching

Good luck and Happy Shooting!