Up for Anything: Tom Bol Adventures with Elinchrom’s ELB 400

June 9, 2015

By RF Staff

Sponsored by Elinchrom

It’s hard to pin Tom Bol down. An editorial and commercial photographer with a bad case of wanderlust, it’s not unusual to find him climbing a rock face, hiking a rugged forest trail or skiing down the slopes, camera in tow. And in his pack, the Elinchrom ELB 400 has become a mainstay. It didn’t take long for the portable flash system to become one of his most reliable pieces of gear—one of the first things Bol did when he received his ELB 400 kit was go rock climbing.

Fort Collins, CO. bouldering at Horsetooth.

Bouldering at Horsetooth in Fort Collins, Colorado. / Photo by Tom Bol

“You just throw it in your pack, and you don’t even know it’s there,” Bol says of the under 6-pound flash head and battery pack. The resulting image from that early adventure was snapped with just an ELB 400 off to one side and a 7-inch reflector aimed at the climber (pictured above).

Before the ELB 400, the Elinchrom’s Quadra packs were Bol’s go-to mobile light. With the new endurance battery pack on the ELB 400, Bol says he’s enjoying faster recycling times and much better battery life. “It just goes and goes and goes,” he says. In fact, the 424 w/s ELB 400’s battery pack is rated for 350 full-power flashes or a total of 6,000 flashes at the lowest power setting, a 25 percent improvement from the previous Quadra pack. It takes just an hour and a half to recharge a fully depleted battery.

Elinchrom ELB400-One-Pro-Head-To-Go-front

The ELB 400 is sold in two configurations: An Action head prioritizes shorter flash durations (as quick as 1/2800 sec) while a Pro head gives you maximum power with flash durations at a slower 1/1200 sec. One would think that Bol, who is so often shooting action sports, typically opts for the Action head, but that’s not usually the case. Instead, Bol prizes the Pro head for its HyperSync capability.

HyperSync uses PocketWizard receivers to push the ELB 400’s typical 1/250th flash sync speed (available using Elinchrom’s Skyport receiver) to even faster speeds. “A lot of people think it’s about the ability to freeze action, and that’s definitely one of the values of HyperSync,” Bol says. “But I love how it lets me achieve a really shallow depth of field, shooting at f/1.8 on a sunny day. With HyperSync, I can blend ambient daylight with my flash. Otherwise, if you’re shooting at f/1.8 at 1/250th, you’ll get a totally blown-out image. At 1/2000th, though, the shutter speed is freezing the action and producing the correct ambient light exposure.”

The system’s light weight and portability are also discreet on location. “We were shooting a series inside a gym during the day using the ELB and a small, deep octabank. It’s small enough that we were able to shoot mostly under the radar,” Bol says. The system “is light enough so that assistants can simply sling the battery pack across their chest and hold the flash head up by hand,” Bol says.

Fitness portrait shot with the ELB 400 in Loveland, Colorado. / Photo by Tom Bol

Fitness portrait shot with the ELB 400 in Loveland, Colorado. / Photo by Tom Bol

Beyond freezing action or creating evocative portraits, Bol is excited about experimenting with several features that the ELB 400 inherited from the recently introduced ELC HD 1000 and ELC HD 500 studio strobes, especially strobo mode. “Definitely want to keep playing with strobo,” Bol says. “If you have a two second exposure and pop eight flashes while your subject is moving left-to-right across the frame, that’s just plain cool.”

Read more about Elinchrom's ELB 400 portable flash system here.