A Day in the Life of the Vivitar 283

Home Page History of Photography: The 2000s

In May 2002 I photographed a wedding for the first time in about 20 years. I won't name the couple (beyond Marty and Kristy, but you can figure that out from the pictures) and haven't run a comprehensive set of photos from the wedding. However, I have run a sample because they illustrate the versatility of the Vivitar 283 flash. I'm a big fan of these flashes, which had been in production 27 years straight when I shot this wedding. These pictures were all taken on my Mamiya 6 using Kodak Portra 400VC film, by the way. Here's how the unit works:

Comfort triumphs over style. Bounced 283.
Bounce Flash off a Low Ceiling

Most indoor photos are taken in rooms with normal 8-10 foot Ceilings. In this environment, the 283's ASA 100 Guide Number of 120 is adequate to bounce the light off the Ceiling. In my opinion, this gives a much more natural and richer look to the image than the usual direct-flash, where the flash aims straight at the subject with all the flattering lighting quality of a headlight. On the 283, I rubber-band a small piece of notecard to the head to direct a bit of light forward, otherwise with some more Neanderthal subjects you can lose the eyes under the brow shadow. I basically do this all the time now regardless of the brow profile of my subject.

In this photo the Matron of Honor is showing the shoes that Kristy sensibly wore during the service. Notice that the effect of the flash is basically not noticeable--at first blush, it looks like natural lighting. You can see Kristy's back in the mirror and only there do you notice a bit of brigthly-illuminated wall.

Direct flash in church with 283
Direct Flash in a Big Room

Sometimes you have no choice. Saint Mary's has high Ceilings of dark wood. The light would be making a 70 foot round trip off a surface reflecting 5% of the light. For the classic bride coming down the aisle shot I resorted to direct flash. Sometimes the picture is important enough that you can't be finicky about how to light it.

Group shot with studio flash and umbrella and no 283
Bounced out of an Umbrella

OK, OK, this isn't a 283. For the group shots I used a 500 watt-second studio flash 25 feet back bounced out of a 42" white umbrella. This gave me an exposure of 1/8th of a second at f/8. Actually, it gave me an exposure of f/8 and the shutter speed was irrelevant for the group, who were lit primarily by this flash; the 1/8th of a second was to let the background burn in. Dick Christian, a wedding photographer and camera store owner (Christian Photo, Des Moines, Iowa) told me this was the setup to use. I did some experiments a month before the wedding to try out different shutter speeds etc. Sure enough, Dick was right. I guess when you've done hundreds of weddings (including mine in 1987) you get to know these things.

The one risk with a slow shutter speed is that someone moves. This was the only photo where that happened, as you can see Amanda laughing and blurred. My Mamiya was on a tripod (of course) for this; the flash unit, which I rented from West Photo in Minneapolis, was fired by a radio slave (also rented). This worked great.

Shot during service with no flash
No Flash At All

During the service I didn't want to use a flash other than for the comings and goings up and down the aisle. I set up the tripod off to one side and took a few photos like this one, lit only with existing light. I'd pre-metered this shot beforehand and written down what I needed to do. I did some from the back of the church as well using the Contax G2 with a 90mm off the tripod.

First kiss outside nave with bounced 283
Bounced off a Medium Ceiling

This is the first kiss lit with a 283 bounced from the ceiling just outside the nave of the church. The Ceiling here is a bit higher than in the dressing room from the first shot but the bounce lighting still works. Of course, here I'm standing up so the flash is closer to the ceiling than it was in the first shot.

Fixing the train
Bounced off a Low Ceiling

Here the ladies fiddle with the bride's train. The flash gives a lovely natural lighting and these ladies' hair looks really nice in these photos.

Couple standing up through limo sunroof
The 283 as Fill Flash

I don't use the 283 as a fill flash very often but realized that the light of the murky cloudy day was not going to be attractive. What the hell, it's print film, I slapped on the 283 and used the yellow range (lowest output) to fill in the foreground. It worked pretty well, as you can see from this shot. With the Mamiya I can use any shutter speed (up to 1/500th of a second) because it has a leaf shutter and the x-sync speed is not an issue; depending on the circumstances, some focal-plane shuttered cameras in some lighting conditions might constrain your ability to do this.

One risk of a flash outside is funny reflections. In the distant background is a silver truck with a yellow light on; it's the truck's reflector reflecting my flash unit. You'd be astonished how stop signs, No Parking signs, etc. can reflect back as well, so you need to careful with this (I wasn't careful with the truck, it's blind dumb luck that I don't have five blocks of bright red stop signs in the background).

Best man and Matron of Honor dancing--283 bounced off a pole barn ceiling
Bouncing off a High Ceiling I

The wedding was done on a tight budget (which is why I was the photographer) and the reception was held in a pole barn. This actually worked out ok for the dance and dinner. I was concerned about how to light this as I did not visit this venue ahead of time. As it happened, the 283 on the yellow range had enough power to bounce off the 12-14 foot high off-white Ceiling. Not only that, but I didn't get the annoying reflections back off the side wall facets that I think direct flash would have given me. One of the nice things about bounce flash is that with all that light flying around the background gets illuminated to some extent as well. This was true even in the pole barn, where there is some context in the space behind the subjects.

Grandfather and granddaughter in pole barn. Bounced with 283.
Bouncing Off a High Ceiling II

I just liked this photo. It's also lit with the 283 bounced off the pole barn ceiling.

It is notable that I did this whole wedding on a single set of AA rechargeable nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries. These are great, they offer the same fast recycle time of Ni-cads but with about three times the life. I of course had two spare sets with me, but even with the flash firing at nearly full power shot after shot, the batteries went all night.

Bride and groom on trampoline. Direct flash outdoors.
Direct Flash Outdoors

This is an unforgiving situation because there is nothing for the light to reflect off. It just goes out into the darkness. The 283 has the muscle to light a subject like this where bouncing is not an option.

Kiss on church porch. Diffuse natural light no flash.
Diffuse Natural Light with No Flash

It was solid overcast and kind of dreary outside but the diffuse natural light worked well on this photo. Kristy's hair looks great in this and there is just a hint of light from inside the church in the background.

All material Copyright Matthew Cole 2002/2004 e mail me