The other night I was asked "what is the most frustrating thing about shoot weddings?" I thought about this question for a second and shockingly my answer had nothing to do with bridezillas, wedding planners, hot and humid weather, or even post production. Easily the most frustrating thing about shooting weddings is dealing with unreliable radio triggers during the reception. Perhaps this simple yet unreleased hotshoe adapter could make this problem obsolete if only someone would create it.
Pocket Wizards and radio triggers in general are a touchy subject for photographers. On one hand, these helpful tools have opened the doors for creative use of wireless off camera flash, yet on the other hand every single photographer I know has been stuck cursing under their breath at one time or another when their radio triggers fail them at the worst of moments. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can be more annoying than framing up that perfect candid photograph only to have half of your lighting setup fail to fire when you capture that perfect moment.
Over the years I have been a big proponent of investing in Pocket Wizard triggers which are no doubt the industry standard. There are many reasons for buying Pocket Wizards including they can be found in any legitimate photography store, they use AA batteries instead of those annoying watch batteries, their customer service is great, they are the industry standard for sports events, studio rental spaces, and professionals around the world, and they also have a variety of specialized triggers that work on the same frequencies as all of their other products. The main problem I have had with Pocket Wizards is they have been extremely unreliable over the years. From personal experience, I have found that all alternative products have experienced similar reliability failures as well. In short, failed trigger firing is not isolated to one brand but rather it's an epidemic across most of the wireless trigger world (except for my Profoto Air Remotes, not a single misfire yet, fingers crossed).
Having shot hundreds of weddings in my career, I have come up with a pretty standardized way of lighting and shooting my receptions. Lee Morris and I produced a wedding tutorial called How to Become A Commercial Wedding Photographer where we outlined everything we know about weddings to help you get your own wedding business up and running. In that tutorial I outline 4 different ways I light my wedding receptions, and I've included a free excerpt of that section below so you can get up to speed if this is unfamiliar territory. Keep in mind there are many, many ways to light a reception but I would say most photographers these days are implementing one or more of these techniques we outline in this video.
There is much speculation on why you might have a flash misfire, some of which include dead batteries, over crowded radio frequencies, being near water, having interference from your on-camera flash's electronics, having a faulty pc sync cord connection (please kill the pc sync once and for all), or because your receiver/flash is falling into sleep mode. Even with all of these potential problems, in my experience the number one reason for a flash to misfire is caused by a transceiver not being oriented in the correct position.
What is the "correct" orientation for your wireless radio trigger you ask? In a perfect world your radio trigger's antenna should be pointed straight up or parallel to the ground for vertical shooting. Basically the ideal position is perfectly aligned against either the x or y axis as long as the transceiver is parallel with the accepting receiver. Here is what Pocket Wizard says directly on their website:
Whenever possible, maintain a line of sight between radios and keep antennas parallel. Make sure radios are not near any large metal, concrete, or high water-content objects. People and trees are mostly water! Make sure radios are not blocked by these objects or by hills.
The Plus III Transceiver’s antenna is fairly omnidirectional and its orientation should not significantly impact performance in most shooting scenarios, but optimizing for radio reception will always improve the maximum range.
Maintain at least a 12” distance between antennas. Avoid direct antenna contact with anything metallic. “Dead spots” have a number of causes, but the solution is usually the same: move the radio a few inches or feet away from the problem area
There are a number of ways to connect your transceiver to your camera with the most obvious way being to place it on your camera's hotshoe. However, if you want to use your on-camera flash while still having the freedom to slave other remote flashes then you will need to be a little more creative. Most photographers simply choose to dangle the remotes from their lanyards but this causes your remotes to flop around and position themselves in less than optimal orientations as seen below. I've been doing this my entire career, and while it is the most practical mounting method, I do find myself often having to hold the Pocket Wizard vertically in my left hand just to get it to perform consistently. Other photographers have used rubber bands, hair bands, velcro, or even expensive caddies to strap their radio triggers to the sides of their flashes. The problem with these methods is they are often not very secure, they make changing the direction of your bounce flash more cumbersome, and in some cases putting the trigger directly next to the flash can also decrease performance. The most obvious solution to this problem of where to mount your radio trigger transmitter is to have it attached directly to something out of the way of your flash but still hardwired to your camera's hotshoe sync.
The above image shows the difference between mounting your trigger the way I always have, dangling off the lanyard, and mounting the Pocket Wizard in the ideal orientation near the flash and out of the way. This simple bracket on the right, which no one makes by the way, would allow the camera's TTL circuitry to pass through the bracket to both hotshoe connections. This allows your on-camera flash to still have all the same functionality as it would if it were mounted directly to the camera while also adding a second hard wired signal to your wireless trigger. If both hotshoe's were TTL enabled you could even mount two flashes to your setup with no extra wires. This would be great for HSS sync where you need as much power as you can get by doubling your flash output. By using a second hotshoe as opposed to a cold shoe like these brackets use, your entire setup can be PC SYNC FREE which will make it much more reliable and more universal. In a perfect world this dual hotshoe extension bracket would not have a cord at all and the wiring would be built directly into the plate for even less reliability problems.
Now before everyone complains in the comments below, yes I am aware that there are some radio triggers that already implement a TTL pass through type connector. This really should be the industry standard for connecting flashes and triggers to your camera's hot shoe but unfortunately not every brand offers this option. The only Pocket Wizard products that have this connection are the Flex TT5 and TT1 Mini systems. It is also important to note that some of the other wireless trigger brands that offer the pass through hotshoe still use less common batteries like AAA or the "never in your bag" flat watch batteries which are a pain to charge and stock in your gear bag. One final word of wisdom, just because a trigger has a hotshoe adapter on top of the unit does not necessarily mean that it has a TTL pass through signal on the bottom side of the hotshoe. Some of these triggers only offer the hot shoe adapter as a way to connect your remote flash to the unit and do not have TTL compatibility when placed on top of your camera.
Why the PC Sync Cord Must Die:
I really wish someone would manufacture this simple flash adapter like Pocket Wizard, Paramount Cords, or any Chinese company looking to make a quick buck. It's not the most flashy or lustful product to add to your shopping cart but I believe this would solve the most frustrating issue I and many other photographers face at every single wedding. What do you guys think? Is there a product like this hidden somewhere on the internet or perhaps there is another simple, all inclusive solution to this problem?