Learn How Profoto Freeze Mode Can Help Sharpen Your Studio Lit Images

The Profoto B1s are the battery operated smaller brother of the Profoto D1 monoblocks.  One major advantage they have over their AC counterpart is that you can freeze super fast motion much easier than you can with the D1s.  Suspending motion with strobes has everything to do with flash duration, and as I learned today, the Profoto B1 heads have a special mode called Freeze Mode that can make your flash duration even faster.

 

The first time I really became aware of flash duration was years ago when I did my Wakeboard Studio Shoot for Fstoppers.  At the time I was using Dynalite power packs which were the first studio lighting system I invested in when I started my photography career.  Unfortunately the Dynalite packs were not great at freezing fast moving objects.  If you have not seen how I produced the images in the wakeboard studio shoot, you can view it on our youtube channel, but here below you can clearly see just how much of an impact flash duration can have on your images.  

As I discovered, if your flash duration is too long, your strobes can actually act sort of like constant lights which are notorious for for producing blurry images when motion is involved.  The motion in the water isn't a completely useless effect, I kind of like the action feel it gives the images, but if you want the sharpest images possible for still life, you will want to make sure your strobes release all their power in as little time as possible.  

Recently Profoto shared a video with photographer Jared Platt who demonstrates exactly how to get the sharpest images out of your Profoto B1 and B2 lights.  As a B1 owner myself, I knew that lowering the flash output also increased the flash duration (it's opposite with the studio D1s, you have to max out the power for the fastest flash duration).  What I did not know was that you can set your B1s to give either a more accurate and consistent color temperature each time it fires OR you can set your B1 to give a much faster flash duration.  These two options are described as Normal mode and Freeze mode.  

How to Turn on Freeze Mode:

Setting the Freeze Mode option for your B1 and B2 lights is pretty simple.  Turn on Freeze/Normal mode by pressing and holding the ENERGY/SETTINGS dial and then shortly press the TEST button.  The text FREEZE should be displayed in the upper left corner of your LCD screen.  

How the flash duration differs in each mode:

Regardless of which mode your flash is set to, you will always experience a faster flash duration (t.5 time as measured by Profoto) as you decrease the power on the unit.  In Normal Mode, the t.5 time is 1/1000s at full power and 1/11,000s at the lowest power.  If you switch over to Freeze Mode, you can get the same 1/1,000s t.5 time at full power but a crazy fast 1/19,000s flash duration at the lowest setting.  The below graph shows the differences in flash duration (t.5 times) vs the power output for both Normal and Freeze Mode.  

According to Profoto's website, if you do set your B1 or B2 to Freeze Mode, you can expect a flash color temperature change between +/- 50 Kelvin between each flash pop (Normal mode is only +/- 20 Kelvin per flash pop).  If you are working with a single strobe or shooting without any ambient light, it might make the most sense to always shoot in Freeze mode since the color drift isn't that great and it can easily be fixed in post.  However if you are photographing still life that does not demand freezing fast action and capturing accurate colors are a top priority, the Normal mode is probably the best setting.  Normal mode is also preferred when mixing multiple flash heads since you want each unit to produce similar light when fired.  

If you are still having trouble understanding how long flash durations could affect your images, our good friend Alex Koloskov at Photigy has made this very detailed review video showing how the Profoto D1s perform with liquid splashes.  Alex is an amazing studio photographer whose work you can view here.  

 

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17 Comments

Jozef Povazan's picture

B1, B2 are nice yet pricey solution to freezing objects - IMO - PCB Einsteins are actually way cheaper solution for freezing objects with at least the same quality of light :) as B1 or B2... so if the price matter then PCB all the way :)

Anonymous's picture

Is there anything else that is needed with the Einsteins? Or is this a plug and play solution like the B1/B2?

Matt Owen's picture

It's plug and play - just set the Einstein to Action mode and the t.1 time can drop to 1/13,500.

Patrick Hall's picture

You do need the Vagabond battery system for it to be an equivalent. The advantage is this battery can be used for other purposes and because it is separate it can be placed on the ground to make your flash head lighter in weight.

The disadvantage is it's clunky and has to be strapped to your light stand or shoulder and requires another power cord that gets in the way.

Having owned both systems, I've come to the conclusion that you should not pay more for your lights based on light quality alone. Lee has a good article about how "quality of light" is kind of a BS point. For the money the Einsteins are absolutely the best deal. However, after using the Profoto modifiers and their brilliant clamp speedring system, for me, the additional price is more for a well designed system. Both the battery integration and the speed ring design are worth it to me. The AIR remote is also better than the PCB equivalent. But from a pure lighting standpoint, they are both very good systems.

Anonymous's picture

Thank you so much for the detailed explanation! Very much appreciated. I do have a Vagabond II Battery. While it's a big improvement from the Vagabond I, it's still very clunky and awkward to carry around.

Are there any adapters to use PCB modifiers with Profotos? I'm heavily invested in PCB at the moment and Profoto is already pretty pricy

Thanks!

Patrick Hall's picture

I don't know why you would want to use PCB batteries with the B1s....that seems to completely defeat the purpose of paying extra for the built in battery design that makes Profotos so good.

One thing you can do though is buy the Profoto D1 studio lights and plug them into PCB batteries.

Anonymous's picture

Sorry Patrick, I didn't make that clear. I have a lot of modifiers for PCB lighting (softboxes, strip, beauty dish, etc). The B1 is enough of a hit on the waller without having to re-buy all of the modifiers. Do they make a speedring or something that allows the use of PCB modifiers?

Patrick Hall's picture

Oh, yes they make speedrings that will fit all your modifiers. The only ones that might not translate are the beauty dishes but there might be a work around for that I'm just not sure. Anything with softbox rods or umbrella rods will work on the Profoto stuff.

Anonymous's picture

Great!! Thanks so much!

A good post, thank you. In regards to the comments that Einsteins also freeze motion and are much cheaper—you're totally right, but that's not the point in my opinion. Freezing water droplets is only one aspect of a light's spec list, and every time I see Profoto flash duration specs, they get compared to the cheaper Einstein, but these lights aren't being solely used for water droplet photography. Build quality, ease of use, reliability, etc, are all part of a decision making process of a purchase. I have extensive experience with Einsteins and just sold them and got B1s. You'll hear no smack talk from me on Einsteins but don't lose sight of the fact that looking at any one spec in isolation is not entirely practical. If I was looking to buy lights and literally all I needed was in-studio dash flash duration for water drops, I'd probably go for Einsteins.

Patrick Hall's picture

Good point Caleb. It gets even more interesting if you consider the flash duration of speedlights. Obviously shooting a speedlight at 1/8th power is going to reduce your fstop and reduce your depth of field, but if you want the absolute sharpest images, a cheap $200 speedlight can actually freeze action better than most monoblocks.

Yup, the first experimentation I did when I bought my very first speedlite was popping a water balloon and flooding my parent's basement.

Eric Knorpp's picture

After researching through the net, Most packs have a shorter duration at the lowest setting but supposedly the D1's are the opposite. Full power is supposedly better for freezing. Can anybody confirm this. Always thought it was weird but did read some article somewhere stating this and always thought it was strange.
Did not finish reading the article above and just saw it says the same thing, D1 need to be at full power for shortest to best freeze action..? weird. All my other Profoto packs have to be a the least power setting..

Patrick Hall's picture

Yep this is true. I realized the D1s needed to be at full power when I did the taser photoshoot after finding that people actually move really quickly when stunned (imagine that). Usually you do not need a fast flash duration for portraits but if people are reacting quickly they can blur even with flash.

You can read the actual D1 specs on flash duration in the D1 user manual on page 20 found here:http://media.profoto.com/pages/download.php?ref=1931&size=&ext=pdf&k=&al...

Nathan Mollison's picture

I find it infuriating that companies like Profoto go to the effort to sponsor/put out videos like this yet they remain coy about the actual details that people in these situations care about: what power do you have to go down to to achieve this result? Better yet, what are the fucking t.1 times for the bloody flashes?
Sorry for the language but I find it incredibly bizarre that none of the big name manufacturers will back up their claims of "super short flash duration" with any real figures. It's like they expect you to buy them just to find out...

Patrick Hall's picture

Well they do give you the tech specs in the links I made above. Granted they aren't outlined stop by stop with every T time but they do tell you the range from full power to the lowest power.

I think the issue is a bit like guide numbers or true watts on an amp, the very criteria for measuring it varies manufacturer by manufacturer.

It's no secret that I love Profoto gear but I do have to say, if flash duration is your absolute most crucial piece of your lighting equation, then the Broncolor packs are by far the best way to go since you can dial in specific duration times directly on the packs. Most of the liquid and alcohol photographers I know use Bron because of this. For most everything else, I'm not sure super fast T.1 or T.5 times are that critical in most applications.

Nathan Mollison's picture

Thanks Patrick. I will admit I didn't check the link to the manual. Though looking at it now, the graph bit reminds me of the one for my Elinchrom Rangers in that it gives you a rough idea but remains vague - after owning my Quadras for more than a year, I'm still not 100% sure whether the duration increases or decreases as you power down! For the B1, at half power, I'm not sure if it's around 1/1500 or between 1/2000-1/3000. If these are t.5s, 1/1500 would not be good enough yet, but 1/3000 might be okay...

I'm not a 'water photographer' or anything but my use case is fairly specific - I mostly shoot skateboarding, so ideally, I'd have a a flash that had a short-ish duration (~1/1500 t.1 say) at a power that can overpower the sun from a decent distance to let me vary composition. Oh, and it has to be fairly portable. This basically doesn't exist.
The next preference would be a flash that has a really slow duration at max power so I can Hypersync when the sun is out but then gets down to a fast duration fairly quickly in power terms so in that awkward late afternoon or overcast situation, I can let in some ambient but still freeze the skater.

I'm well aware that this is a pretty specific shopping list and it's why I'm particularly picky about easily findable specs for things. There are a few flashes that kinda fit my criteria but they all have drawbacks:
Speedlights: need multiple to light from any real distance
Einsteins: top heavy on lightstands that may get knocked over (also hard to get in Australia!)
Ranger Quadra: need to have both S and A heads if you want to do what I do.
B1: probably top heavy too and at the price, would hurt more than an Einstein hitting the concrete