I put together a collection of my thoughts on using remote cameras, Pocket Wizards and some of the problems I have experienced.
Misfires with Arena Strobes
I use Pocket Wizard (PW) radios, which are reliable but they are not without their quirks. At the Target Center each backboard is wired with a plug in system for our arena strobes. In the past I would just hardwire in, but that limits mobility if you want to shoot from different angles around the area. So I switched to using a PW receiver and mounting it on the backboard post. This worked well for years until the new electronic scoreboard was installed at the Target Center. Not sure if this was the direct cause but it seemed to coincide with misfires where the strobes would not fire at all when shooting. This was especially true when I was shooting at the opposite end of the court from where the PW was mounted. I know that there can be a lot of RF interference in arenas and maybe the new scoreboard was causing more but it didn’t seem to make sense. Being on the opposite end of a basketball court is well within the PW’s range. Timberwolves team photographer David Sherman suggested using two PW receivers. Plugging in one PW at each backboard post. That way the receiver getting the strongest signal would trigger the strobes. That did the trick and my misfires drastically were reduced.
Pocket Wizard Placement
Since I like to move around when shooting a game I need to mount the PW transceiver for my remote(s) somewhere on my camera or lens. Mounting it on the hot shoe is not an option since there is already a PW on there to trigger the strobes assuming I am shooting basketball or hockey. I have found that mounting the PW in an upright position works much better that laying it flat. I tried taping it down to the lens hood of a 300mm lens on the down court camera since I tend to place a remote on the opposite end that I am shooting from. Even at the short distance of a basketball court I would get a very low success rate. Then I tried mounting it upright on the lens hood and it worked much better. It doesn’t seem like it would make much difference but it does. Another quirk is that the camera needs to be off the floor to fire the remote because the PW doesn’t not seem to work well when it’s close to the ground. If you are having similar problems give it a try.
Hockey Goal Camera with Strobes
This remote camera setup causes the most headaches for me. We have established that Pocket Wizard do not work well when close to the ground or Ice. Add all the RF interference of hockey arena and problems are bound to happen. I know you can use (1) PW MultiMAX transceiver to receive the signal to trigger the camera and the relay function to send out the signal to trigger the strobes, but I have found that using (2) separate PW to individually receive and transmit seems to work better. When this setup is working well I get a 50% rate of successful fires. So that means even when things are going well, it’s only working half the time. A lot of luck is involved when something actually happens in the goal and you time it perfectly to capture the shot and the camera and strobes all trigger. When it’s not going well it wont fire at all and frustration can ensue.
During the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament I was using (2) remote cameras. One was set up overhead on a goal. The other was mounted inside our NHL goal box in the opposite goal. I had (3) PW’s mounted on my camera for this. PW (1) on the hot shoe to trigger the strobes when firing my long lens camera. PW (2,3) setup upright on the lens hood to trigger the remote cameras. I had (2) separate triggers mounted on the lens and camera to fire each individual camera. During the tournament I just taped the PW in an upright position in place. I knew that had to be a better way to mount them. I thought about using cold shoes but they would be hard to hold in place on the lens hood. So it finally occurred to me to use the flash base that comes with most strobes. It has a cold shoe built in to hold the PW and because it is made for placing on flat surfaces you can easily tape it down to the lens hood. If you are using multiple PW’s on your hood you can use multiple flash bases or I found one from Vello that has (3) flash mounts, which is perfect for my application.
Another bonus of the Vello is the plastic that it is made from. It must be softer that the PW plastic because I had accidentally clipped the PW against the concrete of the photo shooting well at Target Field. Instead of the PW hot shoe breaking off the Vello base snapped instead saving a PW repair that would be much more that replacing the Vello base.
I had Michael Bass make a couple of cords for my needs. Trigger (1) is a lens-mounted version with a right angle plug. I prefer RA plugs to strait ones because you can tape them down on the PW to avoid them accidently popping out. Trigger (2) is multi-way manual trigger with a RA plug mounted on the side of my camera next to the shutter button. I prefer the small multi-way trigger to the standard plunger type because of its size making it easier to mount on the camera and the multi-way function is easy to trip from an angle when going from your camera shutter button to your remote.
Be Careful! Safety is a big concern here as a lens or camera falling from the rafters of an arena can seriously hurt someone or worse. Overhead angles can yield some cool images but can be great risk if you do not know what you are doing. If you are thinking about doing this be sure to contact the arena for the rules and procedures and the team photographer to help you out the first time. Installation must take place before anyone is on the arena floor/ice, which is several hours before the start of game. Again check with your venue first. When going up in the rafters I remove the lens hood and any other objects that could come loose. I also tuck in my credential under my shirt all in an effort to keep anything from falling below.
For hockey I use a 70-200mm lens and mount a ball head on a super clamp to the lens collar. I also use a magic arm to clamp the base of the camera. I do this for two reasons. It adds another point of contact as a safety feature and it keeps the camera and lens angle from moving. Even if you have a secure ball head the weight of the lens and camera can slightly move on the threads throwing off your angle. I like using quick release camera straps and immediately clip it on a secure bar when mounting the camera. I then use several safety cables to secure the clamps, PW, and camera. If you can’t feed the safety cable through every clamp or other safety point I like to use zip ties on the tight spots then run the cable through those and fully tighten the zip ties after. I also use the small hanging straps on the PW and run safety cables through those as well.
If you’re interested in using a footswitch to trigger your remote camera here is a link to my pervious post on the subject. http://blog.carlosgonzalezphoto.com/2010/08/02/footswitch-for-a-remote-dslr-camera/
Again these are just observations from my experiences. Every venue and situation is different. Hope that helps!
Slik Pro Ball head – No longer made but it is a great sturdy ball head that has a triangle shaped locking mechanism that doubles as a secure loop for your safety cable.
Vello Compact Shoe Stand – Great for mounting multiple Pocket Wizards on your lens.
Michael Bass Cords – I use the lens mount and multi-way trigger.