Widget Wednesday • The Vagabond Mini •

Shooting in bright sunlight can be difficult, especially with the limited dynamic range of DSLRs, and shooting toward the sun usually results in blown skies, desaturated images, and poor contrast. There are ways to work with the sun and get perfectly lovely images, like using scrims, reflectors, or avoiding it altogether, but these can sometimes result in artistic compromise. Yes, the sun can be a formidable foe and not easily overpowered. The solution? Bring your OWN light to the party.

The hardest part of lighting a scene in bright sunshine is the power required. It’s possible to use speedlights, but it would take many speedlights, with many, many batteries, to even come close, with questionable consistency and recycle time. A monolight with a portable power pack is perfectly suited for shooting in the sun. The Vagabond from Paul C. Buff has always been a popular choice for a power pack, and there many DIY solutions on the internet, but the additional weight (18.6 lbs!) is just a bit much to add to the gear bag. Enter the Vagabond Mini, announced by Paul C. Buff last September. My good friend Shanna Simpson had the foresight to order one early but it was on backorder for quite some time. It was finally delivered on Friday, so a field trip was definitely in order.

The Vagabond Mini is a pure sine wave power source, and weighs in at an unbelievable 3.5 pounds! It has two power outlets and a USB outlet, and can power up to four Paul C. Buff flashes. I took two Alien Bees: the B1600 and B800, and it had no problem consistenly firing them. Our playtime photos are below. We were too excited to bother getting a suitable subject…so we were our own models! As uncomfortable as it was being other side of the camera, it was a good experience to help to remind us how our clients feel.

All of these shots were taken between f14 and f20, with shutter speeds of 1/125 or 1/160, ISO 50, on the Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105L, with a split neutral density filter (although in hindsight I don’t think the filter was necessary). The B1600 was the main light, set on full power, with the B800 as fill at about 3/4 power. It was too windy on the river to use the softbox or umbrella and I was too lazy to bring sandbags. Our objective was to shoot straight into the afternoon sun and still get beautiful skies and great skintones. I was more than pleased with the results, especially for the first time taking my studio lights outdoors. The images required very little post processing.

Shanna rockin’ the shades.
Vagabond Mini Review Test Shoot

The image on the left is straight out of the camera. The image on the right is with some minor Lightroom corrections and Photoshop work.

The sun was sun was so bright that day it was hard not to squint, even looking away from the sun.
Vagabond Mini Review Test Shoot

Another one of Shanna.
Vagabond Mini Review Test Shoot

In case you were wondering…No, I didn’t fall.
Vagabond Mini Review Test Shoot

I know I really shouldn’t, but I love sun flare!
Vagabond Mini Review Test Shoot

The sun dipped behind the building so this image was taken in the shade.
Vagabond Mini Review Test Shoot

I’m definitely hooked. Since I’m pretty sure Shanna isn’t going to let me steal hers every time I shoot, I guess I’m going to have to break down and buy one for myself.


  1. Great post! Man I love you! Can’t wait to play some more!

  2. Very nice job. You definitely achieved your goal. Gorgeous blue skies, great skin tone with the subject nicely exposed. Congrats!!

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