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Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-13-2006, 08:05 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Someone pointed out to me that I did a very stupid thing a few months ago... I used a couple of Alien Bee monolights powered by their Vagabond battery pack for some pool shots. I was very careful, using the ground wire connected to a good ground and there were no other people around who might have tripped over wires or caused accidents and the pack and lights were always kept in dry areas. But was it dangerous?

I've now got a Hensel Porty Premium AS/RC pack and (the new) EH1200 heads. That's not AC, right? Just DC? Is this any safer around water? There's not even a grounding method (like there was with the Alien Bee Vagabond pack). Is this any safer to use around water?

I couldn't find any info about this in my searches.

Thanks for any comments...

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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-13-2006, 08:53 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Eldor,
You still have high voltage and it is ac voltage. The Hensel Porty is just converting dc voltage to a signwave output . The signwave output is just like your ac in your house. And keep in mind the flash tube is flashed with very high voltage. I did a shoot with a model in a hottub and the floor was just damp from other people that were in it just before us. I was thinking of the safety of the model and not myself by not having a radio transmitter to fire the flash . I used a sinq cord and when I went to press the shutter I was shocked from my feet to my shutter finger. I sent the camera flying across the room. And yes I had a good ground. I had bare feet and that was not a good idea. Keep your rubber sole sneekers on when shooting.
Water and high voltage just does not work together very well. There are just to many things that can fail and hurt someone bad..
If you must use a flash try to insulate the tripod from the floor with some kind of rubber mat.

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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-13-2006, 11:21 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I dont know about your safety question, but that shot you posted along with it is gorgeous!! Perfect focus on her eyes.
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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-14-2006, 06:48 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I won't go into a lot of electricity theory here, but remember that in the pack or in the head of a monolite there is a capacitor (or several) that has one purpose and that is to let out a whole lot of energy in a very small amount of time. The power stored in the capacitor on a Vivitar 283 shoe mounted flash is enough to stop your heart.

Probably the "safest" lighting to use around water would be hot lights connected to a ground-fault interrupted circuit. If you are using strobe equipment near water it should be on a GFI circuit as well, but that does nothing to protect against energy stored in the capacitor.
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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-14-2006, 07:44 AM   #5 (permalink)
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This was a great question, and a great topic to bring up in general. Many of us are self taught (or are in the process of being largely self taught) and this is one of those areas where common sense and intellectual knowlege sometimes fail to overlap. It's been a long time since I took physics and advanced electronics in high school, and this should serve as a good reminder to all that you simply cannot be too careful. After all doing something stupid with yourself is one thing, but putting someone else at risk is just unacceptable.

Gotta go now, promised my toaster a quick bath before I leave to play golf. Hmmm...is that thunder?
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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-14-2006, 08:31 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I'm not an electrical engineer, but my lab work involves relatively a lot of electronics.
Dman had it right - using a GFI will make the mains power safer. But there's a lot of "umph" stored in the capacitor in the strobe and that's NOT protected by using a GFI, nor by anything you can do, short of redesigning the strobe circuit itself. If a head (or it's socket) gets wet, it shorts. If the shorting path has a body in it, the body absorbs some of the energy. Ba-da-bing.
There is no easy, hazard-free way to work with water and strobes. I think - and this is ONLY opinion - that you'd actually be safer to use hot lights off a GFI circuited AC mains than to use strobes.

BTW - That IS one incredible image. Love the eyes. Great impact.
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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-14-2006, 11:42 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Thanks everyone for the nice comments about the image I posted with my question. Glad you like it.

Using a GFI circuit isn't really going to work because most of the locations I've seen with pools make a point of NOT having any outlets there to begin with, obviously as a safety precaution.

And obviously a Porty can't be plugged in anyway. So even that's dangerous (as would be a Vivitar 283 as was pointed out).

Ok, I might still use my Porty in such a situation, but only if the floor area was dry and there was no danger at all of a head falling into the water. But I accept that it's somewhat dangerous.

And that brings me to another question about this...

We often see photos (Rolando does this often) of models in the water at the edge of a beach and if I'm not mistaken recently there was even a behind-the-scenes photo of an assistant with Porty pack over his shoulder and a head supported on a monopod with him standing in the water near the model. We're not talking about a bathtub here or even a swimming pool... is the danger the same if that fellow stumbles and the head falls into the ocean say within 10 feet of the model (and even closer to himself)? Surely salt water is even more dangerous than fresh in terms of conducting electricity?

And yet another question: I've been planning on doing a fashion shoot at night in a downtown area with brightly lit neon signs behind the model. But I wanted the street wet (like after a rainstorm) to give even more reflections. I was planning on dragging the shutter to pick up the ambience and using my Porty and head to light up the model. Does this pose any hazard? What if it's drizzling or raining harder?

I'm glad I asked about this, and grateful for all the replies, as there is obviously danger associated with this and we should all be aware of it and do what we can to keep everyone safe.

Anyway, since some of you liked that photo, here's another from the same session:



Cheers!

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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-15-2006, 06:55 AM   #8 (permalink)
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The voltage used to fire the flash is DC. That is how capacitors store energy. It is transformed from low voltage to high voltage by converting it to AC and then back to DC. Modern power packs use switching converters, a little different, but still the same idea. When using line powered equipment near water, a ground fault interrupter should always be used. I carry a portable one with me. This won't do anything to remove the DC from the capacitors, but will disconnect the AC quickly. Battery powered equipment is different. There is no ground to protect you unless you make one. Even then, if there is no GFI involved, there isn't much protection. The most important thing is to keep wet things away from power supplies. Make sure that your power packs and heads are dry and don't move them with power on. Keep the wet people away from the powered equipment. The scenario of killing someone by throwing a strobe into the water is not likely. As long as no one is touching any powered equipment, they are not likely to be injured. We get hurt when we touch a piece of powered equipment and become the path for the short circuit. The person who is in the greatest danger is the person who handles the lights.

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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-15-2006, 07:17 AM   #9 (permalink)
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This is sounding like an episode of "Myth Busters" in the making....

I have some Vivitar 283s if anyone has some ballistics gel.
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Re: Water, Lights, Safety?
Old 06-15-2006, 08:21 AM   #10 (permalink)
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High voltage cap discharg? Well the cap is charged and you put it in salt water
guess what it is not charged any more the shortest path is in between the
terminals of the cap and salt water is a good conductor so there is no
path to leave the head and look for people and return to the head. High voltage
DC is not a problem AC on the other hand is plugged in to earth at the generators
an is a problem GFI's are the best protection on any AC outlets near good ground
suppliers (water,pipes,lights,fences,to name a few)
I would say never use a sync cord out doors, radio or optical only that way you
don't add a path for trigger voltage to enter your camera or leave the flash head
can you guess why they call it a hot shoe? Some old equipment can have a
high voltage trigger spike and should not be used on new cameras via sync
cords as it can damage the flash sync circuits in the cameras.
So be safe isolate battery powered strobes and GFI, AC power packs. use
them wizards on your camera. lol
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