Do you need a wind machine?

· 11.February.2018

This is going to be a sort of review of a sort of wind machine I recently used for a sort of project of mine. Just so you know.

The wind machine has been in my wish list for about three years until just a month ago. If you don’t know what it is, a wind machine is basically a brutal fan, used in photos and videos to create anything from a gentle breeze to an almost hurricane, and it is usually listed as a must have in all the old school studio-portraits books. The reason is simple, blow a bit of air through your subject’s hair (especially long hair), and portraits will look much more natural, lively, and ultimately interesting. So they say.

The thing is, I don’t really care about blowing air through my subjects’ hair, I guess I don’t do that kind of portraits, and that’s why the wind machine was in my wish list without ever moving forward to the actual “chart”. I checked on its availability from time to time, just to be reassured that it was still there, that I could have it shipped in less than a day should one of my customers have asked for it, but that’s where my interest in it ended.

This is the beast. I placed the X-T10 in the scene to show the size of the Stanley.

A month ago, while monthly checking on its availability, I ended up finding a new product, apparently more powerful, on sale for half the price, which was by chance about the price I was ok to pay for a wind machine. The next morning the massive fan was in my studio.

I opened it, plugged it, and tried it on the highest level. A maelstrom exploded in my studio. Ok, the beast had power. I packed it up to store it, but I ended up forgetting about it. That’s how into wind in portraits I was.

Around three weeks later I realized the time for a potential refund was almost over and that I urgently had to properly test my wind machine to know if it was any good for my photography. So I called one of my favorite models, Elena Faccio (you’ve read about her in my last month’s article), and booked a session for the next day. Then I unpacked the thing again and had a long look at it.

X-T1, Fujinon 35mm f2, f/9, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

This is what I learned: the thing was a Stanley ST-20FO-DDF-E, it was more powerful than all the other wind machines I found, it was larger than all the other wind machines I found, but it clearly was not a real wind machine at all! It had no “tube” to better funnel the air blow (but rather a generic “cage” to prevent things, like fingers, to get in it), it had no continuous level control (but rather three discrete levels: strong, super strong, and ridiculously too strong), and it had no stand mount (it works great on the ground but it wouldn’t be so easy to place higher than that). OK, so the thing wasn’t really a proper wind machine, but I could still try it, couldn’t I?

X-T20, Fujinon 56mm f1.2, f/16, 180 sec, ISO 200

(Change of scenario, I’m not in my studio, I’m on my couch surfing news with my phone). That afternoon I stumbled upon an article debating about the removal of Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite painting from public view by the Manchester Art Gallery due to “embarrassment” on showing it by the Museum’s curator. I was suddenly and in sequence: astonished, outraged, deeply scared, and ultimately frozen by the event. I am not going to rant about it, there’s plenty of angry articles doing so (some of which uncomfortably defending the removal), but I’ll say just this, as the humble artist and father of two girls I am: I believe it is just deeply wrong, it has nothing to do with “caring about man-woman relationship”, but potentially fueled by (and potentially fueling) bigotries and cowardice. It is old inquisition, nothing new, nothing different.

X-T20, Fujinon 56mm f1.2, f/16, 180 sec, ISO 200

OK, so, with that out of my chest, let’s go on. That evening I started mull over wind and censorship, portraits and wrapped up Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and ultimately over what was the subject of the morning after shooting and what had just happened to the art world (which is THE mirror of the world, by the way). That very night I ended up picturing this in my mind: a nymph (a naiad, to be precise, the nymph of the rivers) wrapped up in a plastic sheet, and this sheet suddenly transforming itself into a stream of water. I had my subject.

X-T1, Fujinon 35mm f2, f/9, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

X-T20, Fujinon 56mm f1.2, f/16, 180 sec, ISO 200

The morning after I set up the studio. I went for the “kind of curry-orange” background because Elena has red hair and I wanted all the colors to be earth/skin based. Then I placed (only) one flash well above Elena, shooting from her right, down on her. I opted for my large 80cm octagon softbox to soften the light.

X-T20, Fujinon 56mm f1.2, f/16, 180 sec, ISO 200

I worked with two cameras, the X-T1 mounting the Fujinon 35mm f2, and the X-T20 mounting the 56mm f.12. I placed the X-T1 on a tripod and used it to grab the “full figures”, while I worked free hand with the X-T20 to capture close-ups and details. I had the Godox FT-16 on the X-T1 to trigger and control the flash, while I mounted a  Yongnuo RF603N II on the X-T20 and its receiver on the Godox AD360 flash to trigger it. I found out I can use this trick to trigger my Godox flashes with multiple cameras, and it works like a charm.

X-T1, Fujinon 35mm f2, f/9, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

I placed the plastic sheet (the one marketed for covering and protecting furniture while painting or doing other house works) over Elena, and took a couple of shots of her “wrapped up”. Then I cut a hole in the center of the sheet for her head to stick out, I set the wind machine on minimum, and the fan (and the fun) began.

X-T20, Fujinon 56mm f1.2, f/16, 180 sec, ISO 200

I’m really in love with the results, we’ve got so many keepers. The wind machine proved itself useful and fun. I’m still considering if this model is the right choice for me, especially because of the discrete (instead of continuous) power control, and the lack of stand mount. But I don’t see myself spending more than twice of what I’ve invested in the Stanley to overcome its limitations. So I guess the question is different, do I need this brutal fan to free the wind on my wrapped up naiads (and on everything else I’ll think about in the future)? So phrased the question, the answer can’t be any different than a solid yes. And sure, I can always use it to blow some air through my clients’ hair, should they ask for it…

X-T1, Fujinon 35mm f2, f/9, 1/180 sec, ISO 200standley


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