The DarkSphere + "What’s In My Bag" ::


Many of you have asked about my DarkSphere that I used in the GPP group shot photo. It is pictured above attached to a Nikon SB-25. It is painted silver on the inside and black on the outside. I do not suggest painting it silver on the inside because it took about 18 months for the silver paint to dry on the inside. Paint it white instead or don’t paint it at all. This is for the soft squishy model of the Lightsphere. That is a Speedotron 10 degree grid bunjeed to the flash.

Why did I do this? I like for grids to be placed a little bit off of the face of the flash head. I find that it gives a cleaner circle of light and it is much easier to bunjee to a small hotshoe flash. So I took a Lightsphere that someone gave me and painted it black to act as a sort of parabolic reflector like you find on 120j’s and Q-flashes. It works exactly as I want it to work! The problem with painting one of these is that you can no longer use it as a food storage container or a cocktail glass. Oh well.

While we are nerding out and talking about gear, I thought I would do one of those “what’s in your bag” blog posts that were popular a few years ago.

For my bag I use the ThinkTank Airport Security roller bag. This is THE best camera bag I have ever owned and it has more miles on it than I can count and every stitch is still in place. I love that I can lock the main compartments as well as lock the tethered cable to something so someone can’t simply roll off with it. They have to show up with bolt cutters to take off with this thing.

I’m off to shoot a big Indian wedding in the morning and here is how it is packed.


In addition to my Speedo grids, I also keep two Honl Photo grids and a snoot in my bag. They are nice to just have something to slap on to a flash quickly. Here is the front flap compartments.


Yes, I’m packing both systems tomorrow. @Steve_Gray asked on twitter, “Isn’t that like packing matter and anti-matter?” Hahaha! So true. Notice I had to separate them or else they would be fighting to the death!

Which one do I love more? Can’t say. Can’t say at all. I will tell you this though… when it comes time to shoot the reception tomorrow night I bet you the 5d goes back in the bag because the auto focus is useless in low light. You’d think they could do something about that. The D3 can focus in just about any dark environment I find myself in. The 5d requires you to be standing on the surface of the sun to have enough light to focus. Ok, maybe not right on the surface but pretty close. The AF system on the Canon can not even be compared to the Nikon. In this area Canon sucks and Nikon rocks. The rest seems to be up for debate.

I’ve been shooting with them side by side for the past few weeks and I’m confident I can keep them straight now as far as the vast difference in controls on each one. If you have any questions about gear and such hit me up in the comment section.

Cheers, Zack


  • Tom K. said on April 17, 2009

    Cool Canon gear Zack. For some reason I thought you leaned more heavily towards Nikon. Nice to see you shooting Canon. Grab a 135L. I would love to see what you could do with it.

  • zack said on April 17, 2009

    @Tom K – I would love a 135L but I can’t drop another dime on gear for some time to come! I’ve been talking about this dang 5d here on the blog lately. I got it MAINLY for the HD video but I do love it as a still camera! Instead of having my D200’s as a backup I’m using the 5d as my second body.


  • greg said on April 17, 2009

    any cheaper options you can think of in place of using a Lightsphere?

  • Carl said on April 17, 2009

    Just curious, where/how do you carry your lighstands (I’m assuming you bring some, given you’ve got pocket wizards)?

  • Robert Busch said on April 17, 2009

    Interesting on the “DarkSphere”. I modified my lightsphere about a year or so ago to do the same thing. Although I wrapped mine in gaffers tape and then cut a 10 degree grid down to fit inside the opening.

  • zack said on April 17, 2009

    @Carl – I have a golf bag that I keep light stands and modifiers in.

    @ Robert – That is a fantastic idea! Did you do this with a hard one or the soft one?


  • Colin said on April 17, 2009

    Do you mean 70-200 not 80-200? Looks like the 70-200 F2.8 non-IS to me.

    The 10-22 is a wicked fun lens. Tried that one yet?

  • Tom Meyer said on April 17, 2009

    Hey Zack. What’s the diameter of the Dark Sphere on the grid end? I have the usual 7″ Dynalite grids and a set of 5 inch for my Lumedyne heads that are ringed in velcro loop. I’m wondering if the 5in ones would better fit inside where the turkey sandwiches normally go.

    Thanks for all the good tips, I painted some bi-fold doors white last week. They work great in the micro studio… t

  • zack said on April 17, 2009

    @Colin – I’m still used to Nikon lens focal length. I guess it is a 70-200.

    @Tom – I’ll measure that on Sunday if I remember to do so and hit you back on that. Maybe someone here knows.


  • Billy said on April 17, 2009

    Zack – I’m so glad you posted about the Darksphere! I saw it in an old blog post of yours, but forgot about it until I saw your shot from Dubai. I’ve been slowly working my way back in your blog looking for it since you posted the GPP group shot!

    Did you use a special kind of spray-paint for the Darksphere? Any problems with cracking or peeling paint? (I have the “cloudy” version, so I won’t be painting the inside…) I could wrap in gaffer’s tape, but I like the idea of painting it if it works!

    Thanks, man! I love the blog and your work!

  • ChristopherZ said on April 17, 2009

    I know you said above that you can’t spend anymore money on gear but when you do the Canon 50 1.4 and the 85 1.8 are beautiful pieces of glass.
    The 85 1.8 is my wedding workhorse and the 50 1.4 could be damn near be considered an L series lens.

  • Victor Huang said on April 17, 2009

    I will agree the AF on canon is slow…I wish they would come up with a better system. Still, I love my mark II….<3

  • Hassel said on April 17, 2009

    Seeing your old studio really brings back some memories. You guys have been out of there for 3 or 4 years now, right? Time flies when you’re getting old.

  • Robert Busch said on April 17, 2009

    Hey Zack – I used a hard grid and covered the edges in layers of black tape to soften the sharp edges. The reason I used tape on the sphere was to keep it pliable, my concern with paint was that it may crack over time.

  • alex said on April 17, 2009


    what is the diffrent between this darksphere and a grid from HOHNL?? bigger and better this one??

  • Al said on April 17, 2009

    I can smell the overspray from here

  • A Photojournalist Who Blogs said on April 18, 2009

    Interesting to see a dual shooter – canon and nikon in one bag!

  • DJ Paine said on April 18, 2009

    Zack. i LOVE nerd posts like this. LOVE THEM. really being transparent {no pun intended} in what you use and how. i think though it’s about nerdy gear etc, it also removes the curtain for a lot of younger shooters – i know they think that every established pro has a entourage of assistants with cases of gear.

    also cannot belive you are shooting with both canon & nikon. too funny.

    looking forward to you coming down under.

  • Nas said on April 18, 2009

    Hey Zack,

    Please post some of your wedding shots. I’m getting into shooting weddings and find zoom lenses invaluable. I notice you only have primes for your Nikon kit. Don’t you find yourself changes lenses every few minutes?


  • Scott Piner said on April 18, 2009

    Great post! Did you take that bag to GPP? If so, was that bag allowed as a carry-on on your international flight?

  • zack said on April 18, 2009

    @Nas – Nope. I just find myself walking more… forwards or back. Zoom with your feet!

    I would have more primes for the Canon if I could afford the ones I want. Plus, since it is a video camera for me more than a still camera, the zooms are totally fine for that. Plus, these Canon zooms are really nice.


  • zack said on April 18, 2009

    @Scott P – Yep! It fit in the overhead bin.


  • Tibor said on April 18, 2009

    What do you think about this grid solution from Viewfinder Photography I am thinking about getting one of these mini beauty dishes with accessory grids. They do have a Nikon and a Canon fit. Tnx!

  • roger767 said on April 18, 2009

    you can use the canon flashcommander the st-e2 as a focus assist device for the 5D-MII.

  • dF said on April 18, 2009

    how about weight?

  • Darren said on April 18, 2009

    The lack of Canon AF is why I switched over to Nikon in 2004. I had been shooting Canon since 1985 and stuck with them until the D10 still refused to focus in low light even with the IR module mounted. I bought some D70s and have not looked back.

  • Tom said on April 18, 2009

    Hey Zac, I’ve been following you for awhile now. Found you via Joe Mc as he is a bud.

    Thought of you this week. Do you remember David Bahr? I pick up a great many items from his home at the estate sale last week.
    Holy cow. Thank goodness for digital, one reason is that the film products are so cheap now!

  • Tim said on April 18, 2009

    Hey, looks like I’m not the only one who saves my Altoids tins for storage/sorting in my camera bag and computer bag. :-)

  • dave jackson said on April 18, 2009

    @ Zack

    Zack, here is how I resolved my low-light focusing issues on my Canon 1D Mark III. I concur, Canon blows royally in low-light. Thanks to Cliff Brunk for hooking me up with this simple-ish fix.

    Go out and buy a Canon ST-E2 infrared transmitter. They can be modified to accept a hotshoe for a PocketWizard. Check this out:

    I simple use the ST-E2 on my camera hotshoe, then velcro a PW to the top of it. The PW is connected and fired via PC Sync cord. Check this:

    It works great, as the ST-E2 shoots out a nicely sized focus-assist beam!

    Hope this helps!

  • Jeff said on April 18, 2009

    I just saw a commercial on TV for a Krylon spray paint that was made just for plastic. If it works even half as well as it did in the commercial, it would be worth it!

    Just thinking out loud here…

  • Steve Kalman said on April 18, 2009

    I notice Nikon flash/cord, etc but no Cannon. Do you have any problems using the Nikon flash with the Canon body?

  • Michael Sebastian said on April 18, 2009

    I have the AP International bag; I got it fearing that, on an international trip I was contemplating, the AP Security would be too large and disallowed as carry-on. I could use the bit of extra room. The Security is a fine bag, nonetheless; just a smidge too snug, though. Ironic; it mainly lives in the back of my ride, getting scuffed up on all the other crap that’s back there.

  • Gary Chartier said on April 18, 2009

    Canon AF drives me nuts in low light. I have to use a head lamp.. Looks stupid but works…

  • Gary Chartier said on April 18, 2009

    I have the Think Tank airport bag. I don’t do a lot of traveling around the country but I do all lot shoots on location. I love how I can lock the main compartment and lock the whole bag to a post or something. its great if you need to leave your gear for a moment.

  • Nicolas said on April 18, 2009

    Hi Zack !
    Again nice work in the previous posts 😉
    I would be interested in seeing some of your wedding pictures. I have one on Saturady and I’m sur it’ll give me some good inspiration.

  • Jim said on April 18, 2009

    Ah the coming together of Canon and nikon in a single bag. World peace is just around the corner.

    Harmony, the true Age of Aquarius.

    PS thanks for the info here, as well as the inspiration through out

  • Steven said on April 18, 2009

    Greatest non-tip ever – The labeling of the 105 on the lens cover! What a great idea!

  • Ken Wilcox said on April 18, 2009

    Listening to The Cure…

    You sir have moved up a notch

    while spray painting… hmm

  • Sam Robles said on April 18, 2009

    Very informative! Thanks for sharing!

    Canon 24-70mm 2.8 is great, I love it.

  • luis faustino said on April 18, 2009

    Cool post Zack!

    I am coming from Canon to Nikon system and currently shoot both. I still love my Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS!

    I was recently assisting one fellow photographer in a model shoot and his 5d refused to focus on the model. The sun was gone behind the horizon and it was pretty much dificult to see, as much focus.. then it sturck my mind to use my D3 with the 3d tracking system and AF-S (which has release priority). He shot 6 frames. 2 were out of focus (camera AF choose the infinity), 1 the flash didn’t recycle fast enough and 3 were ab-so-le-tly perfect.

    Cheers for your tips and ‘show the bag’ post!

  • Dana~from chaos to Grace said on April 18, 2009

    WOW…looking into someone’s camera bag is like reading someone’s diary….


    I’m still learning photography all the time, and LOVE your blog! Seeing your bag was really nice! Thanks!

  • Zohra said on April 19, 2009

    Oh there it is.

    Thanks for the guidance.

  • Ben said on April 19, 2009

    Hi Zack!
    you mention that you used a Speedotron grid. Do you use Speedotron grids on your Sunpak 120Js, too or the Alien Bee grids?

  • Matt Palmer said on April 19, 2009

    Nice to see the little Nikkor 50mm 1.8d being used by yourself and Chase. Not bad for a lens costing under $140.

  • zack said on April 19, 2009

    @Ben – The speedo grids are standard 7″ grids that fit in the Alien Bee reflectors as well as most other grid reflectors for other studio lights.

    It is the same grid I use on the 120j as well. Since the 120j has a parabolic reflector there is no need to use the Darksphere.

    I buy the speedo grids because they are the least expensive.


  • Ben said on April 19, 2009

    Thanks so much for your reply Zack!
    Do you use 10, 20, 30 & 40 degree grids
    for your work or do you only find certain ones useful?

  • zack said on April 19, 2009

    @Ben – I have that set of four that you mentioned. I use the 20 and the 30 quite a bit. I’ll go to the 10 when I need the light to be really tight like just on the face or something like that.


  • zack said on April 19, 2009

    @Matt – That 50 1.8 is a great lens and got mine for less than $100!


  • roberto adrian said on April 19, 2009

    thanks for your generosity zack, this is great already painted mine.
    i’m planning on getting myself a think tank roller both for international and usa use, i see you have the bigger model, any issues when flying abroad? i think the price difference is not to much but i think the big brother will let you carry considerably more? is it
    warm regards

  • adam said on April 20, 2009

    zack where can i get some aa battery cases for cheap? i cant find them cheap *anywhere* around atlanta. i carry a buttload of rechargeable AAs with me and i need something better than a ziploc!!

    and dittos on the 50 1.8. i paid $75 for mine and i use it more than any other lens at the moment!

  • Kevin said on April 20, 2009

    Zack, for a location bag, I’ve found that a baseball deck bag works amazingly. All of my light stands are around the length of a baseball bat when collapsed, and most deck bags have lots of pockets for gear. This is the one I use:,448.html
    But it’s a lil light on the number of pockets. This model is large enough to hold 2 alien bees in their tom-toms, a vagabond, a reflector, 3-4 light stands, and about a cubic foot of various other stuff in the internal net sack for baseballs.

    I see now that they have some with more complex bat pockets, and even with wheels. Must… contain… gear-lust!

  • Jeff Dietz said on April 20, 2009

    I am highly fascinated by the carrying both Canon and Nikon, and it makes perfect sense to me. My question is, you have a ton of lens listed that are Nikon and some Canon. The several lenses you have in the Nikon that are packed with your IR trigger, are those the type of lenses that would be like the non L series canon lenses which run roughly $200-500, vs. thousands?
    I wouldn’t be against embrassing two systems, but my concern has always been I can’t afford to go buy all of those lenses again for a Nikon system if I need to get all “L series type” lenses to get the quality.

    Any thoughts on running both on a doable budget?
    Also what are your thoughts on the medium format digital cameras? Waste of money?

  • RJS said on April 21, 2009

    So the silver paint to the interrior takes forever to dry … so I was wondering … any thoughts on using say aluminum foil on the interior, with a little silver-gaff tape to secure it …

  • Zac said on April 21, 2009

    Zack, I too carry stands and boxes etc. in a golf hard case, it’s great for travel! i recently got booked on a shoot at Sawgrass in JAX and when they were unloading the car, they were taking out the case and the look on their faces were funny, as it was a little heavier than normal. They said, “Do you have your tee time sir? Whoa! You’re real proud of those clubs aren’t ya?” I smirked, nodded and went into the hotel.

  • Novi Sad said on April 22, 2009

    May I suggest a chipped Nikon F to Canon EF lens adapter ($60ish), so you can use all those nice Nikon lenses (with the manual aperture ring) on your 5Dmk2? That way you can have better control of your video on the Canon (think wide open, shalow DoF, film look). Cheerio

  • Sheri Johnson said on April 22, 2009

    I love the demo of the airport security bag, I was eyeballing (drooling over ) it recently at showcase :) Cool idea about the “darksphere”

  • Ahmed said on April 26, 2009

    Zack, darksphere is a cool idea i like it. What kind of stand you are using with this setup.

  • Nic Fargo said on April 27, 2009

    Hey Zack (and others),

    Instead of using a lightsphere (at what, like $50) I used some piece of plastic gutter attachment thing I got from the Home Depot. Costs maybe 2 bucks. You can get it in white, brown, or grey IIRC. Cover it in gaffers tape and you’ve basically got the same concept as the darksphere at a fraction of the cost. Then I cut some grid to the size of the gutter, saxon computer has some great grids. The gutter, with a little bit of weather seal strip, fits perfectly over a SB-28 or a 580ex II. I know we’re always looking for a cheaper way since we all seem to be dirt poor (or is that just me?) and I thought I’d share this cheaper version.

  • Terry Clark said on May 1, 2009

    Hey Zack,
    Great idea. Painted one of my lightspheres with that Krylon plastic paint about 4 days ago. It’s still tacky! I’m thinking it might be on that 18 month track for drying. Oh well!

  • Tore Kvalheim said on May 3, 2009

    Hi Zack. Think your work is brilliant. Did not know where to post this. Here goes: Why did you choose the Sunpak 120J for your One Light Workshop, rather than let’s say the SB-800? Is it because of the bare bulb possibility or something else? Been bidding on a few on ebay, but I am not sure if $300 plus $50 in shipping to Norway is worth it. Appreciate if you care to comment.

    Tore (from the backwaters of Norway)

  • Phil R said on May 4, 2009

    Hey Zach,
    Thanks for the inspiration for a DIY darksphere… (and David Hobby)

  • zack said on May 4, 2009

    @Tore – I love the 120j because it is barebulb. The SB-xxx flashes are “better” in a way in that they are more compact and you can dial the power down a few stops more than a 120j but there is nothing you can put on a Speedlite that will replicate barebulb.

    $300 + shipping is too much to pay for one. At that point try to find a used Q-flash with a battery pack.


  • Ruben Parra said on May 8, 2009

    Hey Zack

    did you try covering the inner part of the lightsphere with foil paper?

    best ,


  • Karen Wise Photography said on May 17, 2009

    Love to see the organization of your camera bag!

  • Morgan said on May 22, 2009

    Hey Zack, in what type of situations do you use your Nikon 24mm f/2.8. I have it as well, but never seem to use it (i didn’t buy it, received it) since i’m mostly using my 17-55mm 2.8 & 50 1.8…

    Great work!

  • zack said on May 22, 2009

    @Morgan – I use the 24 a lot when shooting on location and I’m wanting to bring in the environment and expand perspective. It is also my main lens at wedding receptions.

    Feel the weight of that 17-55 then with the 24. Which one do you want to have around your neck for hours on end? :)


  • Zaheer said on May 24, 2009

    Hey Zack,

    I see you have the Honl Speed Grids in your bag yet you seem to favor your DarkShere.

    Do they essentially do the same thing?

  • Morgan said on May 25, 2009

    Haha, yeah totally true, the 17-55 weighs in at about a ton, which is the downside of this lens…

    Thanks for the reply!


  • Souelle said on May 26, 2009

    Hello Zack,

    A little D3 vs 5D MKII question… Does the 21mp vs 12mp make a big difference for you ? I would like to know your opinion on the subject !

    Thanks in advance

  • Souelle said on May 28, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    Does it make a big difference to shoot a 21mp vs 12mp camera ? Is it really a big advantage ?


  • Tom said on July 23, 2009

  • John K said on August 15, 2009

    I love the name darksphere but instead of painting mine, I wrapped it in aluminum foil that I gaff taped in place. That way I can always take the tape/foil off if I really needed to. You rock, Zack!!

  • Christina Brosnan said on September 7, 2009

    Just curious about the Pocket Wizards. Can you use those with your Nikon camera and flash? I have been investigating in getting a pocket wizard but am a little confused what I need. Do you need to have one on your flash as well as your camera?

  • zack said on September 7, 2009

    You just need two PW Plus II Transceivers. One for your camera, one for your flash. Doesn’t matter what kind of camera, make sure you have the right sync cord for your flash to connect to the PW. If you have something like an SB800 then you get the right cord when you order the PW’s.

  • bernard (Malta) said on September 9, 2009

    one question with regards
    the pocket wizard…. will there be any communication between the camera and flash with reespect to settings or you have to adjust the flash maually .


  • Nikolaj said on November 2, 2009

    Im quite inspired by you Zack and im buying equipment to match my progress.

    I was just wondering i’ve been looking at the Tokina 16-50 f/2.8 lens, prime & smart in manny situations, but ive noticed you’ve got them seperated in 3 lenses. 24mm, 35mm, 50mm. Im a canon user and ive personally got the 50mm currently. Is the three seperated lenses better then the one compact?


  • Nikolaj MV said on November 2, 2009

    Zack, my mind is in chaos, im searching for some new gear to match my progress, i can see on your equipment that you do not have a 17-55mm or anything in that category, but rather prime lenses like 24mm – im just wondering, what would you recommend me to buy, 24mm and/or 35mm insted of 17-55 f/2.8 canon lense or 17-40 f/4L

    Hope you’re able to help me here.

    Nikolaj MV

  • zack said on November 4, 2009

    I prefer primes and then I zoom with my feet. :)

    I do have the 24-70 2.8 L for my Canon. It’s ok but I prefer primes.

  • Nikolaj MV said on November 5, 2009

    Well yea the primes are both cheaper & weight alot less, ive just had a cheap offer on a canon 17-55mm lense – only 800$

    Anyways im tryieng your GOYA concept, eventho the weather is crappy im leaving my chair for a while.

    Thanks anyways Zack

  • Marco said on November 18, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    I recently discovered your site (and work). Really love it!

    You write: “I do not suggest painting it silver on the inside because it took about 18 months for the silver paint to dry on the inside. Paint it white instead or don’t paint it at all.”
    In a Dutch magazine (Chip Foto Video digitaal – 07/2009) this month is a DIY-article: Make your own beauty-dish.
    There they suggest using tinfoil to cover the inside of the dish. Maybe that would work here as well?

    Keep up the good work! I’m learning a lot.

    Greetings from the Netherlands,

  • Aris Bernales said on January 21, 2010

    Hey Zack, just a quick question about the Think Tank bag. Did you have any issues with bringing this bag on the plane for the international flights? I want to get pick one up, but I’m trying to decide wether or not to pick up the ‘International’ version.

  • nedjinski said on February 4, 2010

    zack –

    really like the way you find things to adapt to your needs without buying the whole farm every time you need something.
    you use the speedo grids tied to the GF lightsphere – maybe since you wrote this piece GF now has a prod called the Lightsphere Universal Powersnoot which is basically what you did with the exception of a GF supplied grid.
    have you seen this rig with GF grid? and how does it compare to the speedo grids in size /angle you have adapted?

    here’s a link to the GF unit – check the lighting coverage angle on that page – where do the speedo grid angles 10, 20, 30 etc compare to the GF images shown?

    thanks for your thoughts.

  • zack said on February 4, 2010

    I have seen that but haven’t used it yet so I don’t have an opinion. I do know that they do not have a grid that comes anywhere close to a 10º grid.


  • Dean said on March 24, 2010

    Hi Zack

    I was wondering if you knew anything about the performance of they new pocketwizards the TTL ones and if you could tell me how they compare to the plus 2s, im just about to invest in some and im wondering what the difference is (btw im planning on shooting manual so the new ones wont be needed for that function.)

    In addition to that i was wondering how you find the sharpness of the 24-70/2.8L @2.8… also a possible investment for the near future… was also considering a 24/1.4Lii as i already have a 50/1.4 and a 70-200/2.8L IS

    Damn its annoying to have to talk about gear so much, but really im thinking its the best thing to be doing considering the mass amount of money that is in question.

    Thanks for your time, sincerely

  • zack said on March 31, 2010

    I prefer the Plus II’s. That 24-70 is a nice lens. Can’t speak about the 1.4


  • Dean said on April 4, 2010

    Thanks greatly for the reply.

  • Evangeline said on April 22, 2010


    I’m halfway done with the OneLightDVD and OMG what a great investment! It was a hard decision to make because $250 is alot for me since I don’t get paid right now but what you said on the last page of the pamphlet gave me real inspiration and made it all worth the $$.

    Okay so here are my question(s):
    1. Since Sunpak 120J is not in the market anymore, what else is out there comparable to that?
    2. I have Manfrotto light stand do I need a “boom stand” to hold the Westcott?
    3. I ordered the 35mm Nikon lens and then a friend told me that I didn’t need it if I plan on getting the 24-70mm in the near future, do you agree/disagree?

    Thanks a bunch!

  • Jt said on September 8, 2012

    I’ll always remember – I saw it here (on your blog) first Zack:

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