50 Ways

Outdoor flash:

The problem is all inside your head
She said to me
The answer is easy if you
Take it logically
I’d like to help you in your struggle
To be free
There must be fifty ways
To Use A Speedlight

There are; and sorry, Paul Simon.

Outdoors you want to make the background “darker for drama”. So you go to 100 ISO (lowest you can) and 1/250th second (fastest you can if using a flash). Then f/13-f/18 will give you a dark sky. Simple recipe!

f/18 may not be possible because your flashes may not have enough power. So to figure out what to use, you do this:

  1. Use two flashes on the subject’s left, and two on the right.
  2. One slightly higher; one lower.
  3. Both slightly behind subject aiming forward.
  4. Set them to manual/half power, say (full power is too much usually; flashes may overheat).
  5. Use them straight on – modifiers “eat” too much power.
  6. Fire them using Pocketwizards or similar radio triggers.
  7. Move the flashes as close as you can to the subject, and see what aperture that gets you (use a light meter or trial and error).

Today, for me, with two flashes on each side of the subject, this was f/13. Here’s the setup:

And that gets us:

Not bad, eh?

Remember to pre-focus, and then use manual focus; also, go low enough so the subject is high; then, make sure you click when the subject is at the predetermined point.

Easy, and I can teach you how to do this, as I taught the Porcupine Camera Club today here in Timmins, Ontario. There must be fifty ways to Use A Speedlight, and especially outside, these are fun!


One more time… flash outdoors

Even experienced photographers ask me how to use speedlights outdoors. So let me give you one more step-by-step for pics like this:

A method:

  1. Set your ISO to 100
  2. Set your shutter speed to your fastest sync speed (typically, 1/25oth sec)
  3. Now, ignoring any flash, select the aperture you need for a good background exposure. Probably something like f/8 to f/16 (the lower the number, the better, for your flash’s sake).
  4. Now set your flash to manual, full power.
  5. With that setting, try to see how close the flash needs to be to light up your close-by subject effectively. If that is too close for you, use it without modifiers and/or zoom it in manually. Or add  more flashes.
  6. Then, once you know what you are working with, you can choose to use TTL or manual, keeping the flash at that distance or closer.

That kind of methodical thinking will get you going quickly.

Typically, on a cloudy day it’s easy; on a sunny day. you will struggle with a speedlight, meaning you need to be close and/or unmodified.

Try it and ask here if you have questions, or do some coaching: I’m here to teach you this stuff quickly.


What’s this Hi-Speed flash thing again?

A reminder for all you speedlighters.

Say you want a shot like this, taken a few days ago,with your Nikon D90 or whatever SLR you have equipped with an external flash (like an SB900):

Yes, direct on-camera flash, when used outside and hence mixed with available light, can give you this – not bad eh? And the picture isn’t bad either. 🙂

But look at the background. It is blurry.

That means a large aperture was used (f/5.0 in this case).

But that means the shutter speed must have been very fast – even at low ISO, you need a fast shutter on a sunny day if you want the aperture to be large. I used 1/2500th second.

But hang on. When using flash, you cannot exceed the flash sync speed! Which is 1/200th second on this camera.

So how did I do this? I enabled “fast flash”. (“Auto FP flash” is what Nikon calls it; Canon calls it “High Speed flash”). On a Nikon, go into the flash part of the pencil menu and find flash sync speed, and set to Auto FP. On a Canon flash, indicate the little “H with a lightning symbol”.

Now the flash, whenever you exceed the sync speed, pulses rapidly instead of firing all at once, meaning that you can shoot at fast shutter speeds, where the shutter never fully opens all at once.

The drawback is that most power is lost, so you need to be very close. Aim the flash forward and watch the indicated flash range: as soon as you exceed the sync speed, that range drops rapidly. Stay within that range and you get great outdoors flash pictures!


NOTE: Come join me for a five day workshop at August’s Niagara School of Imaging – it is filling up but there is still space. Act now and spend five days with me on all this stuff, and emerge a flash pro.


What’s in YOUR bag?

My flash/lighting bag as it is today:

It contains, from top left:

  • Two rolls of Honl Photo gels
  • Flashzebra Cables to connect Pocketwizards to speedlights
  • Six pocketwizards
  • Light meter (and spare battery)
  • Three Honl Photo grids (2×1/4″ and 1×1/8″)
  • Cables and a Fong thing
  • Speedlite feet and a microfibre cloth
  • Trays for Pocketwizards, and a microfibre cloth
  • Four speedlights
  • Rain pouch
  • Knife, tape, tape measure
  • Three Ball heads
  • Flash/umbrella attachments for light stands
  • Grips, cables, “thingies”.

In addition to this I carry another speedlight, more Honl modifiers including the large and small Traveller softbox, a tripod, a bag of light stands and umbrellas, and up to four large lights (Bowens) with a softbox.

Pretty large kit but then, I need to light some pretty unexpected situations, and with this kit I know I can.


Light.. action!

I shot a few shots of Kelly, the hair stylist for a shoot the other night.

Here she is:

Nice. So how did I light that?

Here’s how.

I used my 1D Mk4 camera in manual mode, equipped with a Pocketwizard to drive the following flashes:

  • A 400 Ws Bowens light with a Bowens softbox. Powered by a battery (the Travel Kit); driven by a Pocketwizard.
  • A 430EX flash with a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid and a Honl Photo gel (green in the pullback shot above; egg yolk yellow in the real shot) to light up the background. This was also fired by a Pocketwizard, connected via a Flashzebra cable.

The other flash was a spare and I did not use it. I set y exposure for a dark background, then metered the flashes with a light meter. I used the speedlight to light up the background to provide hair separation, since I could not get it in the back aiming forward to light the hair, which I would otherwise have done.

A fairly simple setup for a nice shot, no?