Q&A, Speedlighting a Gym

You got questions, we got answers. This post will tackle many of the questions people had after the Speedlighting a Gym post from a few days ago. If you are coming in late, you should read it first.

One thing before I start. I will not be answering any questions that are basic Lighting 101 fodder.

I am amazed that, given the large and easily accessible library of info on this very site, many people will ask about a technique even when I go to the trouble to link directly to the appropriate reference article right from the post, (he said, smacking himself in the forehead with a Pocket Wizard.)

That said, here we go.

Leading off, the previously promised, poorly drawn lighting diagrams. But first, an error to point out in the "Top View" diagram. One of the other photographers, whose name I misheard, is not "Adrienne," but "Arianne."

Even better, she told me today that she just made staff at the Baltimore Examiner. (Way to go, Arianne!)

The top view, which is clickable to a much larger photo, shows the flash placement relative to the court and basket. The flashes are pointed just about straight out, just over the heads the players, to better feather the light.

This side view is also clickable, and shows about how much higher the flashes were than the players. It is your basic, 2nd-floor balcony railing.

Now, on with the questions, in no particular order. (Q's are in bold, A's in itals.)

I'm curious, did you attach a safety cable to the flash or bracket in case you had a mounting hardware failure? (It's impossible to tell whether or not there were fans seated below your rig.)

I used gaffer tape as a backup. The flashes were small and only a few feet over the band. Battery straps went around the railings, too.

David, I'm just a bit curious, one flash behind each basket, right? The local arena has solid walls behind the baskets and no railing systems I can see (apart from the one used for the overheads). Any idea where else can I clamp the strobes?

Every gym/arena is different, and you are on your own. I can almost always find something to clamp to, either behind the baskets or in/above the bleachers.

I'm shooting a Canon d-reb XT and mostly getting it for learning purposes. I know you probably get this all the time, but any advice?

See what I mean about the Lighting 101 question stuff?

Just wanted to clarify something. The SBs at 1/4 power enabled you to shoot at 4fps with the SBs lighting each of the 4 frames as compared to Patrick's 1 frame every 2 seconds using the huge lights?

Yep. Remember, the flash is only dumping 1/4th of it's stored energy each time it fires.

(Very long question on whether I am expanding the tonal range, or - as I had said - compressing it.)

Compressing it. If I shoot up into the ceiling (where the continuous lights are) I have to over expose the ceiling (and the top-down light) to get detail in the undersides of the players. I can strobe them from the side (from the basket's direction) and bring that portion of them up to a level that matches the top lighting. Thus everything fits more neatly into the tonal range that the camera can handle. Presto - smooth exposures with no dodging and burning.

I'd be curious to see a diagram of where your strobes were in relation to the court/basket and where they were roughly pointed. You seem to be getting much better coverage than me when I do the same with strobes behind the corner of the court, aimed at the top corner of the key.

The secret is feathering the light. Aiming them up a little to skim the players' heads means that most of the close-up action is on the outskirts of the flashes' beams. Combine that with a 50mm throw (you might think a 24mm throw would be better at this range - it is counterintuitive) and that strobe really reaches out onto the court.

Just to clarify, what was the ambient exposure? Obviously 1/250, but what aperture and iso? I would think if the ambient iso was 640 you would get a fair amount of ghosting.

I was shooting at 1/250 (and later, 1/320) at ASA 640 and some at 800. remember, the underside of the players was pretty underexposed before the flash got there (see the referee examples) so ghosting was not much of a problem.

I am curious about what you do to prevent errant basketballs from hitting the strobes. Damage to the flash is one consideration, falling objects on spectators or players is another more serious issue.

They were far enough back and up to where that would have been all but impossible. Basketballs hitting the fans would have been more likely (and more damaging.)

Why didn't you use the ol' Bogen super-clampy deal to clamp it to the railing (I know, they cost like 30 bucks, which is far more than your $2 setup....) but the seem to be a bit more secure. I thought you carried these anyway, so I was just surprised to see the home depot clamps (which, incidentally, I nearly bought the $3.99 version a week ago before I saw the .99 cent-ers. Spent a good 5 minutes trying to figure out the difference between the two - none.)

Why no Superclamps? I'll tell you why. Because I misplaced the @#!$% things and I spent the better part of an hour looking for them before this game. I promptly found them afterwards.

Seems to me that you are having a much easier time with white balance than I am. I'm shooting many different junior HS gyms that range from caves to dark caves; one however, has a good bit of daylight coming through large windows during day games, in addition to the sodium "vapes". I use a Expo Disk for WB; works great, but often the flashes come out too green (when gelled). Lighting is getting much better (thanks to your tutorials!), but having to process RAW files for white balance is getting to be a real p.i.t.a!! Other tips????

When working in noncontrollable mixed lighting sources, I match my strobes to the dominant continuous color and balance for that. It's the best you can do, without pumping tons of strobe in to overpower the mixed ambient.

How do you go about getting your strobes back if you get paged to be somewhere else mid-game?

Seriously, I know it sounds flippant but I really would like to know - adds another dimension to setting this sort of thing up if you nedd to be able to grab it all and run without interfering with play.

I had easy access to the second-floor balcony. If pulled off to spot news, I could unclamp the flash/bracket/batts/PW's wholesale and just put them, still assembled, into a gear bag. I could be out the door in 3-4 mins, tops.

I need to understand the real numbers here. The sample shots with refs to show ambient and the flash added is not what I would call fill flash, but direct lighting with the flash. Please clarify :) 1/250 ambient would show more finger/hand/ball blur and the fill would show ghosting ? - unless the flash took over to freeze that action. Would love for it to be this easy.

Again, there are really two separate components to the light. The top-down ambient, and the front/side flash. They really did not co-mingle too much. Thus, very little ghosting.

What does PITA stand for again?

Pain in the armpit.

I've quite a bit of experience using multiple flashed in "Manual Mode". However you mentioned that the flashes "greened ok". Does this mean that you are shooting with multiple flashes on "Auto". I never thought to try that.

(Wondering whether to take the whole bottle of sleeping pills first, or to start with the alcohol. The question being, which would would more quickly bring about my demise and with it, sweet relief...)

NEXT: Flavored Vodkas


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Blogger Samuel said...

Thanks for the diagrams! And sorry to hear you got so bombarded with questions over the gym post.

March 01, 2007 7:03 PM  
Anonymous baconisgood said...

Love the SP in your professionally rendered lighting diagram!

March 01, 2007 7:09 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...


Go for sleeping pills, alchy-hol, and and get a dime bag from one of those high school kids you seem to hang around with so much... that'll improve your mood.

Seriously, folks. I monitor several forums and I HATE it when a.) People are too lazy to use the search function, and b.) People are to lazy to use the search function! True, there is no such thing as a stupid question, BUT asking a question which you should have figured the answer out to yourself makes YOU look... well, stupid.

On to my question. Do you ever utilize an FLD filter to bring your tones back (with your flashes greened, of course), or do you always let the software take care of it? I've been carrying one around in my bag far too long - I used it often with film, but not much anymore with digital. I was just curious what the pro take on this was.

Now, if this was already discussed somewhere in strobist land, that will make ME stupid. (However, I did search for it and come up blank)

That's the end of my rant for this afternoon. I just missed your question answering, so hopefully you'll have a chance in the next week or 4 to get back to me on this.

Keep up the good work. I'm learning lots, just not posting anything (because so far I've been doing all my off camera lighting with hot-lighting, ie snooted/gobo'd home depot shop lamps, but 'they' won't let me post in flickr because it's not a "strobe". I say light is light, but now I'm just being a complainer.

Bottoms up!

March 01, 2007 8:15 PM  
Blogger David said...

Jabob -

Easier than that. I just balance to the digicam to fluorescent and tweak the warm-up, cool-down to match it the best.

March 01, 2007 8:40 PM  
Blogger David Tejada said...

Didn't realize you could draw as well, your multi talented David! You Rock. DT

March 01, 2007 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Fidel Mercado said...

Thanks David, a very very very informative post indeed.

March 01, 2007 9:56 PM  
Blogger But I'm a Bear! said...

I say alcohol first. If the attempt at death fails with the sleeping pills, you can claim temporary insanity due to intoxication without friends and family taking it TOO personally.

I'm still not sure if I read Strobist for the oceans of information, or to get my laughs in for the day. Decision pending...


March 01, 2007 11:30 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

You're a journalist so... booze (and a pack of Marb Reds if you want to go all out). Stick with the stereotypes - they're there for a reason.

March 02, 2007 1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, thanks David. Regarding the compression expansion thing - I took you too literally on just that image of the refs.


Kind Regards

March 02, 2007 2:52 AM  
Blogger About Scott said...

David, Love the diagrams! Couldn't help but chuckle at the high tech programming you must use for those! Thanks for everything you do for us strobists!


March 02, 2007 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Alistair Windsor said...

Sometimes colour correction filters are useful on digital but I would never use on in this situation since they cost you light. Here you are struggling to maintain a high shutter speed and a reasonable ISO.

March 02, 2007 8:18 AM  
Blogger Ahmad Alhashemi said...

Great diagrams David. Thank you for a great website.

But what is this "beam" of light coming for your camera towards the players. Did I just catch you using on camera flashes? :)

March 02, 2007 9:29 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

David - Thanks for the diagram. I'll have to try moving my strobes closer to the backboard. I have been mounting mine at the corners of the court. I have a college basketball shoot tonight (hopefully) and will give that a shot.

March 02, 2007 10:09 AM  
Blogger QorbeQ said...

I had to chuckle at the diagrams too, but only because down the bottom it's got "© All rights reserved."

That'll stop them nasty stick-man stock-art companies snapping it up :)

March 02, 2007 5:16 PM  
Anonymous ruthdeb said...

"Boy Wonder" -- woohoo go Patrick! I really like seeing the mentor/protege thing happening w/ you two..

March 03, 2007 12:21 AM  
Anonymous sean said...

Ahmad Alhashemi, you're reading the diagram wrong. Those beams of light are traveling TO his camera!

Whoever wrote "vapes" totally baffles me. They used an extra kestroke to communicate that they like to sound silly.

March 03, 2007 2:30 AM  
Blogger Ahmad Alhashemi said...


I know, I was just kidding.

Nevertheless, if the beams were for light going towards the camera, they shouldn't be magically converging when the get near the camera. They should converge only after they hit the lens (i.e: inside the camera body).

March 03, 2007 12:21 PM  
Anonymous sean said...

ahmad, it was a joke. just as your original post was.

i had hoped i could make a joke without having to follow it up with :) ;) :P, etc., but i guess not. <:,(

March 03, 2007 2:25 PM  
Anonymous jfost said...

Now, are there pocket wizard receivers on both strobes. Pointing the same direction they aren't going to slave, are they?

March 23, 2007 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am still having some trouble getting past the idea of 1/250th exposure not causing blur. I'd like to shoot volleyball using this setup, however I'd be hard pressed to stop motion blur at such a relatively slow shutter speed. At a minimum I need 1/1250 sec, and to get that using ambient I have to use ISO 1600, -1 1/3 EC @ f/1.8. I then must adjust each photo in PS and beat back the noise. Are higher shutter speeds possible with arena flashes?


April 09, 2007 3:30 PM  
Blogger dom said...

All the stick people are smiling. I think that says it all.

And yeah people, read the site and the comments. If it's linked in the article you need to read it. Mr Hobby is not one to waste your time.

Love the feather trick. Love. I cannot wait to tackle the yellow, dark, hellish gyms in my city. Thank you.

". . . . .the flash is only dumping 1/4th of it's stored energy each time it fires." Wow man. It's stored energy. So simple. That never hit me. That's where the fraction comes from. Sigh. YOu do this to me like once a day man. . . .

"Why no Superclamps? I'll tell you why. Because I misplaced the @#!$% things and I spent the better part of an hour looking for them before this game. I promptly found them afterwards."
Oh wow dread. I laughed so hard at this one. Murphy and his laws. That was the first thing I wondered as well.

So much laughter . . . so little time.

February 21, 2008 11:53 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

Great article, but how did you trigger the remote flashes?

December 17, 2008 3:01 PM  
Blogger Wall Street Watcher said...

Please continue to upload lighting diagrams. It is very easier to understand. Thank you.

July 23, 2009 10:04 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

This was the first strobist post I read (long ago), so I thought it would be appropriate to leave a comment here, even though it is such an old discussion thread.

I consider myself an amateur -- I have a camera and a flash and a pair of pocket wizards. The strobist techniques are simple and straightforward, and after repeated attempts at implementing them in my own photography, are now second nature.

Here is a longer writeup about using a single flash to light a youth wrestling tournament. It includes a diagram and a discussion of the steps I undertook to get the final result. Hopefully someone new to the scene will be able to get some useful info from it:


Dave Berton

January 17, 2010 8:55 PM  

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