On Assignment: Par For the Course

Last week I went to Severn, Maryland to photograph a young female golfer who is sixteen year-old sophomore in high school.

She competes on the men's team and drives form the mens' tees. Before you start feeling sorry for her, she drives 240 and recently shot a 68 on a par-72 course. She can bring it.

I was shooting her for The Sun, and decided to do the job with my Canon G9. That little point-and-shoot might not look like much compared to the other guys' Nikon D2xs and D2Hs bodies, but it does some neat things that makes it very useful as an always-with-you camera.

I usually will do anything I can to hedge my bets or improve my odds before I even get to an shoot, and this time was no exception. The assignment gave me the basic details, and told me to meet Kaitlyn and her coach at the school's baseball diamond after school let out.

Baseball diamond?

Surely we can do better than that. So the first thing I did was to call her school's athletic director (the only contact number I had) and leave a message asking if we could meet at a local golf course instead.

But I was getting no love from the AD, who never did get back to me before the assignment. Thus the headline for this post. But you at least try.

So I decide to go with Plan B, which is to go with the only setting I had available, and knock it down some by using flash to raise up the relative values on my subject.

Problem is, the assignment was for 2:30 in the afternoon, so I was going to need a lot of watt-seconds to overpower daylight -- or a fast sync speed to make my speedlights appear to be more powerful. Which is why I decided to shoot the assignment on my Canon G9.

It'll sync up to 1/2500th of a second without using any kind of a power-sucking FP mode. You just have to tweak it a little so the camera does not know to limit it's shutter to 1/500th of a sec for flashing.

It makes nice files, too. It's 12 megapixels, but the smaller chip size means there is some inherent noise because of the pixel density. So I tend to think of it as an equivalent of an 8MP chip for blow-up purposes and not stretch those pixels out too far.

Anyway, it shoots as low as ISO 80, 1/2500th of a sec at f/8. Which, if you go with the "sunny-16" rule, tells you that it can sync a flash while underexposing daylight roughly three full stops. So it's got that going for it. Which is nice.

But I'm never one to just go with the math -- I like to test things. You know, see them for myself.

So I went out into the front yard grounds of Strobist World Headquarters. I hand-held a flash off-camera, aimed at a tree, and underexposed (cloudy) daylight by two stops. Worked just fine, and I still had some shutter speed / aperture stops left to go for safe measure. Cool.

The next day, when I got to the baseball diamond that would have to substitute for a golf course, I found a shooting direction that would give me a good tree line. The baseball diamond is still there, of course, but I was gonna drop it down to not be so noticeable. I am shooting into the sun, on a partly cloudy / sunny day.

I like shooting into the sun when I am lighting, as the sky can look really cool when you knock it down. Also, your subject is in shadow, which makes them easier to light and they are not squinting into the sun.

As is usually the case, my stand-in while I waited for Kaitlyn was my left hand. It has proved to be a dependable lighting model, if not a muse, for many years.

I cranked my ISO down to 80, and my shutter to 1/2500th (that is so sweet) and dialed in the sky exposure I wanted via the aperture. Nothing technical -- just chimping and looking at my screen on back.

Why this way? ISO 80 gives me the best image quality, which is especially important on a small-chip camera. And the 1/2500th shutter speed meant that I could use the biggest aperture opening possible for ease of flash balancing.

The sky looked best at 1/2500th at f5. Next step is to adjust the flash to give me a good exposure on my hand at f/5. I stuck a Nikon SB-800 on a stand, and softened it a little with a LumiQuest Soft Box II. From about 6 feet away, my hand looked good at about 1/4 power. I synched it with two daisy-chained SC-17 cords -- one neutered and one straight.

So, now I have my shooting aperture, shutter speed, ISO and main light power level all ready to go. Takes way longer to write about it than to do it, actually.

But want a little separation light, too, so I stick a second SB-800 opposite the main light, set to slave with the SU-4 hack. It was pointed pretty close to right back in my lens, so I gobo'd it off with a Honl shorty snoot.

By the way, I have become a big fan of speed straps and will be doing a piece on them (and how to make them) very soon.

This was set at 1/16 power, based solely on the way it looked hitting the left side of my hand in the shooting position. Speaking of shooting position, I always use a marker on the ground for consistency when I am setting up light before a subject arrives. Makes stuff much less complicated.

So, now I'm all set when she gets there.

When she arrives, I back myself up with a quick mug shot right off the bat. For this, I used a Sigma 50-150/2.8 on a Nikon D300.

Why the backup shot, different body and different lens? Lotsa reasons. It is insurance against a bad card, bad camera and/or a malfunctioning lens. Or if something happens and she (or I) have to go before we do the lit shot. Also, it gives the paper a file mug for later, when she shoots a double-eagle and we are not there to see it.

From here on out, everything is easy. As far as the technicals are concerned, she is pretty much the tree in my front yard. No surprises, no complex thinking. I can relax, get her to relax (which is more important) and shoot. I did make one adjustment -- she was a little bright so I dropped my shooting aperture a third of a stop down, to f/5.6. No big whup.

I shot about 45 frames, in B&W and color. I knew it was going to run in B&W inside the sports section, but shot color to have some just in case. They always convert the color originals to B&W, but I think the stuff shot in B&W looks better. Plus, shooting some frames in B&W first helped me to visualize it better for after the conversion.

You can still see the home run fence in the top photo, but it is very much muted. You can't clone it out for the paper, either. That's a real ethical no-no. Fortunately, the paper's repro quality (or lack of it -- we print on Charmin) is such that will mute the line even more if not kill it altogether.

Finally, if you get a chance, take a look at it the top photo bigger, or even full-sized. (Not even full-sized, actually, as I cropped it a little.)

That Canon G9 is a trusty little always-there sidekick that's currently going through the PJ ranks like a hot knife through butter. You can shoot real assignments with it, do amazing stuff with your suddenly-more-powerful flashes, record audio and even shoot full video for the web. That's a lot to like.

Here is the location kit I put together, packed for easy travel and opened up to show what's there. in a waist pack and with minimal shoulder wear-and-tear, I have a high-sync body with a a whole range of lenses, three light sources (SB-800's) with stands, grids, gobo's, umbrella, gels, etc., and SC-17 sync cords for close work. It's ridiculous how much you could do with something that takes up so little space and weight.

NEXT: Controlling Daylight, Pt. 1


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Anonymous jasosmith said...

Hey - whats with the "Canon" bag. Please tell me your are not moving to the 'dark side' (Canon). They don't make anything nearly as good as an SB800.

April 16, 2008 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Douglas Urner said...

David, when you mention that "You just have to tweak it a little so the camera does not know to limit it's shutter to 1/500th of a sec for flashing" is the trick to use a Pocket Wizard or a SSLK cord (or the neutered SC-17 you mentioned)?

April 16, 2008 1:07 AM  
Blogger Ron said...


Can you comment on what you mean by 'you need to tweak it a little bit' to make it sync higher? Or did I miss something?

April 16, 2008 2:56 AM  
Anonymous Victor said...

Thanks for showing what it's possible to achieve with relatively little equipment. When travelling with the kids I'd love to take the bigger gear but I have to restrict myself to a P&S plus a tiny Metz slave until they're big enough to carry my bags :-)

I don't know how your speed strap is made but here's my version if it's any help.

April 16, 2008 3:01 AM  
Blogger Bob Walters said...

"Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die,....... on your deathbed, you will receive total consiousness."

How can I get on as your looper?

April 16, 2008 5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll second the praises for the G9. Its rapidly becoming my 'go to' camera. I have yet to really try some of the high-speed sync with a flash stuff like David is showing. But I hope to in the near future.

This camera is very capable, in fact all of my recent entries at a local camera club were from this camera. Strangely enough, one even won a HM ribbon. A friend in the club could not believe they were from a P&S camera.

Thanks for the post David!

Kurt R. 'hauskey'

April 16, 2008 5:53 AM  
Blogger AlterEgo said...

Dave, based on your post, it is OK to connect a Canon camera with a Nikon Flash using a SC-17 TTL cord. Before you post, I thought one couldn't, because the Nikon flash will damage the Canon camera.

April 16, 2008 6:19 AM  
Blogger J. Beckley said...

I was just about to search this site on the G9 since mine is on it's way in the mail. I planned on using for everything you just mentioned. Good post...where did you get the sync chords?

April 16, 2008 6:35 AM  
Anonymous KunAkos said...

"why synching with the SC-17 cords, and not PW's?" DanielSting asked on flickr. I was also wondering about that... and if not PW's because they can't handle 1/2500, then why not some cheaper, and longer cables?
I put female RCA plugs on all of my sync cables (pc, hot shoe, mini jack etc.), so all I have to carry around are a few pigtails, and male to male RCA cables. I bring along 2 10metre long cables, and a shorter one (1,5m), and I can sync anything with anything in a range of 21,5 metres, and I have no cables dangling if I have to go closer. :) not as flexible as radio triggering, but way cheaper than PW's and 100% reliable, which cannot be said about cheapo triggers. It would also make this cheap and light kit cheaper and lighter :) and you can find RCA cables anywhere, in case someone drives through them...

April 16, 2008 7:20 AM  
Blogger Steve Thurow said...

Why the SC-17s, why not make life easier with PWs? With my luck I'd pull a little further than the length and then crash.

I'm impressed with the landscaping at Strobist "World headquarters", it must have cost a fortune to have the larger trees planted. When are you going to publish your hand-stand-in book?

Again thanks for sharing.

April 16, 2008 8:21 AM  
Blogger Odyssey said...

Question: how do you trick the G9 into shooting up to 1/2500 with the flash? Playing with mine I can only get it up to 1/1250 before it goes black (And with the amount of light I'm throwing, it shouldn't be black).

April 16, 2008 8:21 AM  
Blogger Ziv said...

"... my left hand. It has proved to be a dependable lighting model, if not a muse, for many years."

Jackson Browne felt the same way. There are some things that should be kept just between you and Rosie.

Glad to see more "On Assignment"


April 16, 2008 8:23 AM  
Blogger b lorenz said...

yes, the g-9 is an amazing little machine ( especially the time lapse video), but how do I tweak it to sync @2500?

April 16, 2008 8:24 AM  
Blogger David said...

To all, re Canon G9 and sync: I will post on the high-sync tricks and the Nikon SC-17 next, given the questions.


April 16, 2008 9:24 AM  
Blogger Seinberg said...

Wait a second - don't you feel even mildly like you're a traitor? Normally I'd say nothing, but I *do* recall reading several digs on Canon in the Lighting 101 tutorial and I believe in On Assignment.

Is this the start of a dangerous trend? ;-)

April 16, 2008 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why a Lumiquest Softbox II instead of a Lumiquest Softbox? I thought the Softbox II is only for bare bulb flashes. Is there a secret for using it with a non-bare-bulb flash that makes it better?

April 16, 2008 9:42 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

I am still not sure why you used the G9 over the D300. I am new to the D300, but looked in the manual and it can sync up to 3200.
Also thank you, thank you, thank you for a great blog and and on line training. I am about to start Strobist 102.

April 16, 2008 10:59 AM  
Blogger chrisgraphics said...

To seinberg: I don't think brand fidelity should be one of the important traits of a pro photographer. Creativity comes with a flexible mind.

My opinion.

April 16, 2008 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re Canon G9 and sync: David and others, please address whether this could be done:

1. Using SB-24/26 and PocketWizards
2. Using SB-24/26 and V2S Cactus Triggers
3. Using 580EX plus anything else.

April 16, 2008 12:25 PM  
Blogger Tommi said...

YES, New OA for a looong time. I really love these and come back to read these every now and then. I'm going to take some pics at my friends wedding and I have already read "speedlighting a gym" etc. Keep 'em coming!!


April 16, 2008 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David: I've been intrigued by the G9's capabilities, but what always gives me pause is the incredible depth-of-field due to the tiny sensor. Your picture works because you're using the sky and throwing the background into shadow. How do you deal with busy backgrounds that would end up way too sharp?

April 16, 2008 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing back real time assignments. They were a part of the initial site that I found mosy relevant

April 16, 2008 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for another great article!

Question: Why not shoot in RAW and have the option of really good color OR b&w from the same file?


April 16, 2008 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Hoover said...


Talk about timely! I have a trip coming up at the end of the month and I have been going round and round about what camera to take.

So that $ 500.00 deposit I have down on a D3 at the local camera store is now going on to the G9 and I'll get some cash back !!

As always thanks for all the great info. and advice.


April 16, 2008 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the G9 for PJ work is the shutter lag, and that anything over ISO 200 looks like crap. Perhaps fine for staged portraits, but not so great when shooting a fast changing situation in low light. In such situations, even a 6MP dSLR will outperform it.

April 16, 2008 4:24 PM  
Blogger Gordon Buck Jr. said...

Regarding the G9 with SB-24, SB-28 and Cactus V2S triggers, this is my normal flash setup; it works very well.

April 16, 2008 4:31 PM  
Blogger Caleb said...

Do you have issues with your images being sharp with your G9? Mine never seem to be in focus, at least not tac sharp. Am I just expecting to much out of this little camera being use to a MarkII?

April 16, 2008 5:42 PM  
Anonymous nabityphotos said...


I second what many said above, the OA entries are terrific. It's not just the excellent lighting info, but the whole experience of the photoshoot that makes them so valuable. Keep 'em coming!

Also, your blog is tweaking a little bit again (for IE 6/7). This happens every so often, then you fix it again. All the links that are usually on the right are now located at the very bottom of the page.

- Ron

April 16, 2008 6:50 PM  
Anonymous D.B. Cooper said...

Glad to see the G9 mentioned. What a great little camera! Got mine in Feb. Is it just me, or does it remind you of a Contax G1-2? Won't replace my Nikon DSLR, but with a few well-chosen extras it does a great job and sure travels small.

As for your sometime muse - kinda puts a different light on the term 'pocket wizard'...

April 16, 2008 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing I really like about my little Nikon D40 is that it synchs all the way up to 1/4000 sec with my Sunpak 383 on a SC28 cord. It makes it easy to overpower the sun. Again, thanks to David for teaching the world about this stuff.

April 16, 2008 10:15 PM  
Blogger Pamela Vasquez said...

David...how do you do this?

"From about 6 feet away, my hand looked good at about 1/4 power. I synched it with two daisy-chained SC-17 cords -- one neutered and one straight." I can't find directions anywhere...and I am not very smart to figure it out on my own. :)

April 16, 2008 11:37 PM  
Anonymous Robert Bieber said...

So, I take it this means your leave of absence at the Sun is over?

April 16, 2008 11:55 PM  
Blogger Bong said...

Wow! your post here is great. Love the way you describe pretty much everthing there for us to experiment ourselves. Thanks!!!!

April 17, 2008 12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see you managed to get a discrete Caddyshack reference into an article about a golfer. Which is nice.

April 17, 2008 6:17 AM  
Blogger Stacy said...

I have the same question about the Lumiquest Softbox II v. Lumiquest Softbox re: bare bulb flashes. I have the SB-800...does the regular softbox work as suggested in your post? [I'll be the first to admit I'm a lighting newbie...looking for all the help I can get :).]

April 17, 2008 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to experiment, you can also do this with the built-in flash on the G9. Yes, I know; off-camera is better, but for experimenting or for those times when you don't have your off-camera flash with you... You have to be fairly close and you can crank up the flash power(Func.Set --> go down to Flash Output and spin the dial to FULL).

Interesting, I just notice that with the camera in Manual mode and shutter set to 1/2500, when I press the shutter release, it automatically goes to 1/500....

April 17, 2008 10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the look and have been considering a G9- now I have to have one! The Sigma 50-150/2.8 is a wonderful lens too!

April 17, 2008 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Could you please make a diagram of how you had your lighting setup in relation to the subject and the camera. I'm having a little problem visualizing what you wrote.


Dave C

April 17, 2008 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interested in reading your post on "speed straps." You do know Lumiquest has something called a Cinch Strap, right? Very cost effective, IMHO.

April 17, 2008 1:21 PM  
Blogger Patrick F. said...

Hey David [and all of Strobist!]

Thanks for all of the great advice. Just posted some stuff up on my blog using some of the techniques you demonstrated at the Southern Short Course.


Still gotta get that G9! Too sweet.

April 17, 2008 4:22 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Just wondering why you chose to use the softbox over the umbrella as the text mentions you packed umbrella along with the stands?

April 17, 2008 5:25 PM  
Blogger lensman said...

Hey David,

Great post. Thank you for a great site. Wondering what you think of this product instead of an umbrella or Lumiquest soft box.


April 17, 2008 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Punch Buggy said...

"Hi Strobist I attended your meeting at the library in Columbia MD and I've created a Blog since then. I was the caramel looking girl in the back row. I went on a couple of golfing trips in my past for school so I found this topic very interesting."

April 18, 2008 12:09 AM  
Anonymous Curtis Joe Walker said...

I really wish Nikon would make a G9 killer. The CoolPix P5100 isn't even close enough to what I need for it to be interesting. Two things would do it for me though: CLS compatibility and 720p video capture.

I know you've said that we shouldn't put our eggs in the CLS basket, but dammit, I like it!

April 18, 2008 2:05 AM  
Anonymous Zeke K said...


Hi David,

I got my RadioPoppers today and made an "unboxing video". If you've never seen one before, it's basically gear p*rn. Feel free to embed the video in one of your posts if you like. Or not.


Hope you're coming to LA soon!

April 18, 2008 2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second the request for a diagram request, a picture and thousand words an all that.
Thanks, love the site.

Neil Barton

April 18, 2008 5:07 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Hi David,

Thought you and the Strobists might like this idea:

Bit cheaper than a stofen!

April 18, 2008 5:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am glad to see the return of assigments - interesting and instructive.

The B&W photo looked dark for my taste and photoshop showed the range did not cover full black to full white.

It was compressed to left - leaving room to increase levels/contrast to fill the range.

Is this a case where you went for a particular look rather follow what I thought, as a beginner, was the general guideline to get a full range from black to white?

April 18, 2008 9:43 AM  
Blogger Super8Pictures said...

If you're using the SB-600 or SB-800 Speedlight on the D300 you can use any shutter speed offered on the camera -- even 1/8000 sec!

April 18, 2008 10:38 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Maybe the modified cord is not needed for a G7 that has CHDK firmware enhancement. See Wired article. CHDK can be used to get faster shutter speeds with the flash. On the CHDK site it looks like people are working on a version for the G9.


April 18, 2008 2:30 PM  
Blogger Wes said...

I posted something like this yesterday but it seems it didn't go through.

Interesting post, David. While I am somewhat new to this whole thing, I am perplexed as to why on the site and especially in this posting, you make such a big deal out of being able to sync at high speeds. I have no problem syncing up to 1/6000th on my 5D with a 580EX II. To prove so, I went out in high afternoon sun after reading this post and shot using roughly your same parameters with my own model / muse

ISO 100

Am I missing something?

April 18, 2008 5:40 PM  
Blogger lensman said...

@Wes: Of course, it can be done with 580EX II/580EX but here is the difference. The 580EX/II must be used in High Speed Sync mode. This greatly reduces intensity, effective guide number and hence range.

In fact this is the perfect segue to ask Dave something that's been on my mind. Doesn't it make sense for all Canon users to sell their 580EX II, 580 EX and 430EX flashes and get SB800s instead? I mean all we lose is:

1. E-TTL or E-TTL II which is pretty good for safe exposures but not necessarily for creative control.

2. Infrared wireless triggering for example using ST-E2 unless by some bizarre coincidence ST-E2 can trigger a SB800.

3, Can't think of anything else but feel free to add.

I think if I had known about Strobist earlier I would have still got Canon bodies and lenses but I think I might have invested in SB800s/SB26s and PWs.

April 19, 2008 10:08 AM  
Blogger lensman said...

Ok, tried a middle of the day flash photo per David. Here is the result: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22636041@N08/2428866391/

April 20, 2008 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Stephen Loewinsohn said...

Hi David, good post. I have a G9 as well and I like it a lot. In addition to wanting to hear how to get the G9 to sync at 1/2500th of a sec, I'd like to know if there's any way to keep the display on the back of the camera from automatically brightening the scene when the flash is turned on or when you hook up an off camera flash. Is there any way to do this? It's a good feature for automatic mode, but it would be nice if there were a way to disable it when shooting in manual mode with off camera flash, so you could just see what the ambient light looks like instead of seeing what the camera thinks it will look like with the flash. Does that make sense?

April 22, 2008 1:34 AM  

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