Barn Doors and Blue Dragons

After reading Zeke's Nice Photo review of some pretty spiffy $10 speedlight-compatible barn doors, I ordered a set and did a little playing around recently.

Probably not using them the way they were intended, of course. I went with on-camera flash on a point and shoot...


My son, Ben is growing up fast. He's seven years old and playing on his first competitive team -- the "Blue Dragons" in the local soccer league. He's looking more and more like a big kid every day, which as a dad is both a good thing and a sad thing to me.

Usually, the growing up process is a gradual thing in which you only notice the changes after they have happened. But in his last soccer game he drove end-to-end and shot one past the goalie for his first goal of the season (shown at left).

Then he just stood there with a bemused smile on his face. ("Wait, I did WHAT?")

He was a different person right from that moment. He has the soccer bug 110% now, and wants to score two goals in his next game. We watch highlight reals from the pros on YouTube together.

His soccer season is almost over. They play their last game today, and have a chance to end the season with a winning record.

He's not much for posing for pictures. But I am trying to make shots of him now that show the mix of little kid and big kid inside. Which is where the SP Systems barn doors came in.

I have been experimenting with the "fill-first" technique I talked about with Jessie and expanding that into other lighting styles and ratios.

Barn doors basically allow you to control the spill of the flash in four different directions. Sort of like an adjustable snoot. For this shot of Ben, I used a Canon G9 with an SB-800 mounted on the hot shoe and a set of SP Barn Doors clamped to the flash. (I am pretty sure that's the first time that combo has ever been used together...)

I like the way the light looks. When you are paying attention to your ambient flash balance and restricting light, even on-camera light can have a textured, subtle look.

I knew from experience that I only had a minute or two before I'd lose him. So I got into manual mode, got a good ambient exposure, dropped it down just a stop, and then added flash set in manual mode. (This was shot outdoors, in shade.)

I just chimped the results with flash and quicky dialed in a power level that looked good on the screen. The barn doors allowed me to just rake some light across the fence and the top part of his face to keep it interesting.

Note that I am specifically not mentioning f/stops, shutter speeds and flash power levels. Those numbers are not really important -- it is the process of choosing where your fill will be, relative to your main light, that is important.

Using a subtle lighting ratio and restricted beam can even on-camera light look a little unusual. And the hard quality of the light isn't so tough to deal with when the ambient is supporting it so closely. The one thing I did not like was the shadow behind the camera left ear, so I fixed that in post. (Hey, it's a snapshot, okay...)

As for the barn doors, they will fit the big SB-26s, and even the little SB-800s if you build up the side opposite the little clamp with some gaffer's tape. They fold up nice and small, too. Very nice.

And in just a couple of minutes I found a new way to play with a new light mod for a go-to technique on a headshot. I'll definitely be playing more with this in the future.

But not this afternoon -- I'll be busy shooting a soccer game. Go Big Blue.


:: Nice Photo - Barn Doors Review ::
:: DIY Barn Doors ::
:: Blue Dragon Fevah: Catch It ::


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Blogger J. Beckley said...

HAHA! I didn't even bother reading the post. I went straight to adorama to order 2 and wouldn't you know it...they're already sold out!! They'll probably go up in price now.

May 31, 2008 12:52 AM  
Anonymous Richard Cave said...

I have tried something like this using flags and gobos I didnt like that there sometimes was some shadow hitting. I could not work out a way of doing it.

I have been looking at a pag light that my ENG camera has and he uses barn doors. Could not work out why this has not been done before.

Dont worry about the strange looks you get as all I am concerned about is the finished product.

Your young lad should appreciate having his photo taken as my parents never took photos of me. I have no memories of childhood. This probably why I took up photography.

Cheers for sharing


May 31, 2008 3:21 AM  
Blogger Steen Lee said...

What a great idea.
Did you put the SB800 on the cameras hotshoe? or was it connected via the neuted cable you described the other day?

I just bought a Canon G9 myself (my first Canon ever) and would like to use it with my Nikon SB800 and SB80DX (and my Vivitars) if possible. But I have not dared to put them on the hotshoe yet, as I was afraid that either camera or flash would get toasted.

I have been using the SB80DX in slave mode, where I have put the G9 flash in manual mode with minimum output and it works flawlessly.

May 31, 2008 4:11 AM  
Blogger Windwatcher said...

DH, sounds like the G9 is becoming a staple (Dubai, etc...) Okay, I just got mine (for impending grandbaby pix) but have not attached it to barn doors, let alone a flash yet. Very nice work.

May 31, 2008 5:54 AM  
Blogger Dave Schlier said...

Enjoy 'em at all ages - it's great you are taking the time to be involved. I'm a little maudlin - my eldest is graduating this weekend.
Wow - on camera?!? Sometimes, ya gotta do what ya gotta do... I like the little barn doors. And really cool effect.

May 31, 2008 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Lornholio said...

Exactly what I've been looking for. Anyone know of a UK/Euro distributor? Adorama wants $30 shipping on 2 of these to the UK. Group buy to split shipping, anyone?

May 31, 2008 8:46 AM  
Blogger Shelley Paulson said...

Your son looks just like you (in pictures anyway)! You must be a proud dad. :-D

May 31, 2008 9:14 AM  
Anonymous Craig said...

I love the portrait of Ben, but I'm curious why you didn't also retouch the highlights in Ben's eyes. The on-camera flash gives a beautiful quality of light, but also leaves a tiny catch light centered in his pupils. I realize your PJ background wouldn't allow that for publication, but you fell for the siren song of Photoshop to fix a pesky shadow.

May 31, 2008 9:16 AM  
Anonymous alek said...

Great soccer shot David and congrats to your son on the goal. I caught a similar one of my 7-year old scoring in mid-air scoring a goal ... plus a sequence of the coach's son that I made a 12x18 print for 'em that they love.

Sorry, no strobes involved in these shots - don't have the power or recharge/frame rate to keep up for outdoor bright sunlight shooting.

May 31, 2008 9:45 AM  
Blogger David said...


I liked the catch lights, actually.

May 31, 2008 9:57 AM  
Blogger kicks said...

Cool shot! I hope these crazy thunderstorms don't interfere with the game today.

May 31, 2008 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Man your info on strobes is very helpful. I like the barn door info (I have a daughter in soccer..LOL). I really need to get out and start using some of the techniques you are talking about.

Thanks again

May 31, 2008 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

The 4 leaf barndoor looks like a nice accessory for my Canon 580 EX strobe so I went to the Adorama website and received this message, "We ran out of this Item Temporarily. Please note: You can order this now and as soon as it arrives we will ship it to you. When Strobist talks, people listen."

May 31, 2008 1:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Prelosky said...

Just when I thought there wasn't anything I could possibly add to the box o' lights the barn doors show up in a post. I've been wondering if such a produce existed. For my use, this will work better that a grid.
I'll be able to go for the 4-light rig for basketball games and keep flare from the far end of the floor under control. That will be a very good thing.

May 31, 2008 3:18 PM  
Blogger Peter Leslie said...

anyone know where i can get these in Australia of Asia. The cost of shipping from US is $41 more than double the price of 2 ...


May 31, 2008 10:47 PM  
Anonymous Lornholio said...

I'm trying to set up a UK group buy on these which should get the price down to under $15 each with postage.

June 01, 2008 8:08 AM  
Blogger Rudi Vavra said...

@ Peter Leslie

Peter, where in Oz are you? I am planning to put a set of these on my next B&H order (I just placed an order, so maybe up to a month away), so I might be able to get you a set at a better price, shipping-wise. Let me know. :-)

June 01, 2008 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

David, I'm glad you like these. That shot of your son is really a wonderful image.

Thanks for the link back to Nicephotomag.


June 01, 2008 1:30 PM  
Anonymous wedding photographer france said...


Same problem here - getting the things shipped to France! I went to B&H - also sold out, but at $35 Postage it's not such a great deal...

June 01, 2008 6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also be interested in getting some of these in Oz (Adelaide). Perhaps we could arrange a group buy; or, given that they are a chinese product find the source and see if we can get a camera store to bring them in.

June 01, 2008 7:35 PM  
Blogger Rudi Vavra said...

@ Anonymous from Adelaide:

As I mentioned previously, I will be ordering extras on my next B&H order. I am near Wollongong, NSW, but even with extra packaging and shipping from me to you, a combined order should work out cheaper than ordering directly from B&H (especially if the only thing you're ordering are these barndoors).

NOTE: This is not a money-making exercise, it's a simple favour - I will only charge you my actual costs.

I am collecting expressions of interest from other Aussies interested in ordering these in bulk and saving on shipping. If you want a set of these, but don't want to pay the full shipping charges from B&H, contact me with your details.

June 01, 2008 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally the day has come. Damn its on back order!

June 01, 2008 11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave can you please post any pic with those barn doors on a SB-26?
I would like to see how they fit on it before i place an order. You see i'm in Greece and shipping costs more than $35. Thanks. Eddy

June 02, 2008 1:47 AM  
Blogger carlos said...

They were out of stock last week too. The strobist effect is real but we can't blame it for this one.....

June 02, 2008 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Steve Johnston said...

I've been looking for something like this for ages. Tried something similar using gobo's attached to the flash with velcro but didnt have the fine adjustments that barndoors can provide. Should be ideal for noir/hollywood type images!

June 02, 2008 8:41 AM  
Blogger Caradoc said...

I ordered a pair from B&H Photo back on May 15th after reading a post about them in the Strobist Flickr Group, and finally got my shipping notice and tracking number today.

I can only imagine what the wait times may be like now that they've hit the main blog page.

June 02, 2008 10:16 AM  
Anonymous chrisbnp said...

Never mind the elephant in the room. Creating these thing to attach to the snoot you made earlier (you did make a few right?) would be a piece of cake. Want it real fancy? Make a round piece (a peanut can comes to mind) that fits over the snoot that allows it to rotate, now you can place the slit at any angle.

As to the model, cute kid, mom must be a beauty. [grin] Every parent experiences that feeling you talk about, for me it was while I was taking my daughters picture, I cherish the image. Not to worry there are more of those moments to come, they are few and far between but they are special.

June 02, 2008 10:32 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

David, looking at the picture of your son, what struck me was the angle of the light. It seems to me that barn doors would provide for vertical or horizontal slits of light, but not a diagonal angle unless the doors could be rotated, which I don't think is the case here. Just curious. I love the look. Thanks for all you do.

June 02, 2008 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Danop said...

It's funny how the rest of the readers here take this as an equipment review. The daddy in me sees one very proud dad. :-)
A lovely article, David! Congratulations!

June 02, 2008 3:01 PM  
Anonymous vide infra said...

overheard at B+H Photo today while buying an umbrella...woman:"do you have those barn doors for strobes?" Employee: "yes, we've sold 180 of them in the last few days-did you see them on that blog Strobist? whatever that guy writes about sells like crazy the next day." woman:"yes." another,older employee:"what's a blog?"

the Strobist effect...awesome!

June 02, 2008 7:40 PM  
Blogger Kylie said...

Rudi I'm in Sydney and would love to combine shipping with a group of Aussies.

June 03, 2008 1:05 AM  
Blogger Rudi Vavra said...

Kylie, you're the first Sydneysider to speak up... about time! :-) I've had people from everywhere EXCEPT anywhere nearby contact me so far. LOL

Please send me an email and I'll put you on the list (click on my name, go to my webpage, send it from there).

June 03, 2008 1:17 AM  
Blogger Phil Hunton said...


Nice Mod! After reading it I dug out my old Portaflash barn doors which are similar and hey presto they fit on my canon 580 EXII, 430 EX and Mecablitz.

So UK buyers check out Portaflash barn doors.

June 03, 2008 4:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I've been looking for something like this forever!

Do you think they could be rigged to fit a Sony HVL 56?

Thanks for sharing!


June 09, 2008 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Syl Arena said...

David --

My three boys have played ASYO youth soccer for years. Believe me, it's great to watch. But the real fun doesn't begin until you start to coach. My oldest was nearly out of the program before I got so fed up with an over-zealous coach that I signed up to coach the following season. At first, I was totally intimidated (sort of like starting with off-camera ETTL).

The most important thing I've learned about parenting is a lesson that I learned through coaching soccer. "Don't be afraid to step up even when you don't have a clue. Your child will think you're a hero just for being in the action while all the other parents are standing around." Four years and six teams later, I still look forward to stepping up as a coach each season.

Thanks also for the blurb about "Pimping Your McNally" on my blog PixSylated

June 11, 2008 11:20 AM  
Blogger M said...

These just came back in stock at B&H . . .my four shipped this afternoon.

July 31, 2008 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Lornholio said...

I received my lot of barndoors this morning and have listed on eBay UK:

August 04, 2008 7:21 AM  
Blogger Paulo Rodrigues said...

I thought these were a bit bulky so I have made some very lightweight bardoors doors and a tutorial here.

August 09, 2008 4:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home