A Commenter Calls SB BS...

UPDATE: Joe gives some very good background info and perspective on his lighting choices here.

"Joe McNally is a great photographer and I respect his work, however that collection of strobes is absurd. Was that really necessary?

Personally, I think this was an elaborate hoax to see how stupid most strobist readers really are.

Well, yes, actually, they are necessary. Keep reading for the reasons why.

Why the SB-800 Arsenal?

1. You lose power on every step you go up in FP sync. That is because the pulsing nature of the flash loses a lot of light that is merely falling on the black part of the thin slit as it travels across the focal plane.

2. Joe was working right into the sun, which as you might guess is an even higher EV than shooting with the sun as a light source.

3. He also was pushing the flash(es) through diffusion material, which eats up another 1-2 stops of light.

4. Seven flashes are not seven times more powerful, photographically speaking. You double the power (and add one stop of output) when you add the first flash. Then it takes TWO more flashes to get one more stop. Then FOUR more flashes to get the next stop, etc. So Seven flashes gets you two extra stops and change.

And as for the idea that it would be easier/cheaper to just throw up a monobloc and battery pack, that may be true on a dollar-to-dollar basis. But the speedlights with FP/sync allow you to crank down the shutter to control that ambient, which is the basis for the entire photo. No so the monoblocs.

And, for the record, we do not have any stupid Strobist readers. Just ones who may not yet understand a specific lighting technique. Which would, on frequent occasion, include yours truly...


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am benefiting from this site and gave no credence to the Curmudgeonly Commenter.

May 21, 2008 12:17 PM  
Anonymous vicberger said...

Thanks for the explanation. I (silently) had some doubts with the setup as well. This makes sense to me.

May 21, 2008 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Nice job on the comments. It's great to see the different opinions. Joe McNally is an exceptional photographer, but the tree of strobe lights seems a little over the top.


May 21, 2008 12:20 PM  
Blogger Tim said...


May 21, 2008 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Brandon D. said...

I've noticed that photography is full of narrow-minded "condescenders" (<-- new word). For a trade/profession that is supposed to be geared towards creativity and freedom to do things the way you want, I'm surprised at the amount of condescending attitudes out there.

Those with the sour attitudes need to realize that just because you have a different opinion of the way something is should be done, doesn't make you right and the other person wrong (or stupid).

In photography, there are an infinite amount of ways to accomplish a single task. Two people can take two (or more) totally different approaches to accomplish a task, and both could still get the job done.


May 21, 2008 12:23 PM  
Anonymous Hoover said...

David, looks like you have found a pressure point.
I remember your post about hooking up
4 SB-800's to shoot off the Brewer Bracket, that also seemed to cause a bit of a fuss.

I would have thought that the " Sand Truffle " would have caused more noise.

The grumpy poster's need to head over to Joe's site and read up on lighting big planes and small islands.


May 21, 2008 12:28 PM  
Blogger Dat-Tuyen Nguyen said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 21, 2008 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Jumeira_johnny said...

Having had the chance to see Joe work first hand twice now, I can tell you he knows SB's inside and out. If he sticks 20 on a lightstand, or one; his results speak for themselves.

And Dave seem so know a few things, too.

May 21, 2008 12:34 PM  
Blogger Glyn Dewis said...

Well said Dave!!!

Right let's get on with learning from these industry experts who clearly know there stuff.

Viva le strobist!!!


May 21, 2008 12:38 PM  
Anonymous lenny said...

I don't think this was a test to see how stupid we are.

But I have to agree that the array of speedlight seems a little too much. 7 speedlights equals 7 points of failure for the grip. Why not just send one big strobe with a battery out there? I'm sure the grip would appreciate it and the strobe would still get the job done.

May 21, 2008 12:40 PM  
Anonymous adam said...

well I learned a bit from this, as always thanks for making learn a little each time I read a post.
i knew the logic behind the number of strobes amount of light idea but wouldn't have thought of it like that. I did seem like over kill initially but now it just seems to make sense.

May 21, 2008 12:40 PM  
Anonymous greg said...

Good work defends itself, Joe is a great photographer. What I got out of the video was something I had never thought of.....putting the SU-800 on a TTL cord. Your camera with the SU-800 attached may not trigger your strobe because of the placement. Put your camera and strobe where you want and move the SU-800 where you want via the TTL cord.

May 21, 2008 12:50 PM  
Blogger Cândido d' Almeida said...

Nice lesson!

May 21, 2008 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Adam Michaud said...

I saw it and understood why he did it without explaination. Given the light color of the landscape and the sun bright in the sky, you would need to use a really high F-stop (f16+) the dampen the ambient to look like sundown.

An SB-800 @1/1 will barely illuminate a subject past f8 at a few feet. As our host has indicated; you add the diffusor, high f-stop, a greater distance of subject to light source (inverse square of light law), and the direction facing into BOB (Big Orange Ball AKA sun) and you will find the need for the amount of speedlights used.

May 21, 2008 12:57 PM  
Anonymous Nick Masters said...

Lol. pwned.

May 21, 2008 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who's experience the extra fees airlines are nailing you with when you're over their new, reduced weight limits for luggage knows that you're not lugging any gear that you don't have to. Ouch!

Joe McNally, who I suspect spends more time in an airplane in one week than most do in a year, certainly knows this... and Joe McNally's work speaks for itself. When it comes to photography, he certainly doesn't need to be getting into a "who's is bigger" contest.

Besides... LESS GEAR is pretty much what the whole Strobist approach is all about! It's certainly one of the things that lead me to this site.

Great explaination of the technical side of the flash units in that kind of situation David! As always, I'm learning more with every Strobist blog post! Thanks!


May 21, 2008 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Sounds right to me! You have to admit, that tree or strobes did look pretty whacky! :)

Why not just take some studio lighting out there with you? or was this just simply a case of 'because you can' with the sb800's

Keep up the awesome work!

May 21, 2008 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on brother!

I still can get the SB into DIAG mode yet though? ;)

May 21, 2008 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My only issue with Joes setup is that 7 SBs is about $2100. I think there are better tools in that price range for this type assignment/shoot. Of course I love my 3 SB-800s and use them all the time. It would be great to have 7 more to go with them. I love the flexibility and portability of the system, but I'm missing the logic on this one. There are battery operated packs with plenty of juice to pull this off for much less dinero and with less hassle.

May 21, 2008 1:07 PM  
Anonymous j miles said...


May 21, 2008 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Carlos Ferreira said...

Very appropriate explanation...

Thank you.

(People must be more polite...)

Greetings from Spain.

May 21, 2008 1:19 PM  
Blogger David said...

In defense of the commenter, at least he signed his name. That puts him a notch above most of the comments of that kind that come in.

Not trying to dog ya, Kit. Just showing that there was a valid reason to use the lights.

-David H

May 21, 2008 1:22 PM  
Blogger loopykd said...

Wow! To think something negative when you read a blog is one thing. But to actually comment and descend on that blog is something totally different. I find it sad. I love to read your blog and frankly, didn't think twice about it because you know more than me about such things. I just thought, wow, that's a lot of lights. I wish I could afford a setup like that. That's about it. I love your work, keep it up for the rest of us that are "stupid"! Thanks!

May 21, 2008 1:27 PM  
Blogger Peter C Berkman said...

good description of the why's - your site is awesome and I have learned a HUGE amount from you and your readers - THANK YOU!

as far as the original comment, it is great to have people feel free to comment for or against. it would be nice if people wrote with respect though!

thanks again!

May 21, 2008 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Mike K said...

Haul studio lights into the desert? Then throw them away due to the sand and grit that will find its' way into every crevice possible?
I believe that Joe was trying something different to learn. Isn't that the mark of a great thinker? And I would like to point out, isn't that what Strobist is all about?
I found the blog and the video to be interesting and idea provoking. In the end that's what I hope for and usually get from this blog. David, thanks for continuing to bring ideas that make me think, laugh, get upset and re-think how I approach photography.
Lastly, I love the Princess Bride references!

May 21, 2008 1:51 PM  
Blogger Ken Lopez said...

Dave, love the post, but I think there is still some confusion to be had in your explanation of "cranking down the shutter".

For those who believe a "big strobe" would do the trick, please realize that you can only sync up to 1/250th of a second shutter speed at best.

When you go any higher, you get the "black shadowy line" of death, because the camera will simply not sync with the strobe properly. The higher in shutter speed you go, the farther up (or left or right) the shadow will creep into the frame. Eventually you will end up with a black frame even though your Strobe is firing properly.

When you use the Nikon SB-800 with a Nikon camera (CLS although manually controlled) you can sync at a much higher shutter speed (example, 1/1000th of a second.) The same goes with Canon SLR's and Canon Flashes.

This allows you to control how much ambient light you want to show up in the photograph via shutter speed , and allows you to go beyond the limit of 1/250th of a second.

The REASON for all of those SB-800's, as DH explains, is the higher the shutter sync you go (in order to knock down the ambient light), the more power you need. One SB-800 just won't cut it, unless you are artistically depicting Paris at night during a blackout. According to DH and JMcN, you need at least 7 SB-800's to do the trick , in a desert situation with a very big sun at your model's back. Their calculations are obviously correct.

Can you do the same thing with a large strobe and a battery pack? Sort of. In order to knock down the ambient light with a large strobe, specifically for that situation, you would have to max out your shutter sync at 1/250th of a second, and then set your aperture to a very small opening (most SLR's allow for f/22.) This obviously brings depth of field issues, meaning that EVERYTHING and its mother behind your subject will be in focus, hence a different "feel" to the photograph.

Hence, the secret power of flashes revealed.

Keep on posting, Dave,


May 21, 2008 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the comments you receive is pretty much the reflection of what is happening in the strobist discussion at flickr.... this kind of attitude has made many of the great contributors of the forum like wizwow and ogalthorpe to step aside...

But this doesn't ends here, you can see this kind of attitude in other forums too! Members of the strobist pool making witty and sarcastic remarks when someone is asked to prompt their lighting gear and they say the use a studio strobes...

I think people is missing the point

1) Joe is testing the capabilities of the D3, the SB800 in a very harsh test to see how high speed sync responds

2) Joe has the right for himself what kind of gear he uses and how he uses, if it works for him who are we to judge him?. I mean we aren't talking of some newbie that has deep pockets, we are talking of a seasoned pro that knows how to do his stuff and he has a clear vision of what he needs to take his photos the way he wants them.

As said by others in previous topics in the discussion forum at flickr... there are many members of the Pool that have become far too obssesed with what other photographers are using, they are trying to impose the use of "their" method to do things, and the forum has lost its appeal too, before it was a great place to talk about photography, to talk about lighting. People where more interested in shooting photos! not in brick walls and tech discussions about how great is their gear and how much everyone else suck.


May 21, 2008 2:01 PM  
Blogger ScubaSteve said...

In regards to seven points of "failure," also keep in mind that there are also seven points of redundancy.

Working in the desert is harsh. Amp that up with having to tote a spare bulb, extra battery pack, and assorted cables and things, and I bet you would much rather grip a case with SBs and a C-Stand versus the alternative.

In any event. I think it was a wonderful example of what can be done when you think outside of the (soft)box...
(sorry) ;)

May 21, 2008 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curmudgeon was just using critical thinking skills. That shouldn't be looked down upon. DH was just using the comments as a teachable moment. Great work. As for those of you with your panties in a bunch, just remember that tone is hard to convey on the web and one person's "stupid" is another's "joker". And go reread the post from 4/1 won't ya?

May 21, 2008 2:40 PM  
Blogger Bonner Photographic said...

Now I don't feel so stupid for spending $2,300 on 7 SB-800's. I was worried that I couldn't take them back.

Carrying around that many strobes would protect against equipment failure too. Sand + electronics = sandy electronics, which is better than snowy electronics.

May 21, 2008 2:42 PM  
Anonymous scott said...

Seems from the comments that there still a few confused people out there.

Yes, it's true you could take a single studio-style strobe out there and get enough light from it to overpower the sun.

The rub is, you're then limited to your standard sync speed and the accompanying aperture -- which, in that case, would be up around the f22 range. And that would mean way too much depth-of-field.

McNally's shot of Lenka with the sun in the background was shot at f3.5. The only way to accomplish such a thing -- save a pile of ND filters -- is high FP sync.

May 21, 2008 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Austin said...

Completely heear you on the light loss issue with diffusion and shooting into the sun.

I've seen many a ski photog pull this same manuever with about three Alien B 800's at half power. Why three at half? Your duration is right at that 1000/s sweet spot ( ABs flash duration decreases as you power then down.. uhh... what? ) so you triple the flash heads you triple the halved w/s to get back up to the proper W/S you would need normally running 1+ head at full power (which wouldn't give you that great action freezing synch speed because of the stupid duration decreasing as you power down quirk ).

My only question is:
Why not just use one Elinchrom / Hensel / Profoto at 1100-1200 effective w/s. More than enough to eat through both the diffusion and shoot directly into the sun. Surely not for weight, budget, gear complication issues. Maybe its just an issue of having greater fine directional control with a number of SB800s?

May 21, 2008 3:06 PM  
Blogger Craig Lee said...

It was my impression from watching the video that the "shoot" was just an excuse to get out of the city to an exotic location with a beautiful model, a few other people, try something different with the strobes, and generally have a good time. Regardless of the technical feasibility or what have you, that wasn't really a concern. Mr. McNally got a while idea, invited some people along for a ride to the desert and they had a good time. He might not ever use this exact set-up, but the problem solving experience is the more important take away here any way.

As another poster said, people should be more polite.

May 21, 2008 3:12 PM  
Blogger Ty said...


I am sure Joe and David have nothing better to do then drag 200 lbs of gear and a few folks out to the desert to "put one over on us."

Maybe the true joke is that David doesn't even USE off camera flash -- he's really Scott Kelby making fun of us with his awesome PS skills.

In any case, I am now convinced that the lunar landing pictures are the work of David and Joe -- and great work with the crop circles, guys.

May 21, 2008 3:19 PM  
Anonymous JM said...

I think that what a lot of the posters going on about "that setup cost $x, it could have been done better with y for $z" are failing to take into account the laws of.

What is in the bag?

Yes, if I can rent (or even purchase) bigger lights than I carry, but in a situation like this I'd be in the same boat. I'm pretty sure that's just everyones speedlights and clamps thrown together because that's what was there. Not always the best solution, but it can be a lot more fun sometimes.

Flexibility is pretty nice sometimes.

May 21, 2008 3:21 PM  
Blogger Omless Wanderer said...

When I first made the comment on Flickr about the cost and weight of SB-800's being more than that of an Alienbee setup, I wasn't aware that FP was being used in the shots. I felt it prudent to think critically in the face of what appeared to be a "because we can" marketing scheme. Oops. My mistake.

With that said: what do you think the chances are that we'll see an FP unit from Alienbee's or another studio strobe manufacturer in response to this? As an action sports shooter, I know I'd appreciate it...

May 21, 2008 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Flash Pulsing in time with the narrow high speed shutter window is a nice synch trick but I sure would like to see a high end camera with an option to expose the sensor with either a mechanical or an electronic shutter so we wouldn't have to loose all that power (or buy those expensive flashes for that matter). I know there has to be a good reason why it hasn't been done but it would sure be nice to be able to kill power to the sensor, open the mechanical shutter all the way, then activate the sensor electronically for high speed flash synch. That way you would have the beefed up mechanical shutter protecting your sensor but you would still be able to use high speed synch with any old strobe you could trigger, including the mega-watt studio lights.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of a beefed up shutter trick like this. Any idea what the development barrier is to such a feature?

Kevin Halliburton

May 21, 2008 4:05 PM  
Blogger Barnacle said...

as i struggle to get control over one SB800, six more give me cause to drink!
thank you for ALL your explanations and help. I'm slowly getting the hang of it, i think.

May 21, 2008 4:07 PM  
Blogger Alistair said...

Recall that FP or HSS mode just makes the flash approximate a continuous light source. The natural replacements for these are not studio monoblocs (which have too short a duration and too long a recycle for this to work) but continuous video lighting.

Unfortunately most of this lighting is dependent on either a generator or household supply. There are some battery powered LED based video lights with output of 500W and Bescor sells a range of battery powered continuous lights with wattages up to 150W.

There are strong portable flashlights available that could be pressed into service.

Being smarter than your average bear this has not passed David by: they were mentioned in a previous Strobist
post. I wonder how many flash ligts you need to light the model in the desert sun and how strong her sunglasses need to be.

Personally I would be tempted to go with Joe McNally's bank of FP flashes.

May 21, 2008 4:38 PM  
Blogger steveremich said...

Thanks for the explanation. I want to make sure I am correctly understanding the technique. In defense of The Curmudgeon, it seems that there is at least one other way to achieve the same effect with fewer (or maybe even one) light(s). I am not screaming "product placement", just want to see if I correctly understand the technique.

You could get the same results with one powerful flash or fewer SB-800s --as the poster "Scott" suggested above--by using a Neutral Density Filter. He suggested a "pile" might be necessary, but I think only one or two would be necessary depending on what aperture you want to shoot at. If you will permit me to think out loud for a second, please tell me if I have missed something.

If your ambient exposure is about 1/60th, F/16, ISO 50 (the "sunny f16 rule") would be the same as 1/250, f/8, ISO 50 to bring the shutter up to your max sync speed. To bring the ambient down one stop for effect would make your exposure around 1/250, f/11, ISO 50. By putting a 3-stop (.9) neutral density filter in front of your lens this would give you an ambient exposure of 1/250, f4, ISO 50, which is about what the picture was shot at. You would then need to add either one powerful light (like a mono-light) or fewer SB-800s, 580exs, etc. at normal, non-FP mode, to light your model through whatever diffusion and at whatever distance gives you the quality you are looking for.

That way you can choose which method is the most economical (those filters do run around $80-100 for a nice one), practical, fun, socially acceptable, etc. and I would guess is now high-fashion, desert, beach, skiing, summer BBQ photographers achieved a shallow depth of field in the sun before FP mode. Also I have never used ND filters and perhaps there is some sort of quality drawback that would be a downside of using them?

Is this right?

May 21, 2008 4:39 PM  
Blogger Ronald Carlos said...

Thanks to both parties. It's one of those things that when you're just learning, you wouldn't understand the other side when one side is not brought up. I really didn't know that that was the purpose of it.
Thanks to Dave!

May 21, 2008 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Phil Dawson said...

Why are people still commenting on the fact that you could have just had a studio head out there with a battery pack, after it was explained in the original post and in this post by David.

They was sync'ing much faster than 1/200 or 1/250, 1/8000 was mentioned IIRC, and they was shooting Auto FP, that nearly all studio heads can't do.

Meaning that the strobes, flashed each time that the slit moves across the focal plane.

This reduces the power of the strobe quite a bit as it must be able to recharge between them.

So, add that loss of power to the fact that they was in the middle of a desert in Dubai, where they was trying to overpower the sun, 7 SB-800's were not overkill. They couldn't fire any at 1/1 so when having to get enough power to shoot 1/8000 it's what's needed.

May 21, 2008 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Harry said...

Another thing that should be remembered is for a location photographer it is much more versatile to have seven lights they can use for whatever than just one or two studio lights. If s/he needs to have several different sources lighting several different subjects at the same time s/he'd be out of luck if all s/he had was one or two heads. (Ofcourse, if s/he were worth his/her salt they'd figure something out :) )

May 21, 2008 5:01 PM  
Anonymous lenny said...

I believe Ken Lopez cleared it up for me. Duh, sync speeds, of course. I should have thought of that.

David- Having this little posts on why this was done or why so and so used this instead of that, etc is really nice to have. Thanks!

May 21, 2008 5:02 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

The only way to accomplish such a thing -- save a pile of ND filters -- is high FP sync.

So, is there any advantage to the high-speed sync over the ND filter approach? Or, is it a case of different strokes?

May 21, 2008 5:04 PM  
Blogger jedrek said...

In the spirit of using less gear, I'd like to just add that an alternative to using 7 speedlites and a 1/1000 sync speed would be a single 500Ws monolite and a 2 stop ND filter. Just another technique to put out there.

May 21, 2008 5:05 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I just watched the video yesterday and while that strobe-tree might look ungainly it is simply a way of getting a load of light easily out there in the field, I carry 8 that are cheaper to buy and run and easier to carry and use on any locations without mains power.

May 21, 2008 5:06 PM  
Blogger mhakola said...

oh come on people. Why not try something different. Yes, 7 SBs is a lot. If you have access to them, why not give it a try? If I read this correctly this was a personal project. If it didn't work, who cares? It's better to try something new every once in awhile then to remain stuck in a certain mindset. For what it's worth I can see the power (figuratively and in reality) of using 7 strobes behind a scrim for beauty lighting, even without the FP. The ability to fine-tune 7 individual minute light levels behind a single scrim might not be practical for most of us but I guarantee the experience will teach you more about lighting a person/object than you'll ever learn in a book or blog. (Sorry David.) I say light 'em if you got 'em!

May 21, 2008 5:08 PM  
Blogger michalgarcia.com said...

Thank you for this follow up post. Until I read the section about controlling ambient light with the hot-shoe flash's faster sync speeds I was convinced Joe McNally was using Nikon flashes because he is sponsored by them and thus contractually obligated. I voiced these doubts to a few non-photographer friends after the first Joe McNally post. Photography talk is a foreign language to the layperson. Thanks strobist!

May 21, 2008 5:08 PM  
Anonymous dulong said...

Seven flashes gets you two extra stops and change.

And how much power does the two extra stops and change require? Umm, maybe 7 times more?

7 flashes gets you 7 times more power than a single flash, simple as that.

May 21, 2008 5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree the 7 strobes is kind of BS.

A profoto acute b or one of the bigger battery packs and a medium format digital camera like Hasselblad H3D that can sync to 1/800s could easily have given the same shots but with a much higher image quality.

May 21, 2008 5:55 PM  
Anonymous f8onmyside said...

I have to admit that the batallion of SB-800s caused me to raise a 'brow - and I love the things. It was great to see how it can be done, too.

Thanks for the explanation.

May 21, 2008 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@the Anonymous Profoto/Hassy solution:

Oh, yeah, THAT'S cost effective....

May 21, 2008 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Kit said...

Thanks Dave.

I understand the concept, but this setup still screams overcomplicated and messy.

If it were me, I would have waited a few hours and used a 7B and head. I know sometimes you don't have the luxury of waiting and this is a workaround...

Also, just want to mention that after I made my comment yesterday and hit the button, I realized that a better choice of word would have been gullible instead of stupid. I didn't mean to infer that strobist readers are stupid.

Thanks for the follow up post. It seems that there were others thinking the same thing as I was.


May 21, 2008 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't know there was such a thing as too many SB's. The more the merrier! There are so many creative options when you use multiple strobes. If only my budget allowed.



May 21, 2008 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Robert Bieber said...

It was certainly an interesting proof of concept, but I'd tend to think one or two SB's on full power with a Vari-ND filter would be a more realistic long-term solution...

May 21, 2008 9:02 PM  
Blogger Daniel Sabourin said...

You rock, thanks for helping us learn more about photography.

I've seen Joe give a flash demo live and even acted as a human light stand for him !

You two are quite the tag team !

May 21, 2008 9:04 PM  
Blogger Ron H said...

Wow... talk about coincidence. Just yesterday evening I found Joe on a beach in California waiting for the sunset (he seems to get around!) I asked him to confirm what I thought would be true: if two SB's would double the light -- and it would take two more to double it again. Four flashes would give, therefore, two more stops, right Joe?

His answer to me was essentially this... in theory this is correct, but there are inefficenies at work. So don't count on the math working out. The real reason to use more and more flashes is not so much for the increased power, but for the increase in apparent size of the light source. Two lights is a softer light source than one, and four is a softer source than two.

Cool.. thanks Joe!

He then set up a portrait of 9 guys standing on a rock -- and he used at least 13 SB-800s. On a windy beach, studio strobes and umbrellas might have been a problem. (I don't think he travels with that many -- he was shooting a group of photographers. Many of them had their own SB's that were used in the shot.

May 21, 2008 9:23 PM  
Blogger Steve Hebert said...

Was the commentator a total idiot, or just a partial one?
Steve Hebert

May 21, 2008 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Waldek Chadzynski said...

Again, another rules are true:
Amateur care about equipment,
Professional about money and artist about light.

May 21, 2008 9:46 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

Wow, I'm amazed that so few people get the point.

When Joe packed for the trip, he had no idea what he might be shooting so he packed a bunch of Speedlights.

When he planned the shot, he had to make do with what he had and what he could borrow. I've been there.

Since he had a flight to catch, he had to shoot in the middle of the day, with what he had.


Hey, I've got some Hensel studio strobes that will sync at 1/8000 with my Nikon D200, but sometimes I find myself in the field with just a few Speedlight. Gotta get creative! David showed us just how creative Joe can be. Great story.

(Yes, I'm serious about the 1/8000 sync. Lots of light loss, though.)

May 21, 2008 10:41 PM  
Anonymous Skunk said...

Hello David!

Two questions

1. What black slits? I read the last few High Auto Flash FP (or whatever it's called) posts and can't figure out what these black slits are?

2. Is there a way to determine effective flash range with high flash sync, or is it pretty much just get within arm's length?


May 21, 2008 11:52 PM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

I agree with Ken's comment. I would also say it was creative freedom. It's just two talented people trying out something with what they've got. We are all just on the side watching them do it and learn from it. For some, it validates theories or experiences on the subject. Whatever the subject, we are all equally free to accept them or not.

Thanks to you and Joe for sharing this, David. God bless you, bro.

May 22, 2008 1:15 AM  
Anonymous Jack said...

7 lights is by no means overkill, in my opinion. Its all about control. There have been many times in the field where I've needed more than I had originally expected. If you think in terms of just lighting one subject, then okay, 2 or 3 lights could do it easily enough. But when you get into really crafting the "atmosphere" of a photo, you start lighting selectively, often for small objects and individual areas of the subject not covered by your mains. Although crafting atmoshpehere in that way is kind of unrelated to shooting in the desert, its important everywhere else.

I guess a high powered head and pack could have been used in place of SBs, but who wants to lug around 50lbs of battery, another 15-20lbs of light, and a c-stand to top it off...in the desert? 7 or 8 SBs conveniently fit into a small space for transport, and you use what is available to you.

Well, maybe the mess of grip on top of Joe's C-stand was a bit much...I would have just dug out the gaffer tape :P

May 22, 2008 2:25 AM  
Blogger Rollasoc said...

And people said I was mad to use 6 flash units on a shoot.

I may need to go out and buy some more.

May 22, 2008 2:40 AM  
Blogger mtreinik said...

We are having a discussion at the strobist flickr group about the pros and cons of using high-speed sync to overpower ambient.

To summarize: with high-speed sync you lose more flash juice than what the gained advantage in shutter speed is. With normal sync and a small aperture or a ND filter you get more power out of the flash compared to ambient.

May 22, 2008 3:07 AM  
Blogger Andrey said...

I'd use smth like Elinchrom Ranger RX (as key) + ND filter on the lens to stop down sunlight. Simple, easy to handle, more flexible.

May 22, 2008 3:55 AM  
Anonymous brian long said...

First, I completely disagree with the original poster's approach. Clearly everyone should recognize that individuals inferior intellectual capacity yet at some point agree with the concept.

At some point you do need to recognize the right tool for the right job. While I fully appreciate Joe's talents he consistenly tries to pull a semi-trailer with multiple pickups in a wacky proof of concept.

As others have pointed out the 50 or so speedlights on the bomber is appropriate because it lights specific areas of the plane. Using $5500+ of speedlights on a single lightstand is solely intended to send the message from Nikon that you should buy $5500 of speedlights.

So... Let's all recognize the original poster is a dolt in and of himself but at a certain level makes a valid point...

In my opinion it's similar to the argument of using a 2x converter on a 300mm lens v. a 600mm lens. If the 2x converter worked as well why would anyone ever fork out the extra dough on the larger lens?

I'm also not buying the travel related excuses offered earlier on this thread. Joe's travels are more than paid for by the workshops (and possibly Nikon) and I'm speculating that Joe travels enough that extra luggage charges do not apply. Furthermore he had the foresight to arrange/enlist assistants which makes me believe the desert shoot wasn't as extemporaneous as we're led to believe (he did have time to hire models afterall). Given Joe's status in the photog world he could have placed a call to Bogen in the morning and the lights would have been waiting for him in the desert that afternoon....

So... I don't mean to detract from Joe's artistic talents but at some point sanity does have to come into play. I own two sb-600's and and an sb-800 with plans to purchase an additional sb-800 but seriously question form over function in purchasing and traveling with up to 18 speedlights (and enough batterys to feed them).

May 22, 2008 4:36 AM  
Anonymous Brian Long said...

1. Original poster is a moron with a valid point

2. Joe travels enough he doesn't have the same luggage restrictions as you and I do (I know this as a former 100k mi/per year traveler)

3. At some point even the Strobist crew can recognize that ~$6000 worth of SB-800's on a single light stand that Joe didn't pay for aren't necessarily the right tool for the job

4. Joe's trip to the desert wasn't as unplanned as everyone thinks. He had time to hire models, engage assistants and enlist limos in the form of Range Rovers that magically knew where to take him for the shoot and get him back to the airport with plenty of time to check bags(and yes he had to check equipment) without the aforementioned extra baggage fees.

5. Joe is a fantastic photographer but at some point I think we would all agree that while we could get a 400mm lens by adding a 2x converter to our 70-200 there's a reason people plunk down the extra dough for a true 400mm....

6. Strobist rocks!!!

May 22, 2008 4:49 AM  
Anonymous Jack's Dad said...

apart from the whole technical side of using 7 SB strobes to over power the sun and create the pictures no one seems to have mentioned that it is also inherently fun to be playing with that many strobes. I may have passed the age where the use of that many units would make me jump up and down like a high school boy shouting "far out" and "way cool dude", but the kid in me would love to get my hands on that many strobes and fire them off all at once as well.

Oh yes, can someone please let the people at Disney know that it is absurd to shoot off all the fireworks at the display all at once. It is really unnecessary. I'm sure they do it to see how stupid tourists to the park really are. :)

May 22, 2008 7:04 AM  
Anonymous sk said...

I understand all that has been said in the post and comments above, i love messing around and trying out new ideas and ways to do things.

i love using my SBs but i just dont see the "advantage" of using 7+ SB800s .

here is the biggest sore spot for me (with only 3 speedlights in my setup) AA BATTERIES.

with 7 speedlights joe has at a very (stupidly) bare minimum 28 AA batteries. (35 if he uses the addon which he doesnt appear to be using in the video)

so lets say he has what.. 4 sets of batteries total for each speedlight (16 batteries per SB).

thats 112 (140) batteries you will need to take with you. not to mention the charger(s) you need.

also another big factor.. TIME.

recycle time, recharge time.. SETUP time..

i could unpack, setup and meter a shot using a profoto kit or similar in less time that it would take to gang 7 flashes on a c stand and make sure they are all on and have fresh power and are all on the correct channel etc.

i personally think its too much effort for the result.

once i find the need for a 4th SB i will seriously start looking at some acutes or something along those lines.

loved the video, loved the setup, in reality it doesn't make sense to me but good on him for doing it!

May 22, 2008 8:03 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

"4. Seven flashes are not seven times more powerful, photographically speaking. You double the power (and add one stop of output) when you add the first flash. Then it takes TWO more flashes to get one more stop. Then FOUR more flashes to get the next stop, etc. So Seven flashes gets you two extra stops and change."

Joe didn't say it was for more power. He stated it was for wrap around light. TO get more light on the entire model and not just her face.

This guy needs to read strobist.com and Joe's blog before commenting :)

May 22, 2008 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Wayne said...

This is what makes you stand out from the crowd, David. The fact that you have the patience and courtesy to not only post this comment, but to answer it in a structured and in depth manner shows your character.

Thanks for all your efforts with this site.

To the previous posters who mentioned Hasselblads, Profoto packs and other types of solutions, by no means was this video supposed to be the be all and end all of lighting someone in the desert. You can still use your Profoto equipment (if you're fortunate enough to have access to one).

Don't forget the intent of this resource is to teach you how to light a subject, with what you have. Yes we may not always have 7 SB800s (which I thought was funny), but if you pool your strobes together in a group...hey presto! 7 SB800s...

As someone already mentioned, there's a multitude of solutions and this was merely one of them.

Less sniping and more shooting :)

May 22, 2008 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Vlad the Inhaler said...

There's always some "gear head" obsessed with the 'right' way and the 'wrong' way to do things. The 'right' way to do any shot is the way you did it on that particular occasion to get the result you wanted. On another day, perhaps another way.

That's the great thing about photography; the only rules are the ones imposed by the laws of physics and the (malleable) whims of the editor. The rest are guidelines at best.

May 22, 2008 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Brandon D. said...

"Using $5500+ of speedlights on a single lightstand is solely intended to send the message from Nikon that you should buy $5500 of speedlights." - brian long

I really don't think that's the message, even though, Nikon wouldn't be upset if one of us bought $5,500 worth SBs to use for assignments, LOL.

But I don't think Joe thinks we're stupid enough to fall for that one. If through Joe's advertising, Nikon gets a handful of us to buy one or two speed lights per person, then I think that would make them happy.

But in no way do I think Joe or Nikon is trying to tell us we "have to," or should, do assignments with $5,500 worth of speed lights. I just think they're getting across what we can and cannot do.

And even if Joe and Nikon think we "should" just use a bunch of speedlights, they are in no way telling us NOT to use other lights with power packs like Profoto, Dynalite, Elinchrom, Bowens, and etc.

They're not saying that we can't use other lights.

They're not saying that they think SB-800s are better and those other ones are inferior.

They're promoting their products in the way that they want too. BOO WHO! OMG! It's not the end of the world! Any company should be able to show what their products can do, without having to also demonstrate what everyone else's product can do.

May 22, 2008 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Matt G said...

I'm sorry but I still don't believe *7* speedlights is necessary for this shot (unless you need the higher shutter speed to freeze the action).

You lose a stop of power going to FP mode, before you've even upped the shutter, therefor you could get the same effect (exactly the same flash/ambient balance) with 4 SB 800s at 1/250 in normal mode. The *only* difference would be you'd be using a much smaller aperture. If you want to open the aperture use an ND filter (cheaper than 3 SB800s).

Some of the arguments people are using here are simply wrong. FP mode effectively turns your flash into a continuous light source, so you lose any ability to change the flash/ambient balance using the shutter speed. All that happens as you increase the shutter speed is you need to open the aperture or up the ISO...

May 22, 2008 10:00 AM  
Anonymous Nemez said...

Hey David, as I just said in a comment left unanswered on flickr.... why didn't you just use a nikon d70 , or maybe even the G9 you had with you?
Many less flashes and the same results.
While I imagine your answer on why you didn't want to use it in that occasion, if I'm right, it would have been a good idea to include this alternative in your post here in strobist just to remind this to everyone who doesn't own 7 flashes and thought it was stupid or just didn't think about it :)

May 22, 2008 10:13 AM  
Blogger Patrick F said...

There's another advantage to the 7 SB-800 solution vs using 2 of them with a ND filter: recycle speeds. This is why Ed Pingol (I think) shoots weddings with 2 strobes stuck together on a stick - not because he wants to run them both at full power, but because he gets 1/2 the recycle time and get get more pops off in less time, something that is important when working with models or when time is short.
So, with SEVEN flashes you can still get a large boost of power (which can be used with high sync speeds in FP mode) without sacrificing any recycle time. This was probably not Joe's main reason for choosing this particular setup, but it is just another advantage over using a 1 or 2 light setup.

May 22, 2008 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Ian Kelleherr said...

1. People would actually think that there are photographers out there that can -actually- command enough to call a major company and say "Bring me lights into the desert.. in 4 hours" and have it taken care of. That just doesn't happen. And if it does happen, it comes out of your pocket. Always does.

2. It takes a really long time to hire and enlist a model and grips- at a Photo Conference. That has as many models and people willing to help as they do people attending a class. Follow along here if you can: You're a well known photographer at a photography event. You can probbable stand in the middle of a room at a photo conference, and say "im going into the Desert and shoot- whos with me!!" and you'd get a big ass cheer and BAM.. youre out there with more model and grips than a hollywood set. Think to all of the different meet ups you've been to.

(There are more model websites out there peddling rentals than you can shake a stick at. You really think its hard to get one? Take a couple of good pictures, and put yourself on OMP or MM. You'll be covered in models.)

3. A photographer would actually get to a point that all of their bills are paid for, and they dont have to shell out cash for gear. If there's one thing that you can always bet on - no one rides for free. There's always a price. Remember, we're Photographers, not basketball players. The'res a lot of passion in this, but not necessarily a lot of money.

4. Elinchrom Ranger RX is about 1800 without a box, and probably amazing to use in the desert..

But what about a small job. Kid's birthday party, small portrait session. Not the best idea in the world to go out there with 1 box for the RX, one bag for the softbox, and one bag for a stand.

So.. in THAT case.. you'd want to travel light. So.. now you're past your 2100 dollar budget.. because you'd go out and buy a small flash.

It's only expensive and over the top if you see yourself using -other- light sources as well most of the time. The moment that the system is modular enough for you to use just one light.. and carry it in your pocket.. or two in a bag.. or three in a computer bag.. -instead- of one bloc that you cant split up - THEN it becomes rational.

5. Extra charges -always- apply. Doesnt matter who you are. It's just =how= you pay those charges. Skycaps arent free.. for example.

6. 5100 worth of speedlights sends the message that you can tackle a large job with a bunch of them, and be versatile enough to tackle a job that uses 1 -20 of them, so there would be no -need- for the bloc, per se.

May 22, 2008 11:55 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

There's been a lot of discussion on "non-HSS strobe + ND filter" vs. "lots of HSS strobes".

I agree with most that for THIS particular shoot (where all the strobes were on the same stand shooting into a common modifier for many shots), you could get far more for your money with a single high-power strobe and use an ND filter.

The thing is though, that the assumption people are making here when they flame Joe is that he decided what equipment to bring for the shoot.

Based on the circumstances described by Dave, it sounds like just the exact opposite - "I've got equipment, let's see what I can do with it?" - It just happens that they all wound up on the same lightstand. Dave, were they even all Joe's strobes, or were you two pooling equipment? I've always assumed it was a "I've got four and Dave has three, DUDE WHAT CAN WE DO WITH SEVEN STROBES!" situation.

In terms of flexibility for multiple situations, as others have said, the individual strobes give far more flexibility. It just happens that in this case, they were used in a situation where a "dedicated" setup for such situations would have been far more cost efficient.

May 22, 2008 12:08 PM  
Anonymous Rafal Krolik said...

I have to disagree. As it was explained, between the desert sun and the sand reflecting that sun, seven strobes is not that much. Here is a shot I did this past weekend with three strobes just to get the depth of field I wanted and I wasn't shooting into the sun, plus with individual strobes, you have an option of positioning them close together or a little bit further apart for more wrap around light as opposed to with one big strobe which would be just one source with reflectors as only means of control

May 22, 2008 12:24 PM  
Blogger Isaac Holland Boda said...

Man these LOLlerskates fit me nicely!

May 22, 2008 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'all should get married!!! Enough already. It was different, it was cool and it was good.

May 22, 2008 1:36 PM  
Blogger Mick O said...

Of course he didn't need so many strobes. He should have just thrown one or two speedlites into diagnostic mode and overclocked them.

Everyone knows that.


May 22, 2008 2:01 PM  
Anonymous John Meloy said...

I was somewhat surprised at the use of so many SBs to shoot in the desert. Personally I think it kind of defeats the purpose of expensive small strobes when you gang them up on a giant light stand. For much less money you'd get similar results with a large strobe and battery pack in tandem with some ND filters to dial down the ambient. Just my .02 cents. The results attained obviously are just fine, but having that expensive conglomeration of SBs seems a bit much. I guess if you had them all on hand and no big high powered lights then so be it.

It was an interesting test nonetheless.

May 22, 2008 3:31 PM  
Anonymous TCG said...

It is wonderful to see good dialogue about various ways to achieve a complicated shot such as Joe shared with us. But it is plain sad that so many people are getting so petty in the assertion of their superior intelligence through belittling others. The patience and maturity that David has exhibited through this mêlée of comments shows he's a real class act. Thanks David! - Caleb
PS. 8 SB800s only cost about $2500, half what someone else was claiming...Hyperbole represented as fact never speaks well of a person.

May 22, 2008 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Armando said...

I don't remember who said this but here it goes:

"Civility requires that we listen to others with knowledge of the possibility that they are right and we are wrong."

May 22, 2008 5:52 PM  
OpenID frolickingbits said...

Another solution would be to use a camera with a leaf shutter, like a Hasselblad 503CWD (16.6 MP, only $11,000), which can sync at any speed. You could only shoot a frame every 2 seconds, so recycle time wouldn't be a problem. Haul out your $10k worth of Profoto gear, your Honda pure sine wave generator, and you're good to go.
Or, take a Holga ($20), some aluminum foil reflectors, and go for it.
There are many ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes.

May 22, 2008 6:49 PM  
Anonymous Tobiah Tayo said...

I LOVE the blog and everything you teach but why did you need to make a full post about this guys comment?
I dont see what a post like this achieves?

I think you were a little harsh here...
The april fools joke re hacking the flash wasnt "ones who may not yet understand a specific lighting technique. Which would, on frequent occasion, include yours truly" , so it wouldnt be completely impossible that it was just a slight joke....

Many including me fell for it :D

Anyway all the best, and thanks again for the tuition!

May 22, 2008 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I am wondering if Edison got the same comments when he built the "Black Maria". The studio could rotate and the roof could open...........Great minds!

May 22, 2008 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not a stupid, it's a great flash technique, PERIOD!!!!

Congratulations Joe!!!

Thanks so much.


Jesús Alemán from Salt Lake City, UT

May 23, 2008 12:32 AM  
Anonymous Dave Prelosky said...

I've gotta say I'm amused by all the "I can solve that problem with one flash" nonsense. This isn't a
how-to magazine article, it's diary entry about two guys who decided to go for it on the last day of vacation.
Get over yourselves.

May 23, 2008 12:38 AM  
Blogger Guided Light Photography said...

It seems this has shown the nerds, number crunchers, the accountants, and the geeks in the audience. Nothing wrong with being any of the above but photography is about creativity and creativity is about freedom. Everyone here gave some great alternatives, but what really matters is Joe used his geekness to explore/express his creativity. Oh, 7 SB's means 6 back-ups and 1 main, 1 AB or whatever means 1 main and no back-ups....you do the math.

May 23, 2008 8:49 AM  
Blogger Gre9del said...

This is the most ridiculous set of comments I have ever read on strobist. HIGH SPEED SYNC. Ignorance is no excuse for NOT READING THE POST. I'm really disappointed in this thread.

Monobloc with battery: NOT POSSIBLE



Until someone adds high speed syncro to a monolite then high speed sync is the only solution. And the two extra stops are absolutely crucial.

Please, please read carefully before you comment, this is turning into any old forum out there filled with rhetoric and dogma.

May 23, 2008 11:16 AM  
Blogger Gre9del said...

"Another solution would be to use a camera with a leaf shutter, like a Hasselblad 503CWD (16.6 MP, only $11,000), which can sync at any speed."


Maximum sync speed on leaf shutters is 1/5ooth. Gosh darnit!

May 23, 2008 11:18 AM  
Blogger Gre9del said...

Are you seriously going to stack 2 or 3 ND8's onto a lens to get the stop difference in the middle of the desert, thereby destroying the sharpness of the shot as well as losing all control of ambient balance? NO, you are not. Wow, I have to go take my blood pressure meds.

May 23, 2008 11:23 AM  
Blogger Jason V said...

What about this:

"Single large reflector"

I guess that wouldn't be "Strobst", but honestly, I'd LOVE to hear the Pro's and Cons of each one! (reflector vs flash)

May 23, 2008 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! I must be getting smarter!

When I saw the monster flash setup, I thought "Hmm! They must be trying to push the ambient waay down with their shutter speed."

Goes to show what I've learned so far. I need to quit reading and get out there and start shooting!

Keep up the good work!


May 23, 2008 8:09 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Step one: Learn to use grip equipment. Its your friend. That was the ugliest rig of 7 heads this side of the desert. If you're gonna do something crazy at least make it look sexy. 7 Mathews Mini-Grip Maffers and 7 Hotshoe to 750pin/.25" thread adapters would've made that look sexy without adding a lot of weight to haul into the desert.

May 23, 2008 9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off I think comments really become vapors. I think it's good to have dissenting views to counter a lemming like group think mentality of repetitive affirmations. The tolerance threshold for abusive comments seems to be a little low for me, especially concerning their delivery.
Second, I've read everyone of the previous comments and I can only say that as technical as dslr off flash photography is, the strobist experience has become quotidian as going out to eat and discussing the meal from the ingredients, preparation down to the silver ware and still only one thing matters, the experience each one of takes away for themselves. Thanks Dave for sharing. Burp. Ah, that was good.....

May 25, 2008 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Vincent W said...

I agree that this 7 strobe thing is all BS, nothing more than just a hastily put together Nikon gimmick to show off the SB's FP function.

Let's say that the desert's ambient exposure was Sunny 16 (ISO100, F16, 1/125), probably less, looking at the low sun.

To get that dark background, 2 stops below Sunny 16 would have done the trick (ISO100, F16, 1/500)

Since 1/500 is still within the x-sync, so why was FP sync needed at all?

Unless a high ISO was being used? or if the aperture was at wide open?

At the wide angle and focus distance being used for the shot, you'd get tons of DOF by default, it wouldn't have mattered if it was f2.8 or f16. Neither were there any movements that need freezing by shutter speeds exceeding 1/500.

I would have dialed the aperture down to F16, 1/500, and strobed through the white umbrella. Two, or at most four strobes at full blast would have sufficed. Same results without that christmas tree setup.

May 26, 2008 12:43 AM  
Blogger David said...


Maybe he could have done it with fewer flashes, as you say. But do you really want to have to wait for that fuuuuuuuuuuullllllllll recycle time between every shot?

May 26, 2008 10:32 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

From a previous comment - "Are you seriously going to stack 2 or 3 ND8's onto a lens to get the stop difference in the middle of the desert, thereby destroying the sharpness of the shot as well as losing all control of ambient balance? NO, you are not. Wow, I have to go take my blood pressure meds."

Let's assume your ambient exposure requires 1/4000 at f/whatever.

You want to keep f/whatever.

A single ND8 will take you to 1/500. Add a single ND2 to that and you're at 1/250. Hardly "2 to 3 ND8s"

May 26, 2008 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Vincent W said...


Maybe he could have done it with fewer flashes, as you say. But do you really want to have to wait for that fuuuuuuuuuuullllllllll recycle time between every shot?

Mr Strobist, you've got a point there :)

May 27, 2008 3:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey fellow stobists..

Joe weigh in on this discussion...
not here.. but here: http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/2008/05/27/holy-sand-dune/

May 27, 2008 10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad Joe weighed in. This thread was synching fast...

Kevin Halliburton

May 28, 2008 10:30 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Nice job

June 04, 2008 6:12 PM  

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