DINFOS Pt. 2: Flash in the Pan

Peer pressure can a dangerous thing.

Normally, I am a manual flash kind of guy. But you hang out long enough with McNally and a bunch of CLS'ing DINFOS shooters, you start to feel the itch to experiment a little...

So, here we were earlier this month in the woods learning all this lighting stuff from McNally. All of the DINFOS folks are firing away like Joe with their lights on full CLS auto, and I am sticking with my manual techniques.

The time seemed as good as any to experiment, so I grabbed one of the Combat Camera folks who was dressed for he occasion, and asked if I could do a shot while moving through the woods.

CLS takes a lot of the head-scratching out of this kind of shot and really makes it pretty easy. All you really need to remember is to choose your shutter speed based on the amount of pan you want while walking through the woods.

For this look, I chose 1/15th of a second simply because it looked best on the chimp screen after a few quick test shots. Set at ISO 200, that shutter speed gave me an aperture of f/16 for saturated color in the woods.

I set the on-camera flash (an SB-800) to act as a Master, and pointed it towards the remote flash. That flash would be moving along with Robert, my subject, as it was being held by a voice-activated light stand named Matt.

The flash's exposure worked fine on straight TTL, but it would also have been very easy to do on manual. You just choose a flash-to-subject distance, and dial in a power setting that gives you f/16 at ISO 200. As long as you do not vary that distance too much, you'll be fine.

The trick to positioning is to move that flash around a little past a straight profile shot -- slightly rim-lit. Looks a lot better that way. I have exaggerated the diagram a bit to make the point.

Everything moves together -- subject, photographer and light. You just follow along and shoot, with the strobe helping to add both light and a sharp anchor to your pan. I chose this one because a tree trunk was behind his head which made him pop even more. You do not even have to look through the camera with a wide-angle lens. Just zone focus, and aim from the hip. That way, you can keep yourself form running into a tree.

Here is a setup shot -- basically a one-light studio on wheels:

The cool thing this is is just how quick and easy it was to set up. We did just one trip down and one trip back. Just 30 yards or so each way. Soup to nuts, it was about two minutes -- and we had several good shots to choose from.

Honestly, it's so much easier than it might look at first that it is almost criminal. This is a technique I have been tumbling around in my mind for quite a while now. As you can see at left, there's no reason your VAL would have to actually hold a flash, either.

This way their concentration could lay elsewhere. Like not running into a tree.

You could even work up a two-light setup for road bikers or runners, too. If you were shooting manual, you'd just want to keep those distances relatively constant.

Using the added light helps to shape and define your subject in a moving situation. And as you can see, it will also make the critical parts of your pan shot are tack sharp.

Just remember your flash balancing basics: Shooting into the brightest part of the ambient helps to avoid ghosting, and gives the most control over your range of ambient-to-flash ratios.


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Blogger Craig Lee said...

Interesting. Now there will be a run on those VAL flash mounts.

June 17, 2008 7:42 PM  
Anonymous Brian Reyman said...

Great series of shots - thanks for bringing in another on-location tutorial.

Does hand shake come in to play here at all?

Also, I've noticed you've had some interesting diagrams. If you're interested, check out this free tool to easily create lighting/photo diagrams. If you have any feedback on how it could be even better, please leave a comment.



June 17, 2008 8:03 PM  
Blogger John Leonard Photography said...

What? DH using CLS in TTL. I keep saying these types of moving quick shots is where a well engineered TTL system shines.

When used within the correct limits CLS shines, and is pretty addictive.

June 17, 2008 9:09 PM  
Blogger jonnydonut said...

the helmet idea is brilliant. I've thought about something like this before. I mean, why deal with flash brackets, when you could just mount one to the top of your head?

June 17, 2008 10:46 PM  
Blogger Eddie Licitra said...

Does anyone have any information on making CLS more effective.

I've tried my SB-600 triggered from the pop-up flash, and purchasing an SB800 or SU800 is an option, but only if its more effective than the pop-up unit.

Wonderful photos, I just feel like my CLS is missing something.

June 17, 2008 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SU-800 works so much better than the pop-up. my guess because it uses infrared instead of pre-flashes to communicate. you also have to take into account the pop-up is fairly small so it's not going to be as consistent.

June 18, 2008 12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worth noting too that the closer in you get with the flashes (say you want to use a shoot through or need quicker fall off) the more exposure errors you'll get using manual as the distance fluctuations will have a greater effect.

Nice article, thanks as always DH.

Kind regards

June 18, 2008 1:17 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Reminds me of this I took a couple of weeks ago, though somehow it lacks the same mood! This was using ebay remotes, though

June 18, 2008 7:28 AM  
Blogger avenfoto said...

helmet mounted flash?

welcome to the world of skydiving photography...


June 18, 2008 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Richard Cave said...

I am so glad you never went to Marvel comics as an illustrator!

Can you ever bracket your shots in CLS?

I should know being a working photographer, but being honest I actually do not know.


June 18, 2008 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience, one other benefit of using the built-in wireless stuff is 2nd curtain sync. I can't get 2nd curtain to work with my Canon gear unless it's an ST-E2 or 580 doing the wireless. Any other wireless method I've tried (like my SkyPorts) forces 1st curtain.

How about Nikon? Do they allow 2nd curtain with Pocketwizards or similar?

June 18, 2008 12:28 PM  
OpenID Hambone said...

David, do you know if you were using 2nd/rear curtain sync? It would seem you have to be for the ghosting to be behind your subject at 1/15s.

June 18, 2008 2:39 PM  
Anonymous Gordon said...

Yes, 2nd curtain flash works fine with PWs, etc., from a Nikon body.

This is because the delay is generated in the body's circuitry, rather than in the flash unit.

June 18, 2008 2:57 PM  
Blogger John Leonard Photography said...

@Richard Cave- Yes you can bracket using CLS.

Just a reminder CLS (Creative Lighting System) does not mean TTL all the time. TTL is just one mode available while using the AWLS (Advanced Wireless Lighting System.)

Flickr group for more on CLS:

Canon wireless Flickr group:

June 18, 2008 4:29 PM  
Blogger Charlie Borland said...


Totally cool and fun technique!

Charlie Borland

June 18, 2008 6:29 PM  
Anonymous Sony Alpha said...

Labour has become plain With these wonderful tips.

June 19, 2008 9:43 AM  
Anonymous dlturman at gmail dot com said...

Here is the device I use for my backdrop stand. I have gotten so many ideas from this site, I figure I'd share it with you. After 2 attempts I came up with this.
If you are interested in using this on the site let me know. It will give me an excuse to make 2 more and I can get some better/more detailed pictures, and maybe give a go at writing an article


dlturman at gmail dot com
a.k.a. themadinventor

June 19, 2008 5:10 PM  
Blogger razmaspaz said...

"an aperture of f/16 for saturated color in the woods." Can you elaborate on that? I keep f/8 and f/11 as good landscape apertures, but what is the deal with f/16? What makes the color more "saturated"? Great shot btw.

June 20, 2008 2:13 PM  
Blogger razmaspaz said...

"aperture of f/16 for saturated color in the woods"

Can you maybe elaborate on that one?

June 20, 2008 4:52 PM  
Anonymous joe@joemcnally.com said...

Hey David...nice post...you could have used me for the dummy shot, except I was busy at the other end of the studio:-)
Hang in man...hope to see you soon...Joe

June 27, 2008 7:49 PM  

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