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Hangin' Eight, with Dave Black

Editor's note: You're gonna wanna watch this one in 720p, full-screen. So do yourself a favor and res-up now, to let it start loading in while you read.

What do you get when you slap together 8 SB-900's, an SU-800, one RadioPopper transmitter, two receivers, two FourSquares and two sets of Michael Bass fiber optic bundles?

Well, you get $5,000.00 lighter in the wallet, for one thing.

But you also get a (32) AA-battery-powered monoblock with a 2-second recycle that can reach out and touch someone -- in TTL and/or via high-speed sync -- at very great distances.

And today, sports photographer Dave Black is gonna use it to make some rad surfing shots.

(Oh, and you'll also need $4800 for a Nikon D3s and another $5800 for the Nikon 200-400, too. Just saying.)

Hit the jump for another vid using a similar setup on motocross riders and a link to more speedlight insanity from Mr. Black.

So, here is the 8-cylinder speedlight engine being used on motorcyclists at distance in full daylight conditions. Pretty impressive. And before you start whining about the cost (or logic, vs. real monos) for many this would be an ideal, lightweight solution.

Dave is a big TTL/FP sync user. So for him this makes more sense than a case of big lights which would limit his sync speed to 1/250th of a second.

You can see lots more from his excellent lighting website, Workshop at the Ranch.


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Blogger Jay said...

Wow... I want one. :) Looks like an absolute blast! I'm curious though, credits at the end shough a thanks to Canon USA... what am I missin' or is it just good humour. :D

December 06, 2010 1:09 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

...pair that up with an F5 and you'd have one AA battery munching setup!

I've seen birdies and wildlife photographers use "flash extenders" that look like a softbox frame supporting a fresnel lens, is there such a thing for strobes? It would seem like you could get a similar effect from a battery powered, range extended strobe - a ranger, or maybe even a vagabond'd Alien Bees?

December 06, 2010 1:49 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

... forgot about the sync speed - I'm used to my 1/500th on my D70, but 1/250th limit with a strobe (vs trick modes on a speedlight) wouldn't do the trick.

December 06, 2010 1:53 AM  
Blogger dd said...

Hey Dave,

any thoughts as to why they haven't invented monolights capable of FP sync yet?

With all the light loss that you get from FP sync - you'd think a monolight pack would be the obvious place to stick this technology to make it usable


December 06, 2010 2:00 AM  
Blogger Street said...

Insane!!! I did not see those really awesome pictures coming in the beginning of the video. This is really cool! Now i want one too!

December 06, 2010 2:13 AM  
Blogger MichaelWendell said...

I'm a bit of a newb when it comes to the Radio Poppers or anything of that type (all of my off-camera flash experience is with CLS), but I'm curious why he needs the SU-800. IIRC, my D90 can control three banks of flashes directly off of the built in strobe, I'm assuming the D3s has the same functionality. So my question... Why can't he just attach the transmitter to his hot shoe or sync port?

December 06, 2010 2:51 AM  
Blogger djidji said...

Actually, make these 32 AA's without the ones going into the radio poppers ;-)

December 06, 2010 3:36 AM  
Blogger Mark Tuma said...

Amazing stuff, although I wonder how many surfers were freaked out by the massive beam of light suddenly shining down on them? Alien abduction dude!

December 06, 2010 3:42 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Maybe the thanks to Canon USA was for a 5D II or something used to shoot the video?

December 06, 2010 7:23 AM  
Blogger Inward Studio said...

First, you are so right about wanting to see it in HD. Second, simply amazing images. Third, I love how controlled he is. One or two shots per pass. I realize the flash is dictating that, but he nails it. Quite impressive. All that equipment is useless unless you have the skills to back it up.

December 06, 2010 7:34 AM  
Blogger Allan Levene said...

Silly. He could do the same with a camera that has an electronic shutter and a single battery powered studio flash.

It's just spending money, to prove that you can spend money for no good reason.

Completely ridiculous.

December 06, 2010 7:37 AM  
Blogger dave.treagust said...

Great results! - I did something 'similar' (not in the sense of the scale or organisation, or quality of the result of this!) with just 3 speed lights at full power working at my sync speed but at a reduced subject/camera/flash distance... oh and with windsurfers...
Check out a couple of the shots here and any feedback is most welcome to this humble beginner strobist!

December 06, 2010 9:23 AM  
Blogger AMorris said...

Silly? I hump a 28lb gear bag plus a half-day worth of water/food out into the chiggers and poison oak to get what I get with 3 speedlites, an extra body, lenses and peripherals. Ridiculous would be trying to hump a car battery maybe a psw inverter, and two to three 5lb studio flashes off into the woods.

December 06, 2010 9:35 AM  
Blogger Nikica said...

I'm sorry David, but please, explain to me why is it necessary to use 8 SB900 strobes ($4.000)?Is there a way to achieve this for less money- using a flash head and a battery pack? I know that this way he can use TTL but why is that important-he is on location, not in a crowded room where TTL really helps? Please explain! Thanks!

December 06, 2010 10:01 AM  
Blogger Phil Ball said...

I loved the photos, mostly courtesy of the loveley job he did with the CTO gels and the cold white balance. But the gear stuff makes me wince. FP HSS seems pointless since you lose flash power what you gain in sync, several photos you could see he wasnt even using it anyway (you could see the dragged shutter). TTL isnt needed since the light isnt changing that much. So Basically I could go out and buy 8 $100 speedlights and do the same thing without all the expense. Better yet use the new Paul Bluff long throw reflectors and a vagabond on a high power Einstein/AB. So it just smelled like a gear commercial for SB900s instead of a BTS. I still enjoyed it though, thanks!

December 06, 2010 10:55 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

@MichaelWendell - if I am not mistaken, the radio popper "translated" IR light to a radio signal then back again, giving him CLS control over the flashes (and therefore FP sync), not just non-ttl trigger. The D1/2/3 line lack a built in flash, so CLS use requires a commander - SU800 or SB800/900

December 06, 2010 11:12 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

no way that was a 5d mark II, the footage deff is a camcorder and not an SLR, if it is, it would be like a 60d and a Nikon old film lens, the colors are terrible.

December 06, 2010 11:22 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

@ Allan,
A) Which 12.1MP Full Frame dSLR would that be?
B) Also, you need to understand that Studio strobes don't dump 100% of their power (nearly) instantaneously, in the same way as speedlights.
Studio strobes differ from speedlights in that their power comes from light over time. The ability of a strobe to dump more power usually comes from dumping a given amount of power to the bulb for twice the time.
Speedlights dump more power in a shorter time, making the bulb burn brighter.
You still build exposure based on aperture, since your strobe time is still less than a typical best case 1/250s sync speed (so for most purposes, instantaneous), but with a 1/5000s shutter speed, even if you could sync accurately such that the shutter fires at the peak of the strobe's output, you'd get but a small percentage of the total flash output in your frame. Sync issues would likely cause your exposure to be all over the map, from shot to shot.
Mr.Brown is definitely using the most appropriate, if not the only tool for the job. As David often says, "Horses for courses"

December 06, 2010 11:39 AM  
Blogger Dennis Pike said...

well, color me impressed. Those turned out sooooo good. The quality of light was really good too. considering there were no modifiers. Although, I suppose surfing and motocross lend themselves to hard light. forget the hard vs soft light nitpicking... those were beautiful

December 06, 2010 11:53 AM  
Blogger Neale Smith Photography said...

Tremendous stuff, quite a throw on the speedlites. although there are 8 of them! Great idea!

December 06, 2010 12:10 PM  
OpenID lechn said...

Amazing photos. Really great idea and location there at OB.
I have to respectfully agree with Allan that this is a bit silly in terms of equipment set up. I think a single 1200 W monolight with a battery pack would easily do the job here. Heck, you could even crank it up enough to throw a softbox on it so there aren't any hotspots on shiny surfaces. Unless of course the ring of strobes is providing better light quality, which at that distance I'm dubious. Am I missing something here with the benefit of 8 handheld strobes other than "selective gels"?

Very cool post David.

December 06, 2010 12:17 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

@ Allan.

You have to take into consideration the recycle time and using Focal Plane to your advantage. I freqently use 4+ SB800s per shoot and even made some brackets to do so.

Don't be a hater ;)

Heres a BTS of my own 5 strobe bracket:

December 06, 2010 12:40 PM  
Blogger dmourati said...

The eight-speedlight setup is cool. What I didn't like was the fiber-optic/gaffer's tape rig.

He certainly didn't try too much FP sync here.

Everyone else is right with D70 for that speciality.

December 06, 2010 1:17 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I'm sure they have investigated all other possible methods before this but surely a 'proper' strobe with a longish flash duration (ie. high speed sync hack) used at fast shutter speeds would do a better job than needing 8 pulsing speedlights.

December 06, 2010 1:30 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Smokin' images! Talk about throwing some light! This is a rocking setup. I am short the mounts, 3 SB900s and the 200-400 lens, But i have some unchecked lottery tickets here...

December 06, 2010 1:38 PM  
Blogger CH said...

I agree with Allan, it seems like expensive overkill. A D70 with a Norman 400B and a tele reflector could accomplish the same thing in full daylight with a low ISO. Not that impressed with Dave Black's setup.

December 06, 2010 1:46 PM  
Blogger J Grant Brittain said...

Shawn Cullen is Dave Black's cohort here, Shawn is an amazing strobe tech. He helped our magazine on our 3D Photo Issue figure out how to get two Canons with Pocketwizards to fire simultaneously with multiple strobes shooting action. He's a genius!
Grant Brittain
The Skateboard Mag

December 06, 2010 1:46 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

@AllanLevene: A single battery powered studio flash has a very long flash duration relative to these speedlights.

Keep in mind that, while Dave Black is sponsored by Nikon, he is first and foremost a sports shooter and the quality of the images he produces is his first priority (well, actually he consistently teaches that safety is first, but I'm sure you get my point). If a singe battery powered studio flash (or sports strobe) were sufficient he would use it.

If you look at his many other videos and his website he explains in great detail why he CAN'T get the same results with the setup you describe. (For instance, the sports strobes he uses have a minimum 1/2050th of a second flash duration, yet many of his action shots are done at 1/4000th of a second. Far too slow to freeze certain types of action.)

December 06, 2010 1:47 PM  
Blogger kevsteele said...

Well the point is to use the high speed sync mode of the Nikon to push the X-sync above the native 1/250th. Easily done but you lose a lot of power.

If it were darker and the light was mostly from the strobes then the strobe duration would control the freezing of the action but since there is enough ambient light here (though fading) if you shot with a studio pack at 1/250th you would have some blur. Dave is shooting at 1/1600th and mixing in ambient in changing light.

He needs the SU-800 as the D3s does not have a built-in commander. The Radio Poppers convert the IR signal to radio so no worries about syncing at a distance and the array of 8 SB900s gets him to studio strobe power.

I've been a beta tester for the Nikon Pocket Wizard TT1 and TT5 units and they really shine with supporting high sync speeds (hypersync). They will also be supporting Elinchrom and Alien Bee packs (Profoto please...) which might allow Dave's shoot to be simpler: shooting a studio pack at higher sync speeds though it remains to be seen what the max will be...


December 06, 2010 1:48 PM  
Blogger becky ruppel said...

Very cool-as someone who has shot surfing, this gives the images a different look entirely. I enjoy watching people push the edge. Thanks to Dave for the video.

December 06, 2010 2:10 PM  
Blogger thedif said...

Wow! I use Radio Poppers on three 580EX II's for my wedding photography and I thought that was pretty awesome.

This is a whole other level of Awesome Sauce. Using those fiber optics is clever and a great way to lower cost. Although Canon glass is a bit better then Nikon glass the Nikon CLS system is still puts Canon's wireless lighting system's head on a spear.

You get what you pay for.

Kudos to this photographer. May his Awesomeness ascend to heaven upon a cloud.

December 06, 2010 2:33 PM  
OpenID myaliasfotography said...

so awesome. need to get me some more speedlites!

December 06, 2010 2:56 PM  
Blogger said...

Can someone help me understand FP sync at Full power, please? With a camera that has a sync speed of 1/200, I thought if you shot at 1/400FP the max was 1/2 power, if you shoot 1/800 the max was 1/4 power and if you shoot at 1/1600 (as he says he did here) the max was 1/16 power? If I am wrong, could someone kindly redirect me to any online article explaning FP sync vs. power? Thank you

December 06, 2010 6:53 PM  
OpenID surfincb said...

Forget the setup, what could have been used, etc... Awesome shots!!

December 06, 2010 7:47 PM  
Blogger R said...

Here I thought Joe McNally's 'Tree of Woe' was impressive. I can't wait until he sees this - 16 lights, anyone?

December 06, 2010 7:54 PM  
Blogger Novak Photos said...'s like a "death ray" of some sort!

December 06, 2010 9:49 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

@ Allan:
Shooting this with a cheaper camera (electronic shutter) is not really possible, because he is shooting in some what of a low light situation with fast moving subject. Good luck tracking and locking focus with whatever camera you are suggesting.
FYI, he was shooting at ISO 2000.

The expensive lens gives you fast focus, fast aperture and flexibility of zooming. Good luck using a cheapo lens to shoot any sports!

The use of studio strobes is not possible because he is shooting with shutter speeds faster than the camera sync speed (1/250).

Simply put he used what worked best for him within his means, if most of us can't afford it doesn't make him silly or irrelevant!

December 07, 2010 3:55 AM  
Blogger Alvin said...

HOLY MOLY this was so good i wanted to pee my pants

December 07, 2010 4:11 AM  
Blogger Nicola Zingarelli said...

Talk about small speedlights! Thanks a lot for the videos, they are both great. I just wonder what wil be the roof for the use of speedlights....


December 07, 2010 4:40 AM  
Blogger Dan Cutrona Photography said...

I too fall on the side of thinking this is really dumb. An Einstein on full power, with the the new Paul Buff Lithium battery, and the Paul Buff Tranceiver to adjust power= way better for about $1000
Besides, if a guide number is 140 on a flash, two flashes does not make it 280. So if something is far away, you simply need a more powerful light, not more little lights.

December 07, 2010 12:09 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I wonder how powerful of a HMI light you would need to match the power of the 8 sb900 in high speed sync mode?

December 07, 2010 12:15 PM  
Blogger Surly said...

What great videos, so much to learn. It seems to me Nikon could build a modular flash that bridges the gap between mono studio and hotshoe speedlights. Have them arrayed in a circle like a pie, use simple batterys (AA's,EN-EL4) , still have CLS but you can group them together in one big cylinder and also be able to tun them AC or off a Vagabond. Focus individually when apart, or as a unit when together. Have it priced a little under the above setup. Pipe dream, million dollar idea? Probably not enough people doing this to warrant manufacture. Just dreamin'. Cool vids.

December 07, 2010 3:30 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

This probably should have been in DIY Thursday, but the OB video jogged my memory:

I was at the beach in Coronado the other day (just a few miles south of the OB pier) and saw a guy taking family pictures.

He had a big umbrella (at least 5') and a studio strobe. On the beach. Surrounded by sand. Which sounds terrible except he had it mounted in something like this:

The monobloc was on the floor of the cart on the handle side.

The umbrella/flash pole was mounted to the opposite side, and positioned so the umbrella was over the monobloc.

The block held everything steady, even in a 5-10mph wind. He had it pointed both into the wind to get pictures of people with the waves/sunset in the background and away from the wind to get pictures of people with the Hotel Del Coronado in the background. He had to transport it about 100 yds to get the different setups and did so w/out any issues (the wheels didn't bog down in the sand)

December 07, 2010 3:32 PM  
Blogger kyle said...

Overkill for sure. Colors were pretty, but flash in surf is hardly a new thing. Although shooting it with 8 speedlites is, and probably for good reason. Even though the nerd in me loved it....

You also think that if you are going to spend that much coin, spend 3 days and take that much effort you would check the surf report and hook up with some people who can actually surf - - - the action was terrible.....see for an epic example from a kiwi surf photog who lives on a shoestring and shoots good surfers....

December 07, 2010 4:03 PM  
Blogger Daniel Milchev said...

That's awesome but way too expensive and complicated. I figured out how to sync my ABs between 1/1000th and 1/4000th of a sce. and I am sure I can accomplish the same result much easier. I will be posting details soon.

December 07, 2010 9:08 PM  
Blogger Daniel Milchev said...

That's awesome but way too expensive and complicated. I figured out how to sync my ABs between 1/1000th and 1/4000th of a sce. and I am sure I can accomplish the same result much easier. I will b

December 07, 2010 9:11 PM  
Blogger Bernhard A S said...

Shooting FP High Sync the SB 900 has as per Handbook page F20 a guide number of 25.7 (m/ISO100) when the reflector is zoomed to 200mm.

Using 8 flashes yields a total guide number of 74 (m/iso100).
(square root of sum)

With ISO 100 and aperture 5.6 the maximum distance between flash and subject would be 13,2 m

With ISO 2000 and aperture 5.6 (as he used) the maximum distance goes up to 59m!!

hu! hu! hu! more power!


Incredibly he could get at that power level and distance a TTL Fill flash shot!

December 07, 2010 9:35 PM  
Blogger Blnd said...

I suppose you could even do a budget version with 8 SB600s running to about $2500? You'd only lose a bit of power but still have the high sync CLS TTL etc. Might work better for the motorbike shots rather than the surfing ones since the zoom level is limited.

December 08, 2010 1:30 AM  
Blogger coach-z said...

Could you do the same thing with Canon gear?

Is it the same as when you use the "new" Pocket Wizards like in this video?

He uses high shutterspeeds and large apertures:

December 08, 2010 5:20 AM  
Blogger Brian Palmer Photography said...

That was out of control! incredibly out of control, the images he got from that setup were spectacular! Now to try it on a much smaller budget. :)

Thanks for posting Dave.

December 08, 2010 2:01 PM  
Blogger CH said...

@Daniel...With all due respect you’re wrong. A “cheapo” camera with an electronic shutter is capable of great things in the right hands. First and foremost is the ablity to sync at all speeds. That alone puts the camera in an entirely different class and gives the photographer the freedom to be more creative.

With that said, shooting at extremely high ISO and ridiculously high shutter speeds with an overpriced flash set up is simply overkill. You can, and many photographers have, achieved the same results for a fraction of the cost in equipment.

This photo, for instance, was shot with a D70 and a pair of Norman 200B’s I bought off ebay for les than $400 each. The exposure was 200 ISO at 1/1250th at 5.6. No Fear used this photo as a double truck magazine ad.

And this was shot with the same setup.

Just one Norman 200B with the sports reflector would have more than enough power and reach to illuminate surfers from a pier. Just sayin.

December 09, 2010 1:52 AM  
Blogger CH said...

@Daniel...With all due respect you’re wrong. A “cheapo” camera with an electronic shutter is capable of great things in the right hands. First and foremost is the ablity to sync at all speeds. That alone puts the camera in an entirely different class and gives the photographer the freedom to be more creative.

With that said, shooting at extremely high ISO and ridiculously high shutter speeds with an overpriced flash set up is simply overkill. You can, and many photographers have, achieved the same results for a fraction of the cost in equipment.

This photo, for instance, was shot with a D70 and a pair of Norman 200B’s I bought off ebay for les than $400 each. The exposure was 200 ISO at 1/1250th at 5.6. No Fear used this photo as a double truck magazine ad.

And this was shot with the same setup.

Just one Norman 200B with the sports reflector would have more than enough power and reach to illuminate surfers from a pier. Just sayin.

December 09, 2010 1:53 AM  
Blogger MichaelWendell said...

@kyle - You'd think the D3s would have a better way to interface with the RadioPoppers than the bulky SU-800. Oh well. Thanks for the info!

December 09, 2010 1:59 AM  
Blogger IceCold angel said...

I think Mr. Black's photography is amazing, web design not so much.

Is there any benefit to the almost ringlight formation of the flashes?
At the range from the surfer to flash, I would think not.

but this got me to thinking, what would be the seperation between flash units for it to still to appear as a single light source?

IceCold Angel

December 09, 2010 6:43 AM  
Blogger Allan Levene said...

My final word. I've used many cameras over my life, and even though my latest has all of the bells and whistles that I want, the two that stand out were a Leica M2, and more recently the Nikon D40, an electronic shuttered wonder for flash use.

Its electronic shutter lets me set the shutter speed and sync portable studio flashes at 1/2000th and capture a great deal of light output from these battery powered studio strobes weighing a total of 14 lbs. (I have 3), not all the output but enough to light an entire church.

We are all chasing the latest toys, and not focusing on doing the job. Are we all becoming sycophants, feeding the camera manufacturers more and more money for no sane reason? The end result is what’s important, and not the Rube Goldberg contraptions used to demonstrate a new way to waste money.

Perhaps the manufacturers will start releasing electronic shutter camera again, and all of your flash problems will vanish when you buy one. Buy a used D40 and try it. You’ll be amazed.

December 09, 2010 7:44 AM  
Blogger Frank Withers said...

Interesting set up. I would like to try something similar except with monolights and high output beauty dish or parabolic reflectors... I feel like the same amount of power could be achieved for much, MUCH less wallet impact.

December 09, 2010 10:45 AM  
Blogger Paul Vincent said...

posted this at the soapbox post... not sure if it is applicable there.. :D

Hi David,

Not gonna comment on the post...

But I'm curious about the 1/1600 using FP....

From What I read FP is using pulsating flash output to be able to sync at 1/1600 right?

if the above statement is true.. then should we see a bit motion blur?

Assuming the reach of a g9 would be enough.... would it be say cheaper to use 4 manual flash syncing at 1/1000? ( not considering the pleasing aspect of bokeh produced by the DSLR? )

- Paul

December 09, 2010 3:08 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

Don't forget to add that you need a $60,000 truck with a carpet lined bed.

Other than that, I'm in total awe...I can't wait until somebody figures out how to do this cheaper...

December 10, 2010 12:03 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Gorgeous images. I continue to be amazed at people's creativity. I could care less what tools they use to get the final product.

December 10, 2010 4:49 PM  
Blogger enricht said...

People who are posting about Alien Bees or whatever.... have it all wrong.

They don't understand high speed sync.

What I think he could have done to save money, and be even more powerful than his flash, and have even longer range.....

... is use mirrors.

The Max Shutter speed Black is going to get is 8000.

What I would love to see is to have him setup speedlights blasting at 1/128th power, Lots of them...

to acheive surfing shots at 1/40,000.

That's just me personally : )

December 12, 2010 2:15 AM  
Blogger enricht said...

Someone please feel free to correct me though : )

December 12, 2010 2:16 AM  
Blogger Pepe Mélega said...

Regardless of the cost is a great alternative. You can do with Nikon D70 and 40 to synchronize with Normal High speed strobe. Congratulations Dave. Best

December 12, 2010 11:58 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

I just watched both videos with an open mouth, amazed at what this guy was creating. Absolutely beautiful work!

December 23, 2011 5:54 PM  

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