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Q&A, Speedlighting a Gym

You got questions, we got answers. This post will tackle many of the questions people had after the Speedlighting a Gym post from a few days ago. If you are coming in late, you should read it first.

One thing before I start. I will not be answering any questions that are basic Lighting 101 fodder.

I am amazed that, given the large and easily accessible library of info on this very site, many people will ask about a technique even when I go to the trouble to link directly to the appropriate reference article right from the post, (he said, smacking himself in the forehead with a Pocket Wizard.)

That said, here we go.

Leading off, the previously promised, poorly drawn lighting diagrams. But first, an error to point out in the "Top View" diagram. One of the other photographers, whose name I misheard, is not "Adrienne," but "Arianne."

Even better, she told me today that she just made staff at the Baltimore Examiner. (Way to go, Arianne!)

The top view, which is clickable to a much larger photo, shows the flash placement relative to the court and basket. The flashes are pointed just about straight out, just over the heads the players, to better feather the light.

This side view is also clickable, and shows about how much higher the flashes were than the players. It is your basic, 2nd-floor balcony railing.

Now, on with the questions, in no particular order. (Q's are in bold, A's in itals.)

I'm curious, did you attach a safety cable to the flash or bracket in case you had a mounting hardware failure? (It's impossible to tell whether or not there were fans seated below your rig.)

I used gaffer tape as a backup. The flashes were small and only a few feet over the band. Battery straps went around the railings, too.

David, I'm just a bit curious, one flash behind each basket, right? The local arena has solid walls behind the baskets and no railing systems I can see (apart from the one used for the overheads). Any idea where else can I clamp the strobes?

Every gym/arena is different, and you are on your own. I can almost always find something to clamp to, either behind the baskets or in/above the bleachers.

I'm shooting a Canon d-reb XT and mostly getting it for learning purposes. I know you probably get this all the time, but any advice?

See what I mean about the Lighting 101 question stuff?

Just wanted to clarify something. The SBs at 1/4 power enabled you to shoot at 4fps with the SBs lighting each of the 4 frames as compared to Patrick's 1 frame every 2 seconds using the huge lights?

Yep. Remember, the flash is only dumping 1/4th of it's stored energy each time it fires.

(Very long question on whether I am expanding the tonal range, or - as I had said - compressing it.)

Compressing it. If I shoot up into the ceiling (where the continuous lights are) I have to over expose the ceiling (and the top-down light) to get detail in the undersides of the players. I can strobe them from the side (from the basket's direction) and bring that portion of them up to a level that matches the top lighting. Thus everything fits more neatly into the tonal range that the camera can handle. Presto - smooth exposures with no dodging and burning.

I'd be curious to see a diagram of where your strobes were in relation to the court/basket and where they were roughly pointed. You seem to be getting much better coverage than me when I do the same with strobes behind the corner of the court, aimed at the top corner of the key.

The secret is feathering the light. Aiming them up a little to skim the players' heads means that most of the close-up action is on the outskirts of the flashes' beams. Combine that with a 50mm throw (you might think a 24mm throw would be better at this range - it is counterintuitive) and that strobe really reaches out onto the court.

Just to clarify, what was the ambient exposure? Obviously 1/250, but what aperture and iso? I would think if the ambient iso was 640 you would get a fair amount of ghosting.

I was shooting at 1/250 (and later, 1/320) at ASA 640 and some at 800. remember, the underside of the players was pretty underexposed before the flash got there (see the referee examples) so ghosting was not much of a problem.

I am curious about what you do to prevent errant basketballs from hitting the strobes. Damage to the flash is one consideration, falling objects on spectators or players is another more serious issue.

They were far enough back and up to where that would have been all but impossible. Basketballs hitting the fans would have been more likely (and more damaging.)

Why didn't you use the ol' Bogen super-clampy deal to clamp it to the railing (I know, they cost like 30 bucks, which is far more than your $2 setup....) but the seem to be a bit more secure. I thought you carried these anyway, so I was just surprised to see the home depot clamps (which, incidentally, I nearly bought the $3.99 version a week ago before I saw the .99 cent-ers. Spent a good 5 minutes trying to figure out the difference between the two - none.)

Why no Superclamps? I'll tell you why. Because I misplaced the @#!$% things and I spent the better part of an hour looking for them before this game. I promptly found them afterwards.

Seems to me that you are having a much easier time with white balance than I am. I'm shooting many different junior HS gyms that range from caves to dark caves; one however, has a good bit of daylight coming through large windows during day games, in addition to the sodium "vapes". I use a Expo Disk for WB; works great, but often the flashes come out too green (when gelled). Lighting is getting much better (thanks to your tutorials!), but having to process RAW files for white balance is getting to be a real p.i.t.a!! Other tips????

When working in noncontrollable mixed lighting sources, I match my strobes to the dominant continuous color and balance for that. It's the best you can do, without pumping tons of strobe in to overpower the mixed ambient.

How do you go about getting your strobes back if you get paged to be somewhere else mid-game?

Seriously, I know it sounds flippant but I really would like to know - adds another dimension to setting this sort of thing up if you nedd to be able to grab it all and run without interfering with play.

I had easy access to the second-floor balcony. If pulled off to spot news, I could unclamp the flash/bracket/batts/PW's wholesale and just put them, still assembled, into a gear bag. I could be out the door in 3-4 mins, tops.

I need to understand the real numbers here. The sample shots with refs to show ambient and the flash added is not what I would call fill flash, but direct lighting with the flash. Please clarify :) 1/250 ambient would show more finger/hand/ball blur and the fill would show ghosting ? - unless the flash took over to freeze that action. Would love for it to be this easy.

Again, there are really two separate components to the light. The top-down ambient, and the front/side flash. They really did not co-mingle too much. Thus, very little ghosting.

What does PITA stand for again?

Pain in the armpit.

I've quite a bit of experience using multiple flashed in "Manual Mode". However you mentioned that the flashes "greened ok". Does this mean that you are shooting with multiple flashes on "Auto". I never thought to try that.

(Wondering whether to take the whole bottle of sleeping pills first, or to start with the alcohol. The question being, which would would more quickly bring about my demise and with it, sweet relief...)

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