UPDATE: Strobist was archived in 2021.
Here is what I am up to now.



Last week I was helping out at DINFOS, (Defense Information School) where they were holding the Worldwide Military Photography Workshop. Joe McNally has been involved in it for quite a while. (I am a fnugy, with this being only my second year.)

I'll defer to his description of the event and it various characters. He also posted several shots from the week and a rogues' gallery of many of the teachers, so I won't dupe that.

What I'll be doing over the next coupla weeks is to throw up a few photos, with OA-style walk-throughs, lighting diagrams and/or setup shots. Mine are all pretty simple setups, using just one or two speedlights.

Joe, of course, did most of his with 472 Nikon SB-800s, running his SU-800 CLS controller through one of the signal amplifiers at the nearby NSA (also known as "No Such Agency") for a little boost. That guy has some serious contacts.

This week's picture and walk-through, after the jump.

The first photo is from a day in which we went out into the woods with some of the folks from Combat Camera , who graciously agreed were ordered to show up in full gear.

Hanging out in the woods near the firing range and obstacle course were the members of this year's Advanced Lighting Team. Being on the ALT means you spend a week learning about small-flash, location lighting from industry leaders like Joe McNally, and posers like me. Week-long class size: Six people.

It's really a fantastic deal, all the more so when you realize there is no tuition involved. On behalf of Ray, Bobby, Matt, Larry, Trav and Luke, I would like to offer a hearty "thank you" to those readers who are also US taxpayers from the 2008 ALT. (That's them lighting themselves at the top of the post, in a hastily produced group shot in the hallway outside of our classroom.)

As everybody was unpacking gear and talking about how to best handle the ugly, splotchy, midday sun-through-woods light we had, I threw a couple of SB-800s onto stands. I set them on 1/4 power and turned on their built-in slaves, which is a pretty standard preset for me when working against bright sunlight.

Within a few minutes, the Combat Camera folks were getting their camo paint applied, and most of us were making photos of that. Basically, think Strobist meetup, with Joe and I joining in, and a bunch of cool subjects in the woods.

Most of the ALT members worked mobile, using a single, hand-held SB-800 in CLS wireless TTL mode. So I just stuck my stands behind them, and eyeballed the subjects from the flash positions. That shows me what the flashes will see -- and light. I wanted profile lighting from front and back, but a little behind the subjects to make interesting shadows. in the foreground.

So, here's a diagram of the setup. In direct mode at ASA 200, my SB's are gonna give me plenty of aperture to work with at a ~6-foot light-to-subject range. You can expect about f/16, depending on the zoom setting of the flash. If you are not familiar with what your flashes will do in a situation like this, you may want to look at the posts on guide number and/or making a cheat sheet.

So, the light coming through the trees is of the ugly, early afternoon variety. But that's good, as it will be at a high enough angle to not screw me up when I am lighting their faces. To help matters more, I shoot from the direction that will keep the sunlight in a high-backlight mode. If it pops out, it's just another rim light to me. If not, that's fine, too.

For sync, I am going straight optical and manual -- using the SB's built-in slaves. I point the receiver windows of the flashes toward each other, and point a show-mount flash (low, manual power) towards whichever flash is closest. The other flash will see it and fire every time, easy.

As far as camera settings, the actual aperture and shutter settings are variable in a situation like this, depending on the ambient and the flash distance. And to be honest, I neither remember them now, nor considered them very important then. More important is the thought process -- it is more repeatable for a wider variety of situations.

Let's say for the sake of argument that the flash is giving me f/16 at that distance. That's a constant at ISO 200. If I need more, I will need to power up the flash, or move it forward towards the subject. And vice versa if I need less. I like being at 1/4 power, as it give me nice, fast recycles and the ability to double-tap. (See? That military stuff is wearing off on me already.)

So, at f/16, I am going to have an easy time with my shutter in open shade. Good thing, because that is the next step. I plug f/16 into my camera and chimp a couple frames until I find a nice, slightly underexposed ambient level. Maybe a stop down, maybe a little more. The shadows are way below that, which gives me good dark areas to light against. For the sake of argument that we are now at 1/160th of a sec.

The shutter speed and aperture are not what is important. The amount that we are underexposing the ambient is what is important, as that is what will determine the depth of the shadows. I used the back, camera right strobe (not visible on my foreground subject) to make sure I could separate any subject from my ambient background on both sides. This allows me to drop those shadows further if I want.

In-Camera Tweaking

Now that we have the settings in the ballpark, start shooting. Take a frame or two and quickly chimp for any final adjustments.

• Flash too bright or dark? Vary the aperture to fix it. Then adjust the shutter in the opposite direction to bring the background back to where you were.

• Background too bright or dark? Adjust that with the shutter speed.

• Entire photo too bright or dark? Adjust it all at once with the aperture.

This might sound a little daunting if you have not tried it. But trust me, it is quick and easy once you have a little experience. And most of you can probably run through you aperture and shutter settings without taking your eye off the viewfinder. Not so, those CLS buttons. For me, at least.

BTW, for those of you who are into TTL/CLS, Joe just posted a new training video at Kelby Training. It is quite good (I actually watched it twice) and more on the advanced side than the first two classes he put up. And make sure you catch his post on the DINFOS stuff, to see what was done in the woods with five Combat Camera subjects, a mess of SB's and only ten minutes to do the photo.

Next up from DINFOS will l be going mobile -- shooting flash blur on the run (okay, fast walk) using a moving VAL.

Related Reading:

:: McNally's Post ::
:: SB-800 - Built-In Slave mode ::
:: 55th Combat Camera Company ::
:: Guide Number, Your Free Flashmeter ::
:: Make a Cheat Sheet for your Flash ::
:: Kelby Training: Joe McNally ::


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