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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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