The place ….. Wembley Stadium
The event ….. the JDM AllStars Drift series – round 4

The scene is set.
For 2 days in late August the locals around London came to watch the 2 day specticle of a bunch of men skidding in their pants.

I say that, but one of the skidders was just a boy …. of 13 (I kid[sic] you not).

I went along to see what was occurring ….. waved my golden ticket (aka my NUJ card) at an Oompa Loompa, donned my fluro jacket and chased the cars up and down the carpark like a 14yr old chav princess looking for a DSS handout.

Ok, not quite, but while I was there I took some shots of the action. Got some shots as well as totally drenched in a downpour … thank you Nikon engineers for creating cameras with better water sealing than a fish’s butthole.

Did a small accompanying video … 5 minutes of HD goodness. Grab a cuppa and a biccy and enjoy 🙂
As always – feedback and/or comments welcome

If for some reason the video doesn’t show below, refresh this page or go directly to the video …… here

Bit of weekend humour for you.

Separated at birth….?

Bradley Cooper


Chase Jarvis

For those that don’t know what maximum flash sync speed is, put a flash on your camera, in Speed or Manual mode set it to 1/400s and take a shot. You’ll see that half the frame (usually the bottom) is darker than the top.

This is where the shutter is passing the sensor too fast for the flash and it closes during the flash fire.

Up until recently, the only cameras that were capable of high-speed sync were Medium Format digital cameras (e.g. Hasselblad) that cost £10+K. Medium Format cameras have a different shutter system (usually in the lens) and so the sensor is exposed to the image in a different way.

In the older film days, 35mm cameras had a maximum sync speed of about 1/60s …. which was a bit naff.
It’s only until fairly recently the maximum you could achieve with increased to 1/250s with Nikon and 1/200s with Canon.

Although this was much improved over the old systems, it was still limiting to what you could do in broad daylight.

Then Nikon brought out what they call “Auto FP High-Speed Sync” and Canon call “High Speed Sync”.

This allows the camera to fire a speedlight multiple times as the shutter curtain passes the sensor which ‘paints’ the images onto the sensor at much faster shutter speeds.
It basically makes the flash last a bit longer so that it gets all the image lit right to the bottom

The cost for this is a bit of power.

Where your flash may be outputting F22 @1m at full power, if you increase the shutter to, say, 1/2000, you’re Aperture will need to drop to a lower value (F8?) to maintain the same exposure.

This in itself is amazing and the fact that modern strobes like the SB800 and SB900 (and Canon EX580?) can cope with this is phenomenal and opens up a lot more possibilities with your photography. It kills the batteries, but that’s why we keep spares handy ;)

However, there are 2 drawbacks to this.
1) The camera has to be able to communicate to the flash to do this. Either in the hotshoe, using a remote hotshoe cable, or with some cameras, with the built in flash can talk to the speedlights
2) As mentioned above, there’s a power loss when increasing the sync speed beyond the native 1/250 sync as the flash has to increase it’s duration

So to increase the power you need more powerful lights than your speedlight, but you can’t make Studio Strobes sync faster than 1/250s ….. or can you ?

The answer is Yes.
Better than that, there’s 3 ways of doing it :)

The expensive way to do it is to use a PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 triggers to do this. But at approximately £225 each, its not cheap.
It will let you sync up to approx 1/500s (so I’m told) which is better, but not quite in the 1/5000s area.

In a light controlled area (e.g. a studio) use the flash to set the shutterspeed, not the camera.
The flash duration of a studio strobe varies on the make/model, but in all cases the duration is shorter(faster) at the lower power output than at full power. e.g the flash duration of an Elinchrom Ranger head can reach up to 1/6000s

This is the duration of the light emitted from the flash and in a light-tight room will be the only light source, so anything photographed will be at the flash’s duration speed rather then the one set in-camera.

To set up a high-speed shot, black out a room and set your camera to the correct ISO and f/stop for the power set on the srobes.
Set a long camera exposure (e.g. 2-20 seconds) and take a test shot with no flash.
If there’s any hint of an image then there’s ambient light from somewhere. Find it – block it.
To do the live shot you must manually trigger the strobes during the exposure …. and there you have it, high-speed sync.

The on-location way to do it is to use your existing speedlight (SB800 or SB900) to blip the light and set your studio strobe to be optically slaved and it will fire with the speedlight, but giving much more power than the speedlight could dream of.

The downside of this is that the flash needs to reach the Studio head which should be fine up to a point, but if you have remote lights beyond range or around corners, then the PocketWizards will be required

Below is a pictorial example of how to achieve High Speed Sync with just 1 speedlight and studio flashes.
NOTE: The studio lights are set to their lowest power setting throughout and my Nikon D700 is set to AutoFP on

1st shot – ambient light

Ambient. 1/13 @ f/7.1 @ ISO6400

I hook up an Elinchrom Skyport trigger as the BXRi has a built in receiver.

Ambient. 1/40 @ f/3.2 @ ISO6400

Pow!!! These things kick out some light…

Wireless Skyport. 1/200 @ f/8 @ ISO400

Switch off the Skyport and set the camera to a ‘flash’ setting and take a shot to show that no ambient is showing

Ambient. 1/250 @ f/11 @ ISO400

Switch the Skyport back on and … Half decent exposure. Notice the bottom edge of the frame is a bit dark. Looks like the Skyport/Elinchrom combination is not quite 1/250s which is a surprise. 1/200s will be fine though

Wireless Skyport. 1/250 @ f/11 @ ISO200

Increase the shutter speed to 1/400 and there’s the typical sign that we’ve exceeded the sync speed

Wireless Skyport. 1/400 @ f/11 @ ISO200

So lets try a PC Sync cable to see if that’s better

Ambient. 1/40 @ f/2.8 @ ISO6400

Looks fine at 1/200s. Let’s up it to 1/250s to see if we get the dark area at the base of the frame again

Sync Cable. 1/200 @ f/11 @ ISO200

….. Nope – it looks fine. The wire connection is fine at 1/250s. The wireless must be a bit sluggish

Sync Cable. 1/250 @ f/11 @ ISO200

Bump it to 1/400s and there’s the clipping of the frame again. Interesting that it’s much lower than using the Wireless trigger due to the immediacy of the hard wire connection

Sync Cable. 1/400 @ f/11 @ ISO200

Time to try the speedlight. Ignore the settings in this picture
It was actually set to [TTL][BL][FP] for the next shots

Ambient. 1/160 @ f/2.8 @ ISO6400

Ambient shot at much lower settings. The speedlights pack a much lower punch so need to adjust down accordingly

Ambient. 1/200 @ f/2.8 @ ISO400

Flash switched on and ….. not too bad

SB900 TTL FP. 1/200 @ f/4 @ ISO200

1/250s is showing clean edge to edge illumination

SB900 TTL FP. 1/250 @ f/4 @ ISO200

Ramped it up to 1/800 and it’s still lit fine, but notice the slight warmer colour shift

SB900 TTL FP. 1/800 @ f/4 @ ISO200

Ramp it up to 1/4000s and it’s still popping away quite happily

SB900 TTL FP. 1/4000 @ f/4 @ ISO200

I now set the SB900 to manual and it’s lowest setting (1/128) as per the picture 6 up from here. It actually shows [M] [FP] to indicate that it’s in high-speed-sync mode.
The Flash hardly does anything to the image, but will easily trigger the BXRi optical slave….

SB900 M FP 1/128 power. D700 1/4000 @ f/4 @ ISO200

Set the optical slave on and ….. hey presto. Clean image at 1/250s

SB900 M FP 1/128 power. D700 1/250 @ f/11 @ ISO200

Bump it up to 1/800 and, although it’s darker in the top of the frame, the bottom section is lit.

SB900 M FP 1/128 power. D700 1/800 @ f/11 @ ISO200

Increase to 1/2000s and it’s still lighting it. Bare n mind this is the BXRi at minimum powerand the camera settings are 2 stops darker than when using the AutoFP with the SB900

SB900 M FP 1/128 power. D700 1/2000 @ f/11 @ ISO200

Increase the F stop to F4 rather than power up the strobe head

SB900 M FP 1/128 power. D700 1/2000 @ f/4 @ ISO200

Hardly any change when increasing it to 1/4000s

SB900 M FP 1/128 power. D700 1/4000 @ f/4 @ ISO200

And again virtually no change even though the camera is firing at 1/8000s
…. yes 1/8000s sync with a studio light :)

SB900 M FP 1/128 power. D700 1/8000 @ f/4 @ ISO400

So there you have it. The easy way to perform maximum sync speeds on your camera and still be able to use studio lighting to light your subject.
Any comments, please add them below 🙂

On Saturday I attended an assignment workshop with the London Strobist guys ‘n gals. The talk was by Tom Miles which was based on a touring roadshow lecture that he’d been giving to uni’s around the UK and sponsored by Calumet and Nikon At the end of his talk he handed out a mock assignment which we had to complete within 3 hours. This included pictures, invoice and licensing forms.

The assignment list was:

  • Portrait of a business person
  • A sports shoe
  • Family group
  • A retail park/industrial estate/shopping mall
  • The Hat

Here’s my diary of events……

12:05 – Assignments in hand, I decide to do "A Sports Shoe"

12:10 – Speak to a couple of guys and we decide to team up. Rams wants to do the Sport shoe too and Rich is not yet decided.

12:15 – We go looking for a nearby sports shop andRich decides to go on his own to get the business person shot. I’m secrety relieved as 2 subjects would be too much in a short time, so it’s just Rams and me… we head off looking for a sports shop.

12:25 – I formulate my shot in my head, 1st shot will be a product shot then the second one an action shot. We’re walking past a lot of furniture shops with dining tables etc in the window displays and I look in with envy as I’ll need a clean surface to shoot the product images.

I have a brainwave and decide to use my (black) car roof as the ‘reflective table’. My lights and grip gear are in the boot, I know I’ll get a more interesting background in the carpark and we’ll be close to Calumet which eliminates any remaining travel time/stress getting back to finish the assignment. Keep it simple 🙂

12:35 – Rams decides he wants to shoot "The Hat". We discuss ideas around the hat and what shots he can do with it.

12:45 – We end up walking 1.5 miles(!) to Oxford Street to find the nearest sports shop for some shoes and a maybe the hat. I calculate we have to be done by 14:15 to pack, edit and deliver the shots by 15:00. Fortunately I started my stopwatch when we set off so I knew how long it took to get here, but I’m still getting nervous.

12:55 – Rams decides he wants to do a more classy shot with a hat so opts not to get a cap. I’m a bit worried that he may want/need a female model if he’s wanting a more classy image and he’s still not decided on the shot.

13:05 – We finally get out the shop. 1pm on a Saturday afternoon with a 50% sale and lazy staff don’t help get us out the door quickly. I chose a size 8 (Ram’s size) light tan/white shoe as this should contrast well with the black car roof. We also picked up a t-shirt and a football to use as props.

13:10 – We dip into a Boots on the way back. I know I’m using the car, so I grab a couple of bottles of water and tissues so I can clean the filth off and we grab a couple of sandwiches to munch after the assignment (and on a separate receipt as they weren’t expensed 😉 )

13:25 – Off the main street and no more shops, so I don’t think Rams will get his assignment. I convince him to enter the shoe image together.

13:35 – 1 wrong turn, but we finally get back to the carpark (thankyou mobile GoogleMaps) and dump the bags in the car. I eye the roof and quickly pick 2 decent background shots. Rams has his sandwich to keep his sugar levels up (don’t think he’s used to walking 3 miles 😉 ) meanwhile I water and clean the roof in the area we’ll use and throw up 2 light stands. I attach an SB900 and shoot-thru umbrella on swivvel adapters to each stand and hook a PocketWizard on each.

13:45 – Getting nervous as it’s taken 90minutes just to get to the point where we can start taking shots. In the real world we would have been given the shoes and then have 2-3 hours to make the shots, but not today I want to be done by 14:15, so that’s only 30 minutes to make something…. I’m watching the clock

13:48 – First shot taken using the 70-200 (@102mm). Ambient is showing 1/80, f/11 @ISO400. Tom’s walking back from lunch and calls over that we haven’t gone very far (if only he knew…)

13:50 – Adjusted the ambient down 2 stops (1/160s @ f/16) then switched on the PocketWizards. Set the closest, almost overhead, SB900 to 1/4 and the far away rimlight SB900 to 1/1. The 70-200is struggling to focus at such a short range, so I have to manually pull focus with the DOF preview to ensure the front of the shoe is sharp and hope f/16 will be carry it all the way back. Re-composeto 80mm to make sure. Shoot, chimp, gravy 🙂

I know I’ll be cropping the frame so I’m not worried about the roof gutter being in the shot

13:56 – I swing 180deg so I now have the Calumet Loading doors behind the shoes. I recompose them using the water bottle cap and my umbrella to prop them up. I show the sole of one shoe as it may be their USP. I would normally be told by the disigner or AD in a pre-meeting, but as they’re fictional I have to cover the bases.

The loading doors are angular, so I dig out my SB800 and gaffer on a red gel and PocketWizard and ask Rams (whoes now digesting 🙂 ) to be a VAL and aim the flash sideways and pointing 30deg towards the far end of the doors to feather the light. I initially set this at 1/4 @ 105mm to try and keep a deep red. 1st test shot:

Shoes need a wee bit of a tweak and the red isn’t strong enough for my liking. The ambient is wiping it out so I ramp it up to full power. Bingo 🙂


I also shoot it portrait so theoretical copy/text could be used above them (to give the fictional Art Director some options):

The ‘product’ type shots are ok, but we need to crack on so I get Rams to slip on the shoes and football t-shirt. Meanwhile I quicky scout over the road to a couple of areas that may have potential. I see the sun poking out over a rooftop and decide to shoot against it.

14:05 – Swap to my 24-70, put the camera in active focus mode and remove one of the SB900 umbrellas as I know I’ll need a hard light to combat the sun. We cart the lights and football over to the second ‘location’. I put the, still red gelled, SB800 on the floor by the brick wall and aim it up at about 1/2 power and 75mm zoom. The bare SB900 is set to 200mm and 1/4 power.

I move it slightly behind Rams to act as the rim light against the sun. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t bring a Justin Clamp to mount the flash sideways, but we don’t have time to run back and get it – got to keep moving. The SB900 with the umbrella is set to 1/1 and is slightly to my right – 180deg from the sun and acting as a softer fill light.

14:08 – First test shot. Need to try and pull the Aperture down to give the flashes a chance against the sun, but the PocketWizards are acting up(?). Test triggering is ok, but Camera triggering isn’t working. Very odd – never had a problem with them before. Switch it round with the one on the nearest SB900 and we’re back in action.

14:11– Tweak settings and get a solid 1/250s @f/16 @ISO400 (ouch)

I move Rams and the lights 5ft left to use the sun as a left rim and to get some more environment. Also change settings to 1/250 @ f/11 @ISO200

14:12 – Test shot …. looks alright. Sun is slightly dipped behind the building, but is filling Ram’s left side now and creating a clean rim light on his head.

14:13 – I tweak the bare SB900 to 1/2 power as I want that rim light stronger and to give him more room to move about. Start shooting him doing keepy-up and trying to avoid pedestians in the shots. I also have to make a mad dash to save my Umbrella SB900 from tipping in the breeze and catch it (just) I reel off full length and cropped. I also get him to face me and lift his feet up to show me the sole a bit more in case it’s the fictional USP.

I can hear the SB900 and SB800 dumping. I’m trying to rush, but have to consciously wait 4s between shots. The SB800 is struggling to keep up, but I actually prefer it with the red more as an accent to the brick. No time to change it to to 1/4 power…. just shoot quicker so it doesn’t re-charge enough for a full power flash. SB900s are performing amazingly

14:18 – 5 minutes later and it’s a wrap. We have to pack up, like, NOW, so we peg it back to the car and strip the stands and put everything back where it belongs. Annoyingly I manage to break one of the PocketWizards, but I fixed it later that night with some glue.

14:30 – We head back into the room and I fire up my old Acer Laptop. Meanwhile I grab my card reader out and pack the camera in it’s bag. Some others are editing too and Rams goes to chat.

14:35 – Laptop boots up and I download the card to Lightroom. Only 64 images including set-up tests. No big surprise as I tend not to waste card space

14:40 – I make my initial selection of about 15 and then switch to full screen to preview them with and then whittle out the ones I’m less keen on.

14:42 – Running out of time, so cull a couple extra and have 7 images left to edit.

14:44 – Disaster. The laptop hangs when trying to export the Raw to Photoshop. Too much data for my old laptop to cope with (my editing desktop does it in seconds 🙁 )

14:46 – Manage to kill the hanging apps and do a manual .Tiff export. Needs to be 8bit for speed and because they’re to be delivered as .jpg.

14:47 – Slow to export, but I finally get the first image to start editing. I use one of my quick-edit Photoshop Actions which uses blending layer modes to selectivly boost contrast and also apply a selective tonemap. Resize and save as jpg. 6 more to go, meanwhile I’m trying to tell Rams what expenses, use and licensing to write on the invoice.

14:58 – Last image complete. USB keyring in (no time to burn to CD)

14:59 – Deliver edited and original images + invoice with receipts to Tom. We then got kicked out while they review the assignment shots from everyone. I meandered outside with my sandwich and reflected on the last few hours and weighed up how we coped with a short shooting schedule.

The only thing I could compare it to is shooting a wedding where there’s constant deadlines through the day, but somehow this seemed more intense as we really only had 30 minutes to shoot in what should have been 2+ hours. I wasn’t extatic about the images as they would have been far more polished (esp the product shots) with more time, but in retrospect I knew I did the best I could in the 30 mins we had so I was content enough.

Here’s the final selection with the quick edit we delivered.

Tom reviewed our shots and gave us very positive feedback which was a relief and good to hear.
Interestingly he mentioned that the cropped shots were better as you detract from the product when you see the person’s face.

Afterwords Tom looked at my portfolio, really like it and gave me a couple of tips which were the icing on the cake for the day.


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