WORK with flash
Learn how to use speedlights and strobes for high-powered lighting and dramatic action effects
Flash plays a crucial role in the technique repertoire of many professional action photographers. Ambient lighting in sports venues can be significantly lower than anticipated, making it challenging to achieve fast-enough shutter speeds to freeze movement as desired. The short duration of flash bursts, especially from speedlights, means we can generate effective exposures that are much shorter than would be possible with conventional techniques. Often sports photographers will utilise a high-speed sync mode for their flash shots, allowing the use of shutter speeds higher than the maximum flash synchronisation speed their camera offers. There is a trade-off in power, with effective flash distance dropping as the shutter speed is increased, but there is a ‘sweet spot’ where exposure time and flash coverage is balanced.
At the other extreme, flash can be combined with slower shutter speeds for creative effect. By extending the exposure to around 1/15sec (or slower if the subject is not moving as quickly) then introducing a fill flash, the subject is frozen but the surroundings are blurred, isolating the key part of the image – the athlete. Another creative flash technique is the use of stroboscopic lighting; ambient light is all but eliminated by using a black background or stopping down the aperture, then a series of high-frequency flashes illuminates the moving subject at multiple positions in the same frame, during an extended exposure. This technique is useful for a range of action photography areas, from track and field to motorsports to dance, and is a artistic method of illustrating the progression of high-speed events, where multiple stages can’t be otherwise shown in a single shot. Whenever flash is used, it is important that it is done with the consent of the subject and where it is permitted by the venue – intense flash light can be distracting to athletes.
CONTROL THE LIGHTING
Use a black seamless background or stop down the aperture to cut ambient light and underexpose the environment
CHOOSE NUMBER OF MOVEMENTS
The flash count determines how many ‘stages’ are captured as your subject moves across the frame ARRANGE SEPARATION
Flash frequency (measured in Hertz) determines how separated each stage is in the composition CAPTURE PROGRESSIVE ACTION Stroboscopic flash enables us to see how action occurs in stages – impossible to capture in a still image by any other method
STROBE LIGHT Canon 580EX II in a 80x60 gridded softbox. PocketWizard II Plus SETTINGS Canon EOS 5D Mk II 135mm/2 6 sec
ISO 125 FILL LIGHT Constant daylight for the motion blur MODEL Megumi Yuzuki KEEP IT STEADY Camera is on a tripod because of the slow shutter speed
Nikon SB-26 in a
90x20 gridded softbox. PocketWizard II Plus
Setting up your shot
Stroboscopic flash expert IIko Allexandroff (ilkoallexandroff.com) shooting on location. Here he illustrates his common setup for a multi-flash image