GANG LIGHT – Part 1: Shooter with crazy red hair, plays with 12 Canon 580 EX II Speedlites and 8-feet of red oak to build a high-powered “ring” light, then fires it with a dozen RadioPoppers in high-speed sync mode at a best-selling Photoshop author.
I shot Ben Willmore on the street in broad daylight today. There were several innocent bystanders watching. The sun was high in the sky and coming in straight over Ben’s shoulders. I centered my favorite lens right on his eye and BANG! I had him in 1/8000 of a second.
Shortly before the “incident”, Ben and I met up in San Luis Obispo on day 3 of Joe McNally’s location lighting workshop at The Lepp Institute. Joe was kind (or crazy) enough to ask me to come down for a quick talk to the 16 students in his workshop about my experiences with RadioPoppers.
Ben is also a frequent instructor a Lepp — as well as a perennial favorite at Photoshop World. You may know Ben from his many books on Photoshop. [If you’re looking for a crash course in stepping up from CS3 to CS4, check out his Photoshop CS4: Up To Speed. It always gets me through the upgrade.] You may know Ben for his Digital Mastery DVDs. Yes that Ben… the guy who drives around the country and writes about his life on the road in WhereIsBen.com. If you don’t already, you should also get to know Ben through his innovative photography – which dissolves the boundary between camera and computer.
Ganging Up A Dozen Canon Speedlites
Thanks to generous equipment loans from Canon USA and RadioPopper, I’ve been playing with 15 Speedlites this week. Why? To see what I can do with more pocket strobes than even a guy like McNally should be allowed to carry.
Turns out you can stop a motocross rider flying through the air at 40 m.p.h. with enough sharpness so that you can see the individual links on the motorcycle’s chain — look for that Gang Light post soon.
You can also attract crazy looks from guys who should know better when you pull out a 2′-square wood frame that has a dozen Speedlites bolted to it. Ben’s certainly a curious and intelligent fellow. The first thing he did was ask me to put my head in the center of the lights so that he could take my photo. Actually, I think he was checking to see if my head would explode from so many strobes going off at once before he stepped in front of the rig. [Update: See the evidence here on Ben’s blog.]
Turning Noon Into Night With High-Speed Sync
PixSylarians know that I’m a huge fan of RadioPoppers (proof here and here). It’s also well-known that I’m very fond of shooting in high-speed sync (proof here). If you’re not yet a full-blooded PixSylarian, RadioPoppers give me eTTL control of my Canon Speedlites without the hassle of a line-of-sight connection. High-Speed sync is the flash mode where my Speedlights fire in incredibly rapid bursts rather than as one big flash so that I can shoot at speeds way beyond my camera’s sync speed (1/160 on my 5D).
To make the opening shot, I did four things:
- activated the high-speed sync setting on the master Speedlite parked atop my camera – the RadioPoppers then worked it out so that all 12 remote units were also in high-speed sync mode.
- set my shutter speed to 1/8000 – to totally kill the sunlight and turn noon to night. Even at the widest aperture on my lens (f/2.8), at 1/8000 there was no daylight to speak of as far as the camera’s sensor was concerned.
- set the Speedlites to maximum power – I used Manual for this rather than ETTL. Again, the Poppers did the talking for me. I went to Manual because in eTTL the range of Flash Exposure Compensation is capped at +2EV and I wanted more.
- adjusted my aperture until I liked the amount of flash exposure coming through.
More Gang Light stories: