It’s no secret that I abhor the use of a hotshoe. Even when using a single Speedlite, I typically move it off-camera on a long E-TTL cord (details here). I’ll admit, though, that there are situations where the hotshoe is a perfectly fine place for a Speedlite. My third location shoot with cartographer David Yun on the streets of downtown San Luis Obispo for San Louie magazine was one of them.

Sometimes you don’t have the time or room to light like you should. Between the traffic, the pedestrians, and an unusually hot day, this had to be a run-and-gun shoot. I did not have the time or the space to set up an off-camera Speedlite on a stand. The goal was to make a few quick portraits of David with his ultra-modern GPS system standing on top of a cluster of century-old solar tubes that illuminate a part of subterranean SLO. We had just a few minutes and then had to move on to our last location. 

Your Camera Does Not See The World The Way You See It

The challenge with this shoot was that my camera (and your camera and every other camera out there) cannot record the entire range of light that the our human eyes can see. Take a look at the photo below to see what I mean.

^ Daylight - sun high and behind David, fill from sidewalk and adjacent building.

This is how my camera (a 5D Mark II) recorded the excessive range of brights and darks in the scene. In order to preserve the details in the brightest parts of the photo, shadow details were compressed. To be concise, there is way too much contrast here.

The Super Duo: On-Axis Fill & High-Speed Sync

^ Left: High-Speed Sync from on-camera Speedlite. Right: daylight.

The difference between the two photos above is a Speedlite and two seconds of button-pushing. For the left shot, I turned on my Speedlite, pushed the HSS button on the back (the lightning bolt-H button) and fired away in Aperture Priority (Av) mode. I wanted to shoot wide open to take the edge off the background elements. So, f/2.8 at ISO 100 under noon sun meant that my shutter needed to be 1/4000″. I did not figure all that out. The camera did the heavy math — I just shot in Av mode. HSS gave me the ability to shoot at virtually any shutter speed. E-TTL figured out how much fill flash was needed. (Click on the photo to see the details of the hi-res version.)

Comparing HSS Fill to the Fill Light Slider in Lightroom

^ Left: Daylight +30 Fill Light move in Lightroom. Right: As shot with on-axis high-speed sync fill

There are photographers who say they can light on a laptop. Some of them are good friends of mine. But why would you want to light in post? I’ll say it again — I’m a photographer, not a retoucher. Yet, just to see what would happen, I took the straight daylight shot and moved the Fill Light Slider in Lightroom to 30. Sure, it’s a bit better than the unadjusted shot. (Click on the photo to see the details in the high-res version.) Still, making a slider move in Lightroom is no substitute for lighting on location — esepcially when then entire lighting set-up involved:
> putting the Speedlite in the hotshoe
> turning it on
> pushing the High-Speed Sync button on the Speedlite
> firing away in Av mode.

Also in the Mapping The Cartographer series: Part One and Part Two.

Speedliting Workshops

Spend a week with me in October going as deep into Speedliting as anyone can go. Details on the workshop here.


8 Responses to Mapping The Cartographer – Part Three

  1. G Van Buren says:

    Very good read. I can see the difference placing the light source makes. I am going to experiement with so off the shoe flash work.


    George Van Buren

  2. very says:

    Have to try highspeed sync myself too. It's just one of those things I never remember to try while photographing people.

  3. Daithí says:

    I'd been looking forward to this update and how you used the flash pinned straight to the hot-shoe. Sometimes it's just unavoidable! Thanks for the tips in all 3 parts.

    I'd love to join one of the workshops, time to examine schedule/budget and see if I can wedge my name in there.

  4. Jack says:

    I'm sorry but, I didn't even read these last three posts. I think I'm just bored of this boring dude you chose. Maybe next time somebody a little bit more interesting to look at?

    • Syl Arena says:

      Jack – FWIW, I didn't choose my subject. I received the assignment (aka: job) from the art director at San Louie magazine. These are real-world shoots, all done within a few hours one afternoon. The details are in the text.

      • Kristina Jacob says:

        I'm a real-life map maker (by day, photographer by golden hour/night) and would love to have a map maker portrait by you any time you're around Los Angeles. My GPS system isn't as impressive though 😉

  5. Steppenwolf71 says:

    thank you for rembering me that there is a highspeed sync button! 🙂

    For my taste is the flash exposure a bit over the top – let's say 1 stop at least…just my 2 cent

  6. Bill says:

    Yep, thanks for the reminder. I always forget about HSS! Even better is using it held off-cam with a cord.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *