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I Shot Ben Willmore… In Broad Daylight * Gang Light – Part 1: | PixSylated

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

Ambient exposure

Ambient exposure at 1/160

Gang Light at 1/8000 sec.

High-speed sync at 1/8000

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:

Part 2: Smashing Pumpkins – 12 Speedlites on a Straight Rail

71 Responses to I Shot Ben Willmore… In Broad Daylight * Gang Light – Part 1:

  1. dL says:

    12 Speedlites at 100%? From 3 feet away? Can he still see? 😀

  2. blabpictures says:

    Very cool Syl, nice that Canon USA and Radio Popper could help out to make this happen

  3. Alan B says:

    Very interesting stuff. I could use a tutorial on remote control of the Canon flash system when in manual mode…using either a 580 or an STE2 on camera and one or more remote units.

  4. dL says:

    12 Speedlites at 100%? From 3 feet away? Can he still see? 😀

  5. blabpictures says:

    Very cool Syl, nice that Canon USA and Radio Popper could help out to make this happen

  6. Alan B says:

    Very interesting stuff. I could use a tutorial on remote control of the Canon flash system when in manual mode…using either a 580 or an STE2 on camera and one or more remote units.

  7. Trancept says:

    At 1/8000 the speedlites didn't throw 100% of the power that they have at 1/200. For example a Sigma 500DG just have a GN of 4 at 1/8000 instead of 50…

  8. Tondello says:

    Cool! And you can still use it for artificial tanning. Portable solarium.

    Ps.: you have to pay some extra to the model due to the skin cancer danger.. lol

  9. Sathish says:

    Thats awesome. I am wondering whether he was able to see anything after the blast of strobes. Hope he is doing fine!! 🙂 Would love to see the final result. Please let me know. Thanks.

  10. Nick says:

    Most people would just do the photo at night…. with one speedlight….

    …. but seeing that we aren't most people, CAN I PLEASE HAVE 12 SPEEDLIGHTS SANTA???

  11. Ben Willmore says:

    It didn't feel like all that bright of a blast… I didn't see anything purple afterwards or anything like that. The strobes don't fire at full strength when shooting in high speed sync mode, so it wasn't so bad.

    If you want to see what it looked like from my side of the camera, then visit http://www.whereisben.com for more shots.

  12. Thiago says:

    I bed you could kill a vampire with that.

  13. Trancept says:

    At 1/8000 the speedlites didn’t throw 100% of the power that they have at 1/200. For example a Sigma 500DG just have a GN of 4 at 1/8000 instead of 50…

  14. Tondello says:

    Cool! And you can still use it for artificial tanning. Portable solarium.

    Ps.: you have to pay some extra to the model due to the skin cancer danger.. lol

  15. Sathish says:

    Thats awesome. I am wondering whether he was able to see anything after the blast of strobes. Hope he is doing fine!! 🙂 Would love to see the final result. Please let me know. Thanks.

  16. Nick says:

    Most people would just do the photo at night…. with one speedlight….

    …. but seeing that we aren’t most people, CAN I PLEASE HAVE 12 SPEEDLIGHTS SANTA???

  17. […] One crazy ring flash on PixSylated. Here’s the scoop: […]

  18. Ben Willmore says:

    It didn’t feel like all that bright of a blast… I didn’t see anything purple afterwards or anything like that. The strobes don’t fire at full strength when shooting in high speed sync mode, so it wasn’t so bad.

    If you want to see what it looked like from my side of the camera, then visit http://www.whereisben.com for more shots.

  19. Thiago says:

    I bed you could kill a vampire with that.

  20. […] I’m Speechless. With just one day to go before the big, cryptic December 12th RadioPopper announcement, the following pops up on Pixsylated: […]

  21. Fotografi says:

    Wow! It is simply fantastic.

  22. […] Syl Arena’s Blog Post:  I Shot Ben Willmore…In Broad Daylight […]

  23. Arpad says:

    Syl,

    I have never seen actually trying to create "night" with high-speed sync. Great effect and very interesting concept. I am wondering are you doing it only to experiment or you trying to create a certain statement with the effect. Would it be possible to see the pics larger?

    Regarding Canon 5D sync speed, isn't it 1/200?

    Thanks for the post, looking forward to part 2.

    Arpad

    • Syl Arena says:

      Arpad – My motivation was basically to see what would happen. I'm working on a new design for PixSylated that will enable you to click over to larger pix. Look for that in a month or so. You're right. Canon says that the 5D sync speed is 1/200" The black bar across my frames when I shoot MY 5D at 1/200" says different. I've found that the fastest I can sync is 1/160". My body has over 100K shots on it. Maybe it's just tired.

  24. Myron says:

    Let's see here, I'll do the math…

    +10.8dBf

    That is 10.8 dB gain over using a single flash!

    Just the engineer in me.

  25. Arpad says:

    Syl,

    I have never seen actually trying to create “night” with high-speed sync. Great effect and very interesting concept. I am wondering are you doing it only to experiment or you trying to create a certain statement with the effect. Would it be possible to see the pics larger?
    Regarding Canon 5D sync speed, isn’t it 1/200?
    Thanks for the post, looking forward to part 2.

    Arpad

    • Syl Arena says:

      Arpad – My motivation was basically to see what would happen. I’m working on a new design for PixSylated that will enable you to click over to larger pix. Look for that in a month or so. You’re right. Canon says that the 5D sync speed is 1/200″ The black bar across my frames when I shoot MY 5D at 1/200″ says different. I’ve found that the fastest I can sync is 1/160″. My body has over 100K shots on it. Maybe it’s just tired.

  26. Myron says:

    Let’s see here, I’ll do the math…

    +10.8dBf

    That is 10.8 dB gain over using a single flash!

    Just the engineer in me.

  27. BP McCartney says:

    Uhhh? Just a simple, obvious question, but what is the point of using all those flashes? It's a bit beyond the average DIY project, no?

    I don't get this at all. If I showed up at a client shoot with that contraption, my clients would think I had lost my marbles, and they would be questioning my rates, as in "does that thing cost extra?" (which in reality, it would do). That is not even factoring in the setup time and the debugging time, if there is a loose connection somewhere.

    Are there not a number of more efficient, less time-consuming, cheaper, easier ways to get this shot? What exactly is the benefit of shooting it this way, out of curiosity?

    • Syl Arena says:

      BP – Does there always have to be a point? My motivation was to see what would happen. Thanks to loans from Canon and RadioPopper, I had the gear on hand. Read my latest Gang Light article for more insights on the use of a dozen Speedlites. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom for a comparison with the workflow that the use of a studio pack would require. Every day the my thoughts about the lunacy of carrying so many small strobes continues to dissolve.

  28. BP McCartney says:

    Uhhh? Just a simple, obvious question, but what is the point of using all those flashes? It’s a bit beyond the average DIY project, no?

    I don’t get this at all. If I showed up at a client shoot with that contraption, my clients would think I had lost my marbles, and they would be questioning my rates, as in “does that thing cost extra?” (which in reality, it would do). That is not even factoring in the setup time and the debugging time, if there is a loose connection somewhere.

    Are there not a number of more efficient, less time-consuming, cheaper, easier ways to get this shot? What exactly is the benefit of shooting it this way, out of curiosity?

    • Syl Arena says:

      BP – Does there always have to be a point? My motivation was to see what would happen. Thanks to loans from Canon and RadioPopper, I had the gear on hand. Read my latest Gang Light article for more insights on the use of a dozen Speedlites. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom for a comparison with the workflow that the use of a studio pack would require. Every day the my thoughts about the lunacy of carrying so many small strobes continues to dissolve.

  29. Nick says:

    How did you trigger the 12 Flash Units, Did you use 13 Flash Guns? Or PopUp Flash, Canon Wireless Trigger, Nikon Commander?

  30. Nick says:

    How did you trigger the 12 Flash Units, Did you use 13 Flash Guns? Or PopUp Flash, Canon Wireless Trigger, Nikon Commander?

  31. spence says:

    how did you sync your shutter at 1/8000? leaf shutter system?

  32. spence says:

    how did you sync your shutter at 1/8000? leaf shutter system?

  33. Thought about that f says:

    I've thought about hooking up all those 580Ex's myself.

    But what I think you neglected to do was to show the advantage of that setup.

    You could have 'achieved' the same shot with any other strobe. But with that setup, I think you should have shot something with a LOT more high speed movement. Now that, is something, that a single powerful strobe would not be able to do…

    I was thinking about lots of Mirros aiming at the same source lately too…

    • Syl Arena says:

      Thought about that… – I disagree that you could turn noon to night with "any other strobe". To kill the ambient light (which was high noon reflecting off of asphalt) I had to shoot at a super-fast shutter speed. My Canon 5D syncs with regular flash at 1/160". That's about 5.5 stops slower than the 1/8000" I shot Ben at. If I was at f/8 in high-speed sync, then to shoot regular flash at 1/160" I'd have to go to… let's see: f/8 to f/11, f/16, f22, f/32, f/64… something in the vicinity of f/90 so that I could shoot at 1/160". I don't have a lens that stops down that much. I could use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND dialed way down, but then it's really hard to compose and selectively focus since the glass is nearly black. Avoiding all of these other shortcomings is why I'm such a fan of high-speed sync.

  34. Thought about that for a while... says:

    I’ve thought about hooking up all those 580Ex’s myself.

    But what I think you neglected to do was to show the advantage of that setup.

    You could have ‘achieved’ the same shot with any other strobe. But with that setup, I think you should have shot something with a LOT more high speed movement. Now that, is something, that a single powerful strobe would not be able to do…

    I was thinking about lots of Mirros aiming at the same source lately too…

    • Syl Arena says:

      Thought about that… – I disagree that you could turn noon to night with “any other strobe”. To kill the ambient light (which was high noon reflecting off of asphalt) I had to shoot at a super-fast shutter speed. My Canon 5D syncs with regular flash at 1/160″. That’s about 5.5 stops slower than the 1/8000″ I shot Ben at. If I was at f/8 in high-speed sync, then to shoot regular flash at 1/160″ I’d have to go to… let’s see: f/8 to f/11, f/16, f22, f/32, f/64… something in the vicinity of f/90 so that I could shoot at 1/160″. I don’t have a lens that stops down that much. I could use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND dialed way down, but then it’s really hard to compose and selectively focus since the glass is nearly black. Avoiding all of these other shortcomings is why I’m such a fan of high-speed sync.

  35. MC says:

    Apart from the shot scheduled at mid day, – and that you had the gear on loan etc…why not just shoot at night/evening?

    Is it just to prove that it can be done or is there some other creative reason that I havent picked up on?

    • Syl Arena says:

      MC – I built the "frame light" because I could (took about 30 min.) and to see what would happen. You ask a couple of good questions. Two thoughts:

      #1 – For me, lighting is about being able to create the vision that I want or that my client needs – almost any time it needs to happen. The chances of me getting together with Ben under a full moon are pretty slim. As it happened, Ben and I both had plans that night – 40 miles apart – and the moon was just a sliver. If this had been an assignment from the NY Times Book Review for a cover shot and the photo editor said that it had to be the magical Ben shot under moonlight, what would I do? Say that Ben's schedule did not work out? The weather wasn't right? Not if I ever wanted to shoot for them again. Being able to kill sunlight with high-speed sync is just another tool in my box. Landscape photographers wait for the light to become perfect. A commercial shooter often does not have the luxury of time and must create the scene with what he has on hand. Fortunately for me, that included an arsenal of Speedlites and RadioPoppers that day.

      #2 – Shooting at night is a bigger challenge than turning noon to night. Even if the moon was large, to get "moonlit" shadows you have to have a relatively long exposure. The camera has to be locked down on a tripod – which ruins the spontaneity between shooter and subject. The long exposure also means that the subject might be blurry or "ghosted" by the ambient light during the long exposure – which could be cool if that's what you're after. I wasn't. If you're shooting in twilight, the light is constantly changing as the sky merges to black. The advantage of shooting night at daytime is that the ambient exposure is relatively constant — which means I can concentrate on other things.

  36. MC says:

    Apart from the shot scheduled at mid day, – and that you had the gear on loan etc…why not just shoot at night/evening?

    Is it just to prove that it can be done or is there some other creative reason that I havent picked up on?

    • Syl Arena says:

      MC – I built the “frame light” because I could (took about 30 min.) and to see what would happen. You ask a couple of good questions. Two thoughts:

      #1 – For me, lighting is about being able to create the vision that I want or that my client needs – almost any time it needs to happen. The chances of me getting together with Ben under a full moon are pretty slim. As it happened, Ben and I both had plans that night – 40 miles apart – and the moon was just a sliver. If this had been an assignment from the NY Times Book Review for a cover shot and the photo editor said that it had to be the magical Ben shot under moonlight, what would I do? Say that Ben’s schedule did not work out? The weather wasn’t right? Not if I ever wanted to shoot for them again. Being able to kill sunlight with high-speed sync is just another tool in my box. Landscape photographers wait for the light to become perfect. A commercial shooter often does not have the luxury of time and must create the scene with what he has on hand. Fortunately for me, that included an arsenal of Speedlites and RadioPoppers that day.

      #2 – Shooting at night is a bigger challenge than turning noon to night. Even if the moon was large, to get “moonlit” shadows you have to have a relatively long exposure. The camera has to be locked down on a tripod – which ruins the spontaneity between shooter and subject. The long exposure also means that the subject might be blurry or “ghosted” by the ambient light during the long exposure – which could be cool if that’s what you’re after. I wasn’t. If you’re shooting in twilight, the light is constantly changing as the sky merges to black. The advantage of shooting night at daytime is that the ambient exposure is relatively constant — which means I can concentrate on other things.

  37. Chris says:

    I was one of those guys who read the post on Strobist and scratched my head thinking – this is ridiculous, just get a real strobe! But reading this post, I have to admit – you know your light.

  38. Chris says:

    I was one of those guys who read the post on Strobist and scratched my head thinking – this is ridiculous, just get a real strobe! But reading this post, I have to admit – you know your light.

  39. Equipment looks strange, but impressive =)

  40. Equipment looks strange, but impressive =)

  41. High speed flash photography rocks!!

  42. High speed flash photography rocks!!

  43. Great stuff – talk about working outside the box (or is it in a box??… hehe, I'm so clever)

  44. Great stuff – talk about working outside the box (or is it in a box??… hehe, I’m so clever)

  45. DavidFedulov says:

    Very interesting stuff!!!

  46. DavidFedulov says:

    Very interesting stuff!!!

  47. […] if you’ve got enough flashes, you can turn even broad daylight into night – Check out this article on ganging flashes, and scroll down to “Turning Noon Into Night With High-Speed Sync”. Pretty impressive […]

  48. […] got enough flashes, you can turn even broad daylight into night. Don’t believe me? Check out this article on ganging flashes, and scroll down to “Turning Noon Into Night With High-Speed Sync”. Pretty impressive stuff, […]

  49. […] Now let’s say you need to create a shot that appears to be taken at night, but your only opportunity to get the shot done is at high noon, the sun is blaring down and reflecting back up the ground. 1/100th at f/16 will give us a good exposure but if we need to knock it down significantly, without having enough depth of field to reach into the next county, we can easily find ourselves in a position where we need to be at 1/4000th or even faster to kill off the ambient light. Now usually we can get into the ball park with a single flash, but there is a really good reason why several companies have come out with dual, triple, and even quad speedlite holders. Remember, once we are in high speed sync, we can loose 2-2.5 stops of light, but if we add a second speedlite we double out light output. If one speedlite at full power (not really full because of HSS remember)  isnt quite enough, then two speedlites may be more than enough, as you add a third or fourth speedlite, you can usually run the speedlites are much less than full power which means faster recycle times and longer battery life. Running two speedlites each at 1/2 power is much better than 1 speedlite at full power. So three at 1/3 power each is better still. If you want to get really crazy, try twelve speedlites all connected together. […]

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