Mar 062014

Judo Shooting..with Strobes and a Leica

by Jochen Kohl

The shooting took place at a Judo Dojo and the main participant was local Ving Tsun Master and a former national league Judoka. The picture showing the kick was done with the Leica Vario.


Lightning setup was a Multiblitz X10 with a 5 ft. Superbrolly Silver Umbrella and a Profilux Plus 400 with a standard reflector, both powered by a Propac on location and triggered via radio trigger on the MM’s hot shoe.


For the Judo pictures I used the Leica Monochrom with the 35mm Summarit placed on a tripod.

Because for this kind you don’t need an autofocus or a high frame rate and the final pictures should be black ‚n white using the MM was a simple move.

It was a small location with white walls reflecting the flashes badly. Simple closes the aperture and used flags to set the light.







So easy it can be.


Jochen Kohl

Nov 072012

Big Light with Small Gear by Anders Hansén

Hey Steve,

I was thrilled to see Per Nicolaisen’s post on using strobes, since I’d been thinking about sending you a piece about using speedlights in conjunction with small cameras to get big light, but couldn’t really decide on how to include the basic knowledge needed. No need now!

If you are new to strobe lightning, Per did a wonderful job in summarizing the things you need to account for when setting your own light. I suggest you read it if you haven’t already.

For those of you that got inspired by Per’s post on using big a$$ expensive Profoto strobes, I’d like to show you that you really don’t need to sell your precious Noctilux (nor use a car to haul the gear on location) to make a first venture into that photographic style.

(Now to get that specific look, you know Profoto quality light and gorgeous sunstars from a Canon 16-35 stopped down to ƒ/16 with minimal diffraction – sadly, you probably will… but let’s stay happy here).

I enjoy shooting in full sun more than anything else. I love the look of a rich blue sky with white clouds, and the feeling it injects into my pictures. I love to be able to include as much sky in the picture as possible instead of cropping it out because it’s washed out and overexposed. And I absolutely adore the ‘pop’ in color, contrast and rendering I get with hard crosslight between the sun and a flash.

Good news is, this can be done both cheap and lightweight – and the results will still pack a serious punch when you get it right.

Eyes in the sky, Panasonic LX3, 24mm equivalent, handheld Nikon SB-900 and a Lumiquest Softbox III camera left, ambient underexposed by at least two steps, ƒ/3.5, 1/1000s, pull-ISO 80

I’m a long time Nikon SLR user. I started out in the 90’s using a Nikon FA, a Nikon SB-24 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-s prime (whose characteristic swirly out-of-focus rendering I still miss to this day, oh well…). For practical reasons I have since moved on to digital and mostly shoot with a D7000 today.

However, outdoors in harsh Sunny 16-conditions, I primarily shoot something completely different: an old beat-up Panasonic LX3 compact camera. Not because its smaller – but because it does one thing much better than the D7000. It syncs with flashes up to a 1/2000th of a second.

What does that mean? Well, it means that with a typical Sunny 16 exposure (1/100s, ƒ/16, ISO100) you will easily be able to shoot with battery-powered flashes at ƒ/5,6 and 1/800s with more than a full stop of shutter speed left to underexpose ambient.

You may or may not be familiar with power ratios of small flashes. For this piece I’ll keep it really simple: at ƒ/5,6 and close quarters – battery-powered speedlights pretty much are portable nukes. You can easily use modifiers like umbrellas or softboxes and will be able to shoot the flash at quarter power for speedy recycle times.

Run and gun, LX3, 24mm, handheld bare SB-600 camera left, roughly 2/3 stops underexposed ambient, ƒ/4, 1/500s

I mentioned this wouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, you might already own the most expensive parts of the gear: the camera and speedlight.

If not, a speedlight with manual controls and an optical slave can be picked up for next to nothing compared to other photographic gear (like, say a major brand 24-70 ƒ/2.8 zoom). I recommend you find a flash that will do TTL with your camera. It’s always nice to have that option. Many off brand flashes do. With that said, I tend to stick to Nikon speedlights for my uses, since I know their color temperature and behavior well.

As for flash triggers – I strongly suggest getting a TTL cord. I’ve done a lot of optical slave syncing, and it’s simply not reliable enough outdoors in full sun. If you’re lusting for radio triggers, don’t cheap out. I did, and I’m not going to do it again. Lesson learned: if you don’t want to spend big money on Pocket Wizards – use a cheap, reliable TTL cable instead!

Baywatch Kid, LX3, hard crosslight using a small SB-600 at camera left, ƒ/7.1, 1/1000s

How do you get this look? Easy: set your camera to manual, underexpose for a rich blue sky, and then bring your main subject up to the correct exposure by dialing in the flash. That’s it.

I don’t use flash meters. The LCD and histogram are my real world flash meters, that also shows white balance, contrast and rendering with the current light. Just pop a test shot. Then adjust. Simple when you get the hang of it. You can even start out in full TTL using exposure compensation and flash value compensation to achieve this.

So, what cameras can actually do this? First off, pretty much any camera can – but with typical mirrorless sync speeds in the 1/180s region you would need to work with a ND-filter on camera and bare flashes at full power. Use of umbrellas and soft boxes in full sun is more or less out of the question. Unless working really close and/or with double speedlight brackets.

The best affordable camera in the market for quality high-speed sync shots right now would be a Fujifilm X100. APS-C size chip combined with fast sync speed in a package that can easily be found used at a decent price. After all it’s a camera many bought because of the hype, but found cumbersome to use and ditched it since it required you to think like a photographer instead of a machine gun shooter.

There are other cameras that will do this as well – and luckily, most of them can be found dirt cheap used.

When it comes to ‘larger’ chips, Nikon D40 (not D40x), D50, D70 and D70s are the most current DSLR:s using electronic shutters that will sync at any shutter speed (though they will artificially limit you to 1/500 when using TTL). The quality of light will largely compensate for the age of the chips. I’m predicting they will easily smoke my LX3 due to the larger chip size (I haven’t gone this direction since I don’t want to carry two DSLR’s, one is more than enough, thank you…).

But the most common high speed-culprits are actually compact cameras. Sadly, most of them miss that vital hot shoe (you can still slave an external flash optically, if you really try), but as you know by now the Panasonic LX3 and LX5 will do it. I still haven’t found out about the LX7 (since Panasonic decided to switched to a MOS type sensor, and the x-sync spec is missing everywhere, I don’t have any high hopes). Many Canon G cameras, like the G9 will do it as well.

Now, I know there are plenty more dark horses to be found, but these are the ones I have solid first hand information about. Do you own a fast sync camera? Let others know in the comments below!

(Oh yeah – there’s the major league as well: medium format beasts paired with leaf shutter lenses. Like Leica S, and Phase One 645 format if you’re using the right backs. But then the noct will have to go. And probably a kidney as well. Oh, and you never cared to much for your grandmother anyway, now did you?)

Sadly, for almost every new camera announced nowadays – especially mirrorless – I’m usually put down by its sync speed.

The one exemption is the Sony RX1, that will fry every other 35mm sensor camera in this regard, but since Sony knows this as well – it’s priced accordingly. I consider it out of my league. I’ll pick it up used in a couple of years if nothing else has happened by then.

For the future, I can’t help but put some faith in Fuji.

This is mainly because the X-mount lenses and cameras tick every box for me, except sync speed. And Fuji is an ambitious contender very much in control of their chips, and despite a great photographic tradition and legendary color – Fuji don’t have a current pro segment to protect (I believe many portrait pros would happily consider ditching their single digit D’s if the Canon 6D or Nikon D600 had at least 1/250s sync – and it’s pretty evident Canon and Nikon thinks that too, hampering them to slower speeds).

One day, maybe Fuji or some other company will heed my call for a fast syncing mirrorless with interchangeable lenses. Until then, we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got. Which – as I’ve hopefully shown you – isn’t that bad, really.

(So… anyone fancy a kidney?)

Anders Hansén works full-time for Swedish national broadcaster SVT Sport as technical coordinator, director, craft video editor and, occasionally, photographer. If you can read Scandinavian, you’ll find his (occasionally updated ;-) photography blog here.

Best regards, Steve, and my congrats on creating a killer photography site and community!

Anders Hansén

Oct 262012

Hello from Greenland! I want to give a little introduction to strobe photography using battery power pack strobes. I made this article in a brand specific example using the Profoto 7B 1200w power pack because I find it to be the easiest way to introduce strobe photography. Battery power packs of other brands are very similar in usage.

I am not an expert or even experienced strobe photographer but I want to give my contribution this wonderful website that have given me so many great articles ever since I started to follow Steve Huff right after the M9 was announced. I always want photography to be challenging and strobe photography seemed like the next exciting photographic venture into the unknown.

I’ve never previously been interested in strobe photography or portraiture for that matter. I’ve always done everything I could to avoid top mounted camera flashes, I hate the look, and to some extent I still do. I have always chosen depth of field with fast lenses to make the images “pop” or in other words using fast lenses to make the images appear 3D in a 2D medium. The same effect can be achieved using light instead of depth of field. I eventually became more interested in strobe photography after seeing a lot of great professional photographers work and I also enjoyed a lot of the images posted in flicker group “strobist”.

I found it quite difficult to find a starting point, all I knew was I wanted something powerful and battery powered strobe to take outdoors. I quickly came down to two battery power packs brands that I found interesting(out of a lot of great brands). Poul C. Buff “Zeus” series a great value for the money or the expensive and renowned brand Profoto and their “7B 1200w” battery power pack. I called my danish dealer that had the profoto 7B on sale and decided to jump at the offer, sell my beloved Leica Noctilux 0.95, and lay down a total of 9.000 USD for a hole package to get started in strobe photograph which included:

Profoto 7B 1200w battery power pack

By the master control knob (14) you control the total power/level of light out of the two lamp sockets(12,13). This power pack allows asymmetrical and symmetrical power distribution out of the two flash head (12). This basically means there is a button to either halving the power of the second lamp (asymmetrical) or identical power(symmetrical). This can come in handy if you have your main light on your subject and use the second lamp to creatively enhance the subject, for example from the back or above the subject. I done most of my portraits with a single light and use the sun as my “second light”. To give you an idea of power of this battery pack, a top mounted camera flash with AA batteries output about 60-90w (anybody correct me if Im wrong) compared to this battery pack that outputs 1200w which means it out powers the sun for a tiny brief moment. I would love to read peoples opinion and remarks about other brands in the comments field below.

– Two pro B flash heads (includes 4 meter cable each to connect to the powerpack)

– Two stands, Manfrotto flash head stand model 1004BAC

– One additional 5m flash head cable

– Pocket wizard

Receiver and transceiver for wirelessly triggering the power pack from the camera (connects to 7 on the power pack)

– A Light meter

The light meter is where all the key information is. I use my light meter connected to the power pack with a cable to trigger the flash and adjust the power to my ideal setting. You can buy light meters with build in wireless triggering that is compatible with pocket wizard and get rid of the cable.

– Light modifier

Now I needed a light modifier to soften the harsh light from the bare bulbs. I choose one 2×3(60x90cm) softbox that mounts on the flash head to start off with. All Profoto’s light modifiers claps easily directly on the flash head.

Keeping things simple

Its easy to overcomplicate things and make a advanced setup. You can indeed make a spectacular looking portraits using multiple lights sources but I prefer to use one light and the sun. For me that is complicated enough. Using strobes in the outdoors two factors needs to be acceptable: low wind and no rain.

Setting up

The Camera

Even though I love Leica M I find a DSLR with a zoom lens to fit my needs best for strobe photography. An important aspect of shooting in sun with strobes is “x sync” which is a given cameras ability to synchronize with a strobe. The faster the shutter speed a camera can synchronize the better. I use Canon 5D mark III that has a highest synchronization of 1/200th of a second. If I use a higher shutter speed with a strobe, a big black ugly line starts to appear on the button of the image and heres why. A strobe fires at around 1/3000th of a second and in that super short moment the WHOLE censor in the camera needs to be totally open. The shutter mechanism of the Canon 5D mark III stops to expose the whole censor beyond 1/200th of a second hence the black line visible in image.

I do most of my strobe photography in midday bright sunny conditions. I know It doesn’t seem necessary with strobes but I enjoy the look. After I have found a person willing to be photographed and a location, I set up the gear. I then meter the sun. A sunny bright summer midday in Greenland I often measure to ISO 100, 1/200th, F/11. I want my strobe light to offer one F stop faster light:

Typical Day light ISO 100, Shutter 1/200th of a second and F/11

Strobe Light I dial in to ISO 100, shutter 1/200th of a second and F/16. One stop faster. This darkens everything accept the subject and gives a dramatic image and deep blue sky. I don’t always choose this approach as it depends on the location, weather and the subject I photograph. I like to set up the softbox close to the subject, preferable within 1 meter when I do head shots. I don´t like to put up “rules” about how the light should be but many put out up the main light in a 20 degree angle and 1-2 feet higher than the subjects head. This way I like how the light “travels” across the face when I put up the light in a angled position, highlighting one side of the face and shadowing the other side. That way you get a sense of depth and “see” the subjects unique conjures instead of a “mug shot” kind of portrait where the main light points directly at the face. You can control the light fall off with F stops. The higher the F stop, the higher the light fall off and that way you control how dramatic you want the difference between light and shadow but keep defraction in mind when using small apertures. Remember to keep metering the strobe light. When I measure I put the light meter directly under the chin. If the person moves a little make sure your exposure is correct by remeasuring and adjust your light accordingly.

So what is challenging about strobe photography?

I see strobe photography as one part technical, one part creative and one part coincidental. When I set up the light I always have a vision about the image and how the subject is lit. After I have taken the images I had preplanned I try unexpected/unusual angles to shot or sometimes the subject somehow seems better lit another way than I had planned. The point is I always keep a open mind to creative impulse as I shoot. Sometime it leads to mistakes which is also welcome because I learn from mistakes. Even though I have limited experience I hope I have given the reader some sort of insight and I hope more experienced strobe shooters can ad or correct some of the info I have given in the comment field below. I also welcome other online resources about strobe photography in the comment field.


Per Nicolaisen

Husky. Canon 5D Mark II. canon 16-35mm II. 
One softbox on the right. Strobe 1,5 stops faster than sun light(if I remember correctly). It was a little difficult to measure the light “under the chin” as it wanted to bite my hand but I managed :-) 

My dad. Canon 5D Mark II. canon 16-35mm II
Softbox on the upper left, very near the face. Strobe light one stop faster than sun light.

Soccer kids. Canon 5D mark III. Canon 16-35mm II
I loaded my SUV with strobe and photo gear and decided to drive around my home town, Tasiiaq, to see if I could find any people willing to be photographed with strobes, when I saw these youngsters playing soccer. Two lights with standard zooms on the upper right.

Mr. Karl Pivat. Canon 5D mark III. Canon 16-35mm II
Softbox to the upper left, quite close to Mr. Pivat.

Susanne & Hendriks wedding day. Canon 5D mark III. Canon 16-35mm II
Softbox to the upper right. 

My Son and daughter. Malik & Niviaq among “river beauty” flowers <3
Canon 5D mark III. Canon 24-105MM
Softbox to the upper right.

Canon 5D mark III. Canon 24-105MM
softbox to the upper right and one light with standard zoom behind the ship to the right pointing towards the hull of the ship to the left… Light one stop faster than sun light. 


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