June 2014 | Issue no. 3 | by mark shaiken

Welcome to do :: or :: diso, a monthly sports photography ezine. do :: or :: diso will address issues particular to sports photography in a format that is to the point and easy to understand.

This Issue No. 3 of do :: or :: diso finishes the ezine’s inaugural trilogy of articles and shows you two ways to draw attention to the subject of the image. This month — how to control the background exposure with Speedlights (Nikon) / Speedlites (Canon), and in Lightroom.

Speedlight Tutorial Disclaimer – focus on the Creative

In the speedlight section we focus on concepts, not the technical. As Tom Bol writes in Adventure Sports Photography, “Don’t let the technical inhibit the creative. Learning flash technique can be intimidating at first. Instead of relying on the sun, you’re now creating your own light and controlling all aspects of it.”

So, the first part of this article is not about the “how to” of speedlighting. Rather, we focus on how lights can change some of your sports pictures for the better and maybe, start to make you a convert to the fun of speedlighting. For the “how to”, I suggest reading Tom Bol’s Adventure Sports Photography, or Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Flash Photography or Syl Arena’s Speedliter’s Handbook, each available on Amazon. Or peruse Dave Black’s instructions at daveblackphotography.com. Or better yet, call or write Tom Bol (you can find him on facebook) and talk to him about a sports speedlight workshop.

The Premise

The premise is simple: The eye is drawn to the lightest part of the image. If the subject is lighter than the background, the eye will be drawn to the subject. We can make the background darker in relation to the subject’s exposure in two ways – as you make the image with speedlights, and in post with a few simple Lightroom adjustments.

With Speedlights

Think of speedlight photography as two photographs that make up a single image – first, the background of the image on which the speedlight has no effect because the background is too far away for the flash’s light to reach; second, the subject of the image is lit to a proper exposure by the introduction of light from the speedlight. The “two image” method is relatively simple (ignoring the technical of how the speedlights light the subject): Start with the background and no lights. Using your camera’s manual mode, take an image underexposed by one or two stops. Play around with aperture, ISO and shutter speed until the background is darker than what your eye sees and you achieve the beginnings of a dramatic background. As you adjust the shutter speed faster, as you lower the ISO, as you stop down the aperture, the background will of course become darker as each of these adjustments limits the light that is introduced onto the sensor.

Once you like the background, introduce the speedlight(s) to add light to the image sufficient to expose the subject (this is the part where you should refer to one of the “how to” speedlight resources). The process is akin to a painter’s workflow — paint the background then paint the subject.

The results can be pleasing and sometimes dramatic.

sir b ball

billy baseball

kelly climb


(the rock climbing and basketball images were taken with Tom Bol at a one on one workshop). To make each of these images, one, two, or three speedlights are used with the above simple technique: first figure out the exposure of the background with no lights, then add lights for the proper exposure of the subject. In all of the images, the backgrounds were much lighter than depicted in the final image. But by underexposing the background, the subject is more prominent and the eye is cajoled to look at the subject.

Of course, lights are not permitted at many athletic events, so speedlights are most useful for sportraits and planned shoots of athletes.

Post Processing in Lightroom

When speedlights are not an option, Lightroom can help make the adjustment with just one tool, the magical radial tool. The radial tool is located on the right side of your desktop accessed in the development mode of Lightroom and looks like this – the round highlighted circle:

radial tool

With the radial tool selected, the cursor will change to a cross. Activate your selection device (hold down on the mouse, or on your selection button on your tablet pen) and start to drag the cross in one direction to expand a radial. When you expand the radial, it will look like this:

radial step one

The four north, south, east and west squares on the radial can be dragged out or in to change its shape and size. The black dot in the center can be dragged to move the entire radial. If you hold down on the shift key as you create the radial, it will develop as a perfect circle, not an ellipse. And, move the cursor to just outside of the radial and a curved icon appears with which you can rotate the radial on its axis. When you are done, it should look something like this:

radial selection

Grab the inner dot and position the radial on the subject of the image and then adjust the exposure downward:

exposure radial adjustment

This will darken the pixels outside the radial and leave the exposure of the subject inside the radial unchanged. Be judicious with the exposure adjustment. The effect should be subtle and a small adjustment of -15 or -20 should do it (the screen shot shows a -91 adjustment — just so you can see which slider moved!).

Last, you can play with the feather adjustment to transition the exposure differences between the pixels inside and outside of the radial. The result:

ksu before

ksu after

And, of course, you can really have some fun when you employ the techniques described in Issues 1 and 2 as well.

relays before

relays after

Next Month

It’s summer time at do :: or :: diso, baby! Let’s play ball.



Mark Shaiken skyline
mark shaiken :: photography
contact me at: mark@markshaiken.com
or by calling 913.530.6539