November 2016 | Issue no. 29 | by mark shaiken

do :: or :: diso continues the theme of accessible sports.  This month — cycling.   Like we discussed in last month’s issue about running, almost everyone has access to a bike and there is little to impede your access to cyclists.  Here in Colorado, there are bike parks, mountain bike trails, jumping parks, and lots of road cyclists.  Most of the cyclists I meet are happy to be photographed in exchange for some shots for them to post.


All of the shots in this month’s edition were taken with off-camera flash.  For me, cycling is a great chance to light your subject as they whizz by.  Lighting cyclists offers four advantages over simply snapping your shutter.


First, it gives you a chance to balance the light on the subject with the bright blue sky.  Without the lights, either the subject would likely be a silhouette or the sky would be too light and blown out.  Remember, we are talking about off-camera lighting.  The simple way to think about off-camera lighting in broad daylight:  you are making two images – the first is of the background stopped down to achieve whatever tone you have in mind (often, you underexpose for the background).  If you have underexposed the background and then took the shot without flash, the cyclist would be way underexposed.  Try implementing the two image method as follows:  with your camera in manual mode, shoot the background at 1/1000 second (see hype sync discussion below), f / 5.6 – f / 8.0, and adjust the ISO until the background and the sky have the tone you would like.  Then, use those settings for the image of your cyclist.  You add light with your flashes to light up the cyclist.  Two images – one to establish the settings for the background / sky, and the second of your subject, using those background settings.  The result is a beautiful Colorado blue sky and a well-lit cyclist.


Second, the use of light allows you to freeze the action based on how fast your flash is — meaning, how little time your flash stays lit while it puts out the requisite amount of light you have told it to deliver.

Third, flash puts you in control of the image.  No matter the brightness of the sky, you are making the images not just taking the shots.

And, Fourth, flash is just downright fun.

In the fun category, there is a lot to consider.

  • What are the lighting options?  Nikon Speedlights (or Canon Speedlites) are small, run on AA batteries, and if you use several lights, they can really put out volumes of light. They are not cheap but they are lightweight, easily fit into a camera bag, and often available used either at Amazon, eBay, or from KEH.  You might need four of them to really light a subject.  Or you can use strobes, such as the Profoto B2s, with a battery power pack:  also not cheap but quite compact and each one puts out as much light as 4 or 5 Speedlights.  Two of these B2s, powered by Profoto’s lightweight rechargeable battery packs, will do the trick.
  • How much light will light the subject?  Flashes can emit different amounts of light. Nikon Speedlights reflect light output as fractions:  1/1 (full power) and then increments of full power — 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, etc.  Strobes reflect light output a bit differently but with the same notion – full power and then increments of full power.  After you settle in on your camera settings for your perfect background / sky, you can determine how much light to use in three ways:  use a light meter (I do not); trial and error — start at about 1/8 power, take a test shot and adjust upward or downward depending on what the test image reveals; or shoot in TTL mode – meaning the camera and the lights will determine how much light is needed to light the subject.


  • How can your camera and your lights communicate?  To light off-camera, you will need a way for your camera and your lights to communicate.  If you are using Speedlights, you can either rely on Nikon’s “Commander Mode” in your camera settings, or you can use radio transmitters, like Pocket Wizards.  Commander Mode is not always reliable in broad daylight as it is an infrared signal sent by the camera and, before it is received by the flash, it can be swallowed up by sunlight.  So, I use Pocket Wizard Flex TT5s wireless radio transmitters – one Flex sits on the camera’s hot shoe (along with a doo-hinkie called an AC3 ZoneController that lets you adjust the amount of light right from your camera), and the flash sits on another Flex.  The camera Flex transmits and the flash Flex receives.  The information transmitted to the flash is how much light to emit and sync (see below) information.  Or if you are using the Profoto B2s, you can us the Profoto TTL Air Remote as the camera’s transmitter and the B2s have their own built in receivers.  Same idea as the Flexes.


  • What is sync speed?  Remember that your lights put out a burst of light.  And, remember that your camera’s shutter curtain opens and then closes (the shutter curtain is a little more complicated than that but open and close is sufficient to get the idea).  Sync is nothing more than timing the light emission to match (or synchronize with) the amount of time your shutter stays open.  In the not too distant past, if your shutter speed exceeded 1/250th second, the flash would not be able to push light out to match how long your shutter stayed open and there could be black bands on your image that were not properly exposed to the light.  In addition, 1/250th of a second was not fast enough to match the speed of your athlete. Science,  however, has begun to catch up.  Speedlights can now emit pulses of light at speeds higher than 1/250th second to ensure that the entire image is evenly lit.  And, Flexes can sync the Speedlight at speeds over 1/5000th second or faster.  Profoto B2s can likewise sync at similar high speeds with the Profoto TTL Air Remotes.  This high speed sync (sometimes called hypersync or high speed sync) will drain your flash batteries faster but the results are well worth it.


  • How many shots per second can you take?  There is a lot to love about Speedlights.  One disadvantage, however, is how long they take to recycle.  Recycling is the amount of time it takes the light to ready itself for the next shot – to charge itself back up to fire again.  This means that if you are lighting with Speedlights, you can only get squeeze off one shot as the cyclists goes by.


There are new products out on the market, however, that recycle in crazy short periods of time, such as the Profoto B2s.  The B2s can take up to 20 shots per second at less than full power.  With the B2s, you can use your camera’s shutter burst capability to take a number of shots per second and thereby assure that you will catch the cyclist airborne the first time, every time.



Grab some lights, find a cyclist, and practice the two-image technique.  Next month, we continue with accessible sports as do :: or :: diso turns its attention to volleyball.




Mark Shaiken skylineDenver based, mark shaiken :: photography
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