Thursday 5 May 2011

Using flash and typical lighting set ups...

One of the questions I seem to get asked a lot is how I use flashes. Typical placements, and powers and how to go about setting them up and using them properly.

Its like most things in life and photography, its practice. I use flashes on 80% of shoots I do, and that's pretty often, so for me anyways its almost instinct. I can rock up to a spot, take a look at the ambient light and guess what the flashes need to be pretty spot on first go.

So when I want to set up and strobed shot I do this:

  • Take a second to look around, work out where the sun is, what kind of terrain there is to work with
  • work out what lens to use, long, wide etc etc
  • work out what angle you want to shoot from
  • work out if you want a nicely balanced shot, so flash and ambient work together well, or if you want something more flash heavy.
  • Then get the flashes out of the bag.
  • Work out where you want light to fall on the rider/trail...put them where they need to be to do that.
  • Then work out zoom and power settings
  • then start shooting...

Something that not to many people seem to realise is that shutter speed only really affects ambient light , and not flash, and flash light is controlled in camera by the aperture.

So if you set up the flashes and they are a bit hot, go for a slightly higher Fstop, and in turn lower the shutter a bit. Or just go and turn the flash down... ha

Anyway now I will show you a few of my fav shots I have used flash on and tell you where and roughly the flash set ups for each shot.

A pretty balanced shot as far as lighting's flash behind the tree in the center of the shot on about 1/16th power and pretty wide zoom. one flash just out of shot to the bottom left of the shot on about 1/4 and about 50mm zoom...

A more flash heavy image here. Flash behind the tree on the left of the image will have been wide and about 1/8th power. then flash just out of shot on the right on the same side of the track as me on about 1/8th and again wide.
This is a good example of using the sun as a natural rim light. Only one flash used just to the left of the camera, very zoomed in around 80-100mm and on about 1/4 power as I was about 20 feet from the rider.
Flash just out of shot to the right of camera , wide and about 1/16th power. Flash just out of shot to the left is about 6 foot lower down the landing, zoomed in to about 50mm and about 1/8th power. Sun as natural rim light.

Again a pretty balanced shot ( I tend to shoot this way ) Flash out of shot on the right is pretty zoomed in and on 1/16th power. Flash out of shot in the left is wider probs about 24mm and about 1/8th.

So the typical lighting set ups are normally 2 flashes. I have 3 but don't really use the 3rd as 2 well placed lights is normally enough and takes a 3rd of the time to set up.

You often see flashes in a diagonal line crossing the rider. One as Rim and one as main fill...That's a tried and tested set up that just works. But for more interesting shots, you need to think a bit more outside the box...

Try and guess the lighting set up for these ones, if any one guesses them I will send you a free print...


  1. My guess is on flash positions:
    1. left down, and mayby on right down ???
    2. left up ???
    3. left up and behind the ride ???

  2. Good guesses, close on all... They are hard ones ha

  3. Pretty tricky.. I'm guessing:
    1. Left and right, in front of the rider and on tripods
    2. Left up in line with Josh and one behind, possibly slightly to the right? Hidden out of sight.
    3. This one is impossible!! Definitely one behind as a rim light I think, below his foot and on the run in. And possibly one to the left in front slightly.

    Jim @ WO.

  4. Again the right number of flashes right but in the wrong place...I will help you out with the cheating one.

    The middle one of Josh.

    3 flashes. One on the bank to the left.

    One on the far side of the gully that has been photoshopped out.
    one behind the lip.

    The other 2 have no photoshop in them like that, guess them the prints yours...

  5. 1. one left out of shot zoomed into rider on high power for fill in. One also directly below the rider hidden by the landing spot.
    3. One behind down low zoomed pretty wide and powerful, one on the left behind the tree, targeting the rider, and possibly, just possibly one slightly to the right just off the track to highlight the landing zone of bark and leaves.

  6. 1. left up and in front of rider???
    3. left up (behind that tree), behind the rider, and mayby behind dead tree as well