Flash the Heineken Cup

The Heineken Cup visits NUI Maynooth, Ireland, 2011

Just returned from an assignment today, so this one’s fresh off my camera, the flash units having barely cooled down. I was hired to take some pictures of folks from the NUI Maynooth Rugby Club together with the trophy from the Heineken Cup.

The problem: The shoot had to be fast (the university’s president only had 20 minutes for the gig and 15 odd group pictures had to be taken), the pictures obviously had to be really “nice”, but worst of all: The weather. No, it was not raining — to the contrary — the one-in-a-million thing happened… 100% pure 3pm-sunshine. Great, since the shoot was to take place on the rugby pitch (to get the NUIM post-padding in).

So there I had it: photograph people in plain sunshine. While sunshine is really pretty for landscapes, it’s not ideal at all for people. Extremely harsh shadows on people’s faces and a great deal of squinting are the main issues. There’s not much you can do about the squinting, apart from turning them as much as possible from the sun. But the harsh shadows can be alleviated with some extra gear.

That meant to charge my flash gun batteries to the max, pack two tripods and a reflector. Steffi was kind enough to woman the reflector (which made the squinting worse, but I needed all the fill light I could get). The two flash guns I have were mounted on the tripods, set to 100% power (their are GN 56 and 58) and wireless triggering. Unfortunately I don’t have radio triggers, so I had to go the much less reliable route of optical triggering. Yeah, in bright sunshine. Thankfully, the flashes did surprisingly well and they had a triggering rate of I’d say over 80%. Again, not great, but it had to do.

The setup was the following: I placed the people so that the sun is about 60° to their right; the flash guns and reflector (1m fold-up golden reflector) where set to come in at the same angle from their left, about 2m away from them, as close as possible without getting them in the shots. To get the sky as dark as possible I used a polarising filter, which also allowed me to use a fairly large aperture. But with aperture and exposure time fixed (I set it to the shortest possible value to reduce the ambient light impact on the picture) I brought the ISO up until the image was well exposed. Although the flash units were working at their highest setting, I still had to bring the ISO up to 1250. Yes, that makes the images a bit more noisy than what I would have liked, but there was not much I could do about that.

I think the end result came out quite nice, I hope the uni will be happy with it. It certainly cost me a few gray hairs…


  1. Hi Ronan,

    Thanks for your detailed comment. However, I did indeed shoot at 1/8000th of a second (with mechanical shutter), without the banding / exposure issues you get through the traditional strobist approach. This is possible with the flash system of my camera which allows high speed syncing even with optical remote triggering. However, as with all flash systems in high speed sync mode, your output power drops significantly, hence the high ISO…

    Anyway, I hardly ever use flash and I’m not very experience in this domain, so I might have done something stupid none the less. But in the end, the client didn’t complain about the noise, and I personally really have nowhere near as much a problem with noise than some other people have.

  2. Hi Florian,

    Found your blog via the Irish Times article on Hill Cottage (and the link from its website to yours).

    Shot above is great and the explanation is always good to see. I’m intrigued about the shutter speed though, and wonder if (unknowningly, perhaps) you had made life a bit more difficult for yourself with it.

    I gather you use a camera with an electronic shutter if you were able to use 1/8000s with flash and optical slaves. On lots of cameras – those with mechanical (front- and rear-curtain) shutters – you’re limited to 1/250s when using flash, because above this the full sensor isn’t exposed during the flash burst. In your case, the full sensor clearly was exposed (from the image this is clear) when the flash fired. However the 1/8000s would still have created an issue.

    I suspect that you were inadvertently only seeing a portion of the flash burst – especially as you were at full power on two flashes. The flash, at full power, fires for longer than it does at 1/2 or 1/4 power, and I think your shutter was closing before it was finished firing. So the “effective” flash power at that shutter speed would have been much much less.

    I understand the motivation to choose the shutter speed so that the ambient light was reduced, but then when you increase the ISO (presumably to account for the flash exposure) you’re also increasing the ambient exposure.

    Instead of ISO 1250 and 1/8000s at f/3.2, had you gone to, say 1/1000s at ISO 200 at f/4, which is around about the same ambient exposure, then you would have seen the full power from your flashes (and I imagine could have reduced them to 1/4 or 1/2 power in reality) and had a much less noisy picture. Plus, if the power didn’t need to be full power, your recycling time would be much quicker. Which might have made for less gray hairs!

    Good post, and a great shot, though… but I thought it’d be worth mentioning an alternative approach that might have solved the noise issue.

    Look forward to exploring the rest of your blog!


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