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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre Sports Talk
Thread started 10 Sep 2007 (Monday) 17:27
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Night Flash Football

 
dmwierz
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Sep 10, 2007 17:27 |  #1

There have been numerous discussions on this board regarding shooting night football with flash. I thought I would post a few representative shots from last Friday night's games, and each of these show the good, the bad and the ugly. The good: bright colors and minimal shadows; the bad' some motion blur on some extremities; the ugly: some people don't like the brightness.

These aren't posted as an endorsement of shooting with flash. I have grown to appreciate that the benefits of shooting this way outweigh the negatives, and most of the shots presented here would enlarge nicely to almost any size. Each of these was shot at ISO 800, f/2.8 and 1/250s - the close-ups were shot with a 400 and a 580EX on a bracket mounted to my MkIIn, shot with +1 FEC under ETTL. The wider shots were with a 70-200 and an on-camera 420EX shot ETTL on a 20D (my second body and lens when shooting football).

I monitor the histograms and control the flash output by dialing up/down the FEC.

Some people absolutely hate the look of flashed football, and I understand this. I have a couple customers who require it, and I understand this also.

Talk amongst yourselves...

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dmwierz
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Sep 10, 2007 17:28 |  #2

2 more...

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dmwierz
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Sep 10, 2007 17:28 as a reply to dmwierz's post |  #3

And the last one...

Be advised the runner's eyes aren't showing "demon eyes" that can result from flash. He is actually looking to his far left - the direction he is cutting to, and you are seeing the whites of his eyes.

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ironbelle
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Sep 10, 2007 18:04 |  #4

#5 catching the ball is nice! I was under the impression that you couldn't use a flash during a football game, but I guess I am wrong. I think you have not choice if you want good shots. at night since the stadium lights are pretty high up and the lighting itself is questionable.


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dmwierz
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Sep 10, 2007 18:15 |  #5

ironbelle wrote in post #3902865external link
#5 catching the ball is nice! I was under the impression that you couldn't use a flash during a football game, but I guess I am wrong. I think you have not choice if you want good shots. at night since the stadium lights are pretty high up and the lighting itself is questionable.

Yeah, this was the start of a 92 yard kick-off return, though you wouldn't know it from this shot.

Some people shoot night football ambient, and especially for newspapers, you can sometimes get away with this. The folks I sell to take these shots and make them into prints, up to an including poster size, and it's hard to imagine getting many captures that would be usable at these sizes without using a flash. Not impossible, mind you, just more difficult.


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hawk911
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Sep 10, 2007 18:39 |  #6

Dennis, thanks for the tips. I'm going to try them again Friday.


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Sledhed
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Sep 10, 2007 18:54 |  #7

Edit - When this thread first started I wasn't a big fan of flash for football (that's what the this post was originally about). Since using one for the entire 2008 season I have changed my mind.


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dmwierz
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Sep 10, 2007 20:21 as a reply to Sledhed's post |  #8

Chris,

Don't get me wrong - I'm not espousing one way as being preferred over another. But I don't think flash should be rejected out of hand and a photographer needs to be receptive to using any tool at their disposal.

I spefically chose shots that show the plusses and minuses of using flash, yet all of these shots would be acceptable by most of the folks I work for.

Just as a point of comparison, look at the light under the helmet in the first shot I posted, and then look at the shadows under the helmet in the shot you posted. Your first shot is a good capture, but in both of the first two images I posted, the face is completely lit, and in this game, parents pay to see their kids' faces fully exposed, not hidden in the shadows.

I don't like the look of the players eyes in your last pic

Actually, all you're seeing there are the whites of his eyes - he's looking fully to his left. Flash can give bad "demon eye" but that's not what's happening here.

Another benefit of flash is that you get the action stoppage of the flash, which is a lot quicker than the shutter (at full power, the 580EX flashes at 1/830s), so for example, your kicker shot would have less blur on the football and kicking leg and the ball.


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stewy
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Sep 10, 2007 21:34 |  #9

Dennis: thank you so much for sharing your photos and, more importantly, your techniques. I am struggling with the same problem and have recently acquired the 580ex to give it a try.

A couple of questions (remember I am new to the flash):
-how many frames per second are you able to get using the 580 with the settings you have outlined?
-Is it possible to use a slightly faster shutter speed and use the flash to compliment the stadium lighting rather than replace it?

I have been struggling to find "howto's" on the subject of sports photography using flash or ??? - is this something that can be done in other ways and, if so, what are your experiences ... I have been told that strobes are sometimes installed at facilities, especially basketball courts and I have been trying to figure out if there is a "poor man" solution that might be comparable.

Finally, what power solution(s) have you found work best for you with the 580ex?

Thanks again, Stewy




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Kiddo
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Sep 10, 2007 21:35 |  #10

Great photos and thanks for the tips!! Football season is starting here and I"m gonna be doing a lot of night games with in the next few weeks!


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dmwierz
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Sep 11, 2007 07:43 as a reply to stewy's post |  #11

Stewy,

You ask a few good questions, and I'll give you my thoughts one by one.

First of all, spend an evening on this site. It will be time well spent:

http://photonotes.org/​articles/eos-flash/external link

Here is another GREAT spot for lighting info:

http://strobist.blogsp​ot.com/external link

Now, onto your questions:

-how many frames per second are you able to get using the 580 with the settings you have outlined?

I use an external battery pack to power the 580EX, a Quantum Turbo 2x2, which allows me to get 2-3 fps. However, fps isn't all that important and, like shooting in the daylight, I don't recommend relying on it to get your shots. Timing the shots is still preferred. In fact, I set the cameras to the slower burst rate just so I don't "overshoot" the flash. With the external battery, it IS possible to fire the flash so frequently that you'll fry the flash head - I've seen this occur. Plus, if you set the flash to the highest burst speed, no flash can keep up with the camera, and you WILL miss shots.

-Is it possible to use a slightly faster shutter speed?

You can only sync up to 1/250s with the current generation of CMOS sensors (20D-40D, 1D MkII - 1D MkIIn - I hear the MKIII sync's at 1/300s but I haven't used one). The original CCD 1D sync's at 1/500s. So, to answer your question, unless you shift to HIgh Speed Sync (HSS) on the flash, things won't work well if you raise your shutter speed higher than the sync speed. You'll see lines across your images, and all manner of bad stuff will happen.

So, what is HSS? This is when your flash fires at a much higher speed - it actually fires a series of very high speed pulses rather than one continuous pulse. Because of this, and a few other factors, when you're in HSS mode, and running shutter speeds > 1/250s, you lose a LOT of range. See this explanation for more detail:

http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthre​ad.php?t=208520

HSS can work OK, and I use it from time to time, but I tend to avoid it. It also lengthens recycle time for the flash, which cuts down on fps, and uses up power at a far greater rate, so your batteries won't last as long.

-Is it possible to use the flash to compliment the stadium lighting rather than replace it?

You might think this is a good idea, however it can cause more problems than it helps. The primary reason why you want your flash to be your dominant light source is that when you use flash, the duration of the flash burst is a lot shorter than the duration that the shutter is open. The flash duration of the 580EXx, at full power, is around 1/800s. As you reduce the power, the duration goes down considerably. In other words, the flash gets faster.

Why is this important? This faster duration does two things for you. One good, one not so good.

Firstly, the good: it can stop the action better than your shutter speed. You read that right - even though your shutter is set to 1/250s, you can actually get 1/800s (or faster if running at lower than full power) worth of effective action stopping.

Now the not so good: because when your flash fires when the shutter is open it exposes the sensor to its light. This is exactly what you want to happen, and why you use the flash. However, if the ambient light is close enough to the level of the flash, you run the very real risk of getting two exposures. Your sensor exposes once for the flash at, say 1/800s, and another exposure for the ambient at 1/250s. The result of this is a sharp image at 1/800s from the flash, and a slightly more blurry one at 1/250s, superimposed on each other. Not so good. You get a "ghost" image surrounding the sharp one - VERY annoying.

For this reason, I set my flash at least one stop higher than ambient, and if I see any ghosting in my images, I either up the Flash Exposure Compensation if I'm in ETTL mode, boost the power if I'm in manual, or dial down my exposure (dial down the ISO).

That's not to say you can't "finesse" mixing flash with ambient - just be aware that when you do this you might run into ghosting, and if you see it, you'll need to know how to deal with it.

Another good reason for having the flash be dominant is that you can avoid the funky white balance issues that come from the lights cycling in gyms (or even in stadiums). Here's a great discussion of light cycling:

http://www.sportsshoot​er.com ...ge_display.html?tid​=20873external link

As for shooting manual (flash and camera), a trick I learned from another shooter is to shoot a series of images at various exposures (keep the aperture and shutter speed constant and vary the ISO) until you can JUST see the players - they'll look like shadowy ghosts. Leave the camera at this setting, and then turn your flash on at maybe 1/8 power, and move it up from there until your histogram shows some info on the right half. Shooting manual flash and camera can yield optimal results, but you'll need to adjust the level of your flash as the distance to your subject changes.

I have been told that strobes are sometimes installed at facilities, especially basketball courts and I have been trying to figure out if there is a "poor man" solution that might be comparable.

Many pro and college arenas have strobes installed. These are VERY powerful and VERY expensive. Most of these are "permanent" and available only to team photogs, AP and Getty dudes and maybe SI, et. al. The rest of us are on our own.

Here are a few links with more info on this topic:

http://www.daveblackph​otography.com/workshop​/arena-lighting.htmexternal link

http://www.gophotograp​hy.net/tips/lighting.h​tmlexternal link

http://www.gophotograp​hy.net/tips/biglightin​g.htmlexternal link

A lot of us who shoot High School basketball and hockey will also install strobes temporarily (like White Lightnings or Alien Bees, for example) but even this isn't a "poor man's" solution, as it can cost a couple thousand bucks. I have had pretty good luck using my camera flashes mounted on flash stands, fired with Pocket Wizards (the most expensive part - these can be replaced with hard wiring, which is a LOT cheaper, but creates trip hazards) and found that this works remarkably well, and is very quick to set up and break down.

Check this out for starters:

http://strobist.blogsp​ot.com ...ment-prep-basketball.htmlexternal link

I have been struggling to find "howto's" on the subject of sports photography using flash or ??? - is this something that can be done in other ways and, if so, what are your experience

Hopefully the info above will help.

Finally, what power solution(s) have you found work best for you with the 580ex?

I've had good luck with the Quantum Turbo 2x2, but it's not cheap. I have used it to power my flashes and my camera bodies, as it has two output ports.

Others have reported good luck with the Black Box

http://www.aljacobs.co​m/THE%20BLACK%20BOX.ht​mexternal link

and the Dyna-Lite JackRabbit. The Canon Compact Battery Pack CP-E3 is another option for just under $150 that uses AA batteries.

Hopefully this will get you going and well on your way.


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hawk911
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Sep 11, 2007 07:50 |  #12

Dennis, a wealth of imformation that I now have to digest, and understand. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


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Sep 11, 2007 07:52 |  #13

Thanks Dennis for all the details....I enjoy all of your posts and learn a little each time.


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Anderson-Photography
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Sep 11, 2007 08:50 |  #14

Thanks, Dennis. A very nice primer for shooting football with flash. Most of my shots are for newspaper use and with the ambient light available in our conference a flash is almost mandatory. As I've said before, the ambient light in the stadium of the team I cover at ISO 1600 and f2.8 is 1/60. Not too easy to work in those conditions. I recently started shooting at ISO 800 with my onboard 550EX and have adjusted the flash exposure using the guide of what hash mark the offense is on and I go from there. It's been working our pretty well but like you said, you don't get a winner everytime but I do collect many, many more usable images than throw aways. Also, thanks for the many links you posted. It will make for very interesting reading over the next couple of days.

Chris


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Redfish
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Sep 11, 2007 09:31 |  #15

Dennis
looks like naperville north.....
You commented that you shot with a580ex FEC-1 and ETTL. In an earlier post you indicated you preferred M for flash mode. Do you prefer M or ETTL when flashing football.

I've got extremely poor HS lights here and used M last weekend - results were better than last year shooting ambient

Steve


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