Friday, March 23, 2012

John Beckett: Shooting Action with the TritonFlash™

For the last photo-shoot at the international reps meeting at Photoflex a few weeks ago, I decided to do an action shot outdoors at sunset.  In addition to showcasing the beautiful quality of light from the TritonFlash™, I also wanted to demonstrate its super fast recycle rate of 7 frames per second while shooting a moving mountain biker.

I have to admit this was something I'd never done before with flash, but as the old saying goes, "All ya need is one!" In this case two worked better.

In the past, we would have shot hundreds of frames to get "the shot".  But when time, location and conditions don't always work as planned, experience and knowing what can be done in post-production can play a big part to insure you create a good shot.

Under most conditions, using electronic flash means you will only be able to shoot one frame of a fast action sequence.  You either have to pre-focus on the spot where you want to catch the action, use follow-focusing or use a continuous focus until you are ready to shoot a single frame.  Because of the angle needed for our moving bike, the pre-focus method worked best with Nikon's "Continuous-High" firing mode and focused on the bike's takeoff point.  Once the focus point was set, I didn't move until the entire sequence was completed from pre-focus to our model going back to his original starting point -- through the takeoff and landing.

There were several other factors to contend with: the position of the sun, the weight of the bike, the only approach direction, and a one foot high dirt mound on the edge of a parking lot for the ramp.  The result was that the bike never achieved more than a few inches of clearance off the ground.  Due to these limitations I shot with a very wide angle lens to get low enough to make our small jump to look somewhat dramatic.

I knew that the TritonFlash™ would do well with the "Continuous-High" firing rate, but found the remote flash trigger couldn't keep up.  The solution was to shoot in bursts of three or four frames that the trigger could handle better.  Later, I realized syncing directly into the TritonFlash™ head would have solved the problem.

The image I decided to work with was based on the height of the bike off the ground.  In that shot, the model's face wasn't well illuminated because of the remote trigger's firing speed for the main light head, or there was mirror cut-off as a result of shooting at a 1/250th of a second shutter speed.  I'll be doing more tests in the near future to determine the safe shooting boundaries at higher shutter speeds with my camera and the TritonFlash™ outdoors. [Editor's note: With standard wireless triggers and DSLR's, 1/160th is the safest bet for fastest sync speed, in some cases 1/200th.  Higher end trigger systems, like PocketWizard, allow for faster sync speeds and 1/250th would be no problem.]

To make it a better shot, I selected another frame just before the point of take-off frame and combined the two using Photoshop, replacing the darker face with the better illuminated one.  A Motion Blur filter was applied to the background and Liquify was used to lower the ground under the bike's back tire. 

After the action shot, I took a still shot with the same general lighting setup.  Needless to say, I was really happy with the quality of light the TritonFlash™ provided.

Tech Specs
Camera: Nikon D300 with a Tamron 11-18mm lens
Exposure mode: Manual
Aperture: f/9
Shutter speed: 1/250th of a second
ISO: 400
Lighting: TritonFlash™ Kit with 3' OctoDome, 32" MultiDisc
Color: a warm color correction gel was taped inside the OctoDome to help balance the warmth of the setting sun.

John Beckett is based in Phoenix, Arizona, where he is the Creative Director and Photographer for J² Photo Productions.  To see more of John's work, visit

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