Sunday, September 28, 2008

Strobing high school gyms

f2.8 @ 1/250th ISO 250
Canon Mark II - 70-200mm f2.8
2 Vivitar 285hv's shoe flashes at 1/2 power
White Balance: AWB
I find Flash White Balance tends to shift the image a bit red.

"Any light is available light" W.Eugene Smith

For all of you that think it costs a lot of money to get set up to strobe basketball or volleyball, I give you my cheap gym strobe kit.

You can also do the same thing with nikon or canon shoe flashes, but with my set-up you can build battery packs that will recycle quickly and last an entire tournament on one charge for less than $20 bucks a pack. A charge on my homemade battery packs last longer than quantum turbo battery packs. Here's another way to make the fake batteries from a photo blog by photographer JC Sullivan.

And if you really don't want to make them yourselves, Al Jacobs will do it for you:
The cords are all the way at the bottom of his rant about the new chinese 285's not being as good as the older original versions. Although I think he may only make them if you buy one of his black boxes.

Monolights are sometimes over kill in smaller gyms and all those extension cords can get messy. This kit sets up quickly and discreetly, many of us use this type of set up. Bigger isn't always better! :)

If you want to use lights like Q flashes or Lumydines make sure you find out what the flash duration is for those lights, it's all about a fast flash duration. Not all flashes are made the same, some have a slow flash duration and it will cause motion blur or ghosting. Do your research.

Speaking of research here's a review of my beloved Vivitar 285hv's from Popular Photography.

RADIO TRANSMITTERS: The standard for radio transmitters are Pocket Wizards, but there are some less expensive alternatives that have come out recently. Paul Buff has the CyberSync: Photographer Christopher Kays has pointed out that to use the Cybersync remotes with a Vivitar flash you'll need a special cord, my flashes came with the right cord (vivitar to monoplug) but if yours didn't you can find them at FlashZebra, they seem to be the least expensive source. Speaking of cords if you need a remote camera cord or any type of special cord or connection, check out Michael Bass he makes all kinds of specialty cords, I have several and they are very well made.
Then there's Radio Poppers, they've been hyping a cheaper version called Radio PopperJR for months now, the P1 poppers have gotten some good reviews so keep an eye out for the Jr's.: Update on these guys, they've cancelled the Jr's and are making some other radio transmitter, I can't really figure out what they're doing. Okay found a price sheet online, looks like the Jr's are a pretty good deal, $99.00 for a set.
And if you really want to go cheap, there are quite a few cheap units on Ebay and other sites that will work fairly well. Enough to let you get hooked on shooting hoops with strobes. :) Here's an example from and another from I've never used either of these, so I'm not making any recommendations, just giving some cheaper alternatives if you're on a really tight budget. Do your own research!
And finally there's buying used, EBay is a good source of used PW's, the neat thing about them is that no matter what model you buy it will work with all the other models. The old 16 channel will work just fine with the brand new Transceivers. I have one of almost every type of PW made except the multi-max.

COOL VIVITAR MOD: Okay, I needed another cord or two since I'm adding two more vivitars to my flash kit. So I checked out FlashZebra ( it was the cheapest at $14.00 a cord), but in my search for something even less expensive, I stumbled on something I think is better. A mod to the flash that hardwires a mono plug directly to the flash so a PW can be plugged right into the flash, brilliant!! Here's a how-to video and here's an article. I'll be modifying my stable of flashes in the next few days and will post a report and photos. I love DIY!

Here's a great photo of one photographer's set up, basically where he placed his lights in a particular gym and what he wanted as a light spread. Thanks to Thomas Witte, check out his other tips too. Just an FYI though, he wrote this when he was shooting film, digital requires more stops over ambient to freeze the action than film does.  I like to get at least 3-4 stops over to avoid motion blur or ghosting.  Drop your ISO to get enough over ambient.
Here's another example

Here's a shot of photographer Joe Boyd's set up, he's using Cybersync's, Vivitar 285's and a homemade battery pack.  His stand is gaffer taped to the stands, but you could also use zip ties.
Thanks for sharing Joe!

GUIDE NUMBERS: I bet many of you are saying "What the heck is a guide number." It's what we old school fully manual shooters use to use to figure out what power to set our flashes. No TTL in the good old days. :) I can go through a lengthy explanation but luckily David Hobby over at the Strobist has done it for me. But why do you need to know about guide numbers? Because it makes it a lot easier to set your strobes close to the right exposure on the first test shot. The more you understand how this stuff works, the easier it is to get good exposures without a lot of guessing and trial and error.

CHEAP SUPER CLAMPS: Bogen super clamps can be quite pricey, I found these off brand superclamps online for $24.19 I haven't used them myself but if I needed another clamp I'd be giving them a try. For clamping my itty bitty shoe flashes they should work just fine.

Dirk Dewachter sent me an email about a clamp he's now using to attach his strobes in gyms.
Here's what he says:
I started to use these to mount my lights at Volleyball and maybe basketball, if I can move them beyond the baseline:
They have them in 2 inch or 6 inch thread with a standard light stand knob at the end. I shot the Mira Costa – Orange Lutheran game yesterday and was able to use the two inch threaded ones to pipes to attach them to – see attached images. A lot easier to carry than stands and they are out of the way, as long as you can find something to affix them to. The six inch threaded ones and be mounted to items up to six inches thick such as 2X8’s as you can see in the images, that would have been another option. I use those umbrella swivels with a threaded stud to mount the Quantum flashes to it, plenty of knobs to hang your pocketwizard and battery pack to.

Nobody complained despite two Mira Costa photographers saying ambient light is the way to go because the refs won’t go for it. The heck with them, the best advice I received was from David to mount them on the same side as the referee standing on the ladder by the net.

If you click on the images they will open larger in a new window.

I love when someone starts a thread on Sportsshooter and everyone responds with great links to other websites.  Here's an article on the Strobists on using small flashes to help light a college arena.  What I like about the Strobist is that he works with what he has to make great images, not "once I get XXXX I'll be able to make good images", it's not the gear folks!!!!

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