Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Studio Photography, Flash, Daylight and Studio Lights, Flash equipment and use
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10 Jan '13 Thu Jan 10, 2013 22:58    
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Post Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Earlier this week I was nominated as the official photographer to cover a club road rally coming up in March. At the time I didn't think too much about it other than it will be a bit more interesting than the other events I have covered as it will involve charging around the countryside to catch the competitors at various points on the route. Then I realised, having been on the same event last year, that the whole event takes place in the bloody dark, with no daylight sections as I assumed Embarassed

So I am now thinking of the options. My normal plan of attack would be to get shots of each crew and car at various key stages of the event such as signing on, scrutineering, a selection of time controls, finish and prize giving. Then supplement these with some shots of the cars in motion, and keep a eye out and grab anything else interesting etc. (the motorsport equivalent of wedding photography I guess!) Now, I'm not a great fan of flash, especially for action shots where I prefer slow shutter speeds and panning to keep a sense movement, rather than the usual wheels-frozen 'parked car' effect. The other problem being the bounce back you get from the reflective number plates, although half the field will be classics on old black and white plates. Then there's also similar problems with the marshals' hi-vis tabards and road signs to contend with. Having said that these seem to be the very sort of shots that end up in subsequent publications and press releases after the event and nobody seems to mind or comment, and consider it a 'great shot' if it is clear and sharp . I just think it would be nice to make an effort and raise the game a bit Very Happy

So this is where I'm at:

I'm happy with these sort of available light static shots (even with the K20D) where the subject is being selectively lit e.g. service areas, time controls etc.




And I have tried these sort of more abstract slow synch flash shots for a bit of variety where there is a bit of movement going on.




What I'm not happy with is getting any decent shots of moving cars in the dark. I think some very low power level trailing curtain flash panning may be worth looking at (prompted by Dangermouse's thoughts on his multi flash bracket setup thread Wink ), although I don't currently posses a variable power flash. Alternatively I'm thinking of rigging some sort of portable lighting setup to illuminate a short section of road sufficiently for normal panning without flash.

Other than that I'm open to any advice, comments and suggestions!


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10 Jan '13 Thu Jan 10, 2013 23:20    
cardiff_gareth
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

If I was in your position I would go out with a friend and get them to drive around and try a few ideas out to see what works best.

As you said, it's the Motorsport equivelent of a wedding and every wedding I shoot I go to the venues at various times before hand looking for angles, viewpoints, lighting etc. I think the same applies to you with this event. Get at the wrong corner and backgrounds could be impaired, reflections could be a nightmare etc so it pays to stalk out the best places in advance and be prepared.

Depending on how dark it'll be and as you've said it'll be pitch black then I'd put the camera in manual mode at something like 1 second, f11 ISO 4-800 with rear curtain sync. Also is have the camera in manual focus preset and ready to go. Hotshoe flash set to a manual power to keep everything consistent and shoot in RAW. The last thing you want is a car on a black background like a cardboard cut out hence the rather long exposure so the longer exposure will let the ambient light to burn in. The flash will obviously freeze the car and with a bit of luck the ambient light will allow some burning in of the car to give a look of movement. If its pitch black then once you have the exposure nailed it'll be plain sailing !


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11 Jan '13 Fri Jan 11, 2013 00:02    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Thanks Gareth. Yes, I had fully intended to get some practice in and try a few things out, in fact I'm on a 12 car rally next Tuesday so will have a play then. In terms of the real event the route is usually a closely guarded secret to avoid various PR issues, but I'll be having a chat with the orgainser to get the low down on the specific locations they want shots from, and then go and scope them out.

The other suggestions all sound good to me too. I always shoot in RAW and never found a reason not to, as the workflow with Aperture is identical to jpeg, and I'm not a machine gun merchant so card buffering isn't a problem either. I also tend to manually focus on a preset point and then manual follow focus as the car passes for daylight shooting. I think the key will be getting enough burn in from whatever ambient light there is like you mention, so I'm sure you're right about the 1 second exposure as a starting point. My flash is an ancient Jessops 270 TBZ that I only use in manual mode too. I'm quite looking forward to having a play now Very Happy

On the actual day I'll probably rope my brother in to shoot some of with the other K20D, stay tuned for progress!


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11 Jan '13 Fri Jan 11, 2013 00:17    
cardiff_gareth
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

I'm looking forward to see the results!

Of course timing will be an issue! Where do you want to position thecar in the frame and when do you want the ambient light to start burning in....!


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11 Jan '13 Fri Jan 11, 2013 00:37    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Yep, timing is a biggie and I've no idea how easy it will be to control the ambient burn in point. The thing with a rally as opposed to a circuit race is that each car only passes you once at each point (unless the navigator is having a bad day on the maps Laughing ) As for the framing I tend to allow for some flexibility by shooting a bit wider and crop to give space in front or behind the subject. Although the chances are we'll be pretty close to the road but the 16-45 should still be OK for that.


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11 Jan '13 Fri Jan 11, 2013 09:30    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Didn't have much time yesterday, so apologies for tardy response. Used to do this a lot back in the days of mostly night rallies, either as spectator or marshal (when not active Wink ).

Was limited to ASA400 (using slide or B&W film) - you might still be on the K-20D - and used a Vivitar 283 with tele adaptor lens if too far back (or 285 which has it built in). Either on full power, or the "fastest" auto setting. Auto meaning the old style "thyristor" auto in the flash. Reason for using auto was that manual could mean the flash was still recycling when a second car came through if way out of position, but also with no feedback until the following week, you had to vary your technique or run the risk of no properly lit images at all if you overlooked something. At least you won't have that problem!

Reflective number plates should not be a problem except for rear shots, because you should not be taking front or front 3/4 shots with a GN50 gun, esp. with a tele adaptor, pointed at the driver! Used to spend a lot of time pointing that out as a marshal. You do need to look out for anything reflective/white closer than the car if using auto flash.

Watch out for using slow shutter speeds for effect, unless you are the only one there using flash: a second exposure to someone else's high powered flash will do nothing for you!

Panning is the big challenge if you are up close, even using flash, in order to catch the side on shot ...

Static wheels are a fact of life in this environment, so try to get shots where some other aspect of the wheel demonstrates speed. Forest roads used to offer the infamous Scandinavian twitch on the way in, or the amazing amount of rearward movement of the front wheels under heavy braking.


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11 Jan '13 Fri Jan 11, 2013 20:34    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Thanks for the comprehensive reply LB, I couldn't have hoped for any better than a reply from someone who's actually been and done it Very Happy I certainly don't envy you having to do with film! I had actually planned to enter this event last year but my navigator had to drop out - some feeble excuse about his wife giving birth Laughing So I ended up marshaling and manning a time control instead.

Given that it is a road rally, I'm not envisaging loads of extreme action shots, but want to attempt enough decent ones to give a full account of the event. Apparently there are a few miles of decent 'whites', so that may be the best spot for the motion shots especially if there is loose gravel which would help give an impression of speed to offset static wheel syndrome like you say. Ultimately I think the people/situation shots will need to form the biggest part of the coverage.

In terms of ISO I think I will be OK up to 800 with the K20D as long as the subject is reasonable lit. I've no idea if there will be others using flash in the same vicinity, I suspect not but I'll just have to see.

Here are some of shots from experimenting back in '08 and '09 with the same K20D and Flash outfit. These were from the full-blown tarmac stage rally on Mull, the cars on the event in question will be in road rally trim, so look more like standard road cars with twin spotlamps and no sign writing. So there is a chance the whole thing may end up looking like shots of the comings and goings at a Sainsbury's carpark Laughing

All seem to be wider apertures and shorter exposures than Gareth's suggested 1 second which I guess accounts for the little wheel blur, although in the first two shots the cars were moving very slowly off the start ramp anyway. I was going to go out and experiment tonight but there is now thick fog, Bugger!

0.3 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200



0.5 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400



1/10 sec, f/4.5, ISO 200



0.3 sec, f/4.5, ISO 800



0.3 sec, f/4.5, ISO 800


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11 Jan '13 Fri Jan 11, 2013 23:04    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

I think you need to use rear curtain/trailing sync as Gareth suggested if you can with that setup. Not something I had the equipment for. But that should give you trails starting from the light on the car and streaming behind, ie the reverse of what you see in these.


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11 Jan '13 Fri Jan 11, 2013 23:37    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

- layingback

I think you need to use rear curtain/trailing sync as Gareth suggested if you can with that setup. Not something I had the equipment for. But that should give you trails starting from the light on the car and streaming behind, ie the reverse of what you see in these.


Yes, I can remember at the time messing about with slow synch and trailing curtain trigger settings on the camera, assuming it applied to to the hotshoe trigger as well and not just the on-board, but always seem to end up with the trails reversed as you say. I'm not sure exactly which trigger setting these were shot with, and almost certainly not all the same; the last one is definitely not trailing synch. The EXIF on them all just reports 'compulsory flash mode' can't tell for certain. I'll have a proper read of the K20D manual again and have a good play tomorrow. I'm sure I'll get something dialled in eventually.

Here's a couple with the trails going backwards, and coincidentally 1s exposure:




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12 Jan '13 Sat Jan 12, 2013 00:03    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Having had a quick read I think trailing curtain mode only works with the on-board or AF540 and AF360. I guess the hotshoe contact always triggers when the shutter opens, then the flash knows how long to delay before firing based on the shutter speed info it gets from the camera, rather than the hotshoe contact being delayed itself. Oh well sounds like an idea for a a little project Cool


Thinking about the two shots above I also remember experimenting with moving the camera sharply back after panning and firing the flash/shutter to influence the trails.


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12 Jan '13 Sat Jan 12, 2013 09:37    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

If I understand it correctly, the camera body does all the calculation in P-TTL mode, so it tells the flash when to fire, and at what power. So I guess it only works with Pentax guns because the camera body needs to know the exacting duration of the firing time of the attached flash at a given power in order to trigger the flash so it fully completes just before the shutters 2nd curtain closes it.

So I guess you're out of luck on that one. Also thinking about it, for a side on shot you want slow sync for the front lights and trailing sync for the rears! Laughing


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12 Jan '13 Sat Jan 12, 2013 10:52    
cardiff_gareth
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

In the flash menu that's on camera and entered via the flash button on the back of the K20d is the option for 2nd curtain sync.

It works with all flash guns, not just Pentax guns Wink


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12 Jan '13 Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:35    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

- cardiff_gareth

In the flash menu that's on camera and entered via the flash button on the back of the K20d is the option for 2nd curtain sync.

It works with all flash guns, not just Pentax guns Wink


Is that correct Gareth? That was the menu option I was selecting. The manual suggests that it only works with the higher end Pentax flashes (and presumably any truly compatible third party ones). If I select trailing curtain and use the on-board flash it'll fire once when the shutter is pressed (presumably this is the P-TTL flash) then again when the shutter closes (the actual TC flash). Using the hotshoe it only fires when the shutter opens. Confused


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12 Jan '13 Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:29    
cardiff_gareth
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Rear curtain sync worked on my K20d and K5 with a Metz flashgun. I selected rear curtain sync via the way I described above Wink


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12 Jan '13 Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:41    
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Post Re: Thoughts on Flash and lighting for rally event

Hmm..perhaps it's just that the Metz supports the full Pentax hotshoe connection. Did you get it to work with any other flash? I've tried it again this morning and there only seems to be one trigger happening on the hotshoe. Which Metz model did you use?


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