Canon Explorer of Light Tyler Stableford Uses an Excess of Speedlights To Shoot Skiers in Colorado

We've featured Tyler Stableford multiple times before on Fstoppers, as he seems to be one of the first to get his hands on all of the new gear before it hits the shelves. This time, he's at it again: working with action sports athletes high in the mountains of Colorado. However...the results left me scratching my head a bit. Read

We all know that Tyler has the chops to create amazing images, but this one really had me wondering. In order to demonstrate the capability of the 600EX-RT, someone conjured up the idea to use nine of them in broad daylight (on snow, mind you) to shoot action shots. It's not so much the fact that they're using lights to shoot in broad daylight (which is totally normal and can create great photos) but the fact that they thought it was necessary to gang 9 speedlights together. If you're keeping track, that's $5400 (pre-tax) worth of speedlights plus the cost of the transmitters.

Whether or not the images themselves look like they were shot with such a complicated setup, I'll leave you to decide, but to be honest I'm not quite seeing the benefits here, as most of the advantages of speedlights are negated by the shooting conditions.

There's no fast recycle, seeing as how he's shooting at full power with all of the lights, it's not exactly a portable setup, and it's not that simple to use. Wouldn't you just be better off picking up an Einstein or Elinchrom setup with some Pocketwizards and a battery and having money to spare? Enough money to, perhaps, buy a couple of 600EX-RTs on top of that setup.

I could be missing something. But then again, he's the one making the big bucks while I'm armchair quarterbacking on a Tuesday night. What do you think of this speedlight overkill? Does it convince you to pick a few of these badboys up? Or will you, like me, cling to your monolight setups and trusty PocketWizards?

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27 Comments

I agree with, before I even read what you wrote I was thinking.. why doesn't he just use a battery strobe. My weapon of choice is the Hensel Porty 1200 but even that would be quite a bit cheaper and much simpler than his set up. Perhaps Tyler will explain further...

dK Williams's picture

his use of the speedlights really made the last shot. with proper knowledge a speedlight is just as useful as a monolight in almost every situation. 

dK - that's not the point. The cost of 9 speedlights, the cost of the batteries, the reduced portability and 9 x more chance of something breaking mean that a monolight or two is a no-brainer. I, too, am not sure of the point of this other than to demonstrate what you can achieve if budget, practicality and reason go out of the window.

agree with what you wrote Mike, dont get it but then when you are shooting with a 1DX and a 5D3, whats 9 600's.......

It was a canon sponsored video to show of their new tech (5d3, 1dx, 600exrt and the ste3rt)... they probably sat around trying to think of how they could use the most amount of gear in one shoot.

It's a tech demo, not a real life situation :p

I've got a 600EXRT, only because I was going to get a 580EX but the prices had gone way up at the time (think the difference was like $80, figured why not). I can't wait for the STE3 to fall way down in price, or for Canon to come out with some hotshoe adapters so I can throw some manual flashes and trigger them, or for them to come out with some cheaper RT flashes. Until then i'm just using cheap YN triggers :(

yeah.... i wouldn't buy 9 speedlights either.... strobes would be the way

Okay, perhaps it's not that practical in real world terms, but I think Mike answered it himself in his post when he said "In order to demonstrate the capability of [...]"

As Alex said above - it's a tech demo to show what can be done.

i guess the whole thing was to demonstrate the benefits of radio triggers over IR triggers, as he states at the very beginning [«the previous triggers don't work that good in bright sun conditions»]. 
some "hey look, we've got radios!" would be more than enough, thou..

At the risk of jeopardizing any sort of Canon sponsorship in the future, I've got to put my two cents in here.  While I guess the video does show the capability of Canon's new speedlights, the setup is completely unpractical and NO pro action shooter that I know of would ever carry around that setup.  The probability of breakage on those things is HUGE.  I think I could write a 20 minute dissertation of what all is wrong here, but I'll keep it down to the points that haven't been addressed yet.   At least 6 of the hotshoe tabs on that set up would break off with any sort of moderate jostling.  And it's a good thing he's got two assistants, because it's going to take both of them to continue swapping out the 24 AA batteries those things are going to chew up about every 5 minutes.  Argh, I could go on and on, but I'm out the door for a shoot.

The only situation that would see the benefit of using this setup would be to use high speed sync.  In the video he only shoots at the camera's maximum normal sync speed.  As stated above, a different setup would have been more appropriate.  Again, it is a Canon sponsored setup.  He probably didn't pay to use any of the gear.  

Great question.
I’ve had conversations with Dan Cirillo at PocketWizard, Tom Bol, and Mark Astmann and Malcolm Whittle at Manfrotto over this type of photo shoot and the merits and restrictions of using speedlites vs. Elinchrom’s strobes.

It’s the very reason I purchased Elinchrom’s A head Quadras, which turned out not to perform as advertised. I traded them in for Elinchrom’s S heads, and with the use of Pocketwizard’s TT5’s and their utility software I was able to achieve the results I needed, without packing around heavy gear. It’s not a great setup, but its portable power. A big downside is the AC3 is not compatible but I’m always encouraging PocketWizard and Elinchrom Quadra to become friends.

When I was unable to achieve the results that Elinchrom listed in their literature, I did a detailed field test comparing their specs to my images of freezing the blades of a typical house fan. Without getting into the details of a Speedlite thyristor control technology, a neck and tail of a flash output difference, controlling the energy curve, blah, blah, blah, Elinchrom is rewriting its manuals to remove the word “freezing” and change the output values in their specs.

The bottomline is whoever can create the most portable, Quadra like, strobe system that offers more power than the typical hotshoe mounted speedlites, and have all the features that PocketWizard offers will not only dominate the strobist market, but transform studio and field photography in general. My wallet is poised and ready to empty.

I’ve had conversations with Dan
Cirillo at PocketWizard, Tom Bol, and Mark Astmann and Malcolm Whittle at
Manfrotto over this type of photo shoot and the merits and restrictions of
using speedlites vs. Elinchrom’s strobes.

 

It’s the very reason I purchased
Elinchrom’s A head Quadras, which turned out not to perform as advertised.  I traded them in for Elinchrom’s S heads, and
with the use of Pocketwizard’s TT5’s and their utility software I was able to
achieve the results I needed, without packing around heavy gear.  It’s not a great setup, but its portable
power.  A big downside is the AC3 is not
compatible but I’m always encouraging PocketWizard and Elinchrom Quadra
to become friends. 

 

When I was unable to achieve the results that Elinchrom
listed in their literature, I did a detailed field test comparing their specs
to my images of freezing the blades of a typical house fan.   Without getting into the details of a Speedlite
thyristor control technology, a neck and tail of a flash output difference,
controlling the energy curve, blah, blah, blah, Elinchrom
is rewriting its manuals to remove the word “freezing” and change the output
values in their specs.

 

The bottomline is whoever can
create the most portable, Quadra like, strobe system that offers more power
than the typical hotshoe mounted speedlites, and have all the features that
PocketWizard offers will not only dominate the strobist market, but transform
studio and field photography in general.  My wallet is poised and ready to
empty.

this video was kinda useless and unpractical, also he is wrong, by ganging together 3 speedlghts u r not getting triple the power u r getting only two and 1/3 more power

Alex's picture

I'll just repeat what others have already said . . . IT'S A TECH DEMO of what the NEW SPEEDLITES can do.  Not practical: AGREED.  Silly: AGREED.  But hey, you'll never know, you might get caught in a situation where your Elinchroms and Alien Bees are not available and you're stuck with just 9 600EX's.

I think 9 speedlites weight less and take less space then batteries for Ranger or Batpack plus heads and reflectors. If mobility is priority it may be a good solution.

Thomas Woodson's picture

I'm a big fan of Tyler Stableford's work. The agency I work for in Denver has hired him for a few shoots so I'm hoping I get to work with him in the future!

He is not tripling his power with 3 speedlites shame on him. Doubling and tripling your power output is exponential:

1 speedlite, then 2 speedlites, then 4 speedlites, then 8 speedlites

Pixyst's picture

I remember precisely this argument being made when Joe McNally did something similar some time back. It is interesting to see that Canon are 4 years behind Nikon in strobe technology.

 not really behind here now, more like 1~3 years ahead now.  Leapfrog indeed.

I was expecting him to be using High Speed Sync which would have made it necessary to use the Speedlights. 

I think that setting up 9 speedlight's is an overkill, it takes much longer to recharge, i cant imagine how many charger you need to have at home to keep everything ready on an day to day basis.

I don't really understand the setup, first of all why is he not using the hss, especially for demonstration, and second thing, 3 strobes fired into an umbrella and 6 as a fill?? Wouldn't it be better other way? 

Hi Mike and Fstoppers crew,

Thank you for writing and for your interest in the Speedlite skiing shoot. I entirely agree, shooting with nine Speedlites isn't the most, um, traditional way to go about shooting skiing in harsh noon sunlight at 10,000 feet. And that in a sense was the fun challenge for me and my team. The assignment pushed us to expand our thoughts about what is possible with these AA-powered flashes. I wasn't entirely sure we could overpower the high-altitude midday sun while shooting a skier going off a jump, all while keeping our strobes far enough away from the athletes so as to be out of the frame. It turns out it took only 2-3 Speedlites to accomplish this when we focused the strobes at the new 200mm zoom setting. We then used more Speedlites so we could bounce them into an umbrella for softer light, or to have faster recycle times or fewer battery changes.

Indeed, I too usually work with larger battery powered strobes like Hensel's lithium Porty 1200 watt/second packs; I have a Vimeo video about working with the Hensel strobes on a recent ski shoot here:

http://vimeo.com/41329126

Yet what was really fun about this Speedlite shoot was that we actually had far less bulk/gear than if we had brought larger strobes. Three of the 1200 w/s packs, with the battery packs, flash heads and cords etc, fill two large backpacks. Whereas we could fit all 9 Speedlites and the AA batteries for the day in a hip bag; and then we had lots of options for using any of them in different places and in different groups; plus greater redundancy so that if one Speedlite failed, we still had plenty of backup.

Another exciting breakthrough for us was discovering how well the new ETTL features worked -- we honestly discovered that the ETTL mode worked better than anything we could do in Manual mode. When we were shooting skiers and snowboarders jumping toward us, backlit right into the sun, the ETTL mode was producing the right exposure even as the athletes moved quickly toward or away from different groups of strobes. Until these new 600EX-RT Speedlites arrived, we only trusted Manual mode in these kinds of fast-moving, backlit situations; and it was amazing to see the Speedlites nailing shot after shot, no matter where the skiers popped up out of the halfpipe. (We did adjust the exposure compensation to +1 to one of our groups, to give the athletes the look we were going for, but that was the extent of the changes.) Add to that the radio capabilities, and I was truly impressed.

Like most of you, I usually try to use the least amount of Speedlites possible. In fact, the first time we use the new 600EX-RT Speedlites, with an ice climber this winter, we produced a short video showing what we could do with just one Speedlite — and we worked with High Speed Sync mode to shoot at 1/1000th of a second to capture the flying shards of ice:

http://vimeo.com/38131252

There are 3 episodes from this Speedlite project, all viewable on Canon's Digital Learning Center webpage or on my Vimeo page. In the first one, we overpowered harsh midday sun and used a silver parabolic reflector to enhance the spread of the strobes; in the second episode we shot a large group portrait of the athletes; and in the third one which is referenced above, we ganged the Speedlites together for a faster recycle time, so we could fire the strobes multiple times during each jump. Even if the large number of Speedlites is unusual, I do hope that the behind-the-scenes look at our lighting methods for each scenario will be helpful. Whether we're working with one flash or multiple units, the same principles apply.

And, oops! Thank you very much for catching my mistake about the lighting power. You guys are entirely right, three Speedlites is not triple the f-stop power of one Speedlite (the correct number would be four). I should have caught that slip-up far sooner in the shooting/editing process. Pardon my mistake.

Best regards,

Tyler

Dave Black's demos for Lightware Direct using Nikon gear are much more effective demonstrations of how and why to gang up numerous speedlights for action shots. YouTube is your friend if you're interested. 

I was expecting this to show the same sort of thing with Canon gear and no careful/delicate fiber optic and RadioPoppers setup to achieve this in broad daylight. But it doesn't actually take advantage of high speed sync. Pity. 

you can do the same thing with a $30 reflector. maybe not as much control but I wasn't too impressed by what he was putting out.

such a waste of money... you could buy an alien bees 100 strobe and new pocket wizards and shoot up to 500-800 or even sometimes higher ( somtimes you get the banding at the bottom)... even though the sync speed for 5fmkII is listed as 1/200... with the new pocket wizards I've shot into the 1,000's of a second without banding... no neeed for 6 lights that cost 600 dollars a piece... thats just dumb.

alien bees 1600*

Screw the AB1600, get the Einstein 640

FWIW, I shoot interiors daily using up to 5 Canon speedlights and PW TT5's, and at full-power, the AAs will easily last for several hundred pops.  Eneloops are a 1x expense, and they paid for themselves a long time ago.  Also, +1 for Tyler's comment about redundancy.  If one of 6 or 9 speed lights goes down, not such a big deal.  If one of one, or one of two, full size heads goes down, that's a bigger deal.