Dave Black: Shooting Motorcross with 8 Speedlights

Dave Black is a professional photographer who shoots some of the most stylized sports images I have ever seen.  In this BTS video, Dave is pairing up 8 SB900 flashes with two Radio Popper PX triggers on two Lightware Foursquare brackets.  Why does he use such a crazy setup when shooting motorcross?  Often times with fast action sports you need to shoot with quick shutter speeds beyond the 1/250th of a second flash sync limit.  The only way to do this is to use the FP high speed Sync mode Nikon (and Canon) flashes offer when hardwired to your camera.  Luckily Radio Popper (and Pocket Wizard for Canon) have created wireless radio iTTL/eTTL syncing which gives you the ability to us High Speed Sync with your flashes off camera over long distances.  This setup is about as complex as you can possibly get (and expensive) but Dave has made a great video showing off the setup.  Unfortunately he does little to explain WHY this setup is necessary.  Head over to his Lightware Foursquare / Radio Popper Post to read more about how it all comes together and be sure to check out Dave's portfolio as well.

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How does he keep everything in focus!!!

The AF-Continuous has gotta be fast!!!

Very cool post!

Great video, crazy set up.

Patrick Hall's picture

@simon, I'm sure he's shooting at like f8 or more, you just prefocus and shoot wide at that point

Very, very cool shots. :)

Lee Morris's picture

watching this I was thinking that I really couldn't wait for the new Nikon pocket wizards to come out but then I realized that you would actually have to have 8 receivers with that setup and you only need 2 with the poppers. I guess poppers do have an advantage.

Patrick Hall's picture

I think you would only need one pocket wizard but some sort of iTTL cord that could mount 8 speedlights. I'm sure the cord would be $400 but still much cheaper than buying 8 PWs :)

I wonder if you can have an SU-800 at the receiving end of the pocket wizard.

@ Patrick Hall:

Would that technique really provide images THAT shrap? I'm suprised!

And I had ordered a set of RPpoppers and they came in strait out of the box broken, unable to fire anything.

As this is not, I'm sure a common thing, it' ruined it for me. I'm saving up for PW's...

Patrick Hall's picture

I have a set just like Dave's (1 trans, 2 receivers) that I never use for sale if anyone is interested.

@Chris I don't think the SU-800 would work since it cannot receive IR signals but only output them.

I just don't see the logic in this... That's over $4k for one light. Imagine all the AA batteries too! Jesus. It's hard enough keeping batteries charged for 3 flashes let alone 8. For less money you could get 1 or 2 Alien Bee Zeus 2500 bi-tube + power packs and gang them up in a similar fashion. Ultimately more light potential, and probably around the same effective WS at half or 1/3rd power for more shutter speed. Or for even more shutter speed get 3 or 4 Einstein 640s. You could run those at full power with good recycle times plugged into a SINGLE battery--Vagabond pack.

Looking at the conditions he was shooting in and how close the lights were to the subject it's pretty clear that way less light was required than was on hand. Overcast conditions... 6-10 feet from the subject... even at small aperture settings he was probably only shooting 1/4-1/2 power to get more shutter speed and quicker refresh.

There are a couple cool shots in there, don't get me wrong. All in all though, it just seemed like a ridiculous exercise to show how many flashes it takes to do something that is possible with a lot fewer lights... not to mention more affordably.

Patrick Hall's picture

@John, do Alien Bees allow you to shoot at 1/1000 or 1/8000? I thought the only way to do that was to have your flash act more like a constant light source which is what FP Sync mode does to your flash. I'm pretty sure the whole point of using this system is to shoot at shutter speeds past your camera's sync speed. If I were to do this with my dynalites, while much more powerful, I would have a huge black shutter halfway through my frame!

Patrick, I'd be interested in buying your set of radiopoppers. How much are you asking for? I'm in Canada btw! Send me an email with the info.


Its nice to see that the lights look like it was the sun that lit the riders. Good ambient mix.

@Patrick What I meant was: camera->PW transmitter->PW receiver->SU-800->the 8-headed beast

Does he throw all 32 batteries in the landfill when he is done?

Ghislain Leduc's picture

The most economic way would be to RENT a few Broncolor Head Flash with 1 or 2 battery pack.

The importance as Chase always said, to freeze the movement, it's not the shutter speed but the speed of the light!! BRoncolors are SUPER fast 1/2500 of sec...

Believe me, it will freeze your subject even if you are shooting at 1/250 :)

See chase video

As I said in the surfing post a few days ago, you can achieve the same thing with older generation dedicated flashes and a long cord, just so long as they can high speed sync. And high speed sync is the whole point to using Speedlights the way he is.

I use Canon, I have six 550EX's (around $150 each) and can fire all of them with high speed sync at 1/8000 from 10 yards with a $40 ETTL cord. That is cheaper than a couple of weekends rent on Broncolor's with insurance, is way more practical, lighter and easier to move and direct as well. There is no other system that can do the same thing, let alone for the money.

If your ambient registers a ghost image at 1/250 even the Broncolors are useless for achieving this particular style. Look at his ice hockey videos where he is using big lights at 1/250, he is getting ambient blur, with the high speed sync the subject is pin sharp. The fastest flash speeds mean nothing if you have to drag the shutter for 1/250.

32 packs of AA batteries can be had for less than $20. That is the same as D&P on two rolls of film and gives me over 400 shots, I think that is a reasonable expense.

I like the idea of this...I currently use a Profoto Acute 600B for stuff like this, but find that with my subjects (and me) moving around so much, it's tough to get exposure spot on using no form of TTL (only Pocket Wizard), yet when I shoot outdoors with Nikon Speedlights and have the conveniecne of the RPoppers, TTL and the SU-800, I am lacking power. I'd love to be able to have the power of the Profoto + the high shutter speed of this setup. The one question I have (having never used more than one speedlight at the almost exact same light source location) is this: The photographer talks about shooting with everything at full power manual. If I were to shoot a setup with 2 or 4 speedlights set up as above and used my SU-800 with everything set to TTL (FP), will I still get the 2x or 4x increase in flash power? I would assume so, but would love confirmation. This would be a great boon to a project I'm working on (shown on Profoto's blog here: http://blog.profoto-usa.com/?p=2179)

Great pics + interesting but expensive setup. Can probably be done also at the price of one SB900 using 4 old SB20 ($100), 1 FourSquare block ($100), 1 optical Hama trigger ($20) and 1 Yongnuo sender/4 receiver at $100. Works up to 100 meter distance for me. Don't believe it? Details at my website, search for "high speed" there. Keep on, great vids!

Wouldn't an Einstein and a strong ND filter work the same if not better? Einsteins will fire at 1/10000 or more if you can eliminate the ambient light at 1/200... Maybe even a fast head elinchrom quadra.. Need that ND though (or two)

Scrub all that, it's the ambient light that makes these photos so good.. I would love to know his camera settings though..

Great video, this guy i really fearless to get so close next to the track.

@lee, you can split the pocketwizard output port.
Illustrator: https://www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157603935488241/

Here is a small trick to use your studioflash at high speed sync :)
Give it a try guys!

Yes you can use high speed sync with alien bees. It requires using a RadioPopper PX mounted on a flash or IR trigger (ST-E2) set to high speed sync and a RP JrX on the alien bee. There are lots of examples online of shutter speeds up to 1/8000th. There are power things to work out and testing required to get the strobe to blast as much light as possible for such a short shutter opening, but its completely doable. Way cheaper, way less complex, and way less setup time than 8 flashes plus a bajillion AA batteries. Not to mention that the recharge would be faster at higher light outputs, a big battery would last longer, and you wouldn't have a ton of tape and fiber optics weirdness to setup.

Cool stuff.

Just had a search and found that Dave Black gave a talk for Nikon at Photokina on using speedlights (+ other topics). So yeah - 8 speedlights may not be the most economical way if buying them - but I think he probably borrowed them for free.

I love seeing stuff like this. Old dudes out spending big loot on tons of flashes to do the most simple shots. I'm not talking about Joe McNally 'got a speedlight in every corner" stuff, but these mega-grouping of battery-powered strobe units. Here's an idea - go buy an AB mono-light and a Vagabond. You just got the same shot, and saved yourself about $3200, dummy.


Chris OConnell Shoots the First 1/500th Shutter Wireless Synced Flash Sequence Morph Photo