Outdoor Flash Problem: shooting in giant horse shed

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by mitchellzimmerman, Nov 7, 2017.

  1. Here's the challenge: I will (again) be taking photos of children riding horses in a giant outdoor shed. The shed is nearly the size of a football field, has a high roof (15-20 feet maybe), and no sides. The result: the background is the unshaded outside world and, on a sunny day, very, very bright compared to the shaded inside. The answer is flash, of course, but the only one I have now is a Nikon SB-400. I'll be shooting from various distances, often from 10 yards or more, mostly with my Nikon D7000 with an 18-200 lens. Is this flash just too weak for the challenge? What more powerful tool would I need? What can I read that will help me learn more about situations like this? Thank you.
  2. You have the option of increasing the ISO and shooting available light. You may blow out the background, but that is not the point of interest.

    Just be sure you do not spook the horses with the flash. You would not want to have a child injured because you popped a flash at a skittish horse.
  3. With your current gear you have no chance. (1) your flash will reach out about 20 feet, max, and the setting will swallow up light very quickly
    (2) The 18-200mm lens would be my last pick for this job as it's very slow
    (3) Camera is limited to around ISO 1200 for any kind of quality.

    My advice:
    (1) Forget flash, the distance will be too great unless you position large flash around the rink and fire with radio controlled iTTL triggers.
    (2) Rent a Nikon D750 for the event
    (3) Rent a Nikon or Tamron/Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 for the event.

    Kent in SD
  4. RE THE HORSES: These are going to be remarkably calm horses, used for therapeutic purposes with children, and I expect they are not easily spooked -- but I will discuss this with the managers of the event. Thank you for flagging the issue!
  5. Thank you for your suggestions, Kent.
    Would a more powerful flash (the SB-600 maybe, or something else in the $200 - $300 range) have a 30 foot reach? This is a volunteer effort, and there's a limit to how much I want to spend to equip myself for it; usually I don't do a lot of flash photography, though I can see how it could be an important supplement to other kinds of outdoor photography. But renting might be the way to go. Thanks.
  6. The answer isn't necessarily flash. There may be excellent light in some areas. You don't indicate how much control you have of the path of the riders. If they are traveling near or you can position them under the roof and just inside the building, perhaps on a side of the building not receiving direct sun like a north exposure, you can make use of the directional light coming in under the roof. The roof completely eliminates the unflattering overhead light and you should still be able to find good light and a good ratio just inside the edge of the roof. You will have to check what ratio you like and the distance inside for it, but remember the inside light remains pretty constant as you move inside but the light from the outside decreases as you move inside, lowering our ratio. If you can shoot from outside and use a darker, less cluttered inside of say stands as a background, you will have separation and control of your background density.
    If there are large signs or office or restroom, that can function as a darker bg.
    If the 18-200 lens is a fixed aperture, I would open it wide open and get as close as possible to throw any busy parts of the background out of focus. If you have a nifty fifty that is 1.8, I would use that for shallower dof. You can use the large size of the structure to get the background as far away as possible to maximize it's oof. If you speak with the organizer, perhaps they will have the children ride and stop in the spot you choose. If you can get in the stands or have a ladder, you can shoot down somewhat and perhaps eliminate the outside sky. Another option is embrace the blown out background and get low to place your subject on what is essentially a white background, As Clint Eastwood said, adapt, improvise, overcome. It is the challenge and reward of location shooting. Who knows, it may force you into taking a type of shot that is outside your typical or comfort zone, a side benefit.
    mike_halliwell likes this.
  7. If you're 'aim' is to get a single horse + rider, either side-on or 3/4's, from about 20ft away you'll need ~85mm.

    Bob's nifty fifty (on FX), becomes a roughly 85mm too (OK, 75mm really, but it's close)!.. and at 1.8 the Nikon 1.8AFS is ideal. You'll have to do a bit of zooming with your legs, but unless they're jumping around like loonies, you should be OK.

    Ideally, but admittedly out of your price range, is a Sigma 50-100mm 1.8. I love mine for all things equine.

    If you need to use flash, then a monster like a Witstro/Godox AD 360, fired into the ceiling with a 30 deg snoot, should cover a horse fairly gently. It won't fully balance sunlight, but maybe 1/2 way there.

    By 'snooting' into the ceiling, the horse probably won't see it directly, which may lessen the spook factor.
  8. Not sure why you want to compete with the sunlight. Surely a blown out white, or bright, background is better than a well-exposed BG that might be full of distracting detail? Plus the backlighting will add some interest to the horse's mane and coat.

    But, no, a weedy SB-400 isn't sufficient for this job. Powerful flashes from YongNuo are cheap enough that you could get 2 or 3, plus a cheap radio trigger kit, for less than a single Nikon speedlight, and still stay within your budget.

    Nikon's most powerful speedlights (and those from YongNuo) have a true Guide Number of around 30 in metres for 100 ISO. That means they'll "reach" about 5.5 metres - 18ft - at f/5.6 with the camera set to 100 ISO. If you increase the ISO to 400 the maximum distance doubles to around 36 ft. However, direct flash isn't the most flattering of light.

    I'd investigate bouncing the flash as Mike suggested, but this is very dependent on how reflective the shed is. If it's painted white inside it might well work.

    Snooting a flash down to narrow its angle doesn't work well for bouncing. Bounced light is most effective with the flash set to a wide angle.
  9. Agreed with others that, if you want the outside to be naturally daylit and well exposed, you're going to need a ridiculous amount of light inside. If you really want balance, I'd either take two exposures and blend them, or pick a time of day (or weather) where the outside is less bright.

    Bigger flashes will help. If you don't care so much about freezing motion and just want light, I can vouch for some of the brighter flashlights (I have a TN36UT) can pump out a lot of light over a wide area (7000+ lumens, for mine; newer ones can top 25000 lumens) for a couple of minutes, which is enough for a multi-second exposure, and they're not very expensive. They're potentially useful for video shooting, too. I'm not saying that's better than the flash route, just an alternative.
  10. I agree with Bob. I think the best light in this situation may be when the riders are near the perimiter of the roof, maybe a few meters inside, and you photograph them from the outside. If you can choose the optimal vantage point depending on the direction of natural light that would be great. I would not try to use flash with the horses and in this case it would probably not help you much.
  11. I don't do much with action sports but wouldn't a newer flash that support FP Sync help? I have used this with birds and it allows a good blend of background lighting while fill flashing the birds in the foreground.
  12. FP flash will allow you to sync at high shutter speeds while severely reducing the power of the flash. I worry that you are underestimating how much flash power you will need to provide adequate fill for sunlight under the conditions you describe. I agree with Kent above that the best course is to rent a D750 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, then shoot by available light.
  13. Oh, sorry, I missed the "children riding horses" bit of the equation. Scrub my flashlight suggestion, you'll (probably) want to freeze motion, and you won't want to blind people.

    Ignoring the required power of the light (and I'm standing by my "shoot the background in a separate exposure if you want to blend it in without it being blown out" argument), I'm a bit worried about the quality of the light. Is it going to be mostly light reflecting off grass? It'll be very diffuse, which may or may not help you. On the other hand, it's a lot of flashes to try to improve things (again, for direction as much as power) - I'm thinking the full Joe McNally setup! Are you able to get people outside for a bit, by any chance? If for no other reason than that the inside of a shed isn't likely to be all that photogenic as a background...

    I'll second the "hire a faster lens" idea (a 70-200 or the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 if you need the reach), whether or not you go D750 (the D7000 isn't a bad camera, but it certainly wouldn't hurt).

    You'll probably be at a fairly high shutter speed to freeze motion, which won't help with the absolute quantity of light. I'd try to get some stationary shots as well (at a longer shutter speed), and see which comes out better.

    Whatever else you do, shoot raw and be prepared to do some fixing up in post-processing, I suspect. You may end up at high ISO that you need to denoise better than the camera can, and if not you may well be doing a lot of tonal adjustments.

    Best of luck with it - it sounds like a tough shoot!
  14. Can you shoot without flash? The flash has to be very powerful in order to overcome daylight in the outside background.
  15. "I don't do much with action sports but wouldn't a newer flash that support FP Sync help?"

    - Can we explode this myth that FP (HSS) synch enhances the ability of a flash to overpower ambient light? Because it doesn't.

    The way it works is this: Say in X-synch mode you have a flash exposure of 1/250th @ f/8. You now increase the shutter speed to 1/500th, throwing the flash and camera into FP synch - but your aperture now has to open to f/5.6 to keep the same flash exposure. You increase the shutter again to 1/1000th, and your aperture has to open to f/4. And so on. There's actually no gain in flash exposure, which is unsurprising since the flash energy stays the same.

    All the while the shutter and aperture are affecting the ambient exposure just as much as that of the flash. So there's no change in flash to ambient ratio at any speed above X-synch. And hence no advantage to using FP mode.

    All that FP mode allows is the use of a wider aperture, and/or to freeze action. But then you could just drop the ISO or fit an ND filter to allow a wider aperture.

    FWIW, FP or HSS flash has been around for years. Nikon's SB-24 from the late 1980s had this ability. With film only, but the facility was still there.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
  16. Fast lens, high ISO, no flash. Shoot RAW fix your photos later. Horses don't like flashes either do the riders. And watch where you walk!
  17. Mike, a year or so ago I shot a similar scenario with horses but the riders were outside. I did get shots of the kids interacting with the horses in their stalls by bouncing off the ceiling . Those had some amazing expressions and interaction so op might consider some shots there. Bambi said expression trumps perfection but someone said expression and perfection trumps expression so if you can up your game with a flash, I would try. You raise your iso to give more power to the flash and reduce shutter to max sync speed if necessary. I always carry a vari nd to allow bg control then add flash to taste trying not to need more than full power. Have to remember that in those situations I'm not using Einsteins that can pop up to 10 times a second so have to nail the decisive moment. Never saw a horse flinch once at the flash, but not sure I would want to be responsible for it happening once and the child being thrown and injured.
  18. Thank you everyone. This is all helpful, and food for thought. I did this same project one year ago. It is a "memory making" day for families and children who have had a parent die at the hospital my wife works at, in a recent year. There were many activities for all, and I shot lots of other stuff (including horses running off by themselves with the notes tied to their manes, at the end), but the most popular and a very meaningful one for the children was the horse riding. I did some flash; none of the horses were spooked, but I certainly was not super close to them.

    I have no control over what the kids and horses do, but there is no riding around independently. Professional horse therapy people are leading them around, one on each side of the horse. Still, I spent a lot of time running back and forth getting in position. Sometimes, the background on the less sunny side worked. Some of the blown out backgrounds were good; other times, what might have been a fine photo just didn't make it. Overall, I got a lot of amazing photos that were satisfying for everyone. (I wish I could share them here, to get more feedback, but considerations of confidentiality preclude that.) I was happy with the results overall, but I was well aware of the technical limitations, and I thought better flash might be a way to deal with it. Probably not, because among other reasons, even if I had infinite resources and assistants for setup, this is not a context in which the photography came first. I do now see, based on the very helpful comments above, that a faster lens is the likeliest solution; I will see what I can rent. I have two fast prime lenses: a Nikkor 50mm 1.8, and a macro, a Nikkor 85mm F3.5. I have occasionally used the 85 mm for portraits. I am probably showing my ignorance (but don't mind :) ), but is it ridiculous to use a macro lens for this? The zoom is really so useful in this kind of situation, but perhaps I'll also try one of the primes on a second body (a D80). I haven't had good experience with ISO above 500, so am loath to go that way. I don't think I can get away with high ISO with a D7000.

    How to hang all this stuff around me while I'm running around! Sigh. I think I figured out some way to hold everything to me with make-shift straps. Again, my thanks, friends, for your generosity with your time and insights.
  19. Thanks for sharing more information, Mitchell - it sounds like a very worthy project.

    Given the extra information, I'd say you should stick to your smaller flash for when you can get close to people, and not worry about it at a distance (not that I'm exactly a strobist).

    I think I'd stand by the idea of hiring a 70-200 f/2.8 (or possibly the 50-100mm f/1.8 or, possibly, older 50-150mm f/2.8 Sigma) - they'll capture more light, give you more control over blurring the background, and they'll likely focus faster than what you're currently using too. (Bear in mind the faster aperture makes it more likely you'll miss the focal plane, so check your shots if you're actually shooting wide open.)

    I'd have a look at the images you already took; my suspicion is that 50mm is too wide for what you need, but you should be able to tell from your previous photos. The 50mm f/1.8 isn't all that brilliant at wider apertures (the AF-S is probably better than the AF-D wide open and I believe has nicer bokeh) - I'd say you're better off with the flexibility of a zoom and a little more reach, especially with the 50-100 that gives you the same aperture. (Aside: DxO has a really weird measurement for the 50-150 f/2.8 wide open at 150mm on a D500...) And if you're running around, some focal length flexibility is probably a good thing.

    I'd be a little wary of the macro, even though it's longer than the 50mm. Partly because it's not very fast, and partly because, being a macro, it's probably not designed to focus very quickly; I've not tried it, but I suspect you'd be fighting it a bit (as I have with some macro lenses before, even with focal range limiters). I'm also given to believe that it's not all that sharp at normal focus distances, but that may not be a huge concern. It's not ridiculous (I've used my macros for portraiture), but I think it'll be a bit difficult. Taking a second body is a good idea (although I'd watch the low light on a D80).

    I'd say you may be a little picky if anything over ISO 500 bothers you on a D7000 - as far as I'm aware, it's a pretty decent sensor, if not exactly state of the art these days. It's no D5, and the lower the ISO you can get away with the better (as true on a D850 as on a D7000), but a bit of noise is usually less objectionable and easier to fix than motion blur - I'd let the ISO rise before I let the shutter speed drift too far. Chimp and see what you've got on the LCD, obviously. I've used DxO for getting rid of noise, and I've been reasonably impressed with their PRIME solution (they have a free trial version); others swear by Noise Ninja and other solutions. I would not assume that the JPEG out of the camera is the best you can do with noise reduction; I'd be surprised if you couldn't get acceptable ISO 1600 images (from normal viewing distances), at least.

    As ever, I'm going to give a big disclaimer that I'm only guessing what I'd do here. I know Mike, at least, does a lot of horse shooting, and if he's not concerned about 50mm being too wide, maybe I'm talking nonsense. (But I also know he sometimes uses a 120-300...) The last time I experienced horses in a barn (full of hay bales) was when I was in primary school and learning to ride; that was when I learned I had hayfever and was allergic to horses. So I've not really stuck with it...

    Best of luck with the project - please report back, although I completely understand that you're not going to be able to share photos of the kids!
    bgelfand and mike_halliwell like this.
  20. If you get a chance to hire, i'd get the Sigma 50-100mm 1.8, it's a very capable zoom. Sharp and fast. I'd be happy using it at f2 or 2.8 to get enough DoF. The newer Sigma 50-150mm 2.8 OS is super sharp, but super big.

    50mm on DX is a bit wide, but to fill the frame with a horse+rider and 2 leaders from fairly close, maybe not.

    I'd most definitely go through the last set and be really critical about the focal length you used and available space.

    It's easier to do a bit of cropping in post than backing up and suddenly meeting a barn wall! You then change tack (no pun intended) and do a close-up portrait and not a horse+rider shot.

    I'd worry about using primes in a situation where I have ZERO control.

    As Andrew said, your 85mm 3.5 macro will produce sharp enough shots but is optically SLOW and will need a highish ISO to get a handholdable shutter-speed.

    VR or OS won't really help as subject movement is going to be high.

    The difficulty of mixing flash and daylight may be that if the shutter is slowish, to get enough ambient, and the flash freezes motion, you may end up with a sort of double image. Sharp foreground with movement in the background or worse maybe sharp horse and moving horse.

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