I am often asked about my night race photography when using flash. And I have often promised to reply with a blog post. So, here goes! A simple introduction to my night set up.
Night photography is difficult, always, because as photographers we need to work with light. Night is void of light, so one must be creative. When one adds the complexity of a runner moving at speed, if you want to freeze the action, one must use flash. If you use one flash, say on top of the camera, it produces, in my opinion, an awful, flat, un-inviting image. So, how does one get creative!?
I use Sony cameras and lighting. For the shots below I used a Sony A7RIII, 3 x F45 Sony flash and 1 x Sony WRC1M transmitter.
The transmitter sits on the hot shoe on the camera and allows the Flash to placed in multiple locations and fired automatically when I press the shutter.
1. You need to choose a place that a runner has few route choices. This way you can predict the place to illuminate.
2. AF doesn’t work at night. So switch your camera to Manual and pre-focus on the sweet spot.
3. Use a tripod so that you reduce any variables. This also means that you will have no camera shake.
4. Flash is affected by aperture, ambient light is affected by time. So, if you use say 1/4 second exposure, this will record the light trail from a head torch and any ambient light.
5. Action is frozen by the flash. You need to balance the ambient and flash by choosing the correct aperture and correct shutter speed. For the shots here I used a 1/4 sec at F8 at 800iso. The light trail can be altered by firing front or rear curtain. It looks more natural for the head torch trail to be behind but I find it goes across the runner’s face, so prefer the trail in-front.
6. By choosing F8 I allow myself some variable of the line the runner will take and therefore still have a sharp image.
7. In the shots here I use one light at the front right on a stand fired through a white light umbrella (softens the light). Behind the tree (on left) I have a light on a stand with no softness – this my key light which provides drama. On the floor I have a light pointing at the camera. This creates drama, illuminates a black hole and adds depth.
8. The secret is to balance the flash. They are all on manual and adjusted accordingly. For example, the flash front right was on 1/4 power, the flash on the floor 1/32 power and the light behind the tree at full power.
9. When possible I ask a spectator, fellow photographer or bystander to be a ‘test’ subject – makes life easier. In the shots below I was alone so I put my camera bag on the floor, used a head torch to light it, focused and then tested my lighting and adjusted accordingly.
10. When the runner’s come you have to predict when they hit the sweet spot for the image. For me, the leg stride, head, eyes, hands and arms must all be good to make the shot really work. I am very selective!
Ultimately trial and error will help you. I have a long history as an advertising/ commercial studio photographer and lighting comes natural to me. For many… It’s a world of mystery.
I hope this helps to motivate you to go out and try something new. Good luck!
Images of #Sony equipment copyright-Sony