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Big Canyon, Small Flash

May 18

In Lighting, On Location at 2:02am

Been experimenting with seeing how far I can throw a commander signal from a hot shoe mounted flash to a set of remotes. Figured Dead Horse Canyon would be a good place to try. So last week, got up in the middle of the night and went out for sunrise in Moab. Got in touch with our bikers, Beth and Sean, through Poison Spyder Bike Shop in Moab, which, for me, has been the place to call if you want to work with good riders. The folks who either work there or are connected with the shop can really rock it out on a mountain bike.


Triggered the remotes from an SB900 on my camera. It had the diffuser dome off, and it was zoomed to 200mm, which is a good strategy for squeezing out a few more yards of range. All three remotes are hooked up on a c-stand via Justin Clamps. All have 1/2 cut of CTO warming gel on them, and they in turn are zoomed to 200mm, to get punch and direction along the lines of the rising (hopefully) sun.


Sean and Beth took turns, and I just kept adjusting at camera for the changing light. I was swinging the camera left and right to maybe do a pano stitch, so I took it out of aperture priority and just slammed it into manual. After experimenting a bit, I decided I needed all the juice I could get outta the lights, so I sent them a signal to fire at manual, 1/1, the max power you can get from the 900.




They both did great out there on the edge of the canyon. And the lights did okay, too. Consistent fire and recycle, ’cause each 900 was hooked to an SD-9 external battery pack.


Then there was this tree, which is evidently famous. It’s all bent up, kinda like it was growing one way and then decided to make a u-turn back the other direction. It’s cool looking, as trees go. My buds Kevin Dobler, Moose Peterson and I worked out a lighting combo that had two 900 units warmed up with CTO gel, and at first zoomed to 200mm, firing at the tree from both camera left and right, with each flash being about 20 or so feet from the greenery. Changed up the zoom when it looked like the lights were getting too spotty, and widened them both out to about 85mm. Group A to one side, B to the other, in case we had to ratio them differently. Saturated the sky with underexposure, and powered up the lights.


And, I became one with the tree. Figures. We’re both a little bent.

Couple schedule things….

Heading to Florida on Friday to teach lighting in Orlando, courtesy of the Orlando Camera Club. Great bunch of folks, and the organizer, Wayne Bennett has been tireless at putting together what looks to be a terrific program. Here’s the link….

More tk….

68 Responses to “Big Canyon, Small Flash”

Jim says:

on May 18, 2010 at 2:32 am

So how far away were the remote units in the bike shots? And what were they, more SB900s?

Rob Lamping says:

on May 18, 2010 at 2:33 am

Love the way you make the sun rise with those flash units.
Beautifull pictures…

Frans says:

on May 18, 2010 at 3:02 am

Love the third photo from the top. Jumping bicycle. Awesome!

herrMartin says:

on May 18, 2010 at 3:22 am

Why not take a ranger quadra with a hp reflector. this setup would have more power and would be cheaper, easyer to handle etc ?

dario milano says:

on May 18, 2010 at 3:34 am

Hi Joe! Awesome photos and info as usual; I enjoy reading your blog.
Cheers, Dario

Mark says:

on May 18, 2010 at 3:49 am

The rotating head and the zoom are among the advantages of using the sb800/900 as commander over the su800.

I was able to trigger an sb600 remote a good 70m away using this method. This with an 8am sun hitting directly the receiver window.

Jase says:

on May 18, 2010 at 4:01 am

hey Joe, as always awesome photos – but must say these are particularly interesting to me!
One thing I’d love to know is if you had to crank the ISO up at all to make the most of those 3 speedlights???

Cheers from Switzerland

Gordon says:

on May 18, 2010 at 4:18 am

You are truly great oh swami!….this is indeed the best picture of the One True Tree.

oooohhhhmmmm ooooohhhhhmmm

Ban_D says:

on May 18, 2010 at 4:38 am

Wow – great shots as usual!
My fav of this set is the third one ‘cyclist in the air’ :-)

Tirthankar says:

on May 18, 2010 at 4:50 am

As always in awe of our work. You are a wizard. Thanks for sharing these invaluable tips. Joe, there are a lot of fans who are in awe of your work here in india, may be you could consider conducting some workshops here in india too.

Richard Hales says:

on May 18, 2010 at 5:50 am

Really inspiring images, as usual. First proper shots of the bikers being my pick of the bunch

Stephen says:

on May 18, 2010 at 6:49 am

Ewww arrrr. As usual a very entertaining yarn for us Joe.

God I love it when I see fresh McNally sitting in the reader, I know I’m in for a treat!!

Howard Haby says:

on May 18, 2010 at 7:52 am

Great photos. The bikers, the tree… it all looks great.

Andrea Norwich says:

on May 18, 2010 at 8:25 am

The tree….the tree….it calls to me. Well, the photo does. Wow. what a great shot! And DEFINITELY bent.
Thanks for sharing and inspiring!!!

berna says:

on May 18, 2010 at 8:31 am

What a wonderful light!
I like this tree!!
IT seems to be worth riging all this stuff out there!

Chris Leventis says:

on May 18, 2010 at 8:35 am

Hi Joe,

Is the seminar in Orlando a hands on type of seminar or is it like the Kelby stop tours? Either way, look forward to seeing you in action again especially now that I left the dark side and shooting Nikon.

All the best,

Daf says:

on May 18, 2010 at 8:36 am

Nics pics.
I wish PocketWizard would hurry up with their Nikon triggers!
Shame that RadioPoppers don’t have EU models out yet.

So you can remotely tell the flash to go to Manual 1/1 ? – I didn’t know that! Just been using TTL on CLS up to now with +/- dialled in.

agnieszka says:

on May 18, 2010 at 9:34 am

Beautifull pictures

paul sherar says:

on May 18, 2010 at 9:43 am

OK, 2 things. I now want to go to moab for some mountain biking. I also now want to experiment more with long range flash triggers. That’s pretty impressive that the built-in Nikon trigger communicated so far. Another check for Nikon CLS!

Sarah Kavanaugh says:

on May 18, 2010 at 9:54 am

LOVE LOVE LOVE the tree shot! At some point I’m going to ask how much for a print! (Man, do I need a fish-eye. Missing out on all the fun>)

Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) says:

on May 18, 2010 at 10:35 am

I did something very similar this morning. Got up in the dark, headed down to the river and tested the range of some prototype flash triggers that a company has given me to test. We used a biker too. 4 lights on RF transceivers spaced out to 400ft or so.

Barbara Thorbjörnsson says:

on May 18, 2010 at 10:43 am

Awesome! I particularly like the photo of the tree all by itself (sorry Joe). Biker on edge of cliff is wonderfula also as is biker through the air. Thanks for sharing.

Robert Grubba says:

on May 18, 2010 at 11:18 am

Beautiful captures! If I would need to complete my gear from scratch, I would go for Nikon (mostly because the incredible CLS system).

Jenn says:

on May 18, 2010 at 11:36 am

Always inspiring! I saw an ad on NatGeo Traveler about a contest with Bob Krist going to Norway. When are they doing one with you, Joe? Opportunity of a lifetime!!

Dave Dugdale says:

on May 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Wow, great shots! I’m a little bent too. :)

Abhijit Bhatlekar says:

on May 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm

1 question.

How much MAX distance limit can be kept between Camera Commander and Remote Falsh to trigger them..?


Chris Moncus says:

on May 18, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for showing us how you conjure awesomeness. I appreciate the detail you give.

Dennis says:

on May 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Awesome! You’re an inspiration sir!

André Weigel says:

on May 18, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Pretty nice blog post and very nice pictures… !
To all, if it possible, you must pay a visit to the Dead Horse Canyon.


Digitaldoc says:

on May 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm

What can I say that others haven’t? The C-tree with an awesome sky, beautifully lit – the Mcnally master does it again. The biker jumping in the air looks like he is near the sun!

Borut Peterlin says:

on May 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Amazing how much juice you’re getting out of this SB900s.

Did you try it out with SU-800? I’m not impressed with signal from SU-800. Yesterday I was shooting in a room and SB600 was only 5 meters (15 ft) away and it didn’t fire. This weekend I’ll try out if signal from SB-900 is stronger then from SU-800.
Today I bought another SB800 :-)

Sodabowski says:

on May 18, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Add another admirer of the jumping biker!

Arpad Ronaszegi says:

on May 18, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Awesome idea to photograph in a place like this. Great that you have all these connections and can get a couple bikers so easily. Maybe you could do a blog on how think of these ideas – do you plan ahead or it just happens.

Thank you for sharing your techniques!

Andrew Jones says:

on May 18, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I see that you mentioned that you put the flash in manual 1/1. I’m guessing here that you were not using CLS and just using the optical slave on the SB 900s.

I’d love to find out that you can use CLS to set a specific power level (because then I could use it on my SB 600) but I think you can only use CLS and TTL together.

Wayne says:

on May 18, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Great shots, really love the 1st shot of the biker.

I’m going to be at the Orlando seminar, but I’ve never been to one of these before – any suggestions on what I should bring (other than my willingness to learn)?

Suwen says:

on May 18, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Just wondering, there are now the RadioPoppers and China made Knight TR-331 Flashgun iTTL Trigger for Nikon that do high speed sync all the way to 1/8000s, why are you not using them? Or there is sponsorship program for you on the way? Haha… They eliminate the line of sight and distance issue and so far, they are working pretty well for me.

Oh, great shots!!! You are truly inspiring…

John Batdorff says:

on May 18, 2010 at 11:01 pm

“a little bent” kills me.

Greg says:

on May 19, 2010 at 1:01 am


Could you please do a blog post where you explain warming filters and gels? I read about them in your blog and on other websites but I have never found a really good explanation of what filter or gel does what and when to use them or how.

Thank you and thanks for the very entertaining and informative blog.

Dave Ewers says:

on May 19, 2010 at 4:26 am

I never thought you as bent, maybe twisted but never bent

Ken Toney says:

on May 19, 2010 at 7:54 am

The tree..old and wise……..like I said..the tree…..

Shevonne says:

on May 19, 2010 at 10:06 am

Those are gorgeous shots! I had to share them ALLLL over the webosphere. ;)

Steve says:

on May 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

The jumping biker pic is one of the best pics I have seen in a while, just awesome!

Jeff says:

on May 19, 2010 at 11:51 am

Who is the ruggedly good looking guy in the jeans standing next to Drew?

Drew Gurian says:

on May 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm

hmmm..he must be some summer intern or something :)

Igor says:

on May 19, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Joe. Awesome technique and pictures!
Can you please share what are you planning for your workshop in Iceland in August this year?
What kind of magic tricks we are going to do with you?

Cheers from Toronto,


Mike Hesley says:

on May 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Bent? Well, maybe a little warped… ;-)

A very practical woman asked me a few days ago why I don’t give one of my flashes to my daughter, “after all, you have six of them…” YGBSM! I would rather give MY DAUGHTER away than part with my beloved flashes! After all… I have three of them, too! (Daughters)

Joe, the practical woman was a voodoo queen from New Orleans… So, expect something “different” soon.

I was walking in Boston through the central city park, when a strange woman with a Nikon D90 asked me why I was using three flashes at that time. It was early evening… She’d never used a flash other than the built-in on her D90. So, I let her use Myyyy Preciousssss SB-900 in the Master Mode and his two SB-800 minions on her D90, and then… and then… she saw the light!!! Wow! What a transformation! Her boyfriend was visibly upset, because he may have lost his girlfriend to lots of new bouncing baby Nikon flashes! I had hoped it to me, but, alas, I live in Seattle… Then, an amazing string of happy F’Bombs dropped out of her pretty Irish lips along with “Joe somebody” that “red-haired Irish photographer” (all in what seemed like one sentence). Funny how some people inspire others… And the way she’d connected her words in her sentences… Joe, do you make it to lots of bowling alleys? She’d never read your books, but she’s going to buy both of them!

So, Joe, you seem to have made a big impression with the Voodoo Queen in New Orleans, and the lovely red-haired Irish mobster lady in Boston. You seem to be well known in some very distinguished circles… And they’d never even read your books, or gone to any of your classes…

May your good Irish luck serve you well!

Danilo Guilherme says:

on May 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Hey Joe, you inspire me every day. You’re awesome! Love your work and your books are just great too…

Michael Murrell says:

on May 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Artistic photos. I love the way the clouds brought life into the shots.

Daithí says:

on May 19, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I’ve been making fake sunrises since finishing The Hotshoe Diaries a couple of weeks ago… excellent stuff!

You should pop over to Ireland for a few workshops. Will buy you a pint!

Joey says:

on May 19, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I agree about a Ranger Quadra or a Travelite and a battery pack.. 100x the power, and with a couple of pocket wizards you can trigger up to a 1/4 mile.. now that’s range !

Martin says:

on May 20, 2010 at 6:16 am

thanks for sharing this, amazing location and amazing Images as always

pj finn says:

on May 20, 2010 at 10:38 am

Gawd I love that tree…

You really brought it to life.

Omar Ibrahim says:

on May 20, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Waw. superb>:)

rithzal says:

on May 22, 2010 at 11:02 am

marvelous! inspiring as always. :)

Doede says:

on May 23, 2010 at 5:57 am

G’day Joe,

Thanks again for sharing the technical info. A few weeks ago I asked about + or -EV corrections and you covered some of it in this blogpost. Many thanks!

Aid says:

on May 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Man you are awesome and a great inspiration,

Loving the Hot Shoe Diaries.


Adam Sasim says:

on May 24, 2010 at 8:34 am

Great stuff Joe !

For my taste, light seems a bit harsh – but I belive you want it that way.


SKIZO says:

on May 24, 2010 at 12:23 pm

In your honour and in the honour of wall the Photographers, I published an ilustration.

David Solo says:

on May 24, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Joe, You are so Freakin cool! I hate you :-)

megalibraryonline says:

on May 25, 2010 at 12:45 am

cool man,,,,

David says:

on May 25, 2010 at 10:32 am

I loved dead horse canyon but never saw that tree. Shot the canyon at sunrise, got there when it was still dark.

On the distance thing, a couple weeks ago I shot in an auditorium. Used my long lens and triggered an SB800 on a lightstand from the far back(maybe 60 yards) with the pop-up flash on my D300. I recently got a D3s and though I have 2 SBs I really miss the popup flash for use as a commander.

Chris Ward says:

on May 25, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I just about died trying to keep up with some Posion Spyder guys on the porcupine rim trail several years back. Back then I brought 2 bikes and no cameras with me. Next time will be all about the cameras. How things change.

Love the image where the biker looks like they are jumping into the canyon.

Miles Wolstenholme says:

on May 26, 2010 at 6:00 am

Fantastic series and location, I especially like the composition on moab_mt_biker_2010_0345. Keep up the great work.

Carl says:

on May 28, 2010 at 4:06 am

Hi Joe, being a biker and photographer I love the shots! I have both your books and a d700 and 1 sb900 and a sb400. Coming back from Non Hodkins lymphoma, hopefully I will have the strength to try some of your techniques? For the rest of the guys reading, the new flashwave III triggers a supposed to be good.
Cheers Carl Melbourne Aus.

Börje says:

on May 30, 2010 at 5:43 am

Nice pictures as usual :)
How far away could you trigger the SB-900 from the on camera flash?
Do you see a difference in distance when you use the SU-800?


Nick Bicanic says:

on June 5, 2010 at 7:01 am

awesome work there Joe!

stinna arto says:

on June 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I must bow down in the dust for this! GREAT!

Photography says:

on June 15, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Wow totally amazing shots. I love the shot of the mountain biker in mid air. It gives me nightmares just thinking about how far down and hard the landing will be. hahaha. Well done.

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