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High Speed Portraits

Sep 1

In Lighting at 12:28pm


No, not talking about those wonderful opportunities we have all been given to shoot the entire starting nine of the Lansing LugNuts in less than three minutes. Nor am I talking about the sessions with Mr. Corporate Kahuna with the fully erect ego or Mrs. I Am Who Am who just happens to sport a jewel encrusted timepiece that represents more dough than we’ve invested in equipment for the last five years.

You know those lovely, down to earth human encounters where the first thing that gets said to you is, “You’ve only got five minutes.” To which you craft the jaunty rejoinder, “How about we do this in three, cause you’re just not that interesting?”

Inside words!

No, no, no. Talking here about using high speed sync for portraiture. First off, why is this called, in Nikon land anyway, “Auto FP Hi Speed Sync?” Is it any wonder lots of folks don’t use this feature? I mean, imagine you’re just getting used to flash, and you turn a page in the manual and there it is in the header, “Auto FP Hi Speed Sync!” Your eyes glaze over. It might as well be a dissertation in the relationship of superconductors to condensed matter physics. You turn the page. Forget all this flash stuff! High ISO beckons.

But, that little check off doober in the menu that enables hi speed sync is pretty cool. (Go to flash sync, see the Auto FP function, check it. Done.) Costs you nothing, does not inhibit normal flash operation, but means that when you drift above normal flash sync, usually around 200th or 250th of a second, your flash will keep pace with the shutter and not give you the dreaded black line of death across some crucial part of your frame. Fast flash! 8000th of a second sync! Way cool! What’s the hitch? (In photography, there’s always a hitch.)

You give back power. Keeping up with the focal plane shutter quenches the flash power drastically. To ramp up the power, there are three basic strategies: Move the flash close, open up your f-stop, or use a boatload of flashes. Keeping things simple here, I used the first two. Moved my EzyBox Hotshoe Softbox in close to my subject, and opened my 50mm f1.4 all the way. Dropped the cursor on the left eye, let everything else do what it’s gonna do, focus wise.

My subject, Michael Zammitto, is a terrific character actor who can go from smiling country western star to a bad ass cowboy in a heartbeat. Here he is shot in “normal” flash sync at 1/60th @ f11.


Up to your taste, but I like the limited DOF look. Not always appropriate, ’cause some art directors want everything from the hair follicles to the background sharp, but in terms of shaping and directing your viewer’s eye right to the crucial part of the photo, hi speed sync rocks. More tk….

53 Responses to “High Speed Portraits”

Troy Stephen Augustine slc says:

on April 11, 2013 at 11:26 pm

I enjoy reading an article that can make people think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

Brent Marchant says:

on November 9, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I appreciate your insights and enjoy your photos and associate insights on lighting and photography. I have seen a number of your videos on Kelby Training including the recent Shriners Hospitals shoot – I attended your seminar in Kansas City, MO at Bartle Hall recently and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. You mentioned a Scottish Rite temple out west you enjoyed — I am on the Consistory board and CLDC for the fine Scottish Rite temple in Kansas City I would like to invite you to visit our temple here if you have time on your next visit, or entertain the possibility of hosting a seminar in our auditorium that has a capacity for nearly 1400. There are a few photographs of the auditorium in the photographs area of our website. So far this winter we have had two film crews at our historic building and I think you would enjoy the visit or possibly host your next seminar in Kansas City at our temple.

Thank you for all you share with your fellow photographers,
Brent Marchant

Joe McNally says:

on November 11, 2013 at 6:14 am

Many thanks Brent for the invite….we can stay in touch and see how things go. The temples are generally pretty amazing looking, in my experience. best, Joe

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