the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

November 6, 2009

Flashgun ettiquette

Filed under: photography — danmilner @ 7:27 pm

I never thought I’d see the day. My Canon flash guns are almost burnt out with exhaustion.

Back in September I was commissioned by What Mountain Bike magazine to shoot two different features, both spread over several days and both quite different briefs. What held them in common ground was the use of my flashes. Now those who know my work will probably be aware of my hunger for using natural light whenever I can, and an erring towards for dark, moody shots. I’m no Sam Abell, but when you look at his work in reportage, you get the idea that flash can be a little overrated. While his long insistance on using only natural light has played a good part in molding my own ideas of what can work, of course Mr Abell didnt shoot for contemporary mountain bike magazines, for which the use of flash (or strobes as photog’s like to call them) is almost an essential requisite for fill-lighting product and adding some pop to the image on an otherwise dull day. 

Of course not using flash is quicker, with no set up times, so on multi day epics when you don’t know how long a ride waits ahead of you, or if you’re going to make the next village before nightfall, this can avoid unwanted delays when documenting an adventure. Natural light often looks, well… more natural, while flash can sometimes appear a little too artificial, at least to me, especially in the natural, mountain environment. 

So I sold out. Well, not exactly sold out, but I hammered those little flash guns to near death. At Eurobike, the World’s largest bike expo, I squeezed between the 45,000 trade visitors to capture the required images of next years product to provide the mainstay of an 18-page feature that has just emerged in WMB issue 102 this month. The second shoot was an on-mountain, action 4-dayer, that coincided with perhaps the only cloudy -nay foggy- week we had all summer and autumn. 

Now flash is nothing new to me really: I got sucked into the current (and overdone) trend for flash images in snowboarding a couple of years ago now, mostly using my Lumedyne studio set up, so I realise the potential for flash, even if my ‘mountain eye’ doesn’t usually welcome it. I see flash as a useful tool, especially for controlling the light rather than replacing it… it’s there to add effect and if used well, can stylise a photo. But I am still a fan of nice chunky shadows, adding a ton of depth and power to an image.

So here’s a sample of what came out.. the opener to the Eurobike feature in WMB mag. The brief for this shot was to capture the “bigest trend” apparent at Eurobike, something that had me and the Tech ed scratching our heads about. Finally on the last day, after he had left I decided the advent of the double chainset was the “trend” this year and pulled a Giant bike complete with Sram XX kit from Giant’s stand and asked one of the Giant’s German guys to help me shoot it outside. Afte it p*ssing down with rain all day, I scored a brief lull in the storm and I set the bike (German hand holding back wheel upright just out of shot) to have the dark, moody storm clouds parting behind and a glimmer of an old shipping container to the side (to give it that “just landed look”) and dialled in my Canon Speedlights to highlight the chainset. I lay in the rainy tarmac and made the little babies light up.

Dark, moody pics, me?



How to make a wet carpark and a shiny bike look.. well, moody.





  1. Very nice Dan..

    Did you snoot the head of the 580ex to just cover part of the frame and highlight the chainset ?

    Comment by Richard Maude — November 22, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

    • Thanks Richard, actually no snoot… I just dialled in the flashes to zoom them to their 105mm setting and put them both as close to the chainset as possible (just out of shot) to create a direct pooled light. And then I lay down on the wet tarmac. My the things we go through to earn twenty quid.

      Comment by danmilner — December 20, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

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