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|| News Item: Posted 1999-02-04

Quick and Dirty Lighting: on camera flash
By Doug Duran

I am currently one of two photographers who work the night shift at the Valley Times and between the two of us we shoot a lot of high school sports in dark gyms and on even darker football fields.

About five years ago the Valley Times and it's four sister papers (Contra Costa Newspapers) switched to shooting color negative film only and to automated Fuji film processors. All wet darkrooms were also closed, eliminating the ability to effectively push film. While things were changing in the photo departments, the sports department was putting a new focus on local high school sports. Color prep photos soon began to appear on the sports front and inside pages.

Photo by Doug Duran

Photo by Doug Duran
In order to compensate for not being able to push film we started shooting with a flash. Although we can still push film by turning the film processor off, increased grain is the result. The way I prefer to shoot high school basketball and football is to throw out a small kiss of light with my flash. By using my flash I can effectively fill in the shadows. When shooting basketball I usually shoot with two flashes, one on a 300mm/2.8 and the other on a 70-200mm/2.8. Using 800 ASA film, I set my exposure on both cameras at 250/2.8 and dial my flash down to 1/16th power (or lower) on the 300mm and 1/32nd power (or lower) on the 70-200mm.

Shooting with the flash powered down works better than using the TTL setting for several reasons. First, it decreases the intensity of the shadow that is sometimes cast on the wall behind the subject. Also, because the flash is dialed down so low, basketball or volleyball referees usually won't complain about you using a flash.

The light in the gyms we shoot in ranges from beautiful to cave. Some experimentation is needed to match the available light in the gym to output of the flash. Also, there are some problems that come with having your flash on- camera. "Red eye" and shadows.

Most of the time the shadows are not that bad and with a little dodging they are hard to see. If you want to try to further eliminate the chance of shadows, one thing you can do is to put your flash on a Bogen Super Clamp and try to find something high enough over your head in order to drop the shadows back behind the player(s). Another suggestion is to stick your flash on an extended monopod and find some kid in the stands who wants to make a couple of bucks to stand behind you and hold the monopod.

Since "red eye" is bound to happen eventually when shooting with a flash, in lieu of using spot tone, I use Photoshop to reduce or eliminate it completely. I lasso the red part of the eye and desaturate the red channel in the Saturation window. I then use the Levels or Curves windows to darken the area that was once red.

Shooting high school sports in this way is by no means perfect, but it is quick and efficient and I've had a lot of luck shooting this way.

(Doug Duran is a staff photographer at the Valley Times in Pleasanton, CA.)

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