October 9


Shooting Mountain Biking with Off Camera Flash

By Dan

October 9, 2013


Last week I posted a few photos from a recent adventure biking photo shoot that I did with my friend Eric Parsons.

Taking advantage of beautiful sunny fall day in Alaska, we rode a few miles back into the mountains, and then hiked with our bikes up to a pristine alpine ridge.

In addition to some great outside time, our intention was to shoot some shots for Eric’s bike bag company, Revelate Designs. He’d scoped out this particular location before, and so it was just a matter of waiting for the weather and our schedules to coordinate. Both of us like to operate on the fly, so for two guys who live less than a mile apart, it’s surprising that we don’t get out together more often these days.

Knowing that we’d be pushing and hiking with the bikes uphill, I took along my regular adventure photography kit, which consisted of a DSLR, my Nikon 24mm f2.8 lens and my Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Telephoto Zoom, my favorite new lens in about a decade, I also took along an ultra lightweight lighting kit, which consisted of the following:

The SB-800 was considered by many to be Nikon’s best all around Speedlight, but since it’s no longer made, I recommend the SB-700, which is acomparable flash to the 800 for this kind of shooting, and certainly lighter and more portable than the The SB-910. For Canon users, the Speedlite 430EX II is probably the ideal affordable choice.

Setting up in an ideal spot op of the ridge, I fixed the flash to the Gorillapod, which is so light and versatile that it pretty much goes everywhere with me. Then I had Eric ride by while I shot with the 24mm f2.8 lens. For the photo below, I used Aperture Priority mode, 1/80 @ f/13, and panned with the action to get a sharp subject in front of a slightly blurred background.

I triggered the flash by using the on board pop-up flash as a Nikon CLS flash commander. For shooting this close to the subject, the pop-up flash works fine as a flash controller and it saves me the weight of having to carry separate triggering units or another flash. I just have to make sure the optical sensor on the flash can ‘see’ the light from my camera flash. Also, when I set the commander, I make sure that my pop-up flash is only firing the monitor pre-flashes that talk to the the remote, off-camera flash because I don’t want any extra light from the camera flash to hit the subject.MBK-AK-01290


MBK-AK-01281However, as you can see, the first shot above is a little too bright. The light is too strong on the subject and the shadows are a little too hard. It practically yells “FLASH!” That’s no good. You want the flash to be invisible.

Even using the plastic dome diffuser and dialing the flash power a little bit wasn’t giving me the look I wanted, so I stuck on the Lumiquest Softbox III, which is a small, extremely portable flash diffuser that fits right in the shove-it pocket of my pack. It’s so light that I don’t even know it’s there.

As small as it is, though, it spreads the light out in a surface area that is about 20 times larger than the flash head. This is how diffuser works; the larger the light gets spread out, the softer it is when it hits the subject.

Essentially, diffusing the light softens the shadows and  pulls the light into the background. It’s not so obvious, especially in the outdoors, where there’s not supposed to be any external light. The more you can make your flash blend into the natural scene while still lighting up your subject enough to make them pop from the background, the more realistic your photos will look.

Here’s the final shot below, which was made with the Lumiquest Softbox III. I used the same shutter speed/aperture combo, but instead of panning, I held the camera steady. This gives the look of the biker speeding against a still background, more of an action photography feel. In addition, I felt that this was a good approach since the background environment was so stunning.

For more off-camera flash outdoor photography tips, check out my eBook, Going Fast With Light.


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About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 25+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

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