Photographers Lighting Tip: Flash your Flash

Do you ever go out on a photoshoot and forget something? Yah, me neither. So this tip is for you to share with your friends who inevitably forget the important cable they needed to make their flash systems sync up. This is a little excerpt from my Lighting Notebook, coming at you this fall. 

I was on a recent shoot and had everything all ready to go. My model was freezing, but fantastically cooperative nonetheless. We had forgotten the cable to plug in the back of my main monolight, (a Photoflex Starflash I was testing) - you know, the one that connects to the wireless receiver so it can go "boom". I didn't want us to have to run back the 100 miles to the truck and dig around, hopefully finding it, and run back - while the model turned to an ice block. Think fast...think fast...I was using a PocketWizard TT5 receiver that has a hotshoe attachment - and a port to connect to a cable for most any flash system. That's the cable I forgot. Instead I decided to sit my extra speedlight in the receiver and set it's power to minimum. I then positioned the speedlight directly behind the monolight and used the monolights built-in optical slave to trigger it. The speedlight received my sync signal, flashed, and triggered the monolight. The speedlight itself was not providing any useful light on the subject. The show could go on.

I've used this trick a few times when I'm short of receivers or, cough cough, I forget a cable. It's a good one to keep in mind when you're...I mean when your friend, is in a jamb. Or a pickle.

Below is the final image and the setup behind it. I wanted to create an unusual bridal portrait with a city skyline. I held the exposure for 2.5 seconds for the city and had the bride jump. The flash froze her midair, and you can see the city through her dress where she received half an exposure from the city lights and half from the flash. We needed her to jump high enough to clear the buildings so that her face would be in the dark sky - unobscured. A strategically placed equipment case gave her something to jump off, and get bigger air with.

The Starflash is a great monolight – comparable in output and price to other units in this category. It's very solidly built, has a wide adjustment range, and has measurably consistent output. The HalfDome strip bank is a beautiful light modifier and is relatively inexpensive compared to other units I've tried. Strip banks keep the light controlled and directional, while still being soft and shapely.

Products used: 

Photoflex Starflash

Photoflex Halfdome strip bank soft box

Nikon SB900 & SB800 speedlights

PocketWizard TT1/TT5 wireless trigger system