Monday, January 23, 2012

Even more Speedlites for Ice Hockey

Not quite perfection, but definitely good enough.

Over the past few years I have freelanced around the Ontario Hockey League and submitted images for use by In the Game trading cards.

When I first started, I was using a Nikon D70s, soon followed by a D200.  All these images were taken at maximum ISO and at relatively slow shutter speeds.  All the images required some form of noise reduction in post processing.  Noise Ninja was my friend.  These days I am packing a Nikon D3.  This is the camera that revolutionized high ISO photography.  Yet there is something about images from under arena lights that doesn't appeal to me.  This is what fuels my desire to strobe ice hockey.

Every arena is going to have it's lighting difficulties.  For me, nirvana is off axis cross lighting with all sorts of silver insulation on the ceiling to bounce off.

In Owen Sound, at the Bayshore, that is just not the case.  After less than perfect images on Wednesday thanks to another futile attempt at direct lighting, I arrived at Saturday's game nice and early.  I was on a scouting mission.  After staring at the west side for several minutes, I had to succumb to the conclusion that there weren't any good options to bounce on that side.  The east side is normally the side I shoot from.  It is also the side that offers more opportunities for lighting placement.  The east side has private boxes that reach out over top of the normal seating.  This past Saturday I used the I-beams under the boxes to secure my flashes.  This allowed me to get closer to the silver insulation that only covers the ice surface.  I was then able to simulate a light source much larger than my flashes and a light source that is over top the rink, not back in the stands.  The result is nice soft light with less fall off.

It's not always about the gear, but sometimes a little technology can go along way.

Enter the new generation of Pocket Wizards.  The TT1 Mini and the TT5 Flex.  Together they offer off-camera flash with iTTL/eTTL capability.  But, that is not the feature that caused me to purchase a TT1 Mini. For me, it's the Hypersync technology that has me so excited.  Hypersync is a timing feature that allows cameras to sync to flashes at speeds higher than traditional x-sync speeds.

On the Nikon D3 the native x-sync speed is 1/250th of a second.  Try shooting any sporting event at 1/250th and brace yourself for some motion blur.  What Hypersync has allowed me to do is sync my flashes at 1/400th, sometimes 1/500th in certain conditions. At first glance, one would say that is not that big of a deal, but what that does is it allows me to overpower that ambient arena lighting with less lights and forces my exposure more on to the flash duration.  With my Nikon flashes set to 1/2 power the flash duration is 1/1100th.  That is a big deal!

Hypersync is a whole other post on it's own.  I will say slower flashes and smaller chips have allowed others to achieve much faster sync speeds.

The set-up:
Camera - Nikon D3, ISO 500, f/5, 1/400th
Lens - AF-S 300mm mkII f/2.8
Radios - Pocket Wizard TT1 + (2) Plus II,
Flash - (2) SB-900, (2) SB-800, (4) SB-26 zoomed to 85mm, 1/2 power

The results... (click on each image to see a larger version)

Seth Griffith - London Knights

Gemel Smith - Owen Sound Attack
Greg McKegg - London Knights
Daniel Catenacci - Owen Sound Attack


  1. Wow. I am now going to research this. I have been shooting my children's hockey games for the past 10 years and always thought "if I only had strobes."

  2. Take a look at PCB Einsteins. If you are not already invested in Speedlites, I believe these may be a cheaper alternative. They also use IGBT technology which means super short flash durations. They also have am impressive looking portable battery pack.