Going where SLRs fear to tread

TulbaghiasUsing a flash doesn’t just help light up a dim or dark scene.  Using a flash to balance or overpower (yes! overpower) the sun allows the creation of effects all the way from the subtle to the extreme.

You will find some fairly extensive discussions of this technique on sites like David Hobby’s blog.  He gives a very good coverage on the topic of balancing flash and sunlight.

My first guess at setting the intensity of the speedlites (1/2 and 1/4 respectively) was totally off.  Fortunately I didn’t delete the file before I downloaded it. Even thought it was over-exposed by about 4 stops, the effect was actually quite interesting.

The sun was bright enough to need an exposure of 1/500s to 1/1000s at f/8 in order to avoid over-exposing the background.  An exposure that short is well beyond the sync speed of any DSLR currently on the market – most can only manage maximum flash sync speed of 1/200s or 1/500s.  Flash sync at exposures that short are no problem for the Canon Powershot G11, which is what I used for all of these shots.

High speed flash synchronisation with conventional flash units (as opposed to the high speed sync systems used by SLR manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon) has traditionally been the domain of medium format cameras.  It is however also a party trick of compact cameras – provided they have a hotshoe adapter.  Unless you need the resolution provided by a medium format camera, you could argue that a compact camera could produce very good results.  Low ISO, bright light subjects happen to be an area of strength for compact cameras with small sensors.  Shots taken at ISO 80 on a Powershot G11 can easily be printed at sizes up to A3 (or possibly larger).
I am not suggesting that medium format cameras are becoming irrelevant.  If you don’t need the phenomenal resolution of a digital medium format camera, or can’t afford one, there are ways, however, to pull off some of the tricks that were the sole domain of the medium format club.

All of the photos shown here were taken using a Powershot G11, Speedlite 580EXII (key) and Speedlite 430EX (fill), using wireless triggers.