Saturday, March 19, 2005

Behold "The Beast"

© Mark M. Hancock and The Dallas Morning News

"The Beast" fires from the press box during a soccer game at The Colony High School in The Colony on Tuesday, February 15, 2005. The Colony won the game in a shoot out.

Many folks have asked what kind of lights I use for indoor sports and portraits. I call it "The Beast," but everyone else calls it a Norman P2000D studio flash system (since replaced by the Norman D24R Series 900, a 2400WS studio flash system with built-in Pocket Wizard reciever).

Technically, it's incorrect to call a studio flash system a "strobe." I do so for brevity and to distinguish between a hand-held flash/speedlight and a studio flash system. Therefore, when talking outside the PJ world, it's accurate to call a studio flash system as such and a hand-held flash as such, but inside our little world it's fine to say flash and strobe.

My plan was to have everyone understand lighting, guide numbers and all, but more readers were interested in the biz side. So, I caved to reader pressure. Consequently, if you don't understand what follows, I'll clear it up in the next month or so.

For the shots above and below, I used two heads and set the power for 800 Watt Seconds (WS) instead of 1200WS to avoid frightening people or getting in trouble with game officials. Incidentally, it has a single combined-output plug for 2000WS output with a suggested guide number of 168. I don't use it. It's spooky.

In Texas, the standard rule is flash must be above the 13th row of gym bleachers during sanctioned high school games. I place mine on the top row unless it's a really large coliseum.

For hoops, I typically use one head at 800WS bounced off a neutral wall or ceiling. For hockey, I either bounce it off the wall behind the penalty box or I use two heads and bounce them off the wall toward the ceiling and onto the ice (basically over the stands). For volleyball, I use one head set at 400WS with a softbox.

Last month I had a soccer assignment without a tight deadline, so I lit it. I wouldn't suggest this for most people, but it turned out OK. It fell into the "must try" category since it supposedly can't or shouldn't be done. It would've really rocked if the game was more violent. I could see it being major cool for night track events.

The nice stadium officials let me put my strobes on the filming deck of the press box at a standard high school stadium. With all these variables mentioned above, I could have gotten f/4 at 1/500 on the field at 800iso. I didn't really trust how it looked on the LCD, so I chose a setting on the safe side (f/2.8 at 1/250th). In retrospect, I wish I had at least increased the speed because the highlights (Zone VII) are still hot and there was a little more ambient light blur than I wanted.

In the end, I learned a few things. I learned it's possible to light an entire playing field from the press box resulting in better light than available. I learned that Pocket Wizards are good for at least 150 yards, and I learned the strobes at this setting and height can kick out enough light for 150 yards plus tip-in. I suppose I should test the 2000WS one day to get an absolute range on it.

Some day, I'll sweet talk my wife into getting me a second power pack and another Pocket Wizard to cross-light events. Imagine the tribal sounds I'll make in the scanning room when I shoot football or light an entire gym at f/22. :-}

I admit the shot below isn't great. I posted it to show the difference between the available light shadows and the strobe shadow (the darkest one). In other words, at much less than full power and at great distance, "The Beast" is still more powerful (for milliseconds) than the banks of lights at most high school stadiums.

© Mark M. Hancock and The Dallas Morning News

Flower Mound High School's Richard Oliva (No. 16, left) tries to get past The Colony's Jake Oldham (No. 11, right) during a soccer game at The Colony High School in The Colony on Tuesday, February 15, 2005. The Colony won the game in a shoot out.

Enough for now,


CarmenSisson said...

Wow, that's awesome. Considering the fact that I am about to shoot my first soccer game, a World Cup qualifier for EFE no less, I am more than a little intimidated now. I would love to come back with images this nice.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Don't sweat it. It's just like football, but completely different. ;-}

I wouldn't expect get to use a strobe at a major game because TV folks sometimes freak at the lights. Particularly since major games are typically played in venues with ample light.

Jimmy Jin said...


It's amazing how much light those things put out. I always think that they're going to freak people out but then the flash is so short that a lot of people just miss it when they blink. :P

Mark M. Hancock said...

Unless they look directly at it and fry a retina.

Tom Leininger said...


I never would have even thought of lighting an outdoor sport like this. I wonder where you get the time to write your posts too. Thanks.


Mark M. Hancock said...

I've wanted to light a stadium for a long time, but deadlines or rain often got in the way.

As for time, I type fast and my sudden freelance status has a lot to do with it lately.

Caleb said...

What size reflectors were you using? The pic makes it look like one giant soft box. I have never hear of lighting a stadium like that before. Pretty sweet though!

Mark M. Hancock said...

At that distance the drop off is so severe that no reflectors were needed. The walls of the filming platform became de facto reflectors.