This past Saturday I had the opportunity to photograph roller derby with my new high speed Einstein flash heads. My daughter Emily “Suzi Uzi” Murray was playing for the Victory Dolls all-star team against an overmatched opponent from Arkansas. I have always wanted to photograph derby with powerful high speed studio strobes. I have used my Nikon SB’s in the past and while they are pretty good at freezing action, they lose substantial power at those high speeds. While my older Alien Bees and Photogenic lights are powerful and durable, they are not designed to freeze high speed action. Before the Einstein lights came out, high speed action lights would typically cost $5,000 per light or more. Great for rental but not free shooting your daughter’s roller derby for free. Not to mention their are no local rental houses that handle that type of equipment.
One really nice side effect of my new Einstein flashes is the portability that comes with these powerful strobes. I reorganized my travel case and came up with a single Pelican case that allows me to pack two heads, two lithium batteries, two light stands, cords, grids, snoots, etc. into one wheeled case. With that and my rolling Pelican camera case I had some very powerful tools that I could easily handle myself.
Luckily I have photographed roller derby often in the past. I think familiarity helps when you are a photographer, especially trying to capture action. Rather than react to what happens, you can anticipate what will happen and be ready. I knew much of the action would occur right after the start of each “jam” coming out of the first turn. I wanted to cross-light this turn so I would have a nice rim light and a good fill light. I also wanted to blend the light with ambient so my light would not be overpowering, but just add a bit of crispness to the scene. Ideally I would have gelled the lights to match the overheads, but didn’t have time to put the gels in place before the first match and after a few test shots, thought the warm ambient background actually helped the main subject stand out.
Working with my new Cyber Commander wireless control module was awesome. I could control the power of my lights right from where I stood and never have to walk around and change things. This let me test lighting ratios during the warmup bout before the main event. I could adjust the lights, camera settings and ISO to match the ambient lighting conditions, allowing me to make the background as dark or as light as I wanted, adjusting my F-stop to get just the depth of field I wanted. If I needed more depth of field, I would just power up the lights and increase my f-stop. Less depth of field? Just power down the lights and decrease my f-stop. I could control the ambient with my shutter speed, knowing the lights were going to freeze the important action.
The end result is I got the cleanest, crispest pictures I have ever taken at a roller derby match, which are notoriously hard to shoot because of poor lighting and fast action. Setup and teardown was fast and easy and I was able to haul my gear in and out by myself. The only downside is that I was limited to shooting in that once specific corner. I could have moved the lights or dropped in more lights if I wanted to shoot elsewhere. No need for that, I was happy with the results.