Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Faster Flash Recycling Times - Another Set of Family Portraits

I can't believe it's been two years since I took studio portraits of our children and grandchild.  Only now the family is larger - our 2nd grandson is starring in this set.

I'll go into more details about how I made these in a minute (including how I got around the flash recycling requirements when shooting an uncooperative 2-year-old), but first here are a few of my favorite shots from the session (and as always, click on any image to make it larger):

How I did it
The setup I used wasn't entirely different from what I described in my blog two years ago.  But I did leave out some details then so I'll fill them in here.

First of all, these shots were done with only one flash and a plain black backdrop.  (Two years ago I just hung a black sheet on the wall.  Now you can see by the photo below that I have upgraded things a bit with a pull-down shade.)

 The light source is a softbox designed specifically to accommodate small wireless accessory flashes.  In my case it is the Lastolite EZYBOX softbox.   If you can't afford that, remember you can achieve the same results using The 5 Dollar Studio I described back in July.  The only thing that's important is that you put a diffuser between the flash and your subject.

To make sure the camera picked up no ambient light, I set my A900 to 1/200th of a second at f/11, and set my Minolta 5600 flash to manual output; 1/2 power.  (You can't use TTL flash metering with black backgrounds, since the camera will try to make the scene render as 18% grey.)  And my portrait lens of choice is my trusty old Minolta 80-200 f/2.8 G.

Recycling Time

One of the problems I experienced this time around was that I had an enthusiastic 2-year-old whose expressions changed every nanosecond, and often I'd be taking flash pictures a half second apart.  Normally accessory flashes like the 5600 just can't recycle that fast, which is why studio photographers spring for the more expensive strobes: faster recycling and more light.

I solved the problem a different way.  Say hello to Nickel-Zinc AA batteries, your dream batteries when you're shooting toddlers.  These batteries have a higher-than-normal voltage and low internal resistance.  Put them into your accessory flash and your recycle time after a full discharge is less than a second!  There is one caveat to their use, though.

 I first learned about these fast-recycling batteries at my favorite wireless flash website, (, and in addition to describing the fast recycling time, some youtube videos were shown of just how quickly a flash will overheat when shooting about 20 shots in a row at full power.  Judging by the comments below the posting and by other postings I read over at, that article left readers with the impression of “if you use these batteries, your flash will overheat”.   While it’s nice to know the limits of your equipment before you take it out in the field, it is also true that this demo is not in any way a typical use of a wireless flash (and if it is you should be using monolights anyway).  Probably the more important limitation to know of is that you won’t get as many flashes per charge (I got about 200 flashes at 1/2 power), and that the batteries won’t hold their charge as long when sitting on a shelf.

The upshot: Fewer missed priceless expressions.

Next month I'll talk about the special considerations of shooting skin tones when you know your final product will be B&W.  (And also if you don't know.)

New NEX Ebook

The new book on the NEX 3 and 5 is now out!  The NEX is probably the 2nd best travel camera I've ever owned (the KM A2 being the first - one day I'll write a blog entry singing its praises.)  And it's got so many features per cubic inch that it took me quite a bit of time to pour through them all and compile this book.  There's a chapter on movie mode and understanding the endless alphabet soup that are video standards.  There's a chapter just explaining some of this camera's more innovative features (Sweep Panorama, Handheld Twilight and Anti-Motion blur come to mind.)  I show you other uses for the 3D pictures it takes in case you don't want to invest in a 3D TV.  I talk about playing movies on your PS3.  And for the first time the Table of Contents and internal references in this new ebook are all hyperlinked.

(Now my struggle is with converting this book into ePub and Mobi formats so it can be used on e-readers and the Kindle.  (Another day I'll write another blog entry on just how difficult the process is - everyone lies when they tell you that you can export to epub and there will be no problems.  And there are NO good epub editing tools available, and every e-reader will display your content just a little bit differently.  It's like making a website that will render the same way in every browser.  Hmmmmph!))

2011 Seminars

Finally, our Seminar Travel schedule is taking shape:

Southern California January 15-17, 2011 (Two days lecture + one day field workshop) Click here to register interest
Northern California February 19-21, 2011 (Two days lecture + one day field workshop) Click here to register interest
Nashville, TN March, 2011 Click here to register interest
Boston, MA May 14-15, 2011.  One-day field workshop on May 21st. Click here to register interest
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada June, 2011 (A seminar one weekend, a 3-day field workshop the next.) Click here to register interest
Nova Scotia, Canada July, 2011 (A seminar one weekend, a 3-day field workshop the next.) Click here to register interest
Ottawa, Canada September 3-5, 2011 (Two days lecture + one day field workshop) Click here to register interest
Albuquerque, NM October 1-2, 2011 Click here to register interest

Some of the seminars will actually be 3-day events, with two days of lecture and one day out in the field, reinforcing what was learned.  Some will be two weekends apart; with a lecture one weekend and field workshop a week later.  The seminars are always evolving.  (Due to too much other stuff going on, the trip to London that I was really looking forward to will have to be postponed until 2012.  Sorry!)

Until next time...
-Gary Friedman

Learn more about the Friedman Archives Seminars at


  1. Just a quick question. Wouldn't Sony External Battery Adapter for Flash (FA-EB1AM) do the on reduce your flash recycling time Instead of those unusual voltage batteries?

    My HVL-F58AM still gets overheat with Sony's Ni-MH Batteries, 1.2V.

    (Okay, I do have a FA-EB1AM, but I haven't used it at all, I know I am stupid.)

  2. Greate article as always, I use Sigil as an epub editor, although I do often end up modifing the html directly.

  3. @Antony,

    I used to think that the external battery pack for the flashes would decrease the recycling time. (I own one.) All it really seems to do is extend the life of the existing batteries in the flash. Yeah, I was disappointed too.


    Sigil was designed to be used on content that is ideal for e-readers -- that is, straight text. Neither Sigil nor the e-readers are a good fit for books with a complex layout (with landscape pictures and tables). Like you, I have to edit those things using an HTML editor, but then it doesn't pass epubcheck 1.0.5 validation.

    Some days I really hate being a pioneer.


  4. What beautiful pictures of your grandchildren, Gary! I know from experience how difficult child photography is, but these are really excellent.

  5. I know this article is a couple of years old, but thanks for the comment regarding the FA-EB1AM, Gary - that's a BIG disappointment that the recycling time doesn't drop.

    Seeing as it has been a couple of years - do you still use the Nickel-Zinc batteries, and still recommend them?

    All the best,

    1. Richard,

      I *can't* use the Nickel-Zinc batteries anymore - one of their other qualities is they stop being able to hold a charge months after you buy them. That and the fact that some Nikon users were reporting having to send their flashes in for repair with extended use. I decided not to use them anymore. (Besides, the kids are getting older and can hold a pose now...) -GF

  6. That's a shame - would have been nice to have such an easy solution (and long-lasting) to faster-recycling times. Can't understand why the external battery packs don't reduce recycling times. You've saved me money (by deciding not to buy an external battery pack) though - thanks.


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