The Poor Photographer’s High Speed Sync Trick

Many folks think that the only way to control ambient light and shoot at a shallow depth of field is to use speedlights or expensive monolights. And while it’s true that using flash can yield great results, not everyone has the the money to purchase off camera flash systems (these can range anywhere from $600 to $3000). In the video below, photographer Jason Lanier shows us how to mimic an off-camera flash look without all the fancy equipment:

When shooting portraits outside against a bright background, we often need some sort of external lighting to help even out the exposure between the foreground and the background. Without it, we’re likely to get uneven coverage on the subject, and much of the scene can end up in shadow. That’s where light modifiers come in. And while speedlights (high speed sync systems or HSS) and other external lighting is nice to have, not everyone has it in their budget.

Lanier’s setup costs around $200–$300. If you can find a good source for the diffusion panel, and if you really need to, you can create the modifiers yourself. Either way, it’s a lot less expensive than investing in a lot of external lighting. The downside? You have to have a bright, sunny day to work with–or at least enough light to actually be able to work with your diffusion and reflector bounce. So the time of day and weather will be far more important than it would be with external lighting sources. You’ll also need a few friends willing to stand around for a while. (If you bribe them with pizza and beer that will certainly add to the cost.)

outdoor diffuser and reflector setup

Equipment Used

Note: You may notice that not all of Lanier’s shots seem fully in focus. That’s due more to his depth of focus than his light modifiers.

diffusion panel and reflector

But whether you’re a fan of high speed sync outdoor portraiture or not, let’s face it: diffusion screens and reflectors should be in every portrait photographer’s toolkit. By learning how to use them well, you might save yourself the hassle of lugging around a lot of equipment and save yourself some money to boot.

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2 responses to “The Poor Photographer’s High Speed Sync Trick”

  1. What a gorgeous shoot and beautiful day.
    It’s funny. The one time I shot at the Sutro Bath Ruins, 2 homeless guys tried to mug me for my camera gear.

  2. Ron Gergely says:

    I’d say shooting wide open has a lot to do with the images not being in focus. However the nose is pretty sharp in a couple of the pics. Decent video though.

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