At last! Real success with the flash (well, mostly!). I used it extensively at three end of season events - Palmer Park's Mountain Bike Championships, a turbo training session and the final Gorrick mountain bike event of the season.
At the mountain bike champs (where it rained constantly and the D70, 80-200 and SB-800 continued to work faultlessly thanks to a £5 rip-stop nylon rain cover) I shot entirely handheld with the SB-800 mounted on the camera and was very pleased with the results. Yes, there was the occasional image that was slightly under or over exposed (usually because I was stupidly close or hopelessly far away) but in almost every case I was able to get a very usable image by playing with the exposue compensation settings in the Adobe Camera Raw plugin.
In fact, it was mostly the experience on this shoot which has finally convinced me to go to RAW in all circumstances and live with the overhead of batch processing to get JPGs to upload to the website. It even encouraged me to go back and recover a lot of images that I'd taken in RAW in the past and not bothered to PP. Many of them were perfectly good after putting them through Rawshooter Premium.
The only real problem is that the pictures don't really give any sense of just what a foul, wet, miserable day it was. But that's probably just as well - the riders probably don't need or want to be reminded!
At the turbo trainer session I decided to be a bit more creative. I put the SB-800 on an old tripod with the diffuser on and bounced it off the curved perspex stadium roof. For the most part it worked really well, lighting the riders from the front with the light from the edge of the diffuser and providing an all over light from the bounce on the roof.
Unfortunately a problem I'd had a couple of times recurred. Using the SB-800 in remote mode with the D70 set up as the commander works brilliantly but occasionally (or frequently, these days) it results in some strange effects - producing wacky pop-art images which many people seem to find oddly attractive but which nobody has yet been interested in buying.
Out of 150 or so shots taken at the stadium, about a dozen showed the effect. There's no obvious pattern to when it happens but it is very frustrating because they often seem to have been shots that would have been pretty good if it hadn't happen. Well, they would, wouldn't they?
After a couple of weeks of chasing Nikon I've finally got them to admit it's a genuine, reproducible fault - albeit an intermittent one - and they've suggested I send the camera back for repair. I've got one more event to shoot before Christmas - the Palmer Park awards ceremony - and then it's off to Gray's of Westminster. Christmas without a camera is going to be frustrating, though.
It does need to be done because at the Gorrick race the following day I used a similar setup and the problem cropped up again - about 20 times in 4-500 flash shots. It was driving me mad!
I setup half way down a steep-ish drop off with the flash on the tripod another couple of metres down the track. I was quite close to the riders and started off with the 80-200 but was always at the wide end, so I switched over and took some shots with the 18-70. That was a bit slow for the conditions so I dug out the f1.8 50mm and, although it's not supposed to be that sharp wide open I wanted as much light getting in as possible so I shot at f1.8 and around 1/50s.
It was tough being consistent, but the good shots were great! A real sense of movement from the blurred woodland. The full shoot is on swarbrick.com.
More blogs about cycling photography.