Back in 2008 I read an article on the Strobist Blog about how David Hobby mounted a few remote flashes inside the cockpit of a helicopter to light up the interior at sunset. Here is a link to the original article.

I loved the shots that David got and it really inspired me. Ever since I read the article I always wanted to try it inside an offroad vehicle. I thought it would be a cool, unique shot that hasn’t been done before in that sport. I originally wanted to try it in desert racing, but it just wouldn’t be too practical because of the distances the vehicles are from you most of the time, making battery life an issue. Also I was worried that the flash would be too distracting during racing conditions for the driver and co-driver.

A few years went by and I never really gave it a try, but it was always in the back of my mind. The thought came back recently before a LOORRS race, trying to think of something different to do while shooting at a track I’ve shot at before. I already planned on mounting a remote camera on Kyle Leduc’s truck during the race, so I figured why not add a remote flash into the mix.

You can read up on the remote camera here.

David Hobby used three Nikon flashes inside the helicopter to light it up entirely. I would go a little different route and decided to use one Canon 550ex flash for two reasons. First reason was that I had less space to light up. The inside of the helicopter has a lot more square footage then the inside Kyle Leduc’s Pro 4 Unlimited truck. The second reason is that I only own one flash :). To fire the remote flash I would use my Pocketwizard Plus II’s.

The one photo I imagined using the remote flash for was a shot far away of Kyle launching off a jump, with the background and vehicle dark, and the cab nice and lit up.. The track in Vegas has a jump perfect for this so I was excited to give it a try. There was one main problem in that all the practice and racing is done in the middle of the day. This meant that to get a dark background I would have to underexpose by either shooting at a very fast shutter speed, or with a very small aperture. Fast shutter speed was out of the question because I was limited to 1/250th shooting with the flash. I could use a small aperture but then would the flash be powerful enough to overpower the daylight?

Thats where a ND -0.9 Filter comes into play. Basically what this does is blocks some of the light going into the lens, making your camera think its 3 stops darker outside. By adding one to the lens I could shoot at 1/250th, and still underexpose the shot to have the flash overpower the daylight. Flash was set to full power manually.

I mounted the flash and pocketwizard in a very sturdy, professional, and strong way. Zipties.

The only place I could mount the flash was along the A-Pillar of the cage on the opposite side of the driver. Anywhere else and it would be to direct in his face, or be blocked by something. Here is a photo showing how the flash lit up the compartment.

I had Kyle get in the truck and fired a few test shots, and he said that the flash didn’t seem to bother him, so we were all set. I decided to only use the remote flash during practice/qualifying for the chance that it did start to bother him, I’d hate to have him look directly into the flash and go blind during the race. And just to be 100% sure it didn’t bother him, I fired a test shot the first lap in practice, and told him to give me a hand sign when he passed me (I was in the corner right after the jump), and I could turn off the pocketwizard on my camera, which in turn would stop firing the flash.

As he came by on the first lap, he didn’t run into the k-rail from being blinded, and didn’t give me the middle finger so we were ready to rock.

On all the shots I shot at 1/250th so that I could get the background as dark as I could, while the flash still lit Kyle up. I could of just used the flash as a fill light, and I think I may do that in the future, but for this time I wanted that dramatic look. With practice and qualifying only being a few laps, that meant I would only get a handful of tries to get the shots I wanted. Here are the three that I liked the best.

This first photograph is the one I envisioned getting while thinking about the shot. Its Kyle Leduc launching his truck in the air with only him lit up while the rest of the scene is dark.

This next shot is the turn immediately after the jump in the last shot. I like it because the truck is in a full drift around the corner and Kyle is looking right at you. The background is a bit lighter then the last photo becasue the sun was to my back, versus shooting more into the sun. Ignore that I cut off part of his front tire, just keep your eyes on him. Ignore the tire…

This last shot is at another location on the track. With this shot I didn’t use the ND filter, but still underexposed so the background wasn’t as dark, but gives a nice contrasted look. Here you can see how the shot looked with the remote flash fired, and one without on the next lap.

Thanks to David Hobby for getting me inspired, and for Kyle Leduc for letting me blind him!