The only sure way to “overpower the sun” is to provide a ton of flash output: Using higher Watt-second strobes, more direct modifiers, and employing shorter subject-to-strobe distances.

There are two techniques which may be used to decrease ambient exposure by increasing the camera’s shutter speed above the camera’s normal flash synchronization speed, which is typically 1/200th-250th for focal-plane shuttered cameras like Canon and Nikon DSLRs:

• High-speed sync (e.g., Canon’s HSS, and Nikon’s FP Sync flash modes).
• PocketWizard’s HyperSync-enabled Flex TT1 and TT5 transceivers.

Both high-speed sync (HSS/FP), and so-called “HyperSync” applications enable the use of higher than x-sync shutter speeds (i.e., >1/250th) while minimizing or eliminating shutter-curtain shadows. However, it’s important to note that high-speed sync is achieved at the cost of a significant loss of recorded flash output.

On the other hand, employing HyperSync techniques using PocketWizard Flex TT1/TT5 triggers do offer some distinct advantages (with a few caveats), allowing you to use shutter speeds as high as 1/8,000th while still syncing your flash (view HyperSync tests here). But aside from HyperSync, the three standard methods to overpower the sun are:

• use higher-powered flash units.
• use less power-robbing modifiers (or none at all).
• decrease subject-to-flash distance.

The shot shown in the header above employed all four techniques: A high-Watt second strobe, an efficient modifier, a short subject-to-flash distance, plus HyperSync. Here’s the technical data for the shot above:

Camera: Nikon D3s full-frame body set at ISO 100; AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G set at f/5.6; shutter speed set at 1/8,000th.
Strobe: Speedotron Force 10; 1,000 Watt-second AC-powered monolight with 22″ beauty dish attached, set at full-power (t.5 = 1/850th).
Subject-to-strobe distance: Approximately 5′.
Triggers: PocketWizard Flex TT1; PocketWizard Flex TT5, both in “HyperSync” mode.

high-speed sync applications: HSS/FP


The shot above was photographed using FP Sync mode with a high-enough shutter speed to turn day into night (note that the flash units were extremely close to the subject). This special sync mode is available in both Canon and Nikon bodies, called “high-speed sync” (HSS) in Canon bodies and Speedlites, and “focal-plane sync” (FP Sync) in Nikon bodies and Speedlights.

How does high-speed sync work? As the shutter curtain travels across the sensor, your Speedlight “pulses” the light at extremely high frequencies (faster than your eye can detect), precisely following the small traveling slit between the moving shutter curtains, eventually exposing the entire sensor in an extremely short amount of time. This mode allows you to sync your camera at shutter speeds as high at 1/8,000th, but again, this high sync speed comes at the price of a substantial loss of recorded flash output.

High-speed sync is convenient for certain controlled studio applications (see photo below), but for battling the bright mid-day sun, either higher-powered strobes, or a combination of power and HyperSync may be your answer. See what trade-offs and benefits HyperSync has to offer here: HyperSync.

Nikon D3s in FP Sync mode at 1/8,000th + Nikon SB-800 + SB-600 Speedlights.