Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sadly, This Still Doesn't Quite Get You to McNally Territory

Sometimes you need a little extra power when there is nary a monobloc in sight. For one quick solution, follow the bouncing ball bungee as Paul Morton and Darren Stevenson show you how to mount three SB-800's into a softbox.

This is 3x better than the cheater, which will mount suspend a single SB in a speedring with the CLS window showing, a la the Strobies XS setup.

But remember, three strobes only buys you a stop and a half more power. The first additional flash doubles your power, which adds one more stop. The second one goes halfway to doubling it again, adding another half stop. But put them on 24mm zoom for good coverage and lose the internal baffle and you can definitely get up to full sun-balancing levels at close range.

Thanks much to both Paul and Darren for the how-to. (If you are reading this via email or RSS feed, click the title to pull up the full post and see the video.)



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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is fantastic that you can do this - but at what point do you decide that the investment in a cheap portable monoblock would be better than 3 strobes into one softbox?

May 06, 2009 12:26 AM  
Blogger David said...

It is not just about how many speedlights equals a mono. As someone who has used both speedlights and monos for about 20 years, I like the versatility of speedlights. Yes, you can buy a mono for the price of several speedlights -- a very nice mono, actually.

I can easily carry half a dozen (and do) speedlights with me and can split them up into several different sources. Which means I can have several looks pre-set if I have almost no time to shoot someone. Something that happens far too often, unfortunately.

But I can also combine the speedlights to get a little more oomph when needed, and I use a technique similar to the above. Yes, I can do that output with a single mono, but it doesn't split into six sources very well.

The best choice is generally to use the light you have. If you do not have a mono, then lump a few SBs together for more juice. If you have a mono, congrats -- you can do it either way.

Just gotta love the one you're with sometimes.

May 06, 2009 1:51 AM  
Blogger David said...

p.s. Obviously, the ganged SB's would also allow you to do things like high-power TTL, and FP Sync, too. But even if they didn't, there are reasons (listed above) for ganging small lights.

May 06, 2009 1:54 AM  
Blogger The Reader said...

So here's the thing. I'm in college going to see Mr. McNally on Thursday night at the Charleston Center for Photography. And i have an Accounting final tomorrow. BUT YOU ARE SO FREAKING AWESOME AND I HAVE BECOME ADDICTED TO THIS WEBSITE. Therefore, my Accounting is blah on the backburner and i'm watching the video you posted. I love your website. You make my horrible evening better just by posting.

Thank you!

PS: as soon as i graduate (May 2010) i AM going to sign up for a class that YOU teach! Please Don't Ever Quit What You Do!

May 06, 2009 2:21 AM  
Anonymous -Josh said...

also, portability and battery operated vs. AC power is a huge Plus. thanks guys!

May 06, 2009 3:10 AM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

Thanks for posting this David!

As for the question about how far to go... I have been debating that myself. I have 2 Canon 580EX strobes and would like one more. It's hard to justify a third however considering used they are $350+. At this price I can get an AB...

Basically each person has to balance out how they want to shoot with the cost.

If you want to use a modifier and have the power of a single flash with the added bonus of CLS, HSS and other proprietary functions, you will need 3 to 4 speedlights.

But, if you don't need those functions, and will never use 3 to 4 speedlights seperately, just grab a monoblock and a battery pack.

Everyone will be different. PoppaD shoots only on-location so he wanted this many speedlights. In his case it's no big deal to put them together like this.

I have a pair of 600ws mono lights and a Vagabond II so I it doesn't make sense for me to buy another 580EX as 2 work fine for now and if I need more power I break out the big guns.

So it just all depends!

May 06, 2009 3:32 AM  
Anonymous Markus said...

When I need more power than an SB type speedlight can provide me, I always fall back to Metz 45 or Metz 60, the latter being equivalent to ~4 SB speedlights :)

These are old manual flashes and are WAY cheaper than say modern SBs or even a monoblock.

Check out this nice summery page:

What do you think ?

May 06, 2009 4:52 AM  
Blogger Dean said...

good idea that many of us wouldnt have thought of.
it is tempting to attach that setup to the top of the camera to appear extra menacing (minus softbox of course)

May 06, 2009 4:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arent they doing their ball bungees up the wrong way.

You don't just hook them over, but back through the loop under the ball and then over the ball????

Oh well, their flashguns....


May 06, 2009 5:20 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

First of all I need to apologise. This is my first post and I'm sorry for splitting hairs and it being of mathmatical nature BUT I think I have just found you 0.1 stop of extra light. It's not much but us strobists are happy to take any light we can get our hands on right?

So here goes. I think 3 strobes actually give you 1.6 stops of extra light (being the log of 3, base 2). Adding more strobes will gain you less and less stops wich each strobe. The first (going from 1 to 2 strobes) will gain you 1 stop, the next 0.6, then 0.4, 0.3, 0.3, 0.2, 0.2.

As you can see, adding more strobes for more power becomes pointless pretty fast and manupulating distance or aperture might be more effective ways of managing light.

May 06, 2009 6:53 AM  
Anonymous Dan Depew said...

Where'd the speedring come from?

May 06, 2009 6:58 AM  
Blogger JLykins said...

I like the idea. I also agree with your comments David about the versatility. I think for me however if I were going through the trouble of bringing a large softbox, I would want the available power of a mono. That's just me though. You always have some interesting videos and crazy products to show us. Thank you for that. Jason

May 06, 2009 8:05 AM  
Blogger Evan Travers said...

I'll bet the recycle time is better too.

May 06, 2009 8:10 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

what brand speedring/softbox was he using?

May 06, 2009 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Fotografi said...

Easy interesting and efficient.
I believe thta with 3 speed light in a softbox you can shoot in daylight.

May 06, 2009 8:36 AM  
Blogger JS said...

If you already have the SB's, you now have another trick up your sleeve without having to buy an additional mono (and power supply, if you're somewhere without AC). This makes a lot of sense to me if you're in the field a lot.

May 06, 2009 9:05 AM  
Blogger Charles Verghese said...

Cool idea and video but how would the TTl or the FP sync work (esp w/Canon wireless) with the IR sensor being blocked? I haven't tried this yet but, if I hooked up one as master how would the other 2 (slaves) picj up the signal if their sensors were not in 'line of sight'?


May 06, 2009 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you trigger all 3? Would you need 3 pocket wizards or can you get a 1 split into 3 PC connector so you'd only have to use 1 pocket wizard?

May 06, 2009 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Victor Augusteo said...

wow, this is really nice setup. I am currently considering on buying the big lights to open studio at my apartment. after seeing this video, i'm thinking of buying several sb-800s instead with the money. mmmm.... plus pocket wizard :O

May 06, 2009 10:10 AM  
Blogger Gilles said...

Awesome! I was trying to figure out a way to combine my Speelights for more power when I add them for one-light setups. So far I ended up trying to superclamp them to the lightstand which didn't work very well. I already have everything I need for the technique in the video. My ball bungees are smaller, I can get a tighter fit around my flashes, so I'll probably end up using the same technique for umbrellas - you simply put one flash on the ubmbrella swivel using the hotshoe and bungee the others.
I plan on getting the TriFlash you blogged about sometime soon though. Combining that with this technique would get you to McNally territory, at least for umbrellas and softboxes like the Westcott Apollo, where the entire flash is inside the softbox: add three flashes to the triflash mount and add two more to each flash...adds up to nine speedlites inside one softbox. Saying that I've actually been able to get good exposures in daylight with just three 430s in a softbox about an arm's length away.

May 06, 2009 10:20 AM  
Anonymous ZDP-189 said...

Just a thought... if the idea is to achieve much more watt-seconds than a conventional flash unit, then why waste all the control electronics associated with auto zoom, slaving and stroboscopic synching and even fractional power control and just go and buy a handful of cheap and nasty (ten bucks and no frills whatever) fixed power flashes of around GN:24m-36m and a 4 way gang splitter synch cable and connect or disconnect units till you get the desired output?

The total set would set you back no more than a fifth the price of a single SB800.

May 06, 2009 10:29 AM  
Blogger J.R. said...

Like the simplicity. However I think I would have used a long piece of velcro around the SBs that already have velcro on the heads.

May 06, 2009 11:24 AM  
Blogger Poppa-D said...

Wow - so much so quickly; I hope can get all my thoughts included in one comment (never happen).

1. Q: Why buy SB800's to do this? A: you don't; I just happen to already own them.

2. Q: How much power? A: At a close working distance, I can shoot f/16.

3. Q: How do you fire all 3? A: How many ways to skin a cat? Personally I trigger one w/ a PW and have the other 2 on SU-4.

4. Q: What kind of softbox/speedring? A: Both are Photoflex.

5. Q: Why not use velcro to attach SB's to each other? A: Cause I didn't think of it (but now . . . )

6. Q: How use CLS/TTL if sensors are blocked? A: Rotate the heads 180 degrees so the sensors face outward from the back of the softbox.

I'm glad some of you were able to get something meaningful from this. I am considering the possibilities of using the speedring without the softbox for some serious horsepower hard light. Mortonphotographic built me a few custom triple brackets (Morton Trident: but with the speedring, the fresnels are so close there SHOULD be no issues with multiple shadows.



May 06, 2009 12:07 PM  
OpenID mauriciocosta said...

Thanks a lot David. I'm a Brazilian photographer who just can't stop reading your site. I made my own incourse in the strobist philosophy by getting a PC cord and adapter for my 540 EZ oldtimer! And arranged to find here in Brazil an umbrella holder (not quite the sweet stuff you have there) and light stand. Producing now my own snoots, gobos, gels etc.
And this Friday I'm gonna buy two more 540's (new and cheap - from the forgotten film age stock).
If you are reading this, please answer:
2 x Speedlights= +1 stop
3 x Speedlights= +1,5 stop
4 x Speedlights= ?
I think if you answer this I can guess what the fifth and so on will do (for MacNally only of course).

You can visit my blog with some of my work (sorry, portuguese only - but images say more than words right? -

May 06, 2009 12:26 PM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

@Charles Verges

Good point. I use Canon Wireless and an extended ETTL cord for this setup. This puts my Master slave in the softbox. It works because there is enough light bounce back from the softbox to get light from the Master to the Slave's sensor.

The big trick to CLS or Canon Wireless sensors is to keep them in the shade. Use Gaffer's tape, a gobo, your own shadow--whatever.

@ Roger

I am pretty sure Poppa D is using this Photoflex speedring with umbrella mount that cost just under $40 at B&H.

May 06, 2009 1:46 PM  
Blogger Dustin said...

this is perfect for someone who has exactly 3 SB-900's (they're cheaper right now). I already have a few of the bungee cords lying around and some clamps, I'll have to give this a go tonight :)
thanks for the find David

May 06, 2009 1:47 PM  
Blogger Dr.Myron Berney, ND LAc said...

I'm Sorry absolutely nobody can come up to the territory of Joe Mc SuperFlash and the traveling Octabox--but for us less fortunate ordinary photogs he can often be found in the realms of us little poppers.

Oui the Math and physics of the inverse square rule!! Me thinks that the power output in lumens merely adds up 1+1+1=3 although the light falls off inverse square for a point source, less fall off for a 2 dimensional plane [if you get it close enough, too far it's a point again]

But David nobody comes up to your ingenuity, quality and ability to communicate and teach. [I'd love it if Joe would pick up some of your blogging techniques---fools like me sometimes need to be "spoon fed"]

May 06, 2009 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Markus said...


Peter has already answered your question. To double your light output (= 1 stop), you always need twice as many flashes as in the "previous" step, e.g. 2 flashes have 1 stop advantage over 1 flash, 4 flashes have 2 stops advantage over 1 flash and so on and forth.

Do the math as pointed out by Peter log(1)/log(2)
+ 0 stop
> log(2)/log(2)
+1 stop
> log(3)/log(2)
+ 1.584963 stops
> log(4)/log(2)
+ 2 stops
> log(8)/log(2)
+ 3 stops
> log(16)/log(2)
+ 4 stops

As you can see, 16 (*hehe*) speedlights give you 4 stops more light as compared to 1 speedlight.

Hope that clarifies that matter.

May 06, 2009 2:31 PM  
Blogger Stormin said...

Having seen Joe's 3-light set-up in action in Paso a few weeks ago, I see the benefit of his bracket to spread the strobe heads out away from each other, making the 'apparent' size of the light a bit bigger...

but KUDOS to John and Paul, fellow AZ-Strobists for their efforts to darkens the bright AZ skies!

May 06, 2009 2:53 PM  
Anonymous SBellPhotography said...

Would have been nice at the end of this video to see a few sample shots utilizing this setup.

May 06, 2009 5:39 PM  
Blogger Bill Giles said...

And it doesn't even come close to Drew Gardner territory since he seems to use at least three Elinchrom Rangers. When can we expect a Strobist smoke machine?

May 06, 2009 7:23 PM  
Anonymous kramon said...

great coincidence!

A couple of weeks ago I started a personal project (with professional cyclists) where I wanted to use a softbox to make portraits of the riders before the start of the race to create a "studio feel" to these outdoor-event-pictures.

I didn't have any accreditations or agreements with the teams beforehand. I simply went up to the riders and asked them if I could take a picture...
Problem: if they agree to "pose" for you, they give you the attention of just one click! (then they're of to the race-start or ready to pose for another fan/photog)
So you've got to work extremely fast in a crowded environment (time between asking and taking the picture: 15 secs max!)

I wanted to work on a new look; something I hadn't seen in cycle-potraiture before... so I started experimenting with the Westcott Apollo Softbox for speedlights (

The unique thing about this softbox is that it works/folds like an umbrella (and mounted via a swiffel-bracket) and the speedlight is totally inside. (so no IR-triggering here... radio-triggers are a must)

After experimenting further I ended up putting 3 sb800's inside the Apollo (you could use a TriFlashBracket for that;; and triggering them all via 1 PW inside (I simply split the jack-to-pc-cord 2 times and it worked perfectly). Putting 2 sb800's in slave didn't work that great being that there were flashes going of all the time around my subjects...

After sticking my softbox onto a monopod, I was totally ready for some real guerilla "studio-outdoors" shooting!

take a look at to see what it looks like
and some results:

3 sb800's @ full power gave me an f9 working aperture; wich gave me sharp and beautifully soft-litted portraits

... I'm looking forward though to combining this rig with the soon to be released Elinchrom Quadra set-up, wich would make it even more powerfull and extremely mobile (if you have a VAL that is !-)

so: viva to speedlight-softboxes!!

May 06, 2009 7:29 PM  
OpenID mauriciocosta said...

Thanks Markus. Do you or anyone know if this logic is the same for W/second. I mean, if my strobe gives me 60 W/sec, 2 strobes would give 120 W/s, and 4 would give me 240 W/s? Am I missing something? And does anyone know where to find how much W/s has my 540 ez?

Thanks Again!

May 06, 2009 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

at what point could you not just face 4 SB800s away from each other in square config (think hot shoes all facing the middle with heads tilted 90 degrees in the same direciton) and forgo the softbox altogether? I'd have to test it but nikon makes a ring flash adapter for their tiny macro lights that when put together make a large light source. Why not just shoot 4 flashes at the widest spread and make something much more powerful than this setup?

Yes McNally is here in Charleston tomorrow, but geez he charges like 3 grand just to attend his lighting seminar. I need to learn how to make money selling to photographers instead of to clients :)

May 06, 2009 11:12 PM  
Blogger bobby said...

anon said "Yes McNally is here in Charleston tomorrow, but geez he charges like 3 grand just to attend his lighting seminar. I need to learn how to make money selling to photographers instead of to clients :)"

joe is giving a lecture on thursday night for $20. not quite $3k. i will be there.

and this is an interesting tip. i understand wanting more light if outdoors, but (for the most part) while indoors wouldn't you be better off using the 3 lights individually for depth and separation?

May 06, 2009 11:51 PM  
Blogger imagesbyjk said...

So for the price of 3 Speedlights or whatever you use plus the hassle of mounting them etc. wouldn't just be easier to buy a Lumedyne system or something similar?

May 07, 2009 12:49 PM  
Blogger Poppa-D said...

@bobby - agreed and just to be clear, I shoot outdoors under the Arizona sun so I will take as much juice as I can muster.

@images - there are certainly easier/better ways. For me the SB's are my primary light making tools and I am always looking for ways to better use what I have.

May 07, 2009 3:39 PM  
Blogger john said...

You know I would love to find a chart of sorts that has flashes and there ws so that we could get a grasp on whats what when it comes to flash power.

May 07, 2009 3:43 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

I didn't care for the Joe McNally 10 SB's in the desert trick and I don't care much for this either and I'll tell you why. Because its thousands of dollars that could have been spent on a single 800 or 1200 wattsecond mono and a power pack instead. If you've got all those lights anyways, fine. But if you find yourself shooting more in daylight and need the power, I'd just as soon buy a single mono for that purpose and be done with it. To me this is a case of "just because it can be done doesn't mean that its the way it should be done." And I'm not a McNally hater...I bought his books!

May 08, 2009 4:53 PM  
Blogger David said...


You said: >>>"If you've got all those lights anyways, fine. "

That's kinda the whole point. Sorta like renting the occasional U-Haul trailer rather than buying a big truck.

May 08, 2009 6:27 PM  
Blogger Thomas Park said...

I *really* fail to see the point. Just buy a monolight. If you really *must* McGuyver things for the sheer sake of it, get a car battery, an inverter, and an AB-800. It actually works, and it'll save you quite a bit of money over the 3 x SB800's

May 09, 2009 3:48 AM  
Blogger A said...

The point: High-speed sync for shallow depth of field.

If you want to shoot with shallow depth of field in sunlight, you cannot simply stop down.

I guess the other alternative would be to use ND filters. Darkens the viewfinder and can inhibit autofocus though.

Or, maybe, just maybe, eventually sensor tech will let us lower ISO below 50. There's a dream...ISO 10, 1, 1/10...

May 10, 2009 12:58 AM  
Blogger said...

I need a shrink ray for my 285VHs...


May 11, 2009 2:18 PM  
Anonymous jazzweezel said...

So, new four speedlite speedring anyone?

May 14, 2009 8:03 AM  

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