January in northeastern Wisconsin can be brutally cold. When a client requests an exterior image of a property in the dark of night, I prepare the best I can. Fully charged batteries for both camera and portable speedlights are a must. Warm clothing, a small flashlight and a plan to work as quickly as possible trusting  my experienced eye to choose angles and distances that will yield positive results.
Upon arrival to the job site, I walk around, without my camera and take mental notes on where I will shoot from before lugging out the equipment.
The newly opened Fox Cities Exhibition Center was my subject to be photographed. The Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau needed images to submit to the Wisconsin Board of Tourism as soon as possible.  The Exhibition Center was hosting it’s very first convention and I lucked out. The weather was in the upper 30’s!  Earlier in the day it had rained so the streets were wet.  So far so good (although my attention was not on the streets and how they looked).   Four to five different views is what I was after.

My camera, the Nikon D810 has an HDR feature that I use often, especially for night shoots.  I have to shoot in either Jpeg or Tiff file formats, (no raw files when shooting in HDR).  Basically, the HDR shoots 3 quick images one stop apart, ( one for the shadows, midtones and highlights)  It quickly, in camera, layers all three files to produce a high dynamic range image.  A tripod is required to eliminate ghosting of the 3 layered  images.

The point of this post is to relay the happy surprise I experienced when, as an experiment, I aimed my handheld Nikon SB900 speedlight at the building, expecting nothing with regards to added illumination to the structure.

This first image below was straight photography, no HDR,  f stop (5.6) and a coordinated shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. The ISO was set at 800.  (There was no added light from the SB900)


Next, I grabbed my one SB900 speedlight, not expecting any added improvement at this distance.


I set the speedlight at full power, no zoom (24mm spread) and popped it off.

night photography,architecture,lighting

Wow!  This is a good start.  I decided to zoom the flash to 180mm and blast it from camera left, ( to keep me out of the frame).  The flash was synced to the camera with a dedicated, coiled cable.   Below were my manual settings on the flash: Manual mode, full power (1/1), Zoomed to 180mm.


This is what I got…


I was shocked at how much light this one portable, hand held speed light puts out!   Zoomed to 180mm at full power from 50 yards away, it basically lit up most of the building.  The SB900 is not the latest model (the upgrade is SB910).  The TTL capabilities are well known on this flash.  I was delighted with the power of this single speedlight when blasting at this distance!  These are not cheap with a list price of $545.00 each. (At that price, maybe i shouldn’t be surprised!)

The final image was retouched in post production with an added sky and brightening up the darker sections of the left side of the building.

Oh yes, that wet street was an added bonus, rain in January was serendipity!


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