Mad Dogs & Englishmen with Kira Distler

Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Blog, Model, Polaroid & Film, Technique | 4 comments

Mad Dogs & Englishmen with Kira Distler

There’s a saying that only mad dogs and Englishmen venture out into the mid day sun. Well it seems so do some pretty stupid Irish photographers :oops: because that’s exactly what I did on a recent shoot with US model Kira Distler during her short stop over here in Ireland.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to give different presentations to various photographic groups and clubs around the country and one message that has been consistent through out, is the one of paying attention to the light. I would always advise to avoid direct sunlight, opting instead to find some open shade. Even on over cast days, where to light is very flat and diffused, I would also avoid shooting outdoors because the light has no direction. Yet on this shoot, I completely ignored my best instincts, I battled with the light and by and large, it kicked my ass.

Planning out door shoots, you can never plan for the weather or the light. You can check the forecasts in advance of the shoot, starting with long range forecasts right up until a forecast the evening before but the weather on the day is really just pot luck. But what you can do, is pay attention to the timing, location and height of the sun, so at the very least you’re in a position to avail of the light if it presents itself. Planning wise, I had envisaged an early shoot, close to dawn, hoping for soft light and of course and empty beach, but sadly I wasn’t able to make that happen, so we ended up at the location closer to 10am than 6am, with the sun already high in the cloudless sky. The light was HARSH!! and strong – both presenting a challenge.

Overpowering the sun using flash was the easy part:

  • I shot at ISO100 (a low boost on the D3 from it’s native base of ISO200), so was at the lowest possible ISO setting where the sensor is at it’s least sensitive to light.
  • As I was using flash, off camera and without the capability of high speed sync, I fixed my shutter at 1/200 – close to the 1/250 maximum sync speed.
  • This just left me aperture as the last remaining variable for the exposure control. As I knew it was BRIGHT, I knew I’d be stopping down the lens quite a bit, which would increase my depth of field. But I really wanted the ability to throw the background out, so I opted for a long lens (300mm f:2.8 prime) to give me as shallow a DOF as possible at the lower apertures.

So now that I had my ambient exposure sorted, I introduced flash using the Elinchrom Quadras:

  • I used a single quadra head/pack fired through a 46 inch Photek Softlighter configured as a shoot through and held by an assitant.
  • The quadra was triggered using it’s own Skyport system, which on the day performed well with no misfires. The ability of the skyport trigger to control the output power of the flash head was invaluable. I was able to control the mix of ambient to flash from the camera, without having to walk to the unit (which was a good bit away – I was shooting with a 300mm lens remember!

Anyway, controlling the exposure was easy. There was plenty of power in the unit to over power ambient. But that wasn’t the problem :( It’s not just about exposure (the amount of light), it’s also about the quality of light. And the quality of direct sun light is SHIT. I could use the flash to control the contrast in the shot, but the shadows cast by the sun were just so harsh and unpleasant. Also, if Kira was turned at all in the direction of the sun, she’d end up squinting – it sucked monkeys :!: :!: Couple that with trying to accurately preview shots on the back of the camera in that sort of light – well it was all a bit of a struggle.

Sadly the shoot had to be cut short and I never really got into the swing of things. Not having had shot for almost 6 months, I was pretty rusty as it was coming into the shoot and the conditions didn’t help things at all. So a very short shoot, in very harsh light = a pretty “tough” shoot all in all. But it was good to get the camera out of the bag regardless. I’ve actually learned an awful lot from this shoot, in respect to planning and preparation, but also in how to control the ebb and flow of a shoot – lessons I’ll take forward. So all is not lost :)


I also managed to take a few (just 4 :( ) Polaroids/Instax on the day. This was a case of really just throwing caution to the wind with no idea what so ever of what the results would be like. This is actually just an iPhone capture of one of the polaroids, so it’s pretty rough, but gives a good feel for the images. I would have loved the time to have played more with this camera on the day – maybe next time?  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to scan the polaroids in properly over the coming days and weeks.



  1. So next time just join the composition of polaroid with the quality of nikon, and you’ll have a perfect shot :)

    (i like it, because there’s sky)

  2. Hi Ciaran,
    Next time you are shooting in the sun just put a 2 stop ND filter on the lens so you can shoot wider apetures. Since the ND filter will cut the ambient and flash by the same amount just think of it as using slower “film”. If you shot these images at ISO 100 a 2 stop ND would be like you had ISO 25 so you would be shooting two stops wider.
    We have lots of sun here in California. :-)

  3. Why not use person B’s X100 which will sync with off camera flash at 1000/sec? Have u tried it with off camera flash yet?

  4. Firstly, I’m person B :)

    Secondly, I haven’t actually used the X100 yet and wasn’t aware that it had a higher sync. Must get around to playing with it some day.

    But the main reason is because I didn’t need a a faster sync. The quadras had more than enough power to kill the ambient on the day. Quantity of light wasn’t the issue… quality was.

Care to share your opinion?