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[A Photographer’s Notes] Testing My Flashes with the New Nikon Z9

New cameras are exciting and expensive, so it’s great to find out that old and new pieces work perfectly together, and how to get the most out of each shot using light and shutter speeds.

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For many years now using off camera flashes has been a critical way for me to be a more creative photographer while also allowing me to develop my own shooting style. 

Specifically, work often has me shooting fast moving action. For this, I need to use what is called “high speed sync” (HSS), which allows me to shoot at shutter speeds well above most camera’s normal flash sync speed of 1/200 or 1/250 of a second, depending on the camera. 

With my recent purchase of the Nikon Z9, I was curious if my current set up of Broncolor Silos L 800 flashes would work as seamlessly as they did with my Nikon D5. However, I was unable to find any details when searching online or watching videos on YouTube. 

So, as any good photographer should, I set up a test shoot in real world conditions to see how well HSS would work with the Nikon Z9.

Picking a Site for a Test Shoot

For the shoot I knew I wanted someone who could perform some amazing action movements so I messaged my friend and world renowned Tricking performer, Daisuke Takahashi. This would be the first time shooting with him in about 4 years so I was excited to see what we could create. 

As I wanted to use my flashes, I picked a spot I had used for a shoot in Shibuya in 2021. A little up from Shibuya Station there is a walkway under the raised highway that ーeven on a nice dayー is quite dark, with a cool underground, gritty feel to it. Even better, if you avoid the lunch time rush, very few people use this walkway during weekdays, so we were pretty free to use it as we wished. 

Test Shooting with Daisuke Takahashi

When doing shoots with my flashes, even when my main goal is to shoot action, I always start off with shooting portraits of my subject. 

Daisuke is a good looking guy with a great vibe, so for this shoot I was excited to get some cool portraits of him as well. The practical reason for this is, when working outside with flashes, it can take a little tweaking of the power of the flash, camera settings, and camera/flash position to get a good balance between the natural light and the light the flashes produce. 

If I was to try to do this while Daisuke was jumping and flipping around I would waste not only our time, but his precious energy as well. Furthermore, if I was to shoot a lot of action before the portraits, Daisuke could end up getting sweaty, and that is not something either he or I would like to have in the portrait pictures. 

Getting my camera ready and setting up my flashes and transmitter, I was a little nervous and excited to see how well the flashes would work. And, I am happy to say, they worked just as well as I was hoping. From the first shot to the last, the flashes went off without a hitch for every situation I could create. 

Flash and Ambient Light

Not wanting to kill too much of the ambient light, I started the portraits at 1/320th of a second. This is already above the Nikon Z9’s built-in flash sync speed. No problems! 

Changing positions to put a strong backlight from the sun, I then increased the shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second and used the flash as a nice side fill light. Again, no problems! 

Lastly, as I knew I wanted to shoot some action at the end of our shoot I brought the shutter speed up to 1/1600th of a second, bringing down the ambient light to give a darker, moodier tone to the images, and again, NO PROBLEM!! 

Also, by bringing the shutter speed up to 1/1600th of a second I was able to shoot Daisuke’s amazing action with confidence that nothing would be blurry in the image. 

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Playing with Shutter Speed

At times it is cool to shoot action with a slower shutter. (Car racing uses slower shutter speed than you would expect, for example.) But I wanted to really freeze him while he was flipping in the air. And I am happy to say after a few tries we got an image we were both super happy with! 

In the pictures you see here you may notice that the images don’t seem so “flashy”. This is because I had Daisuke stand or perform in a small sliver of sunlight that I used as the main light. Then I used my flash to act as a fill light from the side to give better balance to the image. This is just one way to use flashes outside, but it is something I will often do when shooting at times the sun is in a cool position. 

So in the end I am happy to say that the whole system worked flawlessly. 

If you are using flashes with your Nikon Z9 you should have no issues as far as I could find at this time. It is so nice when your gear just works as it is supposed to because this is when you can forget the technical aspects of the shoot and concentrate on being creative and having a good time. 

RELATED: [A Photographer’s Notes] First Impressions of the Nikon Z9 (spoiler, I LOVE It!)

Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on Twitter (@jason_halayko), and on Instagram (@jason_halayko), and find his work here on JAPAN Forward

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