10 step guide to using the Elinchrom Quadra in full sun

Nov 23, 2012 | Flash, Location | 12 comments

01. I lit Katy using the Elinchrom Quadra. This was taken on Fuerteventura in March 2012 on our recce for the 2013 workshop on the island. I happened to use the Fujifilm X100 for this shot at sundown.

This post answers one of my most frequently asked questions about working with flash on location. Your digital camera screen can show you exactly how the highlights and shadows are rendered in the scene far better than a light meter and some guess work So it’s the camera screen that forms the basis of our measurement system. I spent more of my life shooting film with light meters than I have shooting digital but the day I switched to digital my light meter was the first thing to go.

Here are my 10 steps to success to shooting in sunlight with the Elinchrom Quadra

Things you will need:
A Hoodman Loupe

Things you won’t need:
A light meter.

02. I recreated the sun with an Elinchrom Quadra as the sun momentarily disappeared behind a fluffy white cloud.

The steps

1, Set the camera’s shutter speed to the highest sync value.

2, Set the ISO to the lowest value without compromising tonal range. Don’t use the L values for ISO.

3, On a sunny day set the lens to f/16 and shoot the ambient only.

4, Asses the shadow detail using the loupe. Look at the histogram if you wish.

5, Adjust the aperture as required for the desired shadow value and re-test as required.

6, Put an ND filter on the lens to get the aperture into the range you want. I like to shoot at f/8 on my Zeiss 21mm Canon fit lens so I often use a x4 ND filter (2 stops or ND.6 eqv). If I’m using my 60mm Fuji lens I might use a x32 filter to get the lens open to f/2.8. With the EVF, LCD or OVF of a mirrorless camera this is completely useable without any noticeable change in use as all three viewing modes are unaffected. With an SLR the screen image becomes very dark.

7, Switch the flash to half power and place it in the desired position. Obviously positioning of the flash is the artistic bit and I teach that on my workshops. Being at the scene at the time of the rig is the best way to learn the decision making process of flash positioning and modifying.

8, Take a shot and asses flash exposure using the loupe on the rear LCD. Note cameras with a good EVF can  Zoom into 100% and scoot around the picture checking face and skin as well as fabrics etc. Don’t be fooled into thinking the flash is over exposing by observing shiny skin. Kleenex or cosmetic powder is a must when shooting in the sun.

9, You will probably want to set the power up to full and maybe move the flash head a little having seen the position of the shadows. Again you need to use the loupe to look at how the light is falling on your subject.

10. Take the picture and once again asses the shot with the loupe checking expression and for blinks etc. From here on it is a case of just directing your subject knowing the technical aspects are dealt with.

03. The shadow from the sun is coming towards the camera and the shadow from the Quadra is going away from the camera to the right. The island of Fuerteventura has some fabulous sand dunes and rock formations to shot on.

There are just two flashes needed before you are ready to shoot. This is critical if you are out on location using battery power. Wait for the flash to fully recycle before each subsequent exposure and keep an eye on the ambient light. If a wispy cloud covers the sun your ambient element of the exposure may be one whole stop down making your shadows deeper that you expect.

The reason I don’t use a light meter is that it is far better and easier to asses the picture at 100% using playback to see exactly what you have. You can check the histogram too if you are that way inclined. I have spent more of my photography career shooting film on medium format cameras using Minolta and Seconic light meters than I have shooting digital. And the day that I could abandon the light meters, calculations and guesswork (I used to use the zone system and process my own film, B&W, E6 and C41) was a great day for me. Even with light meters, film shooters often used to rely on Polaroids to confirm their calculations.

04. The Quadra has a lovely fall off pattern giving a vignette in light.

When I’m teaching, delegates are often at different apertures to achieve the same results. There are many reasons for this including lens transmission factors and mechanical linkages. I find switching between my 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikon lens set to 70mm and my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens set to 70mm will show nearly a 1 stop different exposure for the same aperture. That’s just life and it can probably be attributed to one of the little levers on the back of the lenses that has just 5mm of travel to get from f/2.8 to f/22 being slightly worn. By using the 10 step method above and assessing the captured image, perfect exposures can be achieved whatever the camera/ lens combination.

Join Martin Hill and myself for this big picture masterclass in Fuerteventura in March…  This will be a life changing experience in the sun. Two days of exciting shoots finishing at sunset to maximise each shooting day. and two evenings to remember among like minded photographers. There may well be a further opportunity to extend your trip to take in the landscapes of Lanzarote. Contact Laura for further information. We are just taking deposits at this stage so book early to avoid missing out on this one off trip.


  1. Sean McCormack

    The Maxispot reflector makes the Quadra into a sun killer. Amazing efficiency and beautiful falloff.

    • damien

      Hi Sean,

      That’s my next purchase. I want the extra distance too.

      Thanks for reminding me.


  2. Paul Ward

    Amazing as usual Damien

  3. Paul Beggy

    Very Joe McNally! In other words, pretty darn good!

  4. Darren Williams

    Thanks Damien for this. Since purchasing the hoodman loupe from you, I have used it at almost every wedding, sunny or not. I have a D4 and D800 so there is a big enough screen on the back of those cameras, but in even dull daylight, the hoodman helps to check exposure if you need to for obvious reasons.

    • damien

      Hi Darren,

      Wise words. Thanks for the endorsement. Stay creative.


  5. Derrick Wee

    Hi Damien wonderful works and thank you so much for your insightful posts and taking the time to answer, thanks alot!

    Just a few extra questions:

    I really like the look of having the flash being prominent i.e. in all of your pictures in this blog post. How do you achieve that look and how would you recommend metering and shooting with a film camera if I were to use a light meter with it (don’t have access to polaroid)?

    2.For your outdoor shots w/ elinchrom quadra was the bare bulb flash fairly close to subject (due to lack of power/ only 400w/s) or relatively far away? Do you have a preference in flash distance to the subject in outdoor situations? How did you get such soft shadows on the subject with barebulb (even in wide shots) is the ambient light acting as fill or were reflectors used?

    off topic questions:

    In your bonus video that shows your post processing of the “using flash on location” dvd video when you used the lasso tool selection (to burn/dodge in photoshop) how did the selection automatically round itself out even if the selection was very rough?

    Also I saw in some of your posts you used a Fuji X100 with flash with around 1/1000th second shutter speed. My camera Mamiya 7 also uses a leaf curtain shutter so the cameras sync speed is 1/500th. Will the elinchrom sync at this speed (1/500th) with the Mamiya 7 using a pocketwizard or skyport? Or did you have to change settings on any of the units to get the strobe and flash to sync at these high shutter speeds?

    Thanks so much again the knowledge I have learned from you is equivalent to a year’s worth studying in at University :P


    • damien

      Hi Derrick,

      In answer to your questions.

      1. With film I used to test using b&w roll film and self process. It was the cheapest method of getting the learning done. I also did a two day workshop with Andy Earl using Rolliflex 6008 and Lumydyne flash at the time. There is no short cut to the learning process. Get yourself on one of my workshops and reap the rewards for a lifetime. If you don’t want to test and measure with film use a small digital camera in place of the film camera with and adjust the settings as required. This is so you can see the flash exposure and adjust as necessary. You can then repeat the shot on film after. (A fuji X100 costs about £400 secondhand and can sync flash to 1/1000th) My workshop costs about the same and I will share my knowledge of film working with you.

      2. I use every distance and several types of modifier with the Quadra. If you want to learn how to master the Quadra join us in Fuerteventura. In two days of shooting with Martin and I in all environments you will have mastered it.

      3. I use a large feather radius setting.

      4. Either PW or Skyport Speed will be fine for up to 1/1000th second sync with Quadra.

      Come on a flash workshop. You’ll love it. All our systems and tricks will be revealed :)

      Kindest regards,


  6. John Harris

    Hi Damien very interesting post. Do you usually use modifiers in full sun? I find a softbox absorbs too much light so I usually end up shooting with just the frosted plastic cover but would be interested to hear your approach. John

    • damien

      Hi John,

      I sometimes modify and sometimes not. It depends upon the look that I want. If I’m doing headshots or mid shots any softbox would be fine with the Quadra in full sun. It all comes down to flash to subject distances etc. In Fuerteventura I will be showing the delegates how it’s done from concept to print. You need to have the finished print in mind when doing this kind of shoot. Some shots require double exposing, others a bit of cloning. Martin and I employ many tricks to empower the humble 400ws of the Quadra in challenging conditions.

      Best regards,



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