Guys in the business who do this for a living take the manufacturers ads offering guide numbers as a joke. Take the Vivitar 283/285 is a prime example, I worked on, repaired, upgraded, modified, and tested thousands of Vivitars over 45 years and never hit a guide of 120.  At times we had twenty on the bench…  No, I’m done,  no more repairs on the Vivitars, throw them out if they don’t work, the last batch from Red China for B & H and Sanchar were crap,  no parts, not even the real thing inside.  I will not even look at one

Light is light and it is the photographers job is to control it.   When you take a picture with a  single light source such as a camera mounted strobe, regardless of the all the propaganda the various manufacturers throw at you to part you from your money the subject only gets the output of one light source for a few tenths of a millisecond.   You never thought of it that way but it is true. One burst of light…per picture.  Durations and intensity determine the exposure.  The size and shape of the head and the resultant front plastic design determine things.

•  How much of the light falls on the subject?   
•  How wide a beam did the flash put out?  
•  Was it more or less volume than the ambient light?  
•  What was the color of the flash in Kelvin temperature?   
•  Was it direct or bounced?    All these questions still have one answer, the resultant flash was one burst of light at a specific duration or intensity.  That translates into F-stops or parts thereof.  The rest of the advertising is bullsh*t…


How to establish a true guide number for your flash since all the manufacturers lie like politicians and bump the numbers.  We use and endorse SEKONIC flash and ambient meters and my trusty 358 has been my pal for years.  I have three meters and they are calibrated.  What you are concerned with and going to achieve is reality, as to how your flash really performs.  

•   A meter will answer the questions before you try this at a real wedding and screw up.  
•   It’ s real power rating, known as the guide number. If you like any Nikon owner has to add +0.3 in photoshop, correct it in the camera or flash beforehand.
•   How wide the light beam really is.  Critical is the width of the beam of the flash, in relation to the subjects.  Very important is the fall off on the edges If your strobe has a hot center,  giving you those Al Jolson portraits.
•   Here’s the straight poop, most higher level strobes have wider larger heads and disperse the light more evenly than consumer or prosumer heads.  You generally get what you pay for.

A plain room with no bright lights nor windows facing camera, totally dark is not required, just low levels of light.

  1. Camera on tripod 60- 65 inches off ground. Normal 50mm lens setting.
  2. Flash on camera with fresh unused batteries.
  3. Place meter ten feet from flash to flash meter.   Place a book at ten feet.
  4. Set camera, flash, flash meter, toaster, vacuum cleaner and TV set to ISO 100.  Shutter at 1/125
  5. Stand on book, trigger flash.
  6. Read meter.
  7. Rethink your numbers.

Take a king or queen size bed sheet hung on two light stands and a cross bar as a backdrop. 

  1. Dim the room, set the flash and camera at the real guide number and ten feet at ISO 100.  
  2. You will find on the less expensive strobes the drop off is significant and loses much at the edges.  
  3. You’ll see that when the prints come back and the center is weighted and edges are underexposed.  
  4. The perfection bracket we offer and dual strobes are critical for cross the board evenness on wide shoots. 
  5. Build your own double bracket for peanuts under my section “Informational”.


The stands were at ten to twelve feet from the center racer at seven feet high.  Two $49.00 Yongnuo’s used and both were hooked to my Black Boxes for speedy recovery at almost full power about half a second.

We concluded the shoot within a minute or two of the last of the 450 Awards shots taken and started packing up.  Our total shot count that day were well over two thousand.  Under three hours and delivered same day.

How we did it.  The race coordinator was announcer was presenting, and we were set up ten feet away from her left.  She passed the individuals and groups over to us.   One guy shooting and I was doing the posing which after 450 weddings and many triathlons was a no brainer and it went smooth, a five minute setup, five minute teardown.  I love it.  

The Nikon D4 set for the flash in manual, ignoring and allowing the for darkening the background.  We used the strobe at a conventional 45 degrees angle per side, one half-stop on the right under the left side for definition.  Both had Sto-Fens.  Absolutely no Photoshop was used for exposure, or color, auto batch sharpening only.  

We reduced file size to 72 for the web and added a border,  on this one for the site.  450 shots and basically no afterwork period, a breeze. Origional size retained for prints if ordered at 240.  A wide enough spread for six abreast in two rows.   Nothing other than auto bordering in photoshop for the customer site was done in action automatically adding logos and sponsors.    Uploaded to the web two hours later and done.  Met the video crew at the bar...they had a lot of editing.


Yong-Nuo, a simple manual flash can duplicate and in some cases do a better job than a viewfinder with 10-20 sensors, and all that integration of the camera and flash consuming time and battery power just to determine flash intensity.  They are a very aggressive Chinese marketing company and great in dealing direct on the net and they cornered the market.

If the flash you bought was 100-200 dollars, most likely it’s branded Yong-Nuo and most likely if it has another name on it, it’s still a Yong-Nuo or an affiliate or a clone or as one put it a copy.    They brand for anybody.

460 to 460-ll and now YN560-II, 560-II, 560-III, to 560-IV, to reflect the new capacitor skin molds and breadboard... and the numbers the competitors like Nikon and Canon use.  ( see the charts)  Cables can be fitted or I make them hot wired direct and permanent.

NOTE YON-NUO:  All Yong-Nuo’s have a warning about Lithium products “as their dump or flow exceeds” what the capacitor can absorb and you will toilet the flash.  None of the Yong-Nuo’s should be powered by anything thats LIPO AA or Li-Ion basically Lithium powered cells and there is a warning in their package in the battery compartment expressing this.  Those batteries will exceed the input capacity and blow the motherboard.  It is on a yellow tag in the battery compartment.   

NOTE ON NISSAN:   Nissan has the same warnings. Talking with a tech, those touting Zinc ultra cheap batteries will do the same. Those Zi-Ion are really bad.  Like any other strobe push them and you can harm them, thats why the NIKON and Canon’s flagship models have overheat diodes and soon they will all have them. The 560 does have a similar mod.