Camera & flash settings: What do you want to achieve?
In one of the multitude of photography groups on Facebook, I saw a newcomer to off-camera flash say that she bought an Alien-Bee set, but she has no idea what to set it to. My reply was that she needed a light-meter. My thinking is that then she’d know what the specific output of the flash or strobe would be, and then be able to set her camera to it. But then, thinking about it some more, I realized if there is hesitation there or confusion, it is about what specific camera settings (mostly aperture) should be in the first place.
I think this is the baffling part of using off-camera lighting or studio gear on location for the first time – where do you start? What should your camera and flash settings be?
Well, if you shoot on location, your settings are usually decided for you by your available light …
You might need to balance shaded subjects against a brighter background:
– so what are your camera settings?
Or you just want to get rid of the blah:
– off-camera flash for that extra bit of drama (mode: Olena)
So it really comes down to .. what do you want to achieve?
Still working with Ulorin Vex during the photo session which was shown in the recent article on using a neutral density (ND) filter, let’s have a look at a different setup. With the example where we used the ND filter, we had Ulorin Vex with her back to the sun, and her hair lit from behind by the sun. So there was a specific thought-process there.
But moving around the corner at those same warehouses, we were in the shade. I liked the surroundings … but the light was blah. Using the same kind of idea as shown in this article – off-camera flash for that extra bit of drama – we got to the dramatic image shown at the top.
I wanted it to appear as if Ulorin Vex was in a pool of light.
The available light shot looked quite bland. Well, the lighting looked bland. Under-exposing by 4 stops, pulled the available light down to where it pretty much is of no consequence – and it is at this point that the off-camera lighting becomes everything, and we have absolute control over the final result. Remember, around 5 stops under-exposure, the ambient light is less than 1% of your final exposure – i.e. non-exsistent.
I specifically only wanted to use one light source here – a large softbox from above. I was standing on a wall to shoot down on her. The light was on a 12′ tall lightstand.
This shot shows where the softbox was in relation to our model. High above and next to me. You can see part of the light-stand in the bottom-right corner.
The final image (of which the square version was shown at the top), had the distracting high-lights on her latex costume removed in Photoshop. I also sweetened the image with a home-made recipe in Radlab.
So now the question remains … why did I decide to do it this way, and under-expose the available light and set up the softbox like this? Simply because I thought it might look cool. I did a few test shots to make sure, and then, “yeah! this works.”
That was the crux in deciding to set up this (quite simple) shot – I thought it would look cool. Then the decisions about what I need to do to capture that pre-visualized idea followed. That’s the essence of it – you need to have some idea of what you want to do, before you can get there. It seems superfluously obvious when stated like that, but that is really how it works. You have to figure out what it is you want to achieve, even if your end result is different than your original idea.
Photo gear (or equivalents) used in this photo session
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G AF-S / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Profoto D1 Air 500 W/s studio light
or Profoto B1 500 W/s AirTTL battery powered flash
- Profoto RFi 3’x4′ softbox
- Manfrotto 1004BAC – tall light-stand
- Profoto Air Remote Transceiver
- Profoto BatPac portable battery
- Off-camera flash for that extra bit of drama (mode: Olena)
- Overpowering hard sunlight with flash
- What are your camera settings?
- Overpowering the sun with flash (models: Sarah & Mark)
- Using a neutral density (ND) filter to control DoF with flash (model: Ulorin Vex)
- Other photo sessions with Ulorin Vex
As mentioned, I wanted a warmer look to the final image and I used a recipe I created in Radlab.
A little bit of homework
- Why did I not need to drop the ambient exposure by more than 4 stops?