flash photography

flash exposure compensation – updated article

The main articles that the Tangents blog is based on, are the series of tutorials on flash photography techniques. With time though, these pages have dated a little bit. The original photographs I used needed updating, and the text also needed some revision and refinement. Then, over time, the design and layout of the website and pages changed. So I’m making a concerted effort to update these articles so that they remain relevant as the flagship posts on this website.

I’ve tweaked a few pages over time, but one of the pages that needed some serious work – a rewrite and new photographs – is the explanation of flash exposure compensation. The rest will follow shortly.

By now regular followers of the Tangents blog will recognize Anelisa. These images are from an individual workshop in New York. The explanation of how flash exposure compensation is implemented, is very much part of the workshop. With TTL flash, we use FEC to control the output of our flash to match what we need. But I will leave the explanation of these images to the main article on flash exposure compensation. Check it out.

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going for that classic look in a photo – how it all came together (model: Elizabeth)

When I saw the beautiful architecture of the Court House in Denver, CO, I knew that I wanted to use this as a backdrop for part of the mini photography workshop in Denver. In terms of composition, the imposing pillars and leading lines of the steps would simultaneously make a simple and classic background. Our model, Elizabeth, fortunately had this simple, yet elegant black dress as part of her wardrobe. For me, this photo comes together with the way the model (with her own style and styling), and the chosen location, complements each other.

That’s all a long way to say that I really like this image.

So while “having some kind of idea what you want to do” at the start of a photo session, is always a help, the success of any resulting photographs are most often a result of all the other choices coming together as well – posing, composition and lighting.

The composition is fairly straight-forward. But do notice that I shot slightly upwards towards her, to accentuate her legs. Shooting down would’ve created a strange fore-shortening effect. The focal length on the zoom lens was 38mm – wide-ish. If you’re photographing people with a wide lens, it is best to shoot from belly-button height with the camera – exactly where an old twin-lens reflex camera would’ve been held. This way you’re not shooting down, nor shooting up. So spatial distortion is minimized.

Then there’s also that touch of serendipity – yes, that word again – which brings some unexpected magic. In this image, her shadow was what helped pull the image together. Suddenly it isn’t just soft lighting – now it looks like a bit of sunshine sneaking through a thin layer of clouds. And the image pops!

The specific look to this B&W image was done via a recipe I created in Radlab.

To get that dramatic light on her, we used undiffused off camera flash. In other words – hard direct off-camera speedlight. Since this is a small light source, you have to be very specific in posing your subject. Posing “into the light” usually works best. You have to be careful though not to get weird shadows, but to have the light from the bare flash still be flattering.

The way the shadow fell behind her, was an accidental little bonus. I’ll take it when it comes.

More about the lighting and the camera settings ….

Learn more inside…


comparing maximum flash sync speed – 1/250 vs 1/200

A comment that was posted in the photo gear section, asked about the relative merits of 1/250 max flash sync speed, vs 1/200 max flash sync speed.

Hi Neil, thanks again for Tangents, & your books which I refer to a lot. You have a gift in teaching and your passion is contagious. You’re probably my no 1 reference out there amongst the myriad of info now available. That’s why I’d like your opinion on the D600, particularly the 1/200 sync speed factor. I just bought one. Do you think it’s a big issue. Mr Hobby considers major enough to dismiss buying one. I couldn’t bear the thought of processing 36mp images from the D800 & couldn’t afford the D4. I got an ND filter hoping that would make up for it! What do you think about the camera other than that. Thanks again.

My first instinct will always be to go for the camera with the higher flash sync speed. It is especially valuable when working in bright light, to make it easier for a speedlight to match that bright ambient light. But it also helps with a (slightly) shallower depth-of-field when you can take the shutter speed higher.

But just how much of a difference does that 1/3rd stop difference in shutter speed make in the grand scheme of things?

Learn more inside…


camera & flash settings: what do you want to achieve?  (model: Ulorin Vex)

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 …

Learn more inside…


using a neutral density (ND) filter to control depth of field when using flash

When working in bright sunlight with flash units that can’t go into high-speed flash sync, we have a ceiling in terms of our shutter speed / aperture combination. The shutter speed limitation then would be our maximum flash sync speed. The bright daylight would then imply a small aperture – most likely around f/11

Why f/11 ?
The Sunny 16 Rule dictates that in bright sunlight,
we’re most likely working at 1/100 @ f/16 @ 100 ISO.

This translates into a handy short-cut of: 1/200 @ f/11 @ 100 ISO,
where 1/200 is the maximum flash sync speed of many cameras.
I use Nikons so my max flash sync speed is 1/250 hence that is where I normally operate when using flash in bright light.

To get to wider apertures for a shallower depth-of-field, we then need to cut the amount of light. We can do this with a Neutral Density filter.

The first concern is usually that the ND filter cuts the flash, but this isn’t a particular problem, since the ND filter cuts flash and ambient light by equal amounts.

So if we have 1/200 @ f/11 and then add a 3-stop ND filter, we end up with f/4 which is much wider than f/11 and gives us better control over our DoF. A 3-stop ND filter is usually denoted as an .9 ND filter, where 0.3 is a stop, and hence 0.1 is a third of a stop. A Neutral Density filter that is marked as 3.0 will therefore be a 10-stop ND filter.

As a side comment, please note that shallow depth-of-field is not the same as ‘bokeh‘.

With the recent photo shoot with Ulorin Vex , I decided that it might be as good an opportunity as any to see how a Neutral Density filter affects the results.

Learn more inside…


bounce flash comparison: with & without the black foamie thing

One of the presentations that I gave at the After Dark event in St Louis, was (perhaps inevitably by now), about bounce flash photography. Part of this was a sequence explaining how the direction that you bounce your flash into, will define the light pattern on your subject. The black foamie thing helps in directing the light from your flash, especially if you want short lighting on your subject.

And here is the comparison – with the black foamie thing, and without. Without flagging the flash, there is direct flash. Then the light is flat and specular and there is a distinct hard shadow that isn’t flattering.

(To see this comparison duo larger, right-click and open the image in a new tab. )

Learn more inside…


What if you need more light from your bounce flash?

Because I so often use on-camera bounce flash, one of the questions I’m regularly asked is, what if there is nothing to bounce your flash off? There is also the variant – what if there isn’t enough light from the bounced flash?

In both cases, the answer is the same – you improvise!
Not only that, but you need to be prepared to improvise.

The photograph above is from a recent Bat Mitzvah, showing the big group shot of the kids. If you’ve photographed Bar / Bat Mitzvahs before, you know this is coming up, and you have to be prepared for it.

You’re prepared for it by:
- having a ladder handy to stand on
- a wide enough lens and enough space to move back into
- enough light!

You can not just be passive and go … oh, oops! You need to be prepared and have done some homework before any event you photograph. (It seems such an obvious thing to even need stating like that!)

This particular venue has a really awkwardly shaped ceiling, and it has a bronze color in places. So it makes bounce flash photography a bit of a challenge, but I was able to get pretty good results by pushing the ISO higher. Using a camera like the Nikon D4 is an obvious boost here!

Learn more inside…


photographic composition, posing, light & lighting – when it all comes together

I just love this photograph of Anastasia Z, and want to share some of the through-process in how it came together.

To test the Canon EOS 6D camera (B&H) and the Canon 24-70mm f4.0L IS lens (B&H), I met up with Anastasia Z in New York. I scouted this area with my friend, Peter Salo, while we were waiting for Anastasia who was running a touch late. Just as well we scouted earlier on, because it was freezing outside.

I saw the way this building over the Highline in Manhattan was creating this jagged shape with strong lines. I also knew the staggered vertical lines would work well, silhouetted against the winter sky. When we met up with Anastasia, we discussed an approximate plan of where we’d shoot .. including somewhere inside eventually. But I wanted to try this one specific idea first – right here.

So, knowing more or less what I wanted, we walked towards this spot. On our way there, I did try out an idea, but it didn’t quite hang together, and I dropped it to get to this place where I knew the idea would work.

So here’s how this photograph came together with just three test images …

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lingerie photo session: video light & studio flash – model: Olena

With my new studio space pretty much ready, I’ve been itching to actually use the studio with a photo session there. Olena is a model that I’ve worked with once before during an individual photography workshop in New York, and I was really impressed with her, but we never quite got the opportunity to do further photo sessions. So this was a good opportunity to shoot in my new studio, and re-acquaint with a wonderful model. (Here is Olena’s model mayhem portfolio.)

We shot several outfits, using different lighting setups. This one is interesting because of the simplicity of the setup – using a 1×4′ softbox to control the light, and a Lowel ID-Light (B&H) as a back-light to give that warm glow to her hair. It really helped enhance the intimate feel of the sequence of photographs.

Here is the pull-back shot that will show how the lights were placed.

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how to mount multiple flashes / speedlites

Quite often, a single speedlight just isn’t enough. You need more!

You might need a smaller aperture than the single speedlight would provide (even at full power), or you might be battling very bright ambient light. High-Speed Flash Sync doesn’t help you in that case. Then you need to add another speedlight.

The mount / bracket that I settled on is the RPS Light Bar (B&H). It is a bit unwieldy, especially when you have 4 speedlights mounted. But when you need it, you need it. It is this bracket that I use when I’m shooting family groups with speedlights, as described in this article: wedding photography: positioning your flash for the formals.

I’ve used this setup for some of the photography workshops that I’ve presented, where I need to simultaneously have Canon and Nikon speedlights. I have also at times mounted both PocketWizard and RadioPopper triggers. This bracket allows me the flexibility to choose my setup.

Now, the reason why I settled on this device, is that none of the other devices that I’ve seen, have enough space for either the PocketWizard TT5 units, or the Radio Poppers.
- RPS Lighting Triple Flash/Umbrella Mount (B&H)
Lastolite TriFlash Shoe Mount Bracket (B&H)
- Lastolite Quad Bracket (B&H)
- Lastolite TriFlash Sync Bracket (B&H)
- Impact FA-300HS Triple-Flash Hot Shoe Adapter Mount (B&H)
- Lastolite TriFlash Bracket by Joe McNally (B&H)

While these are all ingenious solutions to the problem, they just don’t have enough space around for the base of the radio trigger, whether the RadioPopper or PocketWizard. Others that I’ve seen that do allow for this, just don’t seem as sturdily built.

The RPS Light Bar (B&H) is quite sturdy, as you might see in this detail image of the hot-shoe mount:

Learn more inside…