off-camera flash for dramatic light
During this recent photo session with a couple, Ashley and Michael, we roamed around the campus grounds of the university where they had met. In the one part of the grounds, there was this clump of trees, planted in a small rectangle with two seats. Since it was so dark there under the trees, they wondered who’d ever go and sit there. It just didn’t look appetizing. Then I though … hmmm, with some off-camera flash from behind, we can really make this place look like something.
This is the same place, taken at the same camera settings as above: 1/60 @ f5.0 @ 800 ISO … but without flash, it’s just dark. The direction of light is such that you’d have to position your subject outwards, and then the light would still not have been wonderful. The light levels would also have been too dark.
I immediately hoped that throwing a flash high-up above them, pointing down at where they are seated, would create an interesting radiating pattern of shadows from the trees. And it worked.
Since I didn’t have an assistant with me, (with or without attitude), I had taken a light stand with me, in case I wanted to use an off-camera softbox. My usual light stands are the Manfrotto 1004BAC and 1051BC, as mentioned in that review. I chose to bring the taller Manfrotto 1004BAC (B&H) light-stand with me, instead of the smaller Manfrotto 1051BAC (B&H), because of the larger footprint of the 1004BAC and because of its extra weight. The extra weight helps on location where there is the possibility of wind.
So with the 12-foot tall light-stand at hand, I was able to hoist a speedlight up high, and tilt it slightly downwards. The speedlight was my usual Nikon SB-900, and to get a wide coverage, I flipped down the wide-angle diffuser panel.
Here is a shot where I purposely included the flash, as a kind of pull-back shot.
The off-camera speedlight was trigged by the PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceiver (B&H) it was attached to. On my camera I had another FlexTT5, with an PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller (B&H). I started off shooting in TTL mode, since this is the mode I most often shoot in when on location. But since the flash is used as back-lighting, it made more sense to have it as manual flash. Changing modes was a breeze with the AC3 Zone Controller. In the end, I shot at full manual output.
related posts on using off-camera flash as back-lighting:
- off-camera flash – creating separation with back-lighting (model – Bethany)
- off-camera flash – adding dimension with back-lighting (model Lea)
So the set-up was quite simple. Any manual, flash triggered off-camera, would’ve worked.
Another one of the final images:
To my eye, the vertical shot didn’t work as well as the horizontal image shown at the top. With so much of the blue sky revealed in the vertical image, the mystery and dramatic feel to the image is reduced. A higher shutter speed (e.g. maximum flash sync speed), might have done the trick here. But I didn’t go as far. (For comparison, here is the top image again.)
Equipment used during this photo session:
Nikon D3; Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H)
(2x) Nikon SB-910 Speedlight controlled by PocketWizard FlexTT5 & AC3 Controller
or alternately, the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite controlled by Canon ST-E3 Transmitter
Manfrotto 1004BAC light-stand (B&H)