flash photography techniques

video clip: Direction & Quality of Light – your key to better portrait photography

The video clip of the presentation I did at B&H to promote my book – Direction of Light – has by now been viewed more than 137,000 times since it was posted in January 2013 !!

But as the saying inevitably goes, the book is always better than the movie. So in case you haven’t seen the video clip yet, it is a good introduction to the book, while also taking a few detours along the way. If you liked the video clip, the book contains even more, and for less than $20, you can own and hold and touch and smell the book. All yours!

You can order it from Amazon via this link,
or even directly order an autographed copy from me via the same link.

And for those of you who have already bought the book, a big thank you! The support is always appreciated. And if I could ask a small favor – a nice review on Amazon always helps.

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wedding photography: using high ISO and flash to retain ambience at the reception

Chatting with other photographers at the recent WPS convention in Chapel Hill, NC, I was again struck by how there are so many different ways of approaching lighting. In this case, lighting at the wedding reception. The one photographer I was chatting to, set up multiple speedlights around the reception room, and then controls which are fired, from his on-camera Master speedlight.  Very impressive.

In recent years, the wedding reception venues where I’ve shot on the East Coast of the USA, have moved away from being the dark-hole large rooms, by adding up-lighting, and making the places generally more vibrant and colorful. Coupled with the astonishing high-ISO capability of the last two generations of cameras, I really haven’t felt the need to set up additional lighting to lift the general light levels, like I would have in the past, as described in this article:
wedding photography: TTL flash with off-camera manual flash

Here is a recent wedding at the same venue as the above link … where I was able to effectively light the entire place with just one on-camera speed light.
bounce flash photography & the inverse square law

By using a higher ISO, and carefully bouncing my flash, I could get away with a much simpler set-up of a single on-camera speedlight.

Here’s an example of a recent wedding, where the reception was in a glass-house style conservatory. By shooting against the DJ’s lights, I was able to NOT have a dark background, but something colorful instead.

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I’m always very happy to feature Chuck Arlund as a guest on Tangents. Anyone who knows Chuck in person will tell you about the crazy energy he has, and how inspiring and innovative he is in his lighting.

lighting patterns in photography

a guest post by Chuck Arlund, Kansas City photographer

Back to basics. When shooting a portrait or any person for that matter it is good to understand some light patterns to help determine what kind of mood you would like to create.

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example: direct off-camera flash vs softbox (model: Ulorin Vex)

Ulorin Vex posing for us during part of the on-location session of the flash photography workshops which I presented in San Francisco earlier this year. Ulorin Vex is of course absolutely stunning, as always. While I often direct models how they should pose, this one is all her doing . Not even I can improve on that.

The image here at the top was shot with an off-camera softbox – my usual preferred Lastolite Ezybox softbox. The direction of the light here should immediately reveal the approximate position where the light was positioned. Just as comparison, we removed the two baffles of the Lastolite, to see how direct off-camera flash would compare. We kept the softbox hull in place, so it did help contain the spread of light a bit. As you’d expect, the results look more dramatic.

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using multiple speedlights with high-speed flash sync

This photo of Angelique, our model, was taken at 1/8000 @ f2 @ 100 ISO. Yes, an eight-thousand-th of a second.  The accompanying wide aperture (with an ultra-wide angle lens), gives a unique look to the image. The shallow depth-of-field and high shutter speed are mutually dependent effects in shooting in bright light. Working with a fast shutter speed, brought us into high-speed flash sync (HSS) territory.

Do keep in mind that this shoot was more of a technical exercise to work through the settings and see how the flash behaves when working in bright light, and needing either a faster shutter speed or wider aperture. (Or both.)  In this case, we achieved shallower depth of field and a faster shutter speed. Obviously, in photographing a static model, the advantage of a faster shutter speed is lost. But when you do need the faster shutter speed, this is the solution.

With high-speed flash sync, there is a dramatic loss in effective power, as shown in this previous article. To overcome this, you need to work very close to your subject, or gang up a number of speedlights as a group.

Back to the sequence of images – I wanted to under-expose the city-scape and then use flash to highlight the model against the environment.  So the lighting had to enhance the look of the wide-aperture wide-angle lens. The lens was the beautiful Canon 24mm f1.4 II (B&H). The camera that I used is the classic Canon 5D.

My friend Yishai, of HD PhotoVideo, had shown me his permanent set-up which he uses whenever he has the need of high-speed flash.  His setup consists of four  Canon 580 EX ii speedlights (B&H), held together via a Lightware Foursquare Block. To free himself up from line-of-sight restrictions, and give reliable control of these speedlights, Yishai had connected each speedlight to a RadioPopper PX unit. (They worked with perfect reliability during this shoot.)  To have the speedlights recycle fast enough, they are powered by two Quantum 2×2 batteries (B&H). By ganging up four speedlights like this, we can start overcoming the loss of flash power when going into HSS.

To show me how these work on an actual shoot, we arranged to meet up with Angelique (on this icy cold day) on this pier in Brooklyn, for a photo session. Here is what this setup looks like …

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wedding portraits with multiple light sources

edited on Dec 08, 2010 :
contest winner has been announced, with feedback from Josh about this photograph

When we’ve previously featured photographs that we tried to reverse engineer, there was a great response by readers of the Tangents blog. Similarly, many participated in the recent Photoshop contest. So I’ve decided that we should combine the two. Maybe even make it a regular event.

The contest then is to reverse engineer this photograph in terms of the lighting.
The winner gets a $50 B&H gift card!

Again, the photograph to be analyzed was shot by my friend Josh Lynn. It was taken during the romantic portrait session during a recent wedding.  The setup featured 5 light sources, and Josh was kind enough to give us a head-start with this diagram of how the lights were placed:

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portrait: Janine vN

November 15, 2010

portrait using a gridded softbox

It’s been about a year since I last took a more formal portrait of my daughter Janine. Last year it was her with the steam-punk goggles, when I used a beauty dish (with a sock) as lighting. During a restaurant dinner last night I noticed Janine had ‘LOVE’ scribbled on both her forearms with a felt marker. I asked her about it, and she explained the idea behind ‘To Write Love On Her Arms‘. So I decided to include this tonight in the portrait of her.

Lighting her and the words on her arms was a slight challenge. I wanted a moody portrait, instead of just flooding it with even light from something like bounced flash …

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flash photography tutorial – balancing flash and ambient light

An email I received recently from someone explained how she is struggling with flash. The basic building blocks of photography are all there and understood, but it somehow doesn’t gel when she uses flash. She explains how she understands exposure metering, but “the minute I attach my flash, nothing makes sense.” Having read my book and scoured this blog, she admits that at the point where she uses her flash and needs to set aperture and shutter speed, she is completely lost.

I’m sure this is something many many photographers struggle with – just feeling baffled by where to start. So while this stuff at some level is easy once you understand it, flash photography also seems to be one of those subjects where you have to immediately grasp a whole bunch of things for it all to fall into place the first time.

So I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for a few weeks now. I thought of how to break this down in a different manner that would help with that “aha!” moment shining through. I have written a few other articles on how to balance flash with available light, which are all linked in this off camera flash photography page. But it might be that I need to find another approach in my explanation of balancing flash with ambient light.  Break things down in a different way. And in breaking things down, we can see where we get stuck.  And break that down again. Finally we might get an “oh!?” moment of clarity.  And for other regular readers, this might just be a useful reinforcement of the concepts.

Now, at the very start of this,we have to realize there are two exposures taking place – flash and ambient light. This is the key. Then we have figure out how we’re going to combine them.  The ‘how’ then includes exposure metering, but also includes direction of light.  For this article, we’re just going to look at balancing flash with ambient light. We’re going to use a few simple portraits of our model, Camille, as illustration here for an understanding of how to add flash to ambient light. We’re purposely going to keep it simple to have things fall into place first.

Let’s see where this leads to …

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high-speed flash sync / auto FP .. vs .. normal flash

There have been a number of questions about high-speed flash sync (HSS), and how it affects the output from your flash.  There were also some questions asked about high-speed flash sync with this recent post where we tried to reverse-engineer a photo.

I decided to do a series of comparison photos, so we can actually see what happens before, at and beyond maximum flash sync speed.  And we can also see what happens with high-speed flash sync. To do this, I set up very simple portrait lighting using a single speedlight and a large umbrella.  A simple white paper-roll backdrop, and our model, Rachel. Here is the setup in my dining room …

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overpowering hard sunlight with flash

With this part of a photo session with Johannie, we worked in an alley. The light was very uneven, with some swathes of sunlight falling directly on her.  (See the image below for the photo without flash.)  To get rid of this uneven sunlight falling on her, we have to add at least as much light on her as the brightest areas lit by sunlight. In the example above, our exposure is set to 1/250 @ f13 @ 200 ISO and we can see from the bright patch of light on her shoulder, that we’re at the edge of acceptable exposure. Any wider on our aperture, or higher on our ISO or slower on our shutter speed, and we’ll start to lose detail in the sunlit areas.

In the example above, our model’s pose helped hide the uneven light due to her face being in shadow and her shoulder being in sunlight.

Here is the same image, without flash.  This will give you a better idea of how much flash was added, and how uneven the available light / sunlight was.

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