flash photography

using flash in an incandescent / tungsten environment

I have used this photograph several times in the past to illustrate various aspects of flash photography in low light, so it might be time to discuss this image more thoroughly.

We’ll also pull together a few other topics and see how it all comes together at this one point:
dragging the shutter,
– gelling your flash,
bounce flash technique,
direction of light,
– the advantage of using TTL flash,
working alongside a videographer

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mixing the white balance of different light sources

While we would do well to gel our flash when working in a very warm or incandescent spectrum, (such as when shooting at a venue bathed in Tungsten light), the last few articles showed how we can use it to our advantage when using different light sources with different color balance. The effect can be quite dramatic.

The examples shown have been varied:

In the first example (with Bethany as our model), we looked at using random found available light as portrait lighting. With the next example, the effect was purposely sought by gelling our flash for effect. A similar contrast in white balance can also be found by using a Tungsten-gelled LED video light in a non-tungsten environment, forcing all the daylight colors to go toward a bold blue tone. The most recent example showed how we could use the modeling light in the studio with additional flash as rim light, to give a punchy image with warm colors.

Those four examples all had entirely different scenarios, but the same idea was used in all  of them to get punchy colorful images – using light sources with different white / color balance.

This image here at the top was shot with a similar set-up as the sequence where we gelled our main flash with 1/2 CTS gels to allow the background to go blue

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wedding portraits: finding something to bounce your flash off

One of the frequent questions that come up, is what to do when there is nothing to bounce your flash off.  When working indoors and there are bounce-able surfaces around me, my first instinct is to use on-camera bounce flash. It is easy to use, and the results can look surprisingly good, especially if you consider the minimal effort that went into it. No extra gear to carry around and set up. But when there is nothing to bounce flash off, you have to adapt your technique …

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New to flash photography?  Start here!

In preparing the material for the just-completed webinar, Don’t Fear Your Flash, I had given some thought to where I should start with the material. Flash photography on one level is so simple once you “get it” … but from the outside, it can look intimidating and complex. I feel that flash photography is one of those subjects which start to make sense once you grasp a bunch-of-things simultaneously. But how to explain it all at once so that it makes sense?

So I wondered about where exactly I should start the material for the webinar. What should I start a seminar with when I have a 90 minute time limit? Camera settings? Aperture, ISO and shutter speed settings? Manual flash vs TTL flash? Metering for flash and ambient light?

During a test run with the Clickin Moms team who had arranged and hosted the webinar, I had to check voice levels, and was told to say something. I just started riffing on the idea of starting the webinar … and as I said, “where do we even start?” to the imagined audience, it hit me .. that’s exactly what we need to do. We just have to start. We just have to take those first photos!

We can spend too much time caught up in first trying to understand all the technical aspects and all the nuances of lighting. We can be too intimidated by all that to actually use a flash … when all we need to do as a start, is to actually start using the flash!

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video clip – using the black foamie thing

When bouncing your flash, flagging your on-camera speedlight is a simple way of controlling the direction of light from your flash .. and hence, controlling the quality of light from the on-camera flash. I use a simple piece of black foam – the infamous black foamie thing, to achieve this.The piece of foam (Amazon), can be ordered via this link. I cut the sheet into smaller pieces. The BFT is held in position by two hair bands (Amazon), and the BFT is usually placed on the under-side of the flash-head.

To help explain the use of the Black Foamie Thing (BFT), I met up with Anelisa to create a short video clip.

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using the PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller

This portrait of musician, Josh Adams, was a fairly quick set-up. I deliberately chose an area in a large hotel conference room to shoot this. A bit of a challenge to see how quickly I could get a simple but dramatic portrait out of a ‘nothing’ scenario. Here’s the pull-back shot that will show you the area, as well as the placement of the lights:

The light came from three speedlights, all controlled with the PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceivers. They in turn were controlled via an on-camera FlexTT5 (for Nikon), with an AC3 Zone Controller piggy-backing on the TT5. Using the AC3 Controller made it a breeze to control the output (and mode) of each of the three speedlights. I could switch any of them to manual, or to TTL. I could control the TTL units’ Flash Exposure Compensation from the ACR3.  And I could control the manual output, if I had decided to switch the speedlight to manual mode.  All from my camera …

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review: Lumodi beauty dish for speedlights

Light from a Beauty Dish has a distinctive look – an interesting combination of soft light with a pronounced fall-off to the edges. With a softbox there is a lot of scattering of the light, making it exactly that soft light source that it is named after.  A softbox is therefore quite forgiving of how you position the light in relation to your subject.  The beauty dish in comparison, used as a single light source, will give light that can be both dramatic and pleasing.  (Not nearly as hard as video light or direct unmodified speedlight.)

With that, I have used a beauty dish on occasion in the last two years since I bought my Profoto AcuteB 600R lighting kit (B&H) and the Profoto beauty dish (B&H). While interesting enough, I most often just reverted to using a softbox when using the Profoto kit. I like the light from a softbox – soft and easy to work with. But still, there’s the interest in trying out the beauty dish for its specific light type. As much as I love the Profoto set-up for on-location lighting, it does become a specific decision … whereas I always have a speedlight or two with me.

The portability and easy of use of speedlights, have made me wonder about using one of the several beauty dishes on the market that are specifically meant for speedlights. What has kept me from that, is the relatively high cost of some of these speedlight beauty dishes in comparison to the “serious” beauty dishes.  So when I noticed the Lumodi speedlight 14″ beauty dish going for a more affordable $69, I was tempted enough to get one.

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adding bounce flash to ambient light

Using images from a past workshop, I want to explain a simple concept with flash photography on location. In workshops and seminars I quite often describe the flash as ‘riding on top of’ the available light exposure. It’s just another way of describing the usual technique of under-exposing the ambient light somewhat, and then using flash to give correct exposure. We can thereby control the final look of the image by controlling the direction of light from our flash.

By using flash like this, we can use the flash to ‘clean up’ the light in the photograph.

This photograph of Crystal, our model at this workshop, was taken during the early evening. We were working outside, using some of the found surfaces to bounce flash off.  The trick here is to find that combination of bounceable surface, a good background, and then to position your model so that the additional light from the flash adds to the final image. What I like about this specific image is how the sign (and the reflection of the sign) outside the hotel creates a halo around Crystal.

Here is the image without flash, and also a pull-back image to see what surface I bounced the flash off ..

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why should you use a higher ISO?

The advice for optimal camera settings for best image quality are usually:
– use the lowest possible ISO:
– at an aperture about 3 stops down from maximum (the widest) aperture;
– at a shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake and unintentional subject movement.

Taking this general advice at face value, means using the camera at its base ISO, which would either be 100 ISO or 200 ISO. However, while this advice is sound in theory, in practice this doesn’t have direct consequence on my decision about my camera settings.

In terms of exposure settings, we obviously want correct exposure, even if ‘correct exposure’ is open to interpretation.  Now if we are using only available light, then we have what we have for that specific scenario. If the ambient light is low, we would need a higher ISO / wider aperture / slower shutter speed.  There’s no wriggle room here.

But if we’re using flash, why not use the flash to give us correct exposure at these optimal settings?  Why would we even go to a higher ISO?

The reason: when using flash on location, I am mostly concerned about balancing my flash with the ambient light. Or somehow taking my ambient light into account to give some context.  It just looks better!

Let’s get back to the photograph at the top:

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comparison between a softbox, a white shoot-through umbrella and a bounce umbrella

I’ve had several requests from readers of the Tangents blog about how the light from a softbox would differ from the light from an umbrella. Spurred on by that, and by my own curiosity, I met up a while ago with my favorite model, Anelisa, specifically to do comparison shots.

And here it is …

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