off-camera flash photography

flash photography: applying the Sunny 16 rule and the flash Guide Number

In essence, if you know the GN of your flash, then you could use (bare) off-camera flash to match the sunlight, without even metering!

There is a super-useful shortcut built into those two simple values: Sunny 16, and the Guide Number.

Now, I am pretty sure that when you hear mention of the Guide Number of a flash, you’re most likely switching off already, thinking that it is just an arcane list of numbers – different apertures against different power settings. But hang in there – this is very useful stuff to have a grip on.

And yes, since: GN  =  distance  *  f-stop
that is what the Guide Number tells you – the distance multiplied by the aperture is the GN.

But there is something immediately useful there in the Guide Number, which is hugely important. If you understand this, then you have an important key in your pocket about how to quickly match bright sunlight with your speedlight. It’s really simple:

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high-speed flash sync (HSS) with the Profoto B1 portable flash

The already impressive Profoto B1 500 W/s AirTTL flash (vendor) became even more awesome in Dec 2014 when high-speed flash sync (HSS) capability was added through a firmware update.

The photo above was taken at 1/2000 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO. I wanted that super-shallow depth-of-field, and I wanted the light to be more flattering than you’d get from a bare speedlight. In this case, I used a Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox with the Profoto B1. (I kept both baffles on the softbox.)

The summary: it works! But there are a few minor limitations or quirks though that you have to be aware of. (More about this in the summary at the end of this article.)

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on-location flash photography – adding backlighting / rim-light

Once you’re comfortable using a single off-camera light-source, such as a softbox (or un-diffused flash), there’s an easy next step to add a little bit of zing to the image. Rim-lighting!

I most often work with just a single softbox when photographing portraits on location. Having the sun behind your subject, creates a natural rim-lighting. This helps separate your subject from the background. It’s not just the shallow depth-of-field that helps create that near-3D effect where your subjects just pops out from the background – rim-lighting from behind also helps bring more attention to your subjects.

The best part – it is really simple to set up and use.

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photo session: urban ballerina – Viktoria

Late afternoon in New York, with the sun-light glinting off the glass buildings – dramatic light for a ballerina in an urban setting. However, the sunlight that was reflecting off the buildings wasn’t consistent, and did not necessarily fall in a place where we could use it. So I created my own with an off-camera speedlight just out of the frame – but positioned so that it intentionally flared, and also gave beautiful rim-light on Viktoria.

The pull-back shot shows how the speedlight was set up, and my own position, low down on the ground, to get that perspective.

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multiple speedlite portrait setup using Rogue Flashbenders

The PDN Photo Plus Expo in New York took place last week. As always, it’s it’s always a bit of a head-rush walking around, overwhelmed by all the photography goodies and people. Of course, you’ll inevitably bump into old friends and catch up a bit. One of them, is Michael Corsentino who I met during the After Dark photo conventions. (Sadly, the After Dark events have been put on indefinite hold.)

Not only is Michael Corsentino a pre-eminent wedding photographer in San Francisco, but has also written a book – the Canon Speedlite System Digital Field Guide (Amazon). If you like his style, follow him on Twitter @corsentino

When I randomly saw this photograph later on on his FB feed, my reaction was … damn!

He had photographed Anelisa at the Rogue Flashbenders stand for a demo. So I was curious about the exact lighting setup, and asked him if I could repost it here, along with an explanation and the lighting diagram …

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photo shoot & off-camera flash – making the background count

I got a call from Michael Saab of the Modern Gypsies to let me know that they were performing in a night-club in Manhattan, and would I be interested in doing some promotional photos for them? Of course! Other photo sessions with the Modern Gypsies were all energizing experiences. (The Modern Gypsies also featured in my book, off-camera flash.) Working with creative people always fuels the creative spark.

At the night-club, I looked around for interesting areas I could shoot some portraits. I felt this curving passage-way could be a complementary background for this one outfit. But it took a few test-shots and adjustments to get where I wanted to be …

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controlling bright sunlight with direct off-camera flash – (model: Molly K)

Working with Molly K as our model during an individual flash photography workshop in New York, we put in action the thought-process when using flash in very bright light. There’s a specific algorithm that gets us to optimal settings.

But, as usual, there’s more to a final image than just the numerical settings on the camera …

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photographing a model on-location: the progression of an idea

As often happens for me when working a model on location, the final photographs are the result of a progression of an idea, rather than a fully-formed idea from the start. That colorful background came to be because of how I gelled for the flash. It’s a technique I’ve shown a few times, and here it helped me in bringing a blah scenario up to something more eye-catching.

The idea is to create an interesting shift in the color balance between your subject and background. It works especially well if the background is not that colorful and you need to create a more dramatic photo. Let’s run through the thought-process with this sequence of images:

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direct off-camera flash photography – fill-light

I really like using a medium-sized softbox when photographing portraits. A softbox allows me to get soft, directional light pretty much anywhere. The most recent example I showed here, was Lucia and Alvin’s wedding in Central Park, New York. I do make it easier for myself  when using off-camera flash for photo sessions on location – I pick my battles. I don’t try to make everything work. With a photo session where I can control the light and background and setting for my subjects, I can make it easier for myself by not choosing tough lighting scenarios.

With Amy and Clark’s photo session, I brought along my usual set of gear … but left the Lastolite softbox behind. I brought the Lastolite bracket along, and the radio transmitters.  Everything but the actual diffusion box to fit over the speedlight. With that, I had to slightly change how I usually work to still get great results that look like my usual style.

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Alvin & Lucia – their wedding in Central Park, New York

A groom holding up the softbox for me … as you may well guess, there’s a story here. Alvin and Lucia are from the UK, but decided to get married in Central Park. Of course, there’s a story here too.

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