August 3, 2008

Thank you to everyone who played along with the flash photography challenge during the past week. Now, before I get to the answers, I have to say that this was quite a tough challenge. The idea was to use flash so that it appears ‘invisible’ in the final image. Where we have a situation where we have a measure of available light, and surfaces to bounce flash off, it is usually quite possible to mix flash and available light so that the flash becomes much less obvious.

To put it another way, *I* too would’ve had a hard time with this if I didn’t happen to have shot these images and had the EXIF data to check. In looking at the available light, and then taking care with the direction, intensity and color balance of the flash, we can be quite successful in blending flash with available light.  And this is at the center of what the flash photography workshops are about.

Here are the answers in short:
images 1, 4, 7, 9, 10 had flash in some measure.
The other images were ambient light only.

Jimmy Ho had it correct for every image, and gets the top prize of a speedlight.
As a runner up, Daniel Bargen gets the choice of a battery pack.

And here are the images again.

image 01 – flash

1/250th @ f4 @ 800 ISO,  flash exposure compensation at +1 EV.

The light in this image is nearly all flash. I bounced the flash to my right.  Since there was no light coming from the camera’s viewpoint, the light is quite directional (but still diffuse) giving form and shape. (Bouncing flash above me would’ve delivered a flat image.)

And just to show what the available light levels where like,
here is an image shot at 1/125th @ f1.4 @ 1600 ISO.  (WB changed to 2500 K.)

As you can see, the image is underexposed at those settings.  Even with the white balance set to 2500K in post-processing the image, the color is still overly red.  So this situation really did need flash to give a color image.



image 02 – all available light.

1/250th @ f1.6 @ 1000 ISO.  No flash.

For this image, I was kneeling between the bride and groom, with my head squished between them to get this angle of their reflection in the mirror.  The light is from an open doorway.



.image 03 – all available light

1/125th @ f1.6 @ 1000 ISO.  No flash.

Here I had the couple stand fairly close to a large chandelier in the reception venue’s lobby.  I had them turned so that they were flooded evenly with light.

Here is the same image, but in color, with the WB corrected in RAW.



.image 04 – flash was used

1D mk3 with the 16-35mm f2.8 II
My settings: 1/100th @ f3.5 @ 2500 ISO
I gelled my flash for Tungsten with a 1/2 CTS filter.
(Bouncing flash off those off-white walls made it even warmer.)

I had to reduce exposure by 1/2 stop in post-processing the raw file.

Here is what it would look like without flash:

… and a 100% crop of that image to show how the top-heavy existing light caused shadows under the eyes and the rest of their face:

Here is the image of the bride and groom, using flash:
(I had to reduce exposure by 1/3 stop in post-processing this raw file.)

I bounced flash slightly over my right shoulder to the side and behind me, off the one wall of the church.  I used that black foam thingy that I flag my flash with. I definitely do help myself in using settings that will allow flash to have an effect, even if bounced like that in such a large church.

The flash isn’t a dominant source of light, but is slightly stronger than just being fill-flash.  It just rides on top of the available light, sweetening the light that is there.

And in case you are wondering what the noise looks like at this ISO:
Here is the 100% crop of the first image, using DPP:

and again, using ACR at the basic default settings for noise reduction:



image 05 – all available light

settings: 1/40th @ f5 @ 1250 ISO.

The slow shutter speed was there to have the train streak by.  A stabilized lens helped in giving a sharp image.



image 06 – all available light

1/200th @ f2.5 @ 800 ISO. All available light.

This image was one that was particularly hard to guess right, since there really is not much difference between a huge octadome softbox, or soft indirect light flooding in from a window.  And that background which is a white wall, could equally well have been a white seamless backdrop.

Here is another image from a sequence of this model.



image 07 – flash was used

settings – 1/40th @ f3.5 @ 1600 ISO.

The three flower girls were standing in this lobby where the light is very top-heavy, and I bounced flash behind me off those walls, to help lift the shadow areas.



image 08 – all available light

settings – 1/80th @ f1.6 @ 1000 ISO.

This was also a tough image to guess correctly, since the area was flooded with tungsten lights (although not very powerful.)  Touching up the white balance and contrast and saturation as part of my normal raw workflow, gave a nice punchy image.



image 09 – a touch of fill-flash:

settings: 1/200th @ f2 @ 1000 ISO.  flash exposure compensation at -3 EV.

This is another image that is nearly impossible to guess correctly, since the flash was just a touch of (direct) fill-flash, used as described in this thread – straight on.  As mentioned in that thread, when the flash is very low in power and just helps to lift some shadow detail, it remains mostly imperceptible, even if used straight-on.



image 10 – flash:

settings – 1/60th @ f6.3 @ 500 ISO.  Flash exposure compensation 0 EV.

Where some of the other images were particularly hard to guess, I thought this image was fairly obvious that it was all flash.  Very little available light that registered.  I stood on a chair in front of the bride, and pointed my speedlight at the wall directly behind her, shielding my flash from her.  This was essential in having no flash directly from the camera’s point of view.  In this way, she blocked the light, and cast the flowers and her arms in shadow – all of which are now light by indirectly bounced flash.  This gives form and shape to the image.

Perhaps it is an image that is hard to guess whether flash as used or not, since the effect would’ve been similar if she had sat with her back to a large window in the room.




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{ 13 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Antonio Correia August 4, 2008 at 4:01 am

Congratulations to the winners !


2 David Akesson August 4, 2008 at 6:37 am

Hmmmmm. 4 correct. And I thought I could pick them. I guess I need to save my pennies and fly across for one of your workshops :-)


3 Scott Fillmer August 4, 2008 at 7:29 am

Wow there are some great images there… so many details about each one that are unique and interesting. Great job


4 Jakob Swartz August 4, 2008 at 9:53 am

Thanks for the challenge. It was very educational.



5 Linda Wang August 4, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Wow, I learned a lot from this exercise. Thanks Neil! The knowledge gained is far more valuable than any prize, although a new flash would certainly have been nice :)



6 Alireza August 4, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Although it was damn difficult, but it was really educational! Thank you.


7 Alessandro Rosa August 4, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Got me on 7 and 8! I was almost positive that the Highlight on the grooms head above his ear and on the guilded shell were from some sort of flash. You had me completely fooled on 7 as I thought the light was coming from high and to the right based on the shadows of the plant, the little girl in the center’s neck and fountain all being consistent.

Really enjoyed this test and your explanations. I’d love to see you do more of them, even if they weren’t for prizes. Thank you.


8 Harry Simpson August 5, 2008 at 12:07 pm

7 and 8 were the only ones that tripped me up too.
Great exercise! Thanks


9 JP Lumansoc August 7, 2008 at 1:41 am

crazy haha, I got 6, 8 and 10 wrong. This was very helpful. I might check out your worshop if you are ever in seattle.


10 Vincent August 7, 2008 at 2:16 pm

WOW, I got a lot to learn.


11 andy stenz August 8, 2008 at 3:22 pm

I’m with Vincent- I’ve got a LOT to learn! Thanks for the great lessons Neil!


12 Jimmy Ho August 9, 2008 at 4:16 pm

There is always something to be said about people who share what they know with the world around them. These folks are the ones leading the way, pioneering the path for those of us lucky enough to learn from them. Neil is one of these people, and although I’ve never met him, I feel like I’ve learned so much from him through just reading his blog and his various educational posts.

Neil’s blog has inspired me to look at light in a different way and be experimental in my approach with flash photography. If I hadn’t had read his blog and experimented on my own, I don’t think I would have gotten these answers right.

This was an excellent exercise, Neil. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. You’re an inspiration to me.

-Jimmy Ho


13 Jonas August 11, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Amazing how you can controle the light of an image like that!
I’m just starting out in photography but I’m eager to learn and controle my camera and especially my flashgun to make pictures like the ones on your website. To bad I was on vacation and missed out on this little contest but I live in Belgium so it wouldn’t have mattered anyways. Alltough I did the test just before looking at the results here and ended up with only 8 and 9 being wrong. You’re site has clearly given my more insight in (flash) photography. Big thanks Neil you really are an amazing artist!


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