Flash Photography

Set-up a Portrait Studio Almost Anywhere

I'm just back from my weekend workshop organized by Amy Davies, who heads up Photography Events by Amy in Plymouth, MA. Great fun as always, and I can't wait for our 2013 workshop.

Day two was about speedlites. My goal was to illustrate that you can set up a portrait studio almost anywhere - and get cool results - with two speedlites and a few inexpensive accessories.

Our "studio" for the shoot was the hallway of an office building in Plymouth. Above is a behind-the-scenes shot.

The main light was positioned above and in front of the model, and to camera right. A grid was placed over the speedlite to focus the light. The speedlite was aimed at the model.

The background light was positioned to camera left and slightly behind the model. It was aimed at the background. A blue gel was placed over the speedlite, which was fired through a cardboard cutout.

Both speedlites were set at TTL. The main speedlight was set to 0 EV, and the background speedlite was set to – 2 EV, so as not to blast the background with light.

Both speedlites were fired via a radio transmitter/receiver set. My camera was set on the Manual exposure mode.

I demonstrate this and other speedlite set-ups on some of my workshops and at my seminars. I hope to see you there.

Gear for this shoot:
Canon 5D Mark III.
Canon 24-105mm IS lens.
Canon Speedlite 580EX II (two), which has been replaced with 600EX- RT.
Phottix TTL wireless transmitter/receiver - transmitter on camera, receiver on each speedlite.
Two stands from Westcott Apollo softbox kit.
Honl gel kit.
Honl grid.
Honl speed strap (for attaching grids and gels to speedlite)
Hand-made and expertly crafted cardboard cutout :-)

Explore the light,

P.S. Learn more about light in my latest Kelby Training class - Light, the main element in every photograph. My apps also include lighting tips.

Don't Ruin the Mood of Your Picture with a Flash

If you watch Jersey Shore, you know all about Pauly D and his hair.

Well, last night my son did the Pauly D: hair, t-shirt and tattoos. Good fun.

As long as I had a good model on hand, I thought I'd take two shots to illustrate a photography philosophy: Don't let an on-camera flash ruin a shot.

The picture on the left is a natural light shot. The picture on the right is an on-camera flash shot.

In this situation (sorry The Situation), the flash obviously ruined the mood and feeling of the moment. What's more, the flash created a harsh, unnatural shadow.

Sure, I could have simulated the available light effect had I used a flash in a soft box. Or, I could have set the camera to manual and balanced the light from the flash to the available light – for a much more natural-looking picture. Here, I just wanted to illustrate a basic technique.

I also wanted to illustrate another point: don't be afraid to boost your ISO in low-light situations – even with a mid-range digital SLR. One of the more recent advancements in SLRs is that you get less noise at high ISO settings. I took these pictures with my Canon 7D with the ISO set to 1600.

If a picture does have some noise, don't worry. That noise may actually add to the mood of the scene.

Explore the light,

P.S. A flash is still my #1 recommended accessory. Master your flash, and you'll get natural looking flash pictures. Here's a link to an older post on making flash pictures look natural.

Sunday's Speedlite Session - Control Subject and Background Brightness Independently

Compare these two pictures of a monkey that I took in Gibraltar. One is an available light shot and the other is a daylight fill-in flash shot – the one that clearly shows the monkey’s face.

Here’s one technique for reaching that goal when you are photographing animals (at relatively close distances) and people outdoors.

First, you’ll need a flash with variable flash output control, that is, +/- exposure control – or a camera that lets you control the flash output from within the camera. Mount the flash on your camera (better yet on a bracket or off camera), but don’t turn it on yet.

Set your camera to the Manual exposure mode.

In the Manual mode, set the exposure for the existing lighting conditions, a.k.a. ambient light.

Turn on your flash and make an exposure with the flash set at – 1 1/3. If the picture on the camera’s LCD monitor looks too much like a flash shot, reduce the flash output to – 1 1/2. If it’s still too “flashy,” continue to reduce the flash until you are pleased with the results.

This techniques works because even in the Manual mode, the flash operates in the TTL (through the lens) automatic flash metering mode.

Some digital SLRs and flash units help the flash metering system determine the main subject’s distance, while others let you lock the flash exposure on the subject, while still others measure the ambient light and take that into consideration – helping you to get a great outdoor flash shot automatically.

Still, I suggest you master this manual technique if you are serious about your photography. When you do, you can control the brightness of the subject independently (with the flash output control) from the background (with the shutter speed).

Hey! They don't call me Rick "Speedlite" Sammon for nothing! I never leave home without one!

6.7.09 Sunday Speedlite Session: Big Light from Small Flashes

This week's tip comes from my pal Scott Bourne, the cool dude with whom I co-host the Photofocus podcast, and who heads up the Photofocus website (as well as doing about a million other things).

Beam us up (as in "give us some tips on using the beam of our flashes") Scottie.

Here's How to Make Your Small Flash Act Like a Big Strobe
Scott Bourne

Small speedlights are very cool little inventions. They give us the ability to bring light to every situation regardless of "natural" conditions. But the small size of the average portable flash is both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that these little babies are very portable. The curse is that being small; they tend to emit rather harsh light. So how can we fix that?

Simple. Get closer and get bigger. I know, I know - you think that's crazy. While it may be counter intuitive, it's true. The closer the light is - the softer it is. The bigger the light is - the softer it is. (Don't confuse brightness and softness.)

So getting closer is easy. How do we get the small strobe to act like a big light? There are lots of ways to accomplish this. One would be to use something like the Rick Sammon Tote from Westcott. Pumping the flash at the reflector makes the size of the reflector the size of the light. This is many, many times larger than the flash head so it softens the light.

Another great accessory is the Westcott Mini-Apollo. This accessory turns your small flash into a decent-sized soft box.

I took the photograph of the little girl on the left. Rick took the other two pictures.

The behind-the-scenes photo shows two flashes aimed at two reflectors; the light in the background is a hair light. The end-result photo on the right was taken with that set up - with another reflector added below the model's chin to fill in some of the shadows.

So the message of this post: Test this yourself. Get closer to the subject and make the light bigger. You'll make pictures with softer light every time.

If you have any flash questions (or any photo questions for that matter), post it on twitter: twitter/ricksammon or twitter/scottbourne
Rick here . . .
Check out the new PocketWizards for effortless/foolproof off-camera flash photography. Note: the wireless transmitter circled in my picture is the Canon ST-E2 wireless transmitter.

Scott and I are tossing around the idea of doing some flash workshops around the country. Let us know if you are interested. Tell is on twitter.