Turn turn turn

Another reminder to those of you who do outside portraits: turn your subjects away from the sun. Like this, I photo I made yesterday of Oakville’ mayor Rob Burton and friends:

The advantages:

  1. The nice shadows coming towards you.
  2. The sun becomes the hair/edge light.
  3. The subjects do not squint.
  4. The light on my subjects’ faces is not harsh like sunlight.

Of course this needs a… flash. To light up their faces. I used a Bowens 400 Ws studio flash, powered by a Bowens “Travel Kit” battery.

Camera settings: 100 ISO, 1/250th, f/7.1. Flash set to 4 (out of 5), bounced into an umbrella.

And that is that. Simple.



I asked a photographer about studio the other day. She said we needed 1/200th sec, to freeze motion. After all, you cannot shoot moving things at, say, 1/40 second. Right?

Wrong. And right.

That is: if you use only flash (i.e. your settings make ambient light go away) then you effective shutter speed is the speed of the flash—which is 1/1000 sec or faster.

So this shot was taken at 1/40 sec while the subject waved her hand quickly:

What you see is:

  1. The hand is substantially sharp: that is the flash part of the exposure.
  2. There is some “ghosting”: that is the ambient part.

If we had gone to a smaller aperture, say f/11, that part (2), the ghosting, would have disappeared. Even if I had shot at 1/10 second.

This is ONE reason that flash gfives you sharp images: it “freezes” everything.


What’s with the long lens?

So when I shoot portraits, my favourite lens, if I can use it, is the 70-200.

Why “if I can use it”?

Because it is long. That means I need a large studio to stand back a lot. And not every studio is large. In all probability, your kitchen isn’t large, and I bet you do portraits there sometimes.

OK… but why would I want that long lens in the first place?

Because then I get very little distortion. Here’s a student, a few years ago on an Oakville Photo Walk, from far away, with the 70-200mm lens:

That’s what he looked like.

But now let’s get closer. And closer. So we zoom out. Closer still. Wide angle. Closer still. Now we have a very wide angle lens (16-35), and we are very close:

Can you see that’s a very different (and distorted) person?

Sometimes, in an environmental portrait, you may want to get close to the second picture—though never that close, distortion is out. But generally speaking, if it’s a headshot, you want accuracy, and the farther back you stand, the more accurate the representation of the person is.

There is a second advantage to being far away: you are not “in their face”. That means you are not perceived as threatening and something to fear. Which in turn means your subject will relax more. Basic psychology.

Practice: 50mm (on a full frame) is the minimum for half body shots; 85mm (ditto) is the minimum for headshots; longer is better for neutral, accurate portraits.

Lesson learned: If you go wide, stand back. Because of course it’s not the lens that does this magic: it’s how far away you stand. The lens just facilitates that.


The method

More and more, I am honing my flash teaching into a well-defined method. It comprises theory and practice, including:

  1. Basic theory
  2. Tech: Tools
  3. Tech: Modifiers
  4. The Epiphany…Turn Your Thinking Around: Balance
  5. The Four Flash Lighting Types
  6. The Three Starting Points: outdoors, indoors/party and studio
  7. Learning Bouncing
  8. Flash or strobes?
  9. Off-camera flash
  10. Learning The Limitations
  11. Getting Creative, Post-work, and minimizing the latter
  12. Troubleshooting

The emphasis is on obtaining a Quick Start.

Today, a quick tip.

Namely: Conceptually and in practice, split your photo into background/ambient and flash: two different shots, and treat them as such!

Here’s background: a very talented photographer I had the honour of teaching a few days ago. or rather.. the background behind her.

Aim for minus 2 stops (—2 on the meter).

Now add flash,. so we get background plus Flash:

There you go. And that is direct flash, hand-held, but off camera.

This is how it works. Not complicated, and in my courses and books (see http://learning.photography) you get the practical start points (f-this, ISO-that, etc) that allow you to get this right off the bat 90% of the time. Learn this stuff: it is such a nice experience to be able to light things predictably, and well!

Back to writing the “Portraits” book.