Light direction

When you use a simple bounced flash, always ask this:

“Where should the light be coming from?”.

And then that is where you point your flash.

So if during a custom workshop at Seneca College I want to light up Seneca student and reader Danny Lee with lighting that compliments a man and provides some modeling, I want light from the side – so I aim my flash behind me to the right:

If, on the other hand, I wanted to light him evenly, which makes the face look flat and featureless (and women like featureless because “featureless” also means “wrinkle-less), I would aim the flash straight behind me:

So today’s lesson: always watch where your flash is aimed, and enusre that that is where you would like the light to be coming from.


More “simple light”.

Here’s student Brittney, in a Seneca College workshop I did the other night:

Again: simple light: one off camera flash.

  • From yesterday’s post you will remember that I first thought about the background, then about the flash. In this case I set my camera (in manual exposure mode of course) to give me a very dark background. I wanted no ambient light.
  • And yes, you can use direct flash. I had a honl photo grid on a 430EX flash, driven by the camera’s 580EX.
  • The 580EX was disabled from contributing to the actual shot: all it did was fire commands.

Another student – and here I added a background light too:

How did I do that?

TIP: always do a “pull-back shot”, where you see your setup.

As you see, here I asked a student to hold the gridded main flash; then I used a second flash with a gel and, to prevent the color from hitting the subject or shining into my camera, a flag (a gobo – “go between objects” – the Honl bounce cards are also gobos/flags.




Who does the work?

First question I always ask myself when taking a flash picture is: “who does the work?”.

What I mean is: is the light in the image just from the flash? Or just from ambient? Or from both?

Clearly :

  • When it is just from flash, the ambient needs to be dark (so I set my exposure for that).
  • When it is mixed, I set the ambient so that is is the right level compared to the flash.
  • In a mixed environment, sometimes I want to turn ambient UP (as in a party indoors), and sometimes DOWN (as in a dramatic portrait).  The principle, however, is always the same: worry about what you need from ambient (from all-dark to bright), then worry about the flash.

And mixing is essential. This is how I look at most of my images:


As you see, in most creative work, I like to mix the two light sources.

If you do not think of this, you will get unpredictable results.

So before hitting that flash, always ask first:

In this picture, do I want to mix light, and if so, what should the ambient light look like?

A simple chiaroscuro portrait or two

In the last few days I took two people’s portraits using just one off camera flash. Here’s Michelle and Adnan, respectively:

How did I take those?

First, I set the camera so that the ambient light looks dark. The room was not dark – it just looked dark to the camera, because I had set the camera up specifically to achieve that. 100 ISO, f/5.6, 1/200th second. You could use any combination of ISO-Apertyure-Shutter that gives the same brightness, but keep in mind:

  • High aperture or low ISOs mean the flash has to work harder, and it may not have enough light
  • The shutter speed cannot achieve 1/200th second; your camera’s fl;ash sync speed.

Then I added the flash. I used an off-camera speedlight on our right. I could have used TTL remote control or pocketwizards: I used TTL in Michelle’s portrait and Pocketwizards in Adnan’s. Light is light! Note that I put a Honlphoto Grid on the fl;ash, else the light would have lit up the background too. The flash (fitted with the grid) was aimed directly at the subject. To get the right exposure, I metered the Pocketwizard-driven flash, and I “flash exposure compensated” the TTL-driven flash.

Then I positioned the subject properly. I wanted the light to hit them just about from their front, with their face turned to get short lighting. I also wanted to see both eyes, even if one is only just visible.

And that was all. A one minute portrait, and a pretty cool one, no?


Portrait reminder

You can use any lens for portrats: from super wide to super long.

But when you are making a headshot, as opposed to an environmental porytrat, the face is large. And in that case you do not want to use a wide lens, like a 24mm lens, or this will happen:

The face is distorted; the nose is too large.

Instead, using a long lens, like a 70-200mm lens – or at least 50mm or more on a crop camera – is more flattering:

The wide-angle lens is good for environmental shots:

Rule of thumb: if the person/face is large in your pic, go long; if the person/face is small, you can go wide.