Take direction.

I took a few photos today of talented photographer Lisa Mininni, to demonstrate flash direction to her when bouncing; and I thought I would share them with you here.

I often see people, even pros, walk into parties bouncing their flash straight up, at 180 degrees. Here:

Not good: dark eyes. Because of the straight-up bounce, the light comes from straight above. So the eye sockets fill with, well, with darkness.

Next, I see people all the time with their flashes aimed 45 degrees up, forward.

What’s happening here is that the light lights up the subject’s forehead, and the ceiling above and behind them. As we go down, it progressively lights less.

Now, we use a reflector. I have seen those in use many times before. I get:

Not bad. But.. a little harsh. The light could be better.

And when I see “better”, I mean bouncing 45 degrees behind me. Provided there is a roof, cekling, wall, somwethign to bounce back light, you can do this. Even with high ceilings, as in the studio I made these in, where I would estimate they were at least 13 ft high:

Perfect. To really see the difference, view them large and download to your computer.

Now, keep in mind:

  • 45 degrees behind is merely a starting point. And a good one. But the real way to do it is to start with the subject’s face. From there, mentally draw a dotted line to “where the umbrella would be” if you were in a studio. Now continue that line, and where it hits a wall or ceiling, that’s where you aim.
  • What I am talking about here works—usually. But each situation is unique, so “never say never”. Sometimes, “straight up” or “forward” are the way to go.
  • I am mixing with ambient light. A good starting point for that, as regular readers know, is the “Willems 400-40-4 rule”: 400 ISO, 1/40 sec, f/4.
  • Watch your power. If the ceilings are too high, or if you need to use a small aperture like f/8, you may have to go to higher ISO values.

Using a flash is easy once you know how. Learn, and see how amazing the options are that are now open to you.

 


TIP: My courses and books will help: see http://learning.photography—special Christmas pricing applies. Joining the Facebook Speedlighters Forum on https://www.facebook.com/groups/SpeedlightersForum/ will also help: many people will help you learn.

 

Always look on the bright side

When lighting skin, there’s one rule I go by: I light it brightly.

This student on my college course looks great and pretty:

But look what happens when I light her up 1.66 extra stops:

Her skin looks even better.

So when I use flash, I expose 1-2 stops over normal, by using flash exposure compensation when using TTL flash, or by increasing flash power, or by simply exposing more when using available light. You will see a lot of high-key images in my work:

Those are from a shoot I did today. One on camera flash, manual, 1/4 power, camera on 400 ISO, 1/125 sec, f/5. And one flash on my left, set at 1/32 power, aimed direct at the subject through a 1/4″ Honl photo grid.

Can you seen the effect of the individual flashes, and of exposing so brightly?

 

Evolution of a shot

How do we set up a shot with both ambient and flash light? Let’s look at one.

Let’s start like this:

That’s the studio setting: 1/125 sec, f/8, 200 ISO. Ambient light plays no role. That is the definition of the studio settings.

Is that what we want here? I would say no. We want to see the lamp!

So now, let’s mix in ambient light, shall we? We aim for –2 stops on the light meter. Here’s 400-40-4, which gets me very close:

That’s 400-40-4 (i.e. 400 ISO, 1/40 sec, f/4): the “party setting”.

Much better, if we want that mix.

Now let’s open that curtain and take a look. Fortunately., the outside light and the lamp are in the same range, so I can set my camera for either of those. 400-40-4 will do it. If I had to choose, I would choose based on the lamp, the most important element.

Because I want no light spill from the flash into the rest of the room, I do not use an umbrella. Instead, I use a small Honl photo Traveller 8 softbox, held close to the subject. Here’s student Arsheen setting it up:

That gives me the final shots:

That mix of warm and flash light: beautiful. But that’s my taste: you can do your own, develop your own style. And that is what flash is all about.

 

High speed flash.

High Speed Flash. Also known as High Speed Sync, or HSS, or “Auto FP” flash. Your camera/speedlight combination probably has it. Let me explain what it is, why it’s good, and why it’s nevertheless seldom useful.

First, the term “High Speed” is a misnomer, since it is actually slow speed flash. Let me explain.

Normally, a flash lasts 1/1000 sec or less. At 1/32 power, it’s only about 1/30,000 second. Very, very fast.

But there’s a problem: the shutter cannot keep up. You see, the shutter needs to be fully open for that quick flash to be able to illuminate the whole sensor, but at speeds above 1/250 second, the camera makers use a trick to get faster shutter speeds: instead of opening fully, an ever narrowing slit of light travels down the sensor, so the shutter is never actually fully open.If you try to use flash, only part of your picture will be illuminated.

But there is a trick: HSS, or “Auto FP” flash. When using HSS, instead of flashing once, the flash goes FlashFlashFlashFlashFlashFlashFlashFlash very rapidly (at a rate of 30,000 times a second).  This makes it into what is effectively a continuous light. As the narrow shutter slit travels down, the FlashFlashFlash keeps going on and hence the flash illuminates the sensor gradually.

So, set your camera (Nikon: camera menu, select “Auto FP” flash sync) or flash (Canon: set flash to HSS symbol) to high speed and you are set to go. You can now use any shutter speed, up to whatever. 1/4000? Sure. Go for it.

The problem? HSS loses most of your power (you are illuminating the closed part of the shutter, after all), so your flash range is reduced. At 400 ISO and f/8, my flash has the following maximum range:

  • 1/30 sec:     9m
  • 1/60 sec:     9m
  • 1/125 sec:   9m
  • 1/250 sec:   9m
  • 1/500 sec:   3m
  • 1/1000 sec: 2m
  • 1/2000 sec: 1.5m
  • 1/4000 sec: 1m
  • 1/8000 sec: 0.7

So up to 1/250, varying the shutter speed, as you would expect, has no effect. But then HSS kicks in, and the range starts to drop dramatically. At 1/8000 sec, my flash, at full power, only reaches 70cm (about 2 ft). And if you are using a modifier, like an umbrella, forget that: you would be lucky to get a few inches.

So while HSS is a great idea, it is not very useful in most practical situations. Because you are most likely to need to need it when it is bright outside, but that’s also when you need most power and cannot afford to lose any. Catch-22, since HSS steals from Peter to pay Paul. Now you know.

Math buff note: can you see any math logic in the numbers above? Yes, every stop faster shutter speed loses you the square root of 2 (roughly 1.4)  in available range. So, two stops faster shutter means half the range.

 

Lighting schemes

A short note today. About portrait lighting.

There are many lighting schemes photographers know. One of them, as you know, is split lighting:

Split lighting means that you light exactly half the face.

Let me take away a misconception: It has nothing to do with where you shoot it from: this is short lighting; if I shot the subject from his other side, it would be broad lighting.

More on all the lighting schemes in my upcoming book “Powerful Portrait Photography”… stand by for an announcement!