Lighting a face: a small detail

The title says it. Detail, and attention to it, are what makes you a pro.

Look at this image, from last Friday. The lovely and talented Vanessa Scott, whom I photographed in Timmins, Ontario:

(ISO100, 1/60 sec, f/5. Lit with two flashes, direct, no umbrella. Left flash gridded 1/4 power, right flash unmodified 1/2 power.)

Not bad. But look closely at Vanessa’s face. Closer!

See the two little bright areas next to her mouth? My right-side flash was as little too low, so the shadows are not quite right.

Let’s start up Lightroom and make it better with the Develop module’s healing tool. Two little clicks and I fill those light areas:

Proper Rembrandt lighting. So the whole image now looks like this:

A subtle change, but much better.

And as said, that’s what makes you a good photographer. Attention to detail. When you hire a pro, like me, this is the kind of thinking he or she will engage in to get you the best possible images.

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I have amazing deals for portraits this month. From corporate headshots to family photos: give me a call or send me an email to hear the options.

A New Modifier!

You know how I like the Honlphoto range of small flash modifiers, and I use them all the time. Small, light, sturdy and affordable is a great combination of properties for travelling photographers. Right now David is just outside Mosul in Iraq. This brings back memories: I was in Mosul in 1982 (see me next to Nineveh’s City Gates), and I stayed at the Railway Hotel. Small world.

(Full disclosure: David is a friend of mine: but that is not why I recommend his stuff. The reverse, rather: I like his flash stuff so much that I contacted him and we became friends.)

Broadly speaking, there are three types of small flash modifier:

  • Modifiers that change a flash’s direction, like snoots, grids, gobos.;
  • Modifiers that change the flash’s colour (gels, coloured reflectors);
  • Modifiers that change the nature of the light, usually by softening, such as softboxes, reflectors, and bounce cards.

So you modify where the light goes, in what colour it goes there, and how it goes there. And now there is a new modifier in the latter category.

To place this new modifier, let’s start with the existing ones.

First, we have “no modifier”: aimed straight at the subject from atop the camera. When I use that, I get cold, harsh light. Look at this object in front of a wall:

Then I bounce the flash behind me, up at 45 degrees, to get a much better result:

Much better, but I cannot always do this. The ceiling is sometimes too high, or it is a bright colour, or there are objects in the way that stop the light from my flash from reflecting back; or there simply is no ceiling.

In those cases, I can use a reflector on the back of the flash. The Honl Speedsnoot doubles very nicely as a reflector. While this is not perfect, the shadows are a lot less hard than they would be from direct flash, and the light comes from a higher position.

This solution is not always easy: the reflector takes a little manual dexterity to tie to the speedstrap on the flash, and it can flop down all too easily.

I can also put a hard reflector card (bounce card/gobo) behind the flash. This is hard when there is no bounce at all, but it works very well when combined with ceiling flash:

Next: a great modifier is the softbox. In the next photo, I used a Honlphoto 8″ Traveller8 portable softbox off camera. The shadow is under my control: bring the flash closer and it softens, and the flash’s position determines where the shadow goes. Now that nasty shadow becomes a creative tool under your control.

Another great option is the ring flash. Rather than buying one, you can go with the Orbis ring flash attachment for your speedlights. I will talk more extensively about this in a next post, but for now, just look at the light with its distinctive halo, a halo that shouts “Ring Flash!”:

And if I take it off camera it’s still great:

 

NEW: THE LIGHT PADDLE; A MINI REVIEW

There is an all new small flash modifier to add. Dave just sent me one, a hands-on mini review of which I am hereby delighted to bring to you as a Speedlighter Exclusive… the Honl Photo Light Paddle.

When you take it out of the package, the light paddle is a flat modifier, and in fact the package says “store flat when not in use”:

But attach its Velcro to a speedlight’s Speedstrap, and it becomes a convenient paddle that grabs the light, and nothing more or less, from the f;lash and bounces it forward.:

The Light Paddle is like the reflector, but having used both, I find that the Light Paddle has some big advantages over that and other modifiers.

  • It takes the right shape immediately. No guessing, adjusting, re-adjusting: it is the perfect shape each time.
  • It reflects the optimum amount of light from the flash, i.e. it catches the light, no more and no less, so it takes that worry off my hands.
  • It is sturdy: unlike a “free form” reflector, it holds its shape. I only used this sample for a few days but it looks and feels just as sturdy as the other Honl Photo flash accessories. And as said, light, sturdy and small, when combined with affordable, is a great combination for flash aficionados like me.
  • It has not one, but three bounce surfaces. As you see in the image below: peel off the reflective surface. which is initially CTO (Colour Temperature Orange, i.e. tungsten/warmer light), and you get white; reverse it and you get a lighter slightly warm orange.

Here’s what it looks like with its three bounce surfaces:

I found the Light Paddle to be directional where you would want it to be.

You can use the Light Paddle on an on-camera flash or on an off–camera flash. In either case, I found that it provided a surprising amount of directional control and consistency. Here it is again, and as you see it reflects the flash fully, and makes its surface much larger and higher:

The Light Paddle in Practice

Let’s look at the Light Paddle in practice. Here is a usual operating mode:

First, straight flash, in a situation where there’s no bouncing (and thank you, kind July Intern Daniel H., for your volunteering):

Now in the same no-bounce situation, the Light Paddle:

But it is outside that this really shines. Another before and after:

Another outdoors example, once more with the CTO (warming) side reflector: again, straight flash, then flash with Light Paddle. The difference is very clear.

Based on all this,. the Light Paddle is certainly going to be a staple part of my flash bag for events and creative use. It is not the only flash accessory, but it fills in the gap between bounce card, reflector, and softbox ever so nicely. Thanks, Dave.

If you want one, go  to Honl Photo for orders as soon as it will be available—I am sure that will be soon, both there and at your favourite local retailer.

 

Ring a Ring o’ Roses

I talked about ring flashes recently, if you recall. This time, a few notes about the Orbis Ring Flash—a flash that is not a flash.

It is a flash modifier. An attachment with clever light guides, that makes your speedlight into a ring flash. In order to achieve this, your flash fits into the bottom:

Result: a ring flash. And a remarkably good one, with amazingly even light all around the circle:

This needs you to insert your flash into the unit’s base, then set it off using light- or radio-driven TTL, or some other way. You hold the flash in your left hand, while you hold the camera in your right hand, with the ring around the lens.

And this works remarkably well. See the characteristic halo, and the very recognizable ring flash light, shown by student Tony:

And again, as shown on my intern Daniel:

As said, this device contains incredibly clever engineering. To make it this even, the light paths have to be very cleverly engineered. And they are: whatever I tried, the ring always lit evenly.

From prior experience, I am sure the cheap knockoffs that seem to be around do not work nearly as well.

You can, of course, also use it off camera, rather than around the ring. It also works well when you do that, still providing better light than a straight flash. Like here:

I can see that this device is going to be a fixed part of my flash gadget bag. Thanks to David Honl of Honlphoto.com for sending this to me.

And, um, yeah… it is even good for shooting cats.

…including the donut shaped catch light that tells you immediately that this is a ring flash photo:

And I can tell you that this is a remarkably good device for shooting…

….you guessed it:

…cats! (Canon 7D with 100mm macro lens, f/5.6, 800 ISO, 1/125th, ring flash).

 

Portrait extremes

Within minutes, I made three different pictures today during the class I taught at Sheridan College. I wanted my students to see how simple it was to do various portrait lighting types.

A traditional portrait with key light, fill light, hairlight (“Shampooey Goodness”), and background light looks like this (made with four flashes):

Key light on our right through an umbrella; fill light on our left, two stops lower; hair light behind left, shining forward; and background light bright on the background from behind the subject. to blow out the background completely.

So now the opposite: one with just the key light, off to the right, unmodified except for a grid:

And a hybrid: same settings but I turned on the projector behind the subject with a previous picture. A picture within a picture, as it were:

All these were made at 1/125 sec at f/8, ISO400.

Simple setups can make interesting pictures. What can you do with simple light?

 

About that grid

Once more about the grid, my favourite flash accessory.

This was the setup with my intern Friday:

The subject will be lit with a single flash, on the left side (as seen by us), on a light stand, set to 1/4 power and fired using Pocket Wizard radio triggers.

I want drama., Sine the lamp will not appear in the photo, I do not need to see all that ambient light. so let’s kill the ambient light.

How? How do I make the ambient part go darker? Smaller aperture (=greater “f-number”), or faster shutter, or lower ISO. I used 100 ISO, 1/125th sec, f/8, to get this:

This is not bad: Rembrandt lighting with one flash. But I want the wall to be dark.

Why is it light? Not because of ambient light, Nope, it is simply because the flash throws light al over the place. The wall is lit by the flash.

So then I fitted this Honlphoto 1/8″ grid to the front of the flash (using a Velcro “Speed Strap”, also from Honl photo):

Which gives me this, since the flash is aimed at the wall outside the picture:

Straight out of the camera (“SOOC”), that is a pretty good result, eh? (*)

Remember: lighting a picture starts with no light, and then adding light where you want it. And only where you want it.

 

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Foot notes:

(*)I am Canadian