Daily tip: Power

Flash TIP OF THE DAY:

Say that you are ready to take a TTL flash shot. Once you have set your camera to a certain ISO and aperture and flash exposure compensation, and you have decided how to point the flash, you can do your test shot.

Say it is too dark. Why? Is it “incorrect metering, subject too light, etc”, or is it just “not enough power at this ISO/Aperture” (the shutter makes no difference)?

To ascertain that, and to see how much reserve you have, set your flash to manual, full (1/1) power:

The example shows half power (1/2); you should select full power (1/1, or 100%).

If you now have an overexposed picture, you know you can do the shot. Go back to TTL (press “mode” until “M” changes to “TTL”) and try again, changing flash compensation until your picture is good.

But if instead, your picture is too dark still, then there is simply insufficient power available. So no amount of flash compensation or metering changes will help. Instead, you have to lower the F-number or increase the ISO until that is no longer the case. (Or you could move to a room with a lower ceiling, if you are bouncing the flash).

I.e. if I were to sum this up, I would say:

Never go to TTL unless in full power manual, your picture is overexposed.

Simple, no? But you would be surprised how many photographers struggle with this simple check.

 

“Bracketing”, another meaning.

If you have ever attended a wedding or similar event, you may have seen a photographer with a flash aimed straight forward, but mounted on a bracket like the one here:

That is, a bracket that allows the flash to be mounted far from the camera.

A bracket like this is not as good as bouncing, or as an umbrella, but it can have advantages when those two are not possible: The flash is quite far from the lens, but still above it, to avoid side shadow. And on the bracket pictured, I can mount several flashes:

That makes a difference. In fact, the bracket pictured even allows me to mount an umbrella. At the risk of looking silly, with this bracket I have a way to get pretty good light even outside and anywhere else where bouncing is not an option.

 

This is an excerpt of the Portrait Photography book. Get your free preview chapter here (click to download).

 

 

 

Trick-repeat

I shall now repeat a flash trick I have mentioned here before several times, in 2011 and 2013. Time for another refresher.

You all know how important it is to avoid, at least when the flash is on your camera, direct flash light reaching your subject. Both in order to avoid “flat” light, and especially to avoid those nasty drop shadows, like this (don’t do this at home, kids):

But you have also heard me talk (and those who come to my upcoming flash courses will learn hands-on) that you should “look for the virtual umbrella”. For most lighting, this means 45 degrees above, and in front of, the subject.

So when you are close to that subject, you aim your flash behind you to get to that point. Good.

But what when you are far, as when using a telephoto lens? Then the “virtual umbrella” may be in front of you. And aiming your flash forward is a no-no, since the subject will be lit in part by direct light.

A-ha. Unless you block the direct part of that light!

Like this:

As you see, I use a Honl Photo bounce card/gobo to block the direct light. Simple, affordable, and very effective. I use either the white bounce side, or the black flag side, depending on the ceiling and position.

Simple, effective – done!

And one more thing. Direct flash is not bad per sé. Not at all. As long as it is not coming from where your lens is, it can be very effective, like in this “funny face” shot of a recent student (you know who you are):

Lit by a direct, unmodified flash. And the hairlight, the shampooy goodness? Yeah. The sun. Just saying.

 

 

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?