The difference is…

Question: What is the difference between two photos? Why?

Hint: I used a 16mm lens.

Answer:

Can you see that the flash is concentrated in a small circle in photo 1?

Well… you know that when you zoom, or change lenses, the flash changes its zoom, right?  But the widest zoom is 24mm, and I shot at 16mm. That is the top picture. The zoom circle is too small for the picture.

In the bottom picture, I pulled out the plastic “wide angle adapter”, the transparent plastic square you can pull out to cover the front (not the white sheet). This is not a softener; it is merely the 14mm adapter”. The zoom device for wider than 24mm. It makes the beam wider, see picture 2.

That’s all: when you zoom wider than 24mm, pull out the wide angle adapter.


Be analytical

When solving problems, it helps if you are analytical. As in:

A f;lash photo is, at least in principle, always a combination of an ambient light photo (unless you are in a coal mine a kilometre underground), and a flash photo. They are both affected by aperture and ISO, and the ambient photo is affected by shutter speed also, while the flash photo is affected by flash power also.

Simple, but extremely powerful. With this knowledge, you can start by perfecting the ambient photo, then add the flash photo: and it works every time.

Now preparing for my evening Sheridan College class. Can you tell?

 

 

Shadow avoidance

One reason we bounce our flash off the ceiling (behind us) is to avoid those nasty drop shadows, especially the side shadows.

But what if we can’t? If there is no ceiling, perhaps. Or that ceiling is bright red. Or it does not reflect enough light, because it is pitch black. or it is a very high ceiling. What then?

Then we can use many other means, like reflectors. Or off camera flash, with modifiers. Or a ring flash. Or we simply ask the subject to move to where it is possible (d’oh!).

There is one more option, one I have not discussed before: we use a bracket to move the flash away from the camera and keep it above. Like this Cameron V-H Flip bracket (marketed under various names):

It has some pretty good features:

  • It moves the flashes away from the camera, see the extending pole. Up to 28″ above, and this means that there will be less shadow and no red-eye.
  • It keeps the flash(es) directly above the lens, so any remaining shadows will not be side shadows.
  • It can fit two or even three flashes.
  • It swivels, to keep the flash where it is while the camera turns 90 degrees (but note, it turns the wrong way, which is awkward. I would not want to use this bracket for a lot of vertical shots).
  • And unexpectedly, this bracket can use a small umbrella. You’ll look funny, but oh boy, the light you will get!

While bouncing, or off-camera flash with modifiers, is generally still better, this solution can work well:

Best of all, it can hold two (or even three) flashes:

Now we get extra light, plus the light from one flash can almost eliminate the shadow from the other.

That doesn’t look like a “direct flash:” photo, does it? And beauty pictures, with a small modifier, seem another obvious candidate (“butterfly lighting”).

The moral of today’s post: There are many ways to use flash, and there are many ways to use it well. A bracket is one of those ways. Not the be-all and end-all of flash; just one more cool tool that can sometimes lead to fabulous pictures.

 

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Footnote: Have you considered really learning flash? Worth every hour—and dollar—that you invest in it. See learning.photography for a good option. And don’t forget to order the flash manual now. You’ll know the secrets the great pros know; and more importantly, you’ll be able to use them.

 

Manual or TTL?

When making flash pictures, your camera will be on manual mode—I hope so, anyway. It’s the way to go. This means you set ISO, aperture and shutter yourself.

But your flash does not need to be on manual. That is to say, flash power can still be metered and be adjusted by the camera, automatically. We call this “TTL” (Through The Lens metering). And TTL can work even when the camera itself is on manual.

When your flash is in TTL mode, the back looks something like this:

You see TTL, ETTL, TTL-BL, i.e. something containing the letters TTL. This means the flash power is adjusted automatically by the camera. If you are close to something, the flash will fire at low power; if you are far away, a high power flash will be emitted. Magic!

The alternative is that you set the flash power. Manual flash, in other words. Press the MODE button on the back of the flash and set it to Manual:

In the photo above, the flash is set to half power (1/2). It could also be set to full power (100%, or 1/1), or to quarter power (1/4), or one eight power (1/8), one sixteenth (1/16), and so on; or to some level in between.

Try this now. Set your camera to manual mode, 1/40 second, 400 ISO, f/4. Now turn on your flash and set it to manual, and set it to 1/64 power. Using the viewfinder, take a photo. Check the photo: You will probably be hard pressed to see the flash, especially if your subject is far away.

Now set it to full power (1/1, or 100%). Do the same again. Whew, probably a grossly overexposed picture!

But you probably noticed something else. You did not see the flash through the viewfinder. “Did it work?”, you may well have asked. That is because when the flash is on manual, it fires just once, at the power level you set. You do not get the metering pre-flash that it uses when set to TTL mode (a flash at 1/32 power that is used to determine the needed power level). And that preflash is the one you can see through the viewfinder. The actual flash you cannot see!

Now, an exercise.

  1. Find an object to photograph. With the camera set as before, and the flash on MANUAL, find the correct power level for a good picture. Aim the flash straight ahead for this exercise.
  2. Now move 40% farther from the object. E.g. if your original distance was one metre, make it 1.4 metres. Or if you were 4 feet away, make it 5 feet 7 inches (that is 40% farther than 4 feet).
  3. Now find the correct power level for this picture. How much more power did you need? And (an advanced question for mathematicians): why? (Hint: it’s actually 41.4% farther).

Have fun.

 

Connecting Your Flash

When you use an off-camera flash, you somehow have to connect that flash to your camera.

How?

You could use an old-fashioned cable, of course. But cables are a bit of a pain: they have people fall, or drag cameras to the floor, their connector reliability is less than stellar, and they are hard to get. But fortunately, there is good news: there are a few other practical ways to connect your flash or flashes to your camera.

Let’s look at all possible ways to connect:

  1. Using a cable from camera to flash. As said, not a terribly good idea.
  2. Using optical remote operation; using the “TTL”-system built into the flash. This works well, but only if there is line of sight, or a reflected light path, between camera and all remote flashes.
  3. The same, but using radio; the system is built into the flash (currently, Canon 600EX only).
  4. Operation using “TTL” (full function) radio triggers (e.g. Pocketwizard Flex, Yongnuo 622).
  5. Operation using “Simple” (restricted function) radio triggers (e.g. the “old” Pocketwizards, Yongnuo 603) and a special cable from Pocketwizard to flash.

This short article is about the question “4 or 5?”. i.e. you have decided to use wireless triggers, like Pocketwizards, and now the question is :”which ones: triggers that give you full TTL control or just simple ones that do not support TTL, i.e. that need you to set flash power manually.”

In this case, I argue for 5.

Why? Why not use TTL control?

  1. When doing pro shoots with Off-Camera Flash (OCF) you are more likely to use manual flash settings than TTL anyway, so the additional benefit of TTL is minor, and needs to be offset against the following drawbacks.
  2. Triggers that support TTL (Through The Lens metering) need to be reverse engineered, since the protocols are proprietary. Reverse engineering always carries the risk that it will not always work properly under all circumstances, now or in the future. (The history of the TTL Pocketwizards proves this.)
  3. TTL triggers need to use all the contacts on the flash, as opposed to the single contact a simple manual system needs (ground plus one signal lead). And again, extra stuff means extra complexity, which carries with it the risk of malfunction.
  4. TTL triggers need to send actual data. Non-TTL triggers merely turn a switch, as it were; a signal lead without binary data. As before: complexity…
  5. TTL triggers are brand-specific (you cannot use a Nikon Flex on a Canon camera, for instance). So if you have a problem you cannot just reach out and borrow one from a colleague. You need to stick with Nikon- or Canon-versions of your triggers.
  6. Because of their complexity, TTL triggers need firmware updates. One more thing to worry about: life is complicated enough already, in my opinion.
  7. TTL triggers need you to use a flash made by your camera maker. Non-TTL systems have a huge advantage here, namely that your flashes can be any make, any age, any brand: as long as you can set the power level, the flash will work.
  8. Many TTL triggers use small batteries, while Pocketwizard non-TTL triggers use two AA batteries. If there is anything sure in life it is death, taxes, and AA batteries.

And that is why I prefer non-TTL triggers.

It is rare that a post has me falling asleep while I am writing it. But it is 2:46AM: time to get some sleep. More tomorrow.

Michael