Light and dark

Ciaoscuro is all about the play between dark and light.

Take this student at Vistek, the other day. Lit from where the camera is, you get this:

Fine, I suppose… competently lit, just barely.. but is that creative? Not really.

Now, lit from the side, with a simple flash with a grid on it, no other modifier, we get this, instead:

I think you will agree that’s a lot better, and for several reasons. One is that there is less stuff. Only what’s important is lit: the rest is simply not lit at all. Second is that the face is now shaped (modeled) by the light. Third is that what is important is lit; what isn’t is simply not lit. Light direction as well as distribution and quantity are now totally under your control.

(Note that the grid is essential: without it, the flash light would spill onto the walls and ceiling and floor and from there to the rest of the room: no black room)

What I used? A 5Diii with a 600EX flash on the camera set to be master (but not to fire itself); and a 430EXii slave flash on our left. that’s all. “Studio setting” (1/125, 200 ISO, f/8) ensures that the ambient light is black.

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Only one spot left on my Mastering Flash course this Saturday, 1—4:30pm in Oakville. Let me know soon if you want it. http://learning.photography/collections/training-300-advanced/products/flash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setup for outdoors flash pics.

A student just asked me:

When you were at the London Camera Club, you had your usual stand/flash holder/umbrella combo on display. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit me to ask about it. Would you mind mentioning what brands the components are – I would like to have a similar set up for my Speedlight.

I use the following setup:

So that is:

  1. A Light stand. Any brand is OK if it is sturdy enough.
  2. A mount that sits on top of the light stand and swivels. The flash sits on top of this mount. My mount is a Manfrotto,
  3. A pocketwizard receiver. I use the simple Pocketwizard PlusX: $180 for two of them.
  4. A cable between the Pocketwizard and the flash hotshoe. This cable sits on top of the mount, and the flash on top of it.
  5. An umbrella that goes through the mount (you can see the hole in the photo). This should be an umbrella with a removable cover, so you can shoot into the umbrella as well as through the umbrella.

Because this is non-TTL, the flash can be any flash. Any make, and type, as long as it has a manual power level setting and you can disable any timeouts (otherwise it turns off every minute or two).

To a large extent, these are commodity items. There are many brands. Nikon has a kit of mount plus stand plus umbrella for just over $100, for instance, but anything that looks sturdy enough will do fine.

As for radio triggers, I use Pocketwizards because they are the industry standard and rugged, and they use AA batteries; but any other non-TTL trigger will work just as well.

The setup above serves me well: it is what I use for up to 90% of my outside pictures.

Like this scene, the way it looks to my eyes:

And here comes rescue, a.k.a. me and my umbrella:

…which results in:

And the lovely Vanessa from Timmins has a sense of humour:

The good news: this type of dramatic lighting is simple, once you know how!

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Want to learn how to do this? I have a couple of spots open on my “Mastering Flash” workshop in Oakville this Sat 23 May, 1pm—4:30pm. This is a very small workshop: 3-6 people maximum. If you are interested, email me: michael@mvwphoto.com. You can book on http://learning.photography.

 

Flash and what you want.

Your background is what you want, not what it is.

Huh?

Take this example. My room looks like this, right now.

(0.5 sec, f/8, 200 ISO).

But when I set my camera to 1/250 sec, f/8, 200ISO, I get:

Dark. Even the TV is almost entirely dark.

Why? Because that is what I want. I do not care that the room is pretty well lit; I want it to be dark. So what do I do? High f-number, fast shutter, low ISO. And that gives me not what there is, but what I want.

And when I crop that, decrease saturation, and increase clarity, then I have a low-key portrait.

…which is of course what I wanted all along.

Note that I use two flashes to light me. They are set to manual at 1/4 power, my standard flash setting. I also have a grid mounted on each flash (a Honlphoto grid). These stop the light from spreading through the room. If it did, the room would be visible.

You can have serious fun with one or two flashes and a few radio triggers, and this is how. Make ambient go away , then use flash to light where you want the photo to be lit.

 

Direct Flash: Can It Be Used?

Unmodified flash? Without umbrella, softbox, or bounce? Can I use that and still get good results?

In a word: yes. You do not always need flash to be modified.

For instance, you may intend the look. One single, unmodified flash can give you a hard look, and that may be exactly what you are after, like in this high contrast B/W self portrait:

So sometimes you can use it to deliberately accentuate the hard look of a photo. So this is the intentional hard look.

At other times, you are mixing in ambient light to take away some or all of the hardness. That, in other words, is the minimized hard look. One way to do this is to use another flash; another way is to mix in ambient light, like here:

That was made with one flash; see it on the right here:

The key in all examples here is that the flash may be direct, i.e. unmodified; but it is not where the camera is. In other words, it is off-camera flash (OCF).

Whenever you want to try a new look or technique, my advice: yes, try it and see. You may be surprised by the results.

x100: Can you see a theme?

Regular readers will see that the last few days, I have been shooting with, and talking about, the Fujicolor x100 camera that I carry:

Fuji X100 (Photo: Michael Willems)

The theme has been: given the right light (e.g. flash!) and the right techniques, you can take professional pictures with it that are as good as those taken with an SLR. This is almost straight out of camera (a crop and a few dust spots removed):

Now while I am not recommending product shoots with the x100, this goes to show it can be as good as an SLR.

But now let’s take it a step farther. It can be better.

Yes, better. And here’s how:

I just took that picture at 200 ISO, f/8, 1/1000 sec. That makes for that nice, dark sky.

Wait. Did he just say 1/1000 sec, one thousandth of a second? That is impossible since the flash sync speed of 1/250 second limits the shutter speed you can set the camera to when using a flash. Right??

Wrong. The x100 has a leaf shutter. And it allows flash up to 1/1000 second. And as said, that is why that sky is so wonderfully dark. It is in fact noon and it looks bright to my eyes. But 1/1000 sec makes it dark. Two stops darker than my other cameras could have done!

But he could have done that with aperture, with a higher f-number. Or with an ND filter.

Nope. If I had, I would have run out of flash power. The flash needs to get through that filter, or through  that small aperture, and it is not bright enough at higher apertures, especially when a modifier is being used.

So the x100 may be small, but it can do things my $8,000 1Dx cannot do. Just saying!