(To the tune of “Ghostbusters”).

Often, my posts point out common myths and misconceptions. Of which there are many… many. On the Internet, no-one knows that you’re a dog, and no-one knows that you are wrong.

So, two oft-heard “truths”:

  1. You cannot shoot with TTL if you are a pro.
  2. You cannot use just one light for a serious portrait.

So. TTL was used in this portrait of students and friend Diana; remote TTL in fact (light flashes from on camera flash drives off camera flash); and the light was one flash through an umbrella. The on camera flash was disabled, except for those light flashes.

1/125 sec, f/8, ISO100.

The curtain was chosen as a classy background, but the umbrella was close to the subject so the curtain would get little light. TTL handles this fine; if the subject had been too light or too dark, a touch of flash compensation would have sorted that out.

The one light-with-umbrella gives us enough light for a portrait with Rembrandt lighting. Fairly dramatic chiaroscuro-type lighting, but not so dramatic that it becomes unflattering. On the contrary, this is nice light.

The blonde hair stands out nicely against the dark background; dark hair would have needed more light.

So there, a real portrait with “studio settings”, i.e. just one light, and using TTL. I could do that all night.


Through The Eye Of A Woman

OK, maybe that title is a little silly. But it IS through the eye of a woman that I shone my flash

And here, lit from the back:

Macro lens, 1/80 sec, f/16, 100 ISO, hand held.

The flash was shining from the back. This can give you pretty weird effects:

My eye here looks light green, while in fact it is light blue. Back lighting can do that.

But go back to the first shot. See that? Look carefully. A little white point, in the centre of the pupil,next to the actual catch light.

This is mysterious, because I was using an off-camera flash. The on-camera flash only sends “morse code”, as it were, to the other flashes, before the shot is made.

And yet, that pin light is from the on camera flash.

Simple, actually: it is its afterglow. The flash is off, but it takes a fraction of a second to completely go out, and it is during that fraction of a second that the shot is made. Here, the proof:

See, the main flash on our left, bounced against the wall; and me and the camera including its popup flash afterglow in the centre:

And that is why you get a little pin of extra catchlight in some wireless TTL photos, even though your on camera flash is turned off.

(Thanks to Becky for the loan of an eye!)


Amateur Aesthetic

Today, another example of the “Amateur Aesthetic” or “Snapshot Aesthetic”made popular by such contemporary photographers as Terry Richardson, after Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin, two of my favourites.

Here’s mine, a high-key model shot:

We call it amateur, or snapshot, because you use a flash straight on, and aim at the subject, and have the subject stand in front of a white backdrop, camera aware. Like Uncle Fred does. This gives you the drop shadow. It also, however, gives you very flattening light, and models like this: it hides any facial features. Overexposing a little, or rather, exposing brightly, makes it even better in that regard.

Unlike your Uncle Fred, my models and I think carefully about composition, light, and expression and pose. The direct flash means you need to aim the subject’s face down a little, else light comes “from below”, which is never flattering.

So nothing is left to accident, in spite of the amateur look.

For this shot, I used 1/160th sec, 400 ISO, f/5.6 and an on-camera 600EX flash. The flash compensation, like in the examples of a few days ago, was set to +2 stops, and I used TTL flash metering for flexibility.

Your assignment for today: shoot a portrait like this. I am about to teach a TTL flash course, and my student will do this as well. In addition to “proper” flash, you need to know techniques like this as just another tool in your toolbox.


Friday the 13th. not a bad day so far. I am shooting an event tonight; first, some more writing (the Travel Photography book: I am making good progress and I trust I will have it finished before Xmas), and some admin.

A quick note, today, about TTL flash. You can of course set up a studio setup with manual flash, and when you have time, you do that. But when you do not have time, use TTL for off camera flash. Remember:

  • Use flash exposure compensation when needed (when the camera decides to over- or under-expose the shot).
  • Avoid reflections.
  • Meter off something mid grey.
  • Disable your on camera flash (so that it sends commands, nothing more).
  • If you have two flashes, set them to “A” and “B”.

Now set ratios between groups (Canon) or adjust groups to taste one by one, by stops (Nikon).

I had two flashes here: main flash A on the left; hairlight B on the right.

A:B = 1:1 (Canon) or A and B both set to 0 FEC (Nikon):

A:B 8:1 (Canon) or B -3 stops FEC (Nikon)

A:B 1:8, or A -3 stops FEC (Nikon):

Although the way of setting them differs a little (ratios vs per-group adjustments), the end result is the same. And the benefit of using TTL for this is that it is very fast. TTL with some knowledge and some adjustments when needed, and Bob’s your uncle. Try it, if you have several flashes.



Flash or fake flash?

You know that on many cameras, like the Canon 7D or the Nikon D90, you can use your camera’s pop-up flash to drive other flashes. Or you can use an on-camera “master/commander” flash to do the same:

A student asked me yesterday: “how do I turn the on-camera flash off, so it does not flash, and only the external flash fires?”

I told her how to set the on-camera flash to off. On Nikons, in the flash section of the pencil menu you set it to “-”; on Canons you select the option where only the external flash shows, so only it will fire.

“But it is still firing”, she mailed me back.

No. It is not. That is a misconception. Try this: turn off the external flash, then shoot. You see the flash, but the picture is all dark!

How come? What were you seeing?

You were just seeing the flash fire commands at any external flashes in the room, using “morse code”. I.e. you were seeing TTL preflash activity, not a “real” flash, fired when the shutter is open. This was just techie stuff, all before the mirror is raised and the shutter opens. After the shutter is open, nothing.

It helps to know these little techie facts, doesn’t it?


For more: : come see me talk this weekend in Toronto about Flash Photography, and even better: book online and use promo code Michael2013 to get 50% off a weekend pass. See you then!