Indoor Flash

Here’s a few demo shots from a kind volunteer (a student’s daughter) at a recent camera course I taught. This bit was about “flash”.

First, pop up the flash and use “P” or “Auto” mode and you get the picture that makes people hate flash:


Then enable “Slow flash” or “Night portrait mode” and you get a better picture.. yeah, it’s better. But not all that much:


Then put your big flash on top of the camera (e.g. an SB-900 or 580EX II, or their slightly smaller equivalents SB-600 or 430EX II). And aim that flash behind you.

Yeah. Behind. So it bounces off ceilings and walls behind you.

Much better. Much. See:


And then if you want extra “character” and “depth”, bounce off a side wall, if you can find one.

Now you get three-dimensionality, depth, character as well:


I mean – how cool is that? And all this was done in “P” mode, with no special stuff, with no settings on the camera, no required knowledge of aperture, no complicated techniques.

Flash is wonderful once you learn how to play with it. And it is easier than ever.

The art of the dramatic portrait

So how did I use the softbox I showed myself holding yesterday? Or rather, what picture did I get in the end?

As a reminder, I was using a Canon 1Ds MkIII with a 580 EXII flash on the camera in TTL master-slave mode in group “A”, and a 430EX II flash in my left hand as slave in group “B”. The “B”-flash had a Honl speedstrap and a Lumiquest Softbox III on it. The E-TTL A:B ratio was set as 4:1, so the handheld second flash fired two stops brighter than the on-camera flash.

I was in Aperture Priority mode (Av), and to darken the ambient light and the sky I used an Exposure Compensation setting of -2 stops.

Because my friend has dark skin and was wearing dark clothes, I also used flash compensation (“FEC”) of -1 stop. Otherwise he would have been overexposed (the camera would have tried to make him “18% grey”).

The result:


(I left the softbox and my reflection in his glasses deliberately, of course, since I was showing him the use of this softbox. Else I would have moved his head to camera left and down a bit).

Finally: his face is a tiny bit distorted because of the 35mm wide angle lens. I could have used the 50mm lens instead, or even the 24-70: but I think this look flatters him. h

One more sample:


Let there be light

..and let it be managed.

I have talked about this many times before, and I will do it again. When you add light, and manage it, massage it, and work with i, you get drama, cheerfulness, whatever you like. So when you make the light, you make the mood.

Case in point. In the model shoot I did Monday on Toronto Island, here’s the light the way it might look to a casual observer, and the way it might appear in a properly exposed photo:


Fine. Nice. Pretty young lady (Miss Halton, incidentally) on the beach.

Now let’s work with that. That background is a bit bland to my taste, so let’s darken it. The colours on the model are OK but I’d like them to stand out more.I want drama, and I want the model to stand out, not to be just a thing on a beach.

So first I turn down the ambient exposure. Two stops.That will make light blue into dark dramatic blue. Then I add a flash, on a light stand – shot through an umbrella to get soft light.  I fire that from my on-camera flash using E-TTL II IR technology. I turn the flash up or down as needed.

I now get the result I had in mind.


That’s better.

And more importantly: that’s entirely different. And that is the photographer’s task, to make things the way he or she wants them. You can say you like, or you don’t like – but you can’t say it isn’t different!

Straight light

You know about Rembrandt lighting, loop lighting, broad and short lighting, and so on? If not, you will. But today a note about simple lighting for models, women, in general anyone who wants to look their best and show youth and beauty rather than experience and character (which can be a euphemism for age).

That is straight, flat lighting. Like this:


As you see, that is nice, flattering light.

Whenever I shoot anyone where the main emphasis is on this person looking young and attractive, I draw an imaginary line from their face straight up at 45 degrees, i.e. not to either the left side or the right side. Where that line straight from their face hits the wall or ceiling, that is where I aim my flash. (An external flash – please, you don’t use the on-camera popup flash, do you?)

And when I do that, pictures like the one above result – when the model is as pretty. Even when the model isn’t as pretty, this light is best if you want to minimise wrinkles.