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:


Shot of the day me shooting my friend Dal yesterday on the Lakeshore in Port Credit:


As you see I am reflecting in his glasses (with brightness enhanced to show me, not him, of course). I am using my 1Ds MkIII with a 580EX Flash on it, and a 430EX in my left hand close by, fitted with a small Lumiquest Softbox connected to a Honl speedstrap.

That softbox (held at about the same distance from the face as its size) gives nice soft light, which is very important for someone with darker skin. You can see my favourite Domke camera bag in the background.

And yes I tend to wear a tie.

And I’ll show you the photo tomorrow.

A softbox to the rescue


I have been playing with my new flash tools. I shoot things with three Canon 430EX Speedlites, driven by a 580EX speedlite on the camera. I use Honl Photo speedstraps, grids, snoots, and gels, and a Lumiquest softbox of the type pictured above.

But sometimes it is easier. The portrait on the right was of my friend and colleague Peter West an hour ago, on the Lakeshore Road in Oakville.


I shot Peter with the 1Ds MkIII with 50mm f/1.4 lens, set to “P” mode for a change.

On the camera, the 580EX flash that was not actually contributing light (master flash disabled). In my left hand, fired by the 580 EX’s infrared remote control, a 430EX flash fitted with a Honl speedstrap, a Honl 1/4 CTO gel to warm the light, and the Lumiquest softbox (available from Henry’s; description here).

I used two stops negative exposure compensation (-2 stops). That makes the background sky nice and blue and it makes the unlit face of Peter’s face two stops darker than the lit part. That’s what you want.

It is easy and it is effective. By using these simple techniques, even your snapshots can be well-lit and dramatic.