Friday, October 16, 2015

You Aren't Using Off Camera Flash...But You Should Be

I need to get something off my chest, so let me say it loud and clear: there is no badge of honor in a photographer calling themselves a "natural light photographer."
Any photographer worth their salt should constantly strive to master light: ALL light. There are times when Natural light simply wont cut it on it's own. In such cases, many photographers fall back on Photoshop to make up for the lack of light and, as a result, they end up spending valuable time in front of a computer screen when they could be doing other things; like shooting, marketing, filling orders, spending time with their families, writing the next great American novel, etc...

As a photographer, you must master light. As a businessperson, you want your work to stand out from the crowd. Why? Because as long as your work looks the same as everyone else’s work, you’re competing with them for business based almost solely on price. If your work is unique, then you’ve elevated yourself from being a common commodity to offering something people can only get from one place: you. One of the best ways you can elevate yourself is by your technique and use of light.
This allows you to not only have command of the light no matter what the conditions are like outside, but also to make sure that the light you choose fits your needs and flatters your subject.

There was a time when portraits were taken almost exclusively in a studio. Now, most portraiture tends to happen out of doors. I spent the last couple of hours going through a huge list of photographers on Facebook and looking at their images and you know what? There was almost NO difference between any of their work. It was almost all taken outside in natural light with a shallow depth of field and little or no additional light. Aside from some technical details like lens compression and glass quality, an average client would not have been able to tell one photographer from another.

One of the most common critiques I could make in regards to these images is something that happens very often when you take a portrait outside: the eyes are too dark and the exposure on the subject is almost exactly the same as the exposure on the background, which means the subject isn’t differentiated from their surroundings except by the depth of field.
This is something that can be handled easily with a flash.

Electronic Flash can be used in a myriad of ways but the one I'm going to cover in this post is one of the most simple: fill flash.
Fill can be done with everything from a flash to a reflector or any surface that can bounce enough light back into your subjects face to fill in the dark shadows that tend to pool beneath the brow bones, cheeks and nose. Since eyes are generally the most important aspect of a portrait, bright eyes are a big deal.

The reason I'd suggest a flash as opposed to a reflector or other device is simple: most photographers making a go of it out there are solo shooters. They need something easy, effective, portable, flexible, and with enough power to get the job done. A speedlite or other electronic flash fits the bill.
While simple fill can be done with your flash attached to the camera if you need to move quickly, most professionals will suggest moving your flash off camera in order to create a more natural and flattering light angle. All you'll need in order to do that is a set of triggers and a place to put your flash. For the examples I'm going to show in this post, I used two Hahnel TUFF triggers and mounted the Canon 580 exII Speedlite on a tripod. Simple, lightweight, and easily maneuverable for a single shooter.

Light fill is easily achieved by pulling up the white fill card on your flash head and firing the flash in a safe direction (generally at the sky or to the side, if you're shooting in portrait orientation.) If your flash doesn't have a fill card, you can easily rubberband a white notecard to your flash head for the exact same effect.
The fill card takes just a bit of light and reflects it toward your subject to fill in the shadows. If your flash is in Manual mode, you can easily adjust the power to suit your needs.

I took a few simple photos that are very similar to the outdoor portraits that are so common right now, and then added some fill flash.
The simple examples below have only been edited to adjust the color a bit, but otherwise are almost exactly as they came out of my camera.

If you can see the difference with simple fill, imagine what you could do with a thorough grasp of all your flash was capable of!

We will be getting to THAT in another post.

For now, if you have a flash that has been gathering dust, grab that sucker and go experiment with it! Even if it's just to play with fill and see what the difference looks like in your own work, you won't regret it.

Stay tuned and we will get more in depth with the other things your flash is capable of.

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