Shay on flash for portraits

fishfish Site MegalodonRegistered Users Posts: 2,950 Major grins
edited May 13, 2007 in Technique
Now that I've found myself with two flashes (580EX and 550EX), I'd like to try doing some two flash portrait stuff. I know I need stuff like umbrellas and stands and softboxes and ... and ..., but if I just wanted to use the two flashes "raw", one on-camera and one off, controlled as a wireless slave, what's the best technique?

Do I set the off-camera flash on manual? This may be an obvious question, but my brain's not in an obvious space right now.

Both off-camera? Must I buy something like Photek Softlighter II?
tia
"Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk." - Edward Weston
"The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."-Hunter S.Thompson

Comments

  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited December 8, 2004
    fish wrote:
    Now that I've found myself with two flashes (580EX and 550EX), I'd like to try doing some two flash portrait stuff. I know I need stuff like umbrellas and stands and softboxes and ... and ..., but if I just wanted to use the two flashes "raw", one on-camera and one off, controlled as a wireless slave, what's the best technique?

    Do I set the off-camera flash on manual? This may be an obvious question, but my brain's not in an obvious space right now.

    Both off-camera? Must I buy something like Photek Softlighter II?
    tia
    With lighting you have a world of options. And they begin with just using the flash units as is, no light modifiers attached. With two lights, hard light doest look so "hard" if you know what I mean. This is a two light setup:
    p281.jpg

    Although I am using some of the ambient light in the room acting as fill light. This example is outside at night with no ambient light:
    gallagher273.jpg

    Both examples show off camera light. You could go for a look like this with one off camera and on on camera:
    m046.jpg
    You would set the on camera light to flash at the lowest power setting and the off camera would be the main light. And in the above example, the sunlight was acting as the fill light. But you could just as easily in a studio setting set the on-camera flash to provide the fill and get a similar look.

    If you add a light modifier like a softbox or umbrella you can soften the light and get a look like this:
    dsc11261.jpg

    With the lights you are talking about you can probably set them to set their own light ratios. I set my flash units manually and use a light meter to determine the ratios I want. So either method may work for you. The important part is to just start using them, and that can be as simple as just getting a light stand or two :-)
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • fishfish Site Megalodon Registered Users Posts: 2,950 Major grins
    edited December 8, 2004
    Terrific response, Shay. Thanks! I've got a bazillion follow-up questions, but I'll try not to be a pest by limiting myself to just a few questions:

    1. In the first shot, you talk about two off camera lights. Are those strobes, or flash units, or something else?

    2. If the flashes are on stands, they are inherently non-portable, so what do you use if you have to move around a lot?

    3. The third image is really the look I'm going for right now...elimination of shadows and lack of harshness. Again, are those unmodified flash units or something else?

    Thanks again for the response with examples. You rock, regardless of what baldy says about you. mwink.gif
    "Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk." - Edward Weston
    "The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."-Hunter S.Thompson
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited December 8, 2004
    1. In the first shot, you talk about two off camera lights. Are those strobes, or flash units, or something else?

    Specifically they are Sunpak 555 flash units. But, light is light. It could have been hot lights, studio strobes, or even mirrors ;-)

    2. If the flashes are on stands, they are inherently non-portable, so what do you use if you have to move around a lot?

    Non-portable means they are bolted to the floor and only tools and elephants could move them around. Fortunately, flash units on lights stands are immanently portable. You just pick 'em up and move them where you want them or even easier, just point them in the direction you need the light. I move around a lot, but the lights don't need to necessarily.

    If I am outside and walking through an area, then I will have an assistant hold the light stand and move with me to provide roving light as needed. And typically this is just a single off-camera light.

    3. The third image is really the look I'm going for right now...elimination of shadows and lack of harshness. Again, are those unmodified flash units or something else?

    You don't actually want to eliminate shadows. Shadows help with contrast and give the subject dimensionality and realness. Flat light is what you are describing, and if that is what you want, on-camera flash will give it to you. If you look closely at the third picture you pointed out, you will see that there are shadows there, but the light is off to the right hand side of the frame.

    "Harshness" is a misnomer and gets people sidetracked I think. What you are probably talking about is high contrast (ratio) lighting. With very high ratio lighting the main light is many stops brighter than the fill light and may swamp it out altogether. The contrast from light to shadow is huge. But with careful exposure and flash power settings, you can make that ratio between main and fill less (even without using any modifiers). In the third photo, the main was maybe a stop brighter than the fill (or less). I gave it just enough to show directionality to the light, a kiss of light if you will.

    So why do I think harshness is a misnomer? There are times when high ratio or high contrast lighting is perfect. But who would want to pick that if it was called harsh? Harsh has a negative connotation that unnecessarily impedes it's use when called for.
    Most people when they fire off a flash allow the camera to do all the work, and cameras are stupid, they like to providing all the illumination to light up an indoor stadium. Yes, the image is well exposed, but there is no balance of the ambient lighting. The contrast is usually huge, shadows very dark, and no hint of the outside world beyond the flash zone.

    Now when it comes to modifiers, yes they are handy because you can soften the shadow transition. But I would recommend just learning the flash first. Get good results with that and then start progressing to modifiers.

    When you soften the light (shadow transition), you loose the contrast. It is a trade-off that is worth it at times, but other times, it's not. Learn what a scene looks like without modifiers first and then you will know when you do and don't need to use a modifier.

    For the record, I like to use umbrellas and brolly boxes when needed, with a preference lately for brolly boxes.

    Thanks again for the response with examples. You rock, regardless of what baldy says about you.

    hehehe, has baldy been talkin' trash again?!?! Good thing I stocked up on those cans of whoopass ;-)
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaSuper Moderators Posts: 14,614 moderator
    edited December 8, 2004
    Shay,
    If I understand you correctly, you are saying all four of these images were shot with two off-camera electronic flash lamps without any baffles or reflectors. Is this correct? The after dark outside shot seems very evenly lit.

    How did you trigger them? Did you use an on-camera flash as a master ( like the 550ex or the 580ex) or did you use a radio type trigger like a Pocket Wizard on your camera? Do you have any suggestions about radio style Pocket Wizard tyoe units versus on-camera masters with off camera slaves?
    Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited December 8, 2004
    pathfinder wrote:
    Shay,
    If I understand you correctly, you are saying all four of these images were shot with two off-camera electronic flash lamps without any baffles or reflectors. Is this correct? The after dark outside shot seems very evenly lit.

    How did you trigger them? Did you use an on-camera flash as a master ( like the 550ex or the 580ex) or did you use a radio type trigger like a Pocket Wizard on your camera? Do you have any suggestions about radio style Pocket Wizard type units versus on-camera masters with off camera slaves?
    Sorry, no, the fourth photo was shot using an umbrella. The outside shot at night was straight flash. In the night photo, I set the flashes up to provide cross lighting. The good thing about cross lighting is that if the subject is in the very center of the two lights, they will be evenly lit on both sides. If they move closer to one light, that side will be brighter and the light will take on more of a main light / fill light type situation. So it is a versatile setup for a minimum of lights and a minimum of fuss too.

    And remember, hard light (small source) is not harsh light. It doesn't even have to be high contrast light as long as your fill to main ratio is set right.

    One may wonder when high contrast light would be used. Here is an example showing high contrast and hard light (no modifier) in action:
    CRW_7279.jpg

    When I look at this I don't think harsh light, I think high contrast light. The ratio between highlight and shadow is great, but it is not harsh ;-)

    By the way, this was a single, off camera flash shot. The flash was sitting on a light stand off to the right and behid me a little.

    I trigger the lights with pocket wizard plus units, one receiver on each light and a transmitter on the camera. I try to keep the camera setup as light as possible since I carry it all day. So I never went the flash on camera route. But I know it is used successfully.
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • fishfish Site Megalodon Registered Users Posts: 2,950 Major grins
    edited December 10, 2004

    When I look at this I don't think harsh light, I think high contrast light. The ratio between highlight and shadow is great, but it is not harsh ;-)
    Point taken. I'm seeing light in contrast now. I'm am enlightened.


    Mind if I ask which lenses you used for the shots? (exposure info would be great too).

    Thanks! bowdown.gifbow
    "Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk." - Edward Weston
    "The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."-Hunter S.Thompson
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited December 10, 2004
    fish wrote:
    Point taken. I'm seeing light in contrast now. I'm am enlightened.


    Mind if I ask which lenses you used for the shots? (exposure info would be great too).

    Thanks! bowdown.gifbow
    Make me dig why don't you! ;-)

    Ok, standard disclaimer here for anyone who looks at the pictures and the settings and thinks all one has to do to get the same shot is dial in the settings...it won't work. All my camera settings are based on meter readings and not formulaic recipes. Base your settings on your lighting situation for best results. So with that said, here are the settings in the order the photos are presented:

    Aperture - Shutter speed - ISO - Focal length (Camera and Lens)
    1) f/2.8 - 1/100 - ISO 1600 - 23mm (Canon 20D 16-35mm f/2.8)
    2) f/2.8 - 1/60 - ISO 400 - 35mm (Canon 10D 16-35mm f/2.8)
    3) f/5.6 - 1/160 - ISO 200 - 50mm (Canon 20D 50mm f/1.8)
    4) f/6.3 - 1/200 - ISO 100 - 158mm (Sony 717)
    5) f/13 - 1/200 - ISO 100 - 50mm (Canon 10D 50mm f/1.8)
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • fishfish Site Megalodon Registered Users Posts: 2,950 Major grins
    edited December 10, 2004
    That helps a lot, Shay. Thanks again.
    "Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk." - Edward Weston
    "The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."-Hunter S.Thompson
  • lynnmalynnma Moddess Emeritus Homosassa, Florida (Paradise)Registered Users, Retired Mod Posts: 5,163
    edited December 10, 2004
    Thanks Shay and Fish.. great tutorial with loads of info.. great stuff.bowdown.gifclap.gif
  • SBPSBP Cool grinner Registered Users Posts: 34 Big grins
    edited April 29, 2007
    I do not see your photo samples Shay but I do
    Shay why don't I see your photo images? Yes I do have the show images box checked in my options.

    With lighting you have a world of options. And they begin with just using the flash units as is, no light modifiers attached. With two lights, hard light doest look so "hard" if you know what I mean. This is a two light setup:
    p281.jpg

    Although I am using some of the ambient light in the room acting as fill light. This example is outside at night with no ambient light:
    gallagher273.jpg

    Both examples show off camera light. You could go for a look like this with one off camera and on on camera:
    m046.jpg
    You would set the on camera light to flash at the lowest power setting and the off camera would be the main light. And in the above example, the sunlight was acting as the fill light. But you could just as easily in a studio setting set the on-camera flash to provide the fill and get a similar look.

    If you add a light modifier like a softbox or umbrella you can soften the light and get a look like this:
    dsc11261.jpg

    With the lights you are talking about you can probably set them to set their own light ratios. I set my flash units manually and use a light meter to determine the ratios I want. So either method may work for you. The importat part is to just start using them, and that can be as simple as just getting a light stand or two :-)
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited April 29, 2007
    Sorry, old thread and the links are dead. I will try to hunt them down if I still have them, but it will be a few days at least.
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • trippy64trippy64 Big grins Registered Users Posts: 55 Big grins
    edited May 1, 2007
    Please fix the links if you can
    I am a visual learner, and am ex[erimenting with off camera flash as well
    trippy64.smugmug.com
    A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills.

    An opinion should be the result of thought,not the replacement of it.:scratch
  • pathfinderpathfinder Drive By Digital Shooter western IndianaSuper Moderators Posts: 14,614 moderator
    edited May 2, 2007
    Hi Bill,

    Welcome back to dgrin.

    I am at a serious disadvantage speaking about off camera flash if you wish to retain automatic flash expsoure control in the Black lens world ( Nikon). There are some Nikon shooters who maybe can answer your questions here.

    If you are shooting in manual mode with a manual flash also, then you just need a PC cord connector, or a pair of Pocket Wizard radio type flash triggers. You will have to set the aperture and shutter speed manually and it will vary as the subject varies their distance from the flash.
    Pathfinder - www.pathfinder.smugmug.com

    Moderator of the Technique Forum and Finishing School on Dgrin
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited May 11, 2007
    The photos have been found, uploaded, and relinked.
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • seastackseastack Major grins Registered Users Posts: 716 Major grins
    edited May 11, 2007
    The photos have been found, uploaded, and relinked.

    Thank you! This is a great thread.

    As if digging through your files to relink isn't enough ... could you discuss light ratios and position?

    Thanks again,
    Tom
  • Shay StephensShay Stephens Artist in Residence Registered Users Posts: 3,165 Major grins
    edited May 11, 2007
    seastack wrote:
    could you discuss light ratios and position?

    Light ratios are simply the difference in brightness between two or more lights. This is important when you are trying to fix problems. What kind of problems you say?

    Shadows darker than desired (too much contrast)
    The main light, be it the sun or flash or street light, is providing all the illumination and there is little to no light being bounced into the shadow areas. This results in deep contrasty black shadows. Bold and dramatic! But maybe not the look you are going for. So what you need is a little fill light. But how much is too much? That is where your lighting ratio comes in.

    A 1:1 ratio means that the fill is as bright as the main. If you want to just lighten the shadows but not blast them to smithereens you need a ratio more in the 2:1, 4:1, or even 8:1 range which would be a one stop, two stop, and three stop difference in brightness respectively. The larger the ratio, the more dramatic the shadow contrast. And if you don't want to deal with the 4:1 thingy, you can just think in stops, "I want a two stop difference between the main and fill". That can be more direct and easier to understand than trying to remember what 4:1 means mwink.gif

    So knowing the look you are after, you can play with the lighting ratio to dial in the look you are after without a lot of fuss and trial and error.

    Dull photos (not enough contrast)
    Say the day is cloudy and dull, light is coming from all directions, the contrast is terrible and the photos lack all sense of pop. Not to worry, just consider the daylight to be fill and your off-camera flash to be main. Start with a 2:1 ratio or in other words a one stop difference between main and fill. Now you have some directionality to the light, some shadows, some contrast, some pop to play with!

    If the ambient light meter reads f2.8 - 1/125 - ISO 100, then drop the exposure one stop to 1/250 of a second. Meter you light to f/2.8 and enjoy the now more contrasty results.

    But where to put the light? That goes to your second question. The answer is there is no answer. Remember lights are used to solve problems. So if you have a lighting problem, then move your light to fix that problem. But that is not to say there are not a few rules of thumb you can use. Do some research into these common lighting setups:
    • Loop
    • Rembrandt
    • Split
    • Cross
    • Butterfly
    • Broad
    • Short
    There are others, of course, and the sky's the limit, but those will get you a great variety of looks and solve a myriad lighting problems too.
    Creator of Dgrin's "Last Photographer Standing" contest
    "Failure is feedback. And feedback is the breakfast of champions." - fortune cookie
  • CookieSCookieS Major grins Registered Users Posts: 854 Major grins
    edited May 13, 2007
    Boy working with flash is hard for me, i dont do numbers well, I enjy the work Ive seen of yours shay, and I must say, you seem to have broken the rule succesfully about not using wide angle lenses for portratis, ive been drilled, not to use less then 85mm and never less than a 50mm eek7.gif

    Yours all look good.
    Im just doing more people portraits , so playing more with flash and reflectors, mostly trial and error. so eveyone keep the linkks and lessons coming.
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