Saturday, November 7, 2009

Finding Balance: Flash in Daylight

Thanks to my sister and most valued assistant Terice Lehman for this fantastic shot! Terice and I work together on most weddings and she can also be found at my studio in Everett shooting senior portraits, families and children.
This image is a fantastic example of how using a flash to fill can make what otherwise might have been a boring image into something beautiful.

During this shoot Brittany (the Bride) asked, "Can we do a photo where I'm smelling a flower?" Terice's eyes met mine and we both smiled apprehensively and said "Sure." This is a request we get occasionally. I don't know where it comes from, but I've never liked it before, it's a little...cliche'. Then something happened. Terice took charge and placed the bride near a patch of flowers in the garden that looked similar in form to the ones she was already wearing in her hair.  It was a overcast day but at that moment the sky opened up and sunlight fell along her left side. Ordinarily this by itself would make for a great image, especially since when light hits the back of flower petals they glow! The view of the bride was best on the shadow side of her. From the sun side the background was less interesting and very distracting. Positioning her speed-light on a light stand about 8 feet away from Brittany and 6 feet high on a light stand, Terice created a great highlight on the shadow side of the bride and the effect of three dimensionality you see here. It's subtle, (like the highlight on her arms) but pretty. Additionally an umbrella was used to modify the quality of light from the flash and reduce harsh shadows.

What I like most about this photograph is how well the two light sources are balanced. Finding the correct exposure for both the sun and flash is easier then you might think. Here's how to do it:
  1. Meter the light from the sun either with your cameras internal meter, a hand held light meter, or guess if you are old school and still remember the sunny 16 rule. Try to get an overall exposure. One good trick is to make sure your camera is metering for the whole scene if you plan to go the internal metering method. On our Nikon D-300's this mode is called Matrix Metering. The camera metered the scene at 1/200 @F14.
  2. Then meter for the flash. This is something that a hand held light meter is best for if you are just starting out. Or you can guess based on distance and experience. I mentioned that the light Terice was using was about 8 feet away from the bride. At full power each foot of distance is equal roughly to about 1/2 F-stop with my Nikon Speed-lights. There is a good chance that this same ratio won't work for all flash equipment but with time you can figure out what does work for you.  By placing the light farther back from the subject you can quickly control the output without having to change any flash settings. Remember speed is often your very best friend at weddings. 8 feet of distance between the bride and speed-light equals 4 stops.
  3. Using manual mode, choose the shutter speed from your overall exposure (1/200 for our example) and the F-stop from your flash (F14 minus 4 stops gives us F 4.8). Terice's on-camera flash was set to commander mode to remotely fire the flash, but not actually illuminate the bride.
  4. Be prepared to make adjustments. Check your histogram, (I don't trust view screens) and then you can manipulate the power level more exactly by adjusting the power output or moving the flash closer or farther away as you see fit to achieve the depth of field you want. All in all this will save you actual shooting time and provide better exposures overall.

The benefits of this technique are easy to see, the two lighting sources, (flash and sun) minimize harsh shadows, creates the look of studio lighting outdoors, adds beautiful highlights to the hair and skin, and ease of use for the photographer. Now you might be saying, just use a reflector. Also a good alternative but it would have provided different results. While a reflector would fill in the shadow side of her face, it would be coming from a different angle then the speed-light Terice used. Her speed-light was placed just a foot or two to her left and illuminated the bride at an angle in which a reflector would have been unable to (from 6 feet up on a light-stand remember?). Basic physics apply here and knowing how light works and the angle of incident will help every time.
(Note: If I was ever to get a tattoo it would say: The law of reflection states that θi = θr, or in other words, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. This is basic stuff that we all should know from high school. My point? A good photographer may do this instinctively but a great photographer does it cognitively.)

  The reflector would have softened the shadows but not from the same angle or with the same control. Here's a sorry excuse for a diagram to show what I mean. As the diagram crudely shows, the light would have been from a different angle if bounced by a reflector. Before the comments come in about how my angles are wrong in the digram, I know, I just can't draw for my life.

There you have it, good lighting changes what otherwise is boring and uninteresting into a better image, Thanks again to Terice for letting me blog about her and her work.

The Series continues tomorrow with more on using flash in daylight.

Today's featured image is from a wedding shot this summer for Brittany and Ryan. If you would like to see more of their images visit my Facebook page for Irene Jones Photography and view their album.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Irene, thanks for sharing! I just found your site following a helpful post on David's Strobist site. It's really helpful to someone like myself who is keen to start exploring the balance of flash and ambient light. I have a few questions on this entry, so if you get time to answer I'd really appreciate some guidance..

    You mention metering the scene initially with the camera to get the 1/200 @ f14; I'd normally have had my D300 in aperture-priority for this kind if shot if I wasn't using flash,which'd constrain the results of the metering, obviously. Should I hope out of aperture priority to meter the scene through the camera?

    You mention the estimated drop of 4 aperture stops from full flash power of the Speedlight based on distance (a handy rule if thumb fir a fellow Speedlight user, thanks for that!) dropping the aperture to F4.8. Am I right in understanding that's what you then dialled into the camera's manual mode, effectively giving a 1/200 f4.8 EV0 with the camera in commander mode, onboard flash disabled and with the Speedlight effectively set at full power somehow? My Nikon CLS function I think might prevent me from setting up like this as it seems to insist on TTL from the camera which doesnt allow me manual setting on the flash? (an SB-900)

    Apologies for the newbie questions but I'm still very green (but loving learning - it's fascinating!)