Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Camera Flash!

Yep, occasionally I do use on camera flash, although mostly as a trigger for other lights. However the photo above (as well as quite a few others from this session) was lit entirely with on camera flash.

Long pause for those that know me have time to catch their breath...

Its what you do with that on camera flash that's important.  Part of my work as a photographer consists of quite a few weddings each year.  I've discovered through a LOT of trial-and-error that sometimes there just isn't enough time to take that flash off the camera, mount it on a lightstand, set up an umbrella and compose your shot (especially if working alone).

As a general rule, weddings go fast.  It might seem that in 4-8 hours of shooting that there would be plenty of time to set up lights and what not, but because of the number of photos taken during weddings, that's not always the case.  Every wedding photographer is different, but for the entire time I am at a wedding, my finger is on the shutter, regardless if its a few hours to a full 10 hour day.  That's why its very useful to use some on camera flash techniques to save yourself a little time.

The portrait above was one of my favorites from the day.  While I was busy shooting inside, my very talented assistant (and fiance') :) signaled me to let me know there was a really nice sunset outside and it could be easily reached from a very large outdoor balcony.  I quickly grabbed the bride and groom (they were just getting ready to hit the buffet and weren't exactly thrilled) and guided them out to the balcony.

When we got out there, the sun had just set and was giving off a gorgeous blue tone with just a little red at the horizon line.  So the first thing I did was to nail the ambient only exposure of the scene.  It was pretty low light outside so I had to step my ISO up to 800 to give me f/4 at 1/10 of a second shutter speed.  I normally would never shoot a portrait at such a slow shutter speed but I was banking on the fact that I could hold the camera just still enough, that the flash would be able to "freeze" my couple enough to keep a reasonably sharp image.  The photo below is my ambient exposure only, straight out of the camera.

Now that I have my exposure locked in, I can bring in my couple quickly, and light them.  When the sun is down like this, you don't have much time before you lose all of those beautiful colors, so rather than go try to find my light stand and shoot thru umbrella, I simply turned the head on my flash around 180 degrees pointing straight behind me and angled upward at around 45 degrees.

Fortunately, the wall behind me and the ceiling above on the balcony were flat white, so when I bounced my speedlight off of it, it created a huge wash of soft, white light to light my couple.  I also have to admit that I "cheated" on this and had the flash set to TTL instead of manual.  When working fast like this, I will often shoot with the flash in TTL and just adjust compensation to increase or decrease the flash's power.

A couple that was in the wedding was outside enjoying a little fresh air, and saw me shooting this.  They liked it so well that they asked me to take a portrait of them the same way.  This was a quick and easy shot, taken completely with on camera flash.  I wasn't exactly thrilled about shooting with the really slow shutter speed, but the images turned out reasonably sharp and both couples seemed to really like the images (at least on the camera's LCD). :P

So on camera flash isn't always a bad thing if its just used in the right manner.  Always keep an eye out for light colored walls where you can turn that flash head and bounce the light.  Bouncing off of ceilings can also work, but is my last choice in bouncing flash because if you aren't careful, you can leave your subjects with "raccoon eyes" -deep shadows on the eye sockets, and the light from the ceiling isn't quite as directional.  Another tip is to carry a large, white collapsible reflector with you, have someone hold it for you, and bounce the light off of it.

David Ziser of the blog Digital Pro Talk is a master at this technique!  Check it out!

Also, don't get me wrong, if you enjoy using on camera flash straight at your subjects and are happy with the results, then don't let my babbling dissuade you.  However if you want to take that on camera flash and create softer, directional light, just look for something to bounce that light off of.

Keep your eyes on the blog because very soon I will be posting an article that I think will be very helpful to a lot of speed-lighters.  I did a review of every single speedlight modifier I own, including the quality of the modifier, how much light they use and more!

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