Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flashing the Sun!

Irene No. 15

First of all, let me say Happy-First-Day-of-Spring!  I'm so glad to see things warming up around here, I've really missed the greenery!

The other day I did a really fun portrait session with a fantastic model, Irene Mukibi.  Irene and I have worked together previously and were looking forward to doing our first session outside together.  We were planning on shooting later in the day hoping for a nice sunset, but due to time constraints we had to pick an earlier time.

For a shoot at this time of day, I would have honestly preferred a more powerful monobloc to have a little more flexibility, but since all that I had with me was a pair of Nikon SB-800s I came up with a small flash solution.  I've heard quite a few folks recently make the claim that speedlights aren't useful outside during the day, but respectfully I have to disagree - completely!  I've used speedlights outside at 12 noon where the sun is quite an unbearable beast to light against with no problems.  While I will admit that using speedlights for that situation isn't optimal, its entirely workable, if you don't believe me, check this out!

Having already picked out a few locations to shoot in, we hopped in the car and headed out.  We were thinking wouldn't it be nice to be able to shoot on a beach, and since we are quite land locked and pretty darn far from the closest beach, we did the next best thing, we located a park that had a rather large, sandy area.

Then I took a few ambient only readings to get my background locked in where I wanted it, then I set up one of my trusty SB-800s on a light stand and positioned this light in relation to my subject (camera left and slightly above the model's head, pointing down).  With the chosen aperture, shutter speed and ISO I dialed in, I first tried my speedlight at 1/2 power.  While this may have been enough light for someone with pasty, white albino skin such as myself, this just wasn't quite enough light for Irene.  So I bumped the power up to full power and tried another test shot.  Hmmm... this still wasn't quite enough and the one bare speedlight was kicking in some pretty hard shadows, so what to do?

Since I shoot primarily with a Nikon D300, I just about always use my pop-up flash as the triggering method for my Nikon speedlights.  This generally always works unless the pop-up flash can't see my off camera flash, or if the sun is at an angle that the little pop-up just can't generate enough juice to get a solid signal to my off camera flash.  In this case, I was able to use my pop-up flash but I wanted a little more power than that guy had to offer, so I put my second SB-800 on camera to use as the master to trigger my off camera flash.  This gave me several advantages.  For one, it has a lot more power than the pop-up flash.  Two, I can rotate the head of this flash to better see my off camera flash, but the most valuable option was that now, I have a very powerful, on camera axis, fill light.  Since I knew I wanted to get a little more light on Irene, I dialed this flash in at 1/2 power and took a test shot.  BOOM, this was exactly what I was looking for.  So now I had plenty of light on my beautiful model and I had created a very cool, key light with fill combination that reduced those hard shadows on her.  I also placed her where the sun was directly behind and above her which let the sun act as a nice rim light on her, giving me effectively, a three light source setup ...Bonus!

Something else I really liked about this setup is that to me, it kinda gave a beauty dish look using a much more powerful light source on my model.  The only drawback to this situation was the recycle time with my lights.  My key light was taking around 3-4 seconds to recycle at full power so my model would need to hold her poses for a tad longer than she would need to with a more powerful light setup.  Honestly though, this really was no hindrance to either of us, and gave me a very portable lighting setup that yielded some very cool results imho.

Would a more powerful light have worked better?  Well, its all relative really.  To be sure, with a more powerful light I would have had much faster recycle times and would have had more options with modifiers.  Since I needed as much power as my SB-800s could kick out, I couldn't use any modifiers because they would have nuked a few stops of light.  However with this model, hard, bare light worked just fine and to be honest, I really liked the look (and so did the model).  However, had I used more powerful lights, I would be hauling much more gear around, straining my poor old back and taking much more time to setup.

So in a nutshell, can speedlights be used outside during the day?  You bet they can and with some really awesome results.  You can also get in to high speed sync mode which would allow you to use larger apertures for a more shallow depth of field, but I'll save that technique for another post.

Hope you got something out of this and won't be afraid to try your speedlights outside at ANY time of day.


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