Photo and lighting tutorial for shooting flash amplified on location, this is a workflow that just works. As fast as TTL, very reliable and for sure more consistent once you've nailed the variables down.
Generic advise to start with: Location scouting has been done. Arrive on time. Make sure that the rest of the team –
including your subject – does the same. Don't forget the wardrobe - I did prior to the shooting at the top of this page. While the model is busy
with wardrobe and make-up take your first snap – with your camera values
zeroed out* - to check quality, quantity
and but also consistency of natural light. Decide on the necessity to introduce
artificial light, and it would be just perfect if this decision is not solely
driven by the IBILUI syndrome - “I bought it, let’s use it”.
Choose your desired aperture - other values will fall in place
Choose your targeted depth-of-field whilst selecting the appropriate aperture, based on your creative vision or sheer technical project requirements. Could be that you are heading for the wide aperture, low depth-of-field route. Or that you are required to deliver excellent sharpness on the entire subject. See what shutter-speed is suggested by your camera (or light-meter) in relation to the aperture you just decided on. This is where the magic of artificial light starts – you are free now to set the mood for the scene just by dialing through shutter-speed values. Your thumb sets the mood; it almost becomes sort of a magic wand. Or a magic thumb, for that matter. You may under- or over-expose to your liking, or just keep the values as suggested by your camera meter and lighten or straight-out the shadows with your strobe.
While doing so, you have to keep the maximum synch-speed in mind (which varies not only in spec but also in reality, depending on camera model and transmitters used), and always check for hard shadows, strong highlights or unwanted colour casts that are created by the natural light source(s). If you are in a less problematic environment you might be already in range, if not you may have to bump up your ISO or introduce a Tri-Pod if it’s too dark. When shooting in bright daylight your DSLR shutter speed will quickly exceed the maximum sync speed of your camera and you may have to revert to neutral density filters and / or at least partially sacrifice the aperture value you had in mind just a few moments ago.
We are now less then 3 minutes into the shooting. And that's worst case. You do
have an aperture to work and eventually sacrifice, your shutter-speed has set the desired mood for the image, the ISO is chosen. None of these
values are carved in stone, but you are good now to light the scene.
Time to say hello to your first light. Pick a light former that compliments your subject in size and also delivers the amount of control you may need for your light spill. A small softbox won't cover your model if you are looking for a full length shot *and* soft light. The more you have decided to under-expose the scene, the more important this decision will become – again, if you are looking for soft light that is. For just lifting some shadows, you most likely have no need to attach any light former at all, especially when outdoor with a lot of ambient light to record. Same if you are looking for a more dramatic look and hard shadows. But let’s just agree for the sake of the tutorial that you have decided for a translucent brolly as it might as well be the largest light source you have. Put it on a decent light-stand and attach the light as well as the umbrella to the swivel head. Now check what the team is up to. The sound of crashing gear behind your back indicates that you a) have forgotten to properly weight your stand and b) just learned that a brolly is a somewhat problematic decision when used outdoors. Swear in accordance to the damage taken, keep calm and carry on while fixing whatever is broken with Gaffa.
Going soft? Then get your lights in close.
As you seem to be – at
least in this example – on the soft light route, put your light as close as
possible to the now all dressed up subject. Just as close that it does not
appear in the frame – unless this is your intention. Start out simple, a
classic cross lighting with the natural light behind your model. Pop a test
shot. If nothing has changed on your display then try the same with your strobe turned on. Start on half power. Next
test: If your highlight warning goes all nuts,
then decrease the flash intensity. If the histogram remains pushed to the right, increase the flash power. Always keep your highlight warning activated to ensure that you retain a sufficient amount of
information wherever your vision or your job requires it.
With both the exposure and the flash intensity now set, it is high time to tidy up the frame and look for
common errors you would like to avoid – or introduce. As said, this is a cross
lighting scenario where the natural light (that would usually be the Sun,
haven’t seen her lately that much) does create some separation or even glow (depending
mostly on your shutter speed) on your subject. If your sitter or model happens
to have short hair or a pony tail it now would be a very good time to have a
close look at your models ears – they might have become almost transparent
while being X-rayed by the sun. Doesn’t look too pleasing, unless you are on an assimilating
assignment with some Borgs looking for some head-shots for their starships
employee of the month directory.
Don't forget the details - fix them now, not later
You are now into
details, look for distracting shadows and highlights or unwanted colour casts.
Use your white-balance to change the global colouring of your frame, or use
colour gels if you are determined to address the zones of your shot separately.
Also check how your light behaves on the rest of the frame, you may need to
flag or grid your light to avoid unwanted spill. Changing the distance between
flash and subject can also fine tune your result as the inverse square law of
light allows you to control the lights' falloff.
All values relate to each other - and your thumb does the trick
You are free now to concentrate and connect with your subject, sitter or model. Fine tuning the position and direction of the light(s), its ratio between artificial light and ambient. This must – and will - happen fluidly as you go. All values do interrelate, so cutting the light by half will allow you to open your aperture by one full stop. As most of the magic in flash-amplified photography is achieved with your shutter, it usually pays to play a bit with the speed during the shoot. Whenever the mood doesn’t look like your intentions, chances are that your shutter speed isn’t ideal for your vision just yet.
Always keep in mind that your thumb sets the mood for the scene. In most cases that means that dragging the shutter usually saves the day. Which in commercial photography - please excuse my French - saves your butt.
I hope this was helpful and worth reading. Maybe I failed in keeping it as short as possible – but it’s not the process that is complicated, it’s the explanation. In its shortest formula it can be reduced to something like Cagney in Billy Wilders “One, Two, Three”: *One*, choose the aperture you creatively envision or technically require. *Two*, use your shutter-speed to expose for the environment to your liking. And *Three*, adjust the light intensity for your subject while powering the strobe up or down.. Sitzenmachen! Schlemmer!
Part Two of this tutorial is coming soon. I just need somt time to spare and some bright sun for it. A "live" session with Jaqueline-Chantal - a model with a great body, but unfortunately she somewhat lacks expression. Which is just fine for the second part.
* In particular the 3200 ISO setting from that funny shooting the day before**.
** And the low quality JPEG setting as well.