November 23rd, 2012
This post answers one of my most frequently asked questions about working with flash on location. Your digital camera screen can show you exactly how the highlights and shadows are rendered in the scene far better than a light meter and some guess work So it’s the camera screen that forms the basis of our measurement system. I spent more of my life shooting film with light meters than I have shooting digital but the day I switched to digital my light meter was the first thing to go.
Here are my 10 steps to success to shooting in sunlight with the Elinchrom Quadra
Things you will need:
A Hoodman Loupe
Things you won’t need:
A light meter.
1, Set the camera’s shutter speed to the highest sync value.
2, Set the ISO to the lowest value without compromising tonal range. Don’t use the L values for ISO.
3, On a sunny day set the lens to f/16 and shoot the ambient only.
4, Asses the shadow detail using the loupe. Look at the histogram if you wish.
5, Adjust the aperture as required for the desired shadow value and re-test as required.
6, Put an ND filter on the lens to get the aperture into the range you want. I like to shoot at f/8 on my Zeiss 21mm Canon fit lens so I often use a x4 ND filter (2 stops or ND.6 eqv). If I’m using my 60mm Fuji lens I might use a x32 filter to get the lens open to f/2.8. With the EVF, LCD or OVF of a mirrorless camera this is completely useable without any noticeable change in use as all three viewing modes are unaffected. With an SLR the screen image becomes very dark.
7, Switch the flash to half power and place it in the desired position. Obviously positioning of the flash is the artistic bit and I teach that on my workshops. Being at the scene at the time of the rig is the best way to learn the decision making process of flash positioning and modifying.
8, Take a shot and asses flash exposure using the loupe on the rear LCD. Note cameras with a good EVF can Zoom into 100% and scoot around the picture checking face and skin as well as fabrics etc. Don’t be fooled into thinking the flash is over exposing by observing shiny skin. Kleenex or cosmetic powder is a must when shooting in the sun.
9, You will probably want to set the power up to full and maybe move the flash head a little having seen the position of the shadows. Again you need to use the loupe to look at how the light is falling on your subject.
10. Take the picture and once again asses the shot with the loupe checking expression and for blinks etc. From here on it is a case of just directing your subject knowing the technical aspects are dealt with.
There are just two flashes needed before you are ready to shoot. This is critical if you are out on location using battery power. Wait for the flash to fully recycle before each subsequent exposure and keep an eye on the ambient light. If a wispy cloud covers the sun your ambient element of the exposure may be one whole stop down making your shadows deeper that you expect.
The reason I don’t use a light meter is that it is far better and easier to asses the picture at 100% using playback to see exactly what you have. You can check the histogram too if you are that way inclined. I have spent more of my photography career shooting film on medium format cameras using Minolta and Seconic light meters than I have shooting digital. And the day that I could abandon the light meters, calculations and guesswork (I used to use the zone system and process my own film, B&W, E6 and C41) was a great day for me. Even with light meters, film shooters often used to rely on Polaroids to confirm their calculations.
When I’m teaching, delegates are often at different apertures to achieve the same results. There are many reasons for this including lens transmission factors and mechanical linkages. I find switching between my 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikon lens set to 70mm and my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens set to 70mm will show nearly a 1 stop different exposure for the same aperture. That’s just life and it can probably be attributed to one of the little levers on the back of the lenses that has just 5mm of travel to get from f/2.8 to f/22 being slightly worn. By using the 10 step method above and assessing the captured image, perfect exposures can be achieved whatever the camera/ lens combination.
Join Martin Hill and myself for this big picture masterclass in Fuerteventura in March… This will be a life changing experience in the sun. Two days of exciting shoots finishing at sunset to maximise each shooting day. and two evenings to remember among like minded photographers. There may well be a further opportunity to extend your trip to take in the landscapes of Lanzarote. Contact Laura for further information. We are just taking deposits at this stage so book early to avoid missing out on this one off trip.
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