Notes about contrast in lighting ~ pictures and techniques

Aug 17, 2009 | Flash, Location | 14 comments

An f/5.6 shot

I took this shot at f/5.6 using my standard exposure system on the Canon 5D mk2. The light from the single key Speedlite was subtle and believable. It adds clarity and crispness to the shot and could be considered a sort of off camera fill flash. I've also given this shot a quick diffused glow in Photoshop in Markos absence. See the shots below for details and set up.

A 100% crop of the shot above (without the diffused layer) shows a distinctive nose shadow from my Speedlite.

A 100% crop of the shot above (without the diffused layer) shows a distinctive nose shadow and highlight in Lucy's eye from my Speedlite.

At f/11 the shot becomes more punchy and takes on an unnatural look. It's easy to be lured by gritty punchy light.

At f/11 the shot becomes more punchy and takes on an unnatural look. It's easy to be seduced by the gritty contrast of dramatically lit shots.

Here are my delegates shooting into the sun using Speedlites or ST-E2 as master controllers.

Here are my delegates shooting the above frames into the sun using non firing Speedlites or ST-E2s as master controllers. We all seem to be the wrong side of the fence. How did that happen?

This shot of Ben taken moments earlier about 20m down the line is an f/16 shot.

This shot of Ben taken moments earlier about 20m down the line is an f/16 shot.

The same f/16 exposure with the ST-E2 switched off shows how much of the work in the shot above is being done by my 580EX11

The same f/16 exposure with the ST-E2 switched off shows how much of the work in the shot above is being done by my 580EX11

The lighting in this shot is the work of an on camera 580EX11 Speedlite zoomed into 105mm.

The lighting in this shot is the work of an on camera 580EX11 Speedlite zoomed into 105mm. Just being very punchy and having natural vignetting caused by zoomed flash is enough to make this a 'photographers' shot.

Having control of the contrast and punchyness of flashlighting at the shooting stage is one of the key elements I teach on my location lighting workshops. It’s really not that hard once you have been shown how to do it. These pictures were shot by me on a 1:4 shooting workshop arranged by a group of photographers. If you want me to teach you advanced shooting techniques why not get together with some friends and commission me for your very own session.

After lunch we shot a few frames in a cafe. Balancing the ambient light no matter how bright or dark with flas

After lunch we shot a few frames in a cafe. A popular training need for my delegates is balancing the ambient light no matter how bright or dark it is with the output of a Speedlite used off camera. No matter how much 'fear of flash' delegates have I can usually get the knowledge to stick and free up a great potential.

Please feel free to comment.

14 Comments

  1. Andy Hudson

    The last photo definitely works the best IMO, would love more info on how that one was shot! :)

    Reply
    • Damien

      Hi Andy. I agree about the last shot. I used a standard Speedlight zoomed right in to 105mm high on a stand to the right of camera. You would definately find my latest book Portraits useful. I also have video training for lighting in the guise of the Illumination 1 and 2 videos. I suggest Illumination 2 is perfect for you :) Kindest regards, Damien.

      Reply
  2. Andaleeb Lilley

    Hi Damien
    Back in Switzerland and wanted to thank you for the course – just been editing like Jodie and put some shots up on my blog too. Looking forward to using some of these techniques his week on my shoots.
    Thanks again,
    Andaleeb

    Reply
  3. Mark

    Thanks for taking the time to write a response Damien – much apprecaited! I’m hoping to do one of your courses at some stage – just need to figure out timing and also the finances!

    Reply
  4. damien

    Hi Alison,

    It was lovely to have your company too. Tuscany will be altogether different shooting experience again. I can’t wait.

    See you soon. Damien.

    Reply
  5. damien

    Hi Jodie,

    It was my pleasure. Practice makes perfect. Get out there and shoot using all the new systems we went through. Then you will be in a powerful position to integrate some of them into your gorgeous portrait work.

    Thanks for your kind words,

    Damien.

    Reply
  6. damien

    Hi Terrence,

    I understand what you mean but the thought of trying to produce one horifies me. I doubt weather a 60,000 word book could cover the topic completely. Using ‘small flash’ where? inside, outside in sunlight or in the rain? What type and model of flash, what camera, what subject? What look are you after and how is the picture going to be used?

    The permutations are many and a cheat sheet would not cover even half of them. I am producing a DVD of around 30 ‘small flash’ set ups that will be far better than any written document. After all, as you know, delegates already have the best notes available in the form of the exif data for each and every shot including flash exposure compensation, ambient exposure compensation and all the exposure values. Far more in fact than any cheat sheet can provide.

    Regards, Damien.

    Reply
  7. damien

    Hi Mark,

    My standard exposure system is the one I teach on my Urban Portrait workshops. It’s not detailed on the blog as such except in each of the picture captions, but I am shooting a new DVD at the moment to illustrate how it works.

    I’m not saying it is particularly complicated but like learning to sail a yacht, it is hard to do by reading blogs and books alone. Every lighting situation conjures up a new set of parameters and unless you understand the logic of my decision making process for that given environment you will be faced contradictory values.

    Take the last shot here for instance. I know that the light in that cafe was 1/60th second at f/4 with ISO800. I chose to shoot at 1/15th because Ben was sat and not going anywhere plus I was using a monopod and could get a better quality file at ISO200. Not that the 5Dmk11 would look bad at ISO800 but art directors and magazine editors prefer ISO200.

    There was no art director at the shoot but I was teaching editorial grade shooting to my delegates. At a wedding it would be different, I’d be on 1/60th at f/4 using ISO800. That’s why when you’ve seen the 30 or so shots created from scratch on the using Speedlites (working title) DVD you will understand the thought processes I use as my standard exposure system. I use the picture on the back of my camera to make the fine tuning decisions. You will learn why I’d never use a light meter for instance.

    Understanding the techniques of lighting and being able to make the decisions on the day are very different matters and most of my workshop delegates benefit from the unique dynamic decision making process at first hand. The rigging and fine positioning of Speedlites is more critical than the exposure values using my strategy. Often any one of /5.6, f/8, f/11 and f/16 would make a perfectly acceptable image with identical ISOs and shutter speeds, and the choice of aperture should be determined by the end picture usage. I’d choose a different aperture for an editorial picture than a piece of art for the wall for instance.

    If I’m using Speedlites or big flash on manual I often use the system that I described here.

    If I’m working with infra red TTL and ambient I use either P or M mode on camera and stick to shutter speeds below 1/200th second.

    If I’m using the new PW TTL units I’ll shoot at whatever shutter speed I like. Although the ‘H’ mode needs to be activated on the Speedlight.

    When I’m shooting my manual system I use the aperture to determine the punchyness of the flash look and when I’m on programme I use exposure compensation to do the same task. I could tie myself in knots trying to explain why etc but that’s the role of my workshops.

    You might find this useful too. And this

    This is a bit of a rambling response to a straightforward question but I hope it is interesting.

    Damien.

    Reply
  8. damien

    Hi John,

    All the pictures that used remote flash on this 1:1 training workshop were triggered by Canon ST-E2 or 580EX11 Speedlites. I don’t have the actual exposure values to hand as the drive with the files is being processed at the moment. I can guess for you but each situation needs it’s own values. I would expect to have been on ISO200, f/4 @1/15th second. I set the exposure of the background and add flash using TTL. If I want to drive the flash amount I’ll do it using the FEC control on camera.

    Damien.

    Reply
  9. Alison Grainger

    Damien, I had a great time with you in Bristol, even better than I expected.
    Really looking forward to the Tuscany trip.
    Grazie. Alison

    Reply
  10. Jodie Chapman

    Hi Damien,
    Thanks so much for the shoot day last week. I am editing the shots right now and they have come out fantastic. I can’t wait to get out and about in London and put my newfound skills into practice!
    Thanks again,
    Jodie

    Reply
  11. terrence bibb

    Damien, is it possible to comprise a situational cheat sheet of sorts describing possible camera settings used using small flash? As wonderful as the workshop sessions are having refresher notes would be great.

    Reply
  12. Mark

    Hi Damien,

    You mention here your “standard exposure system” – do you have a post on this anywhere?

    Cheers,

    Mark

    Reply
  13. john shaw

    Hi Damien,

    Was the last shot taken using the ETTL feature of the new PW’s ? Or did you use flash compensation to balence the ambient light with the flash? What were the readings e.g. F stop / speed please?

    Reply

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