Using the Pocket Wizard TTL system it is possible to use any shutter speed you choose and I selected 1/2000th second for the picture above to ensure I could use my 70-200mm lens on my Nikon D700 near wide open at f/4. The fabulous soft light and shallow depth of field is a combination that a Speedlight can do so well. By placing Katy so close to the building the unlit side of her face has been filled by the stray flash bouncing off the wall. Experience tells me that the Nikon SB-900 Speedlight was working at about half power or at about 30ws.
If I used my Broncolor Mobil flash head in a 60cm Lastolite Ezybox I could achieve a similar flash to ambient ratio at one metre using the minimum power setting of 1/16th power. I couldn’t choose to work at 1/2000th second though as the Mobil flash duration is way too short on minimum power to evenly illuminate the whole frame. I’d have to stick at the maximum normal sync speed of my Nikon D700. My typical exposure would be ISO200 (for best quality) 1/250th second at about f/11 (to render the ambient down by 2 stops).
The efficient high speed sync system of the Pocket Wizard TTL units is worth about a stop of extra light over the manufactures own technology. One down side of the Pocket Wizard system is they have to sample your cameras shutter timing on first use each time you switch them on. Unless that is you only have one camera type in which case you can preset it in the firmware. I regularly use my Pocket Wizard units on workshops and they get used on just about every model of Canon and Nikon available.
A gust of wind upset Vicky’s bob in the picture above but it didn’t dampen her spirits. Vicky was a bundle of fun all day and is a joy to shoot with. The key light was another Canon 580 EX11 in the Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe. ISO 100, 1/1000th second at f/3.2 using my 100mm macro lens.
Shooting flash at 1/4000th second and not just for fill in flash at short flash to subject distances takes some getting used to. With wide open apertures for shallow depth of field shots I just alter the shutter speed to control the ambient exposure. The TTL from the Pocket Wizard and camera systems takes care of the rest. I use in camera flash exposure compensation as required to fine tune the flash part of the exposure. Exposure details for the above picture: ISO 100, 1/4000th second at f/2.8. 100mm L IS macro lens.
Just a small piece of CTO gel is enough to turn the whole world blue. The above shot was taken on a bright day that was a bit overcast from time to time. With changeable light like this it is often worth switching to aperture priority. Aperture priority or Aperture Value (Canon) is fully functional with high speed sync enabled Pocket Wizards and makes every shutter speed available to the camera. I have to shoot my Canon camera on manual though because of a lack of exposure compensation options on the 5D series cameras. For some reason Canon engineers decided that 5 series owners only need plus or minus two stops of adjustment. Nikon however know full well that we need five stops of compensation and they equip all their pro cameras with that amount of exposure adjustment. It’s the little things that make the significant differences between the camera systems. Both my Nikon D700 and my Canon 5D mk2 cameras have their pros and cons.
In the shot above, Johanna was lit with a pair of bare faced Canon 580 EX11s on a Lovegrove Gemini bracket rigged out of shot to the right. I used a Lastolite Jupiter stand because it has a large base area and goes really high. Rigging two flashes to do the same job gives significant gains. It either cuts the recycle time considerably or at full power it will give you an extra stop of output. Adding more Speedlights suffers from the law of diminishing returns though. Two units is one stop of gain over a single unit and it takes four speedlights to add another stop of gain. Four Speedlights on Pocket Wizard Flex’s is in the order of £2000 of investment and that is right in the price band of a big flash unit from Elinchrom or Broncolor. Four Speedlights give approximately 240ws of output power while the Elinchrom Ranger and Broncolor Mobil both deliver a whopping 1200ws of power. A Speedlight is not all weak and feeble though because it has a lens. A lens that can zoom the light output into a concentrated beam. This function alone is the saving grace of the Speedlight when used outside on a sunny day. The big flash units on full power in bare faced mode will not give much more output at five meters than a Speedlight at the same distance that has been zoomed in. The big difference comes when the light is softened using a soft box or umbrella type attachment. This renders the zoom function useless and the big flash comes into it’s own trouncing the Speedlights performance.
The back lights in the shot above had homemade full CTB filters attached. The Honl colour correction kits don’t have a full CTB gel for some reason. The wind blew the flag at the time of exposure leaving my Speedlight exposed. I decided to keep it in the shot rather than clone it out. Nikon D700, ISO 200, 1/200th second at f/11.
There was no need for a shallow depth of field in the picture above so I opted to use a more conventional f/8 with ISO 200 and 1/200th second. The ambient was effectively cut by 1⅔ of a stop and was rendered blue because I set a white balance of 3330 Kelvin on my Nikon D700. Both Nikon SB-900s had full CTO gels attached with Honl Speedstraps. This renders a colour temperature of approximately 3200 Kelvin thus leaving Katy with a warm healthy glow to her skin. The subtle use of colourful soft light in this type of image brings it alive in camera. I shot this using the fabulous Nikon 14-24mm lens set at 18mm.
For the above picture I used a full CTB (colour temperature blue) gel on a single Canon 580 EX11 Speedlight. It was enough to force the background golden when I set the white balance of my 5Dmk11 to 10000 Kelvin (the maximum setting). It looks like sunset but the shot was taken at 11.16 am. I love the way my Canon 100mm lens renders out of focus backgrounds at f/2.8. This kind of shot is just not possible with big flash kit. ISO 200, 1/4000th second at f/2.8.
When I’m making two dimensional portraits without a distant background I don’t need to use a shallow depth of field to complete the look. I often choose to go with a mid aperture setting of f/5.6 of f/8, a low ISO of 100 or 200 to maintain the utmost image quality and a shutter speed to to set the section of the picture lit with ambient light a few stops under. I used 1/125th in the shot above to make it really edgy.
The vignetting in the picture is created by the fall off of the light. Vignetting in post production doesn’t look right because the contrast in the image tells the real story. When you darken an area of an image in post production it maintains its contrast and just gets darker. In the real world, the area of a scene that is unlit has a far lower contrast than the lit areas. It is darker, but it looks real and that’s what matters. It is easy to spot post produced vignetting and this is why I aim to try and get it right in camera, using selective and directional lighting.
Whatever type of flash lighting kit you opt to use on a regular basis it is worth noting that all systems are expandable and each add on is costly so be warned it could be the slippery slope to kit heaven. Even though I am lucky enough to have a fabulous Broncolor Mobil kit, I have far more financial investment in Speedlights and triggers. Speedlights are not a cheap solution, they are a different solution. I am fascinated by the practicality, versatility and complexity of Speedlights yet I don’t consider myself a strobist. I love continuous light too and my best work rarely uses a complicated lighting set up.
I’d love you to join me on a Speedlight or continuous lighting workshop this summer. Click here for details of my Speedlight Mastery workshop and here for details of my into the light workshop with Martin Hill. Martin will be using big flash and Speedlights in unison.
Please feel free to comment on your experiences with Speedlights or bigger flash kit like the ever popular Quadras or indeed triggers like the Radio Poppers.