Lighting can set free your vision

Mary in flight–For the finale of my Small Flash Lighting workshop, Ed Lano had asked me about special effect flash photography, so why not attempt it instead of just talk about it. We didn’t have our tripods with us but we faked it okay.

Pictures may exist all around us, ready to be captured by our cameras or they could be a figment of our imagination.

As photographers we all start with that first kind–the ones we can see in the natural world.

Once we have mastery of our camera, it’s time to explore lighting.

When we use our own lighting, it’s not that we ever leave behind the world of available light photography.

We are just giving ourselves even more control and actually more options.

Besides, it’s not uncommon for photographers to be bored with what’s there in terms of lighting.

Knowing how to light allows photographers a way to bring out that image that is “dreamed up” in their heads.

At the end of my just concluded small flash lighting workshop I gave my students a taste of what this might feel like.

Painting with a speedlite/speedlight for a special effect

Equivalent exposure calculation–ISO 200 1/5 sec @ f2.8 from the picture I shot of Samantha earlier is roughly 4 full seconds @ f11 (4 stops). Windows in general, are a pain because they reflect anything that’s lit or shiny. In the example above, it is compounded because bay windows are all on different angles and planes, making it tough to hide light sources. You can see the various reflections because of total internal reflection.

Figuring exposure

First, I need to think about what I want to show: Capture multiple images of Mary as she runs in front of the bay windows.

Key points ( assuming I want to allow ambient light to create some mood)

  • longer shutter speed in the neighborhood of 10 full seconds perhaps
  • small aperture for better depth-of-field since we’ll be kind of guessing on where to focus
  • need close proximity of my flash to Mary, my subject, to enable quick recycling of flash
  • narrow and focused light to prevent over-exposure due to areas repeated lit by flash
Flash Output 80mm 105mm
1/1 173.9 190.3
1/2 123 134.5
1/4 86.9 95.1
1/8 61.4 67.3
1/16 43.6 47.6
1/32 30.8 33.8
1/64 21.7 24
1/128 15.4 16.7

The Math:

I decided I didn’t want the light to indiscriminately spill all over.

Also, to get the most “bang” for my buck, I set the zoom on my flash to 105 mm for the narrowest beam and the highest output.

Referring to the table on the above, I can see I’ll need to dial in about 1/16th power. Guide number 47.6 divided by 5 feet (distance I will maintain from Mary as I’m painting) gives me an aperture of f9.5.

Since Guide numbers are given at ISO 100, my aperture adjusted for ISO 200 should now be 1 stop more between  f11 & f16.

That is the starting point for what I set on my lens.

I had an external power pack connected to the flash so that I could fire in quick succession.

With the lights on in the room, I asked everyone to manually focus on me as I stood on the imaginary line that Mary was going to take.

Once focused, I turned off the house lights, counted to 3 (the cue for everyone to trip/open their shutter)

We started with 8 seconds for the shutter speed and left the aperture at f11. It was easier for me to adjust my distance to Mary then to change either the aperture or the shutter speed.

I asked  Mary to run across the floor in a straight line so that she was in the same plane in front of the bay windows keeping as much as possible on the same plane and line parallel to the bay windows.

I stayed about 4 or 5  feet to the left of Mary, backpedaling as I held my flash over my head manually triggering the flash every 2 steps or so.

The key thing to remember was that I had to keep in pace with her so that the distance between my flash and Mary (the subject) is the same throughout. Deviation from this would result in over or under-exposure.

If this is giving you a headache, just keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be that precise.

After all those Guide numbers that Canon or Nikon gives are meant to get you in the ballpark.

How much and how little is more like adding salt to taste.

As long as the “blinkies” aren’t on when you look at your little LCD monitor and your histogram is not showing that you’re blowing out highlights, you should be in good shape.

When I get a chance I’ll post what else we covered in my Small Flash Lighting workshop.

3 thoughts on “Lighting can set free your vision”

  1. Hello Richard,
    Thank you for your contribution. Those windows unfortunately do not open and they’re bay windows so they weren’t all on the same plane.

    I’ll will have to give the hairspray a try. I want to thank you for that. See? I love it when I learn something. I haven’t tried those filters. But the key is this: the more methods you are aware of, the more options you have to tackle these peskly reflections. I appreciate very much your suggestions.

  2. If you don’t need a clear, crisp shot of the outside, you can use a can of hairspray on glass or shiny backgrounds to suppress the reflections and details of the softbox or umbrellas. Another method is to open the windows just enough to angle the reflection away from the lens. I use these method all the time when I get boned by reflections. For the hairspray method, put a light coating on the glass so that the glass is still see through, but has a light diffusing rough surface so that the light will scatter instead of reflect back. If you’re a filter person you can use a linear pola, but you will see any coating or imperfections in the glass itself.

Comments are closed.