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Ed Verosky’s GUIDE TO
Ed Verosky’s Guide to Flash Photography. Copyright 2015 Edward Verosky. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission, in writing from the author/publisher.
Learn more about Photography at edverosky.com
ContentsAbout Light ............................................................................................ 5Duration of Light .........................................................................................................6Constant & Flash Lighting ..........................................................................................6Light Travels in Straight Paths .....................................................................................7Light Scatters...............................................................................................................7The Relative Size of Your Light Affects Contrast ........................................................8Direct & Diffuse Light ..................................................................................................9Color of Light ............................................................................................................10Light Loses Intensity as it Travels.............................................................................. 11
Camera & Exposure ............................................................................ 12How We Measure Light .............................................................................................13APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED, AND ISO ..............................................................14Shooting Modes.........................................................................................................23Easy Adjustments With Two Simple Exposure Controls ............................................26Standardization..........................................................................................................29Manual Camera & Flash ............................................................................................34
Flash Gear & Concepts ........................................................................ 37Shoe-Mount Flash .....................................................................................................38Flash Units by Manufacturer......................................................................................38Budget Flash Units ....................................................................................................40Remote Flash Triggering ...........................................................................................41Light Stands...............................................................................................................43Light Meters ...............................................................................................................48Two Types Of Metering ..............................................................................................48Using A Light Meter ...................................................................................................48The Meter Is Accurate, Not Perfect ...........................................................................50Are Lighting Ratios Important? ..................................................................................50
On-Camera Flash ................................................................................. 51TTL for Camera-mounted Flash ................................................................................52Flash Exposure Compensation .................................................................................52Other Flash Features.................................................................................................53Straight-On Flash ......................................................................................................54Bounce Flash ............................................................................................................55
Off-Camera Flash ................................................................................. 58The Advantages of Small Flash Units For Off-Camera Lighting ................................59Building a Portable Studio .........................................................................................59lighting setups & Techniques .....................................................................................64
Portraiture Tips .................................................................................... 80Lighting For Faces ....................................................................................................81The Five Basic Lighting Patterns ...............................................................................81Flat vs. Dimensional Lighting ....................................................................................84
IntroductionEd Verosky’s Guide to Flash Photography is a compilation of my best flash instruction from books and tutorials over the last several years and a follow-up to my eBook, 100% Reliable Flash Photography which was originally written in 2010. Much of the information has been reworked and updated to present a clearer picture of my methodology.
My goal is to give you a complete foundational understanding of how light and flash work so that you can produce great flash photography quickly and easily, no matter what the circumstances. I recommend that you read through this guide from beginning to end. I’ve made an effort to present the material in a way that doesn’t waste your time, while it gives you every opportunity to learn and master your technique. Depending on your skill level and familiarity with topics like camera settings and exposure, you might have to spend a little more time with certain sections, but stick to it. It will pay off big as time goes on.
We start by covering the behavior of light. This is an important topic; understanding how light works is the key to addressing some of the basic challenges you’ll come across in most lighting situations.
Camera and exposure settings are discussed next. As important as those topics are, that chapter has a section that I want you to pay particular attention to: Standardization. It’s the key to being able to walk into any environment with complete confidence in your technical abilities. Indoor, out-door, day or night with a single portraiture subject, group, or in a fast-moving environment. There is no reason for you to have to struggle with camera settings and lighting gear. Essentially, what Stan-dardization is about is creating and using an ultra-simplified starting point for just about any environ-ment you’ll encounter. Two default setting combinations is all most people need!
We finish up with the most common and powerful techniques for flash photography. I could have made this part of the book more complicated, and come up with ten or twenty scenarios and provided specific gear and settings recommendations for each. But I decided to offer a different, more practi-cal approach; I realized it would make more sense to show you how to do the things most photogra-phers need to do with flash. My reasoning is that if I can teach you how to build up from a one-light scenario to a three-point (or more) lighting setup, then you should be able to handle just about every-thing else that comes your way.
Finally, some basic portraiture tips are provided in Chapter Six. I’ve added this for completeness because learning to use your flashes AND knowing what makes a good portrait go hand-in-hand.
I really hope you enjoy Ed Verosky’s Guide to Flash Photography. I know that if you take the time to read it, apply the principles presented, and practice, you will become an expert in flash photography.
Understanding how light works is the first step to mastering your flash photography. You should know the effects of light’s behavior, color, power and duration. In this chapter, we’ll cover several important characteristics of light as they relate to photography. This is where it all starts.
Duration of Light In still photography, the duration of the light in our scene is one of our major concerns. This is because duration is very closely linked to exposure. The reason for that? The sensor will record more light as the duration of that light increases. Not enough exposure time and the picture will be too dark. Too much exposure to light, and you’ll get an overexposed image.
We can control the duration and/or amount of light reaching the sensor with our camera settings, but let’s start by understanding what types of light we’re working with in the first place. Where du-ration is concerned, photographers work with two main types of light sources: constant and flash.
Constant & Flash LightingConstant light is light that persists for a duration exceeding the time of the average exposure. Examples of this type of light source are photographic “hot lights,” household lighting, street lights, candle light, and sunlight (often referred to as natural light). Ambient light (light that exists in a scene but is not necessarily a primary light source) is also part of the constant light mix. One of the great advantages to working with constant light sources is that you can see and somewhat control the effect of the lighting on your subject and background in real-time.
Portable flash units (and studio strobes) are among the most powerful and versatile lighting sourc-es you can use, but they’re also the most misunderstood. The challenge of working with flash or
Figure 1.1. Normal flash illumination (white band) only lasts a fraction of the time that the shutter is open (blue band). Constant light is present before, during and after the time the exposure.
any strobe lighting has to do with the relatively short duration of the light output and its variable intensity. A single burst of light produced by a flash occurs for only a fraction of a second. In fact, the flash’s duration is usually much shorter than the total exposure time in use by the camera (see Figure 1.1). Of course, the light from the flash is so powerful, that’s enough time for it to do its job.
Light Travels in Straight PathsAn important property of light to understand is how it travels. To make things simple, we can think of any light as emitting a huge number of discrete rays, each on its own straight path. If you were to track one of these rays you’d see that it continues traveling in a straight line until it bounces (or reflects) off some object in its path, only to continue on a new straight path until it’s redirect-ed again. The angle of the redirection is fairly predictable, especially with very smooth reflective surfaces. For example, we know that if a light ray strikes a highly reflective surface at a 45 degree angle, it will bounce off that surface at 45 degrees in the opposite direction (see Figure 1.2). Of course, bouncing your light off a highly reflective surface isn’t always possible, or desirable. But the idea is that light bounces pretty much as you’d expect.
Knowing that light will travel out of your flash unit and reflect off of flat surfaces at a simple, fairly predictable angle will definitely help you visualize how to bounce your light in a given situation, and bouncing your light, as you’ll see later, is one of the keys to good flash photography. In reality, a light source like your flash doesn’t pump out all of its light rays in a single direction, and most of the surfaces used for bounce aren’t perfectly flat and reflective. We’ll make that work for us, too!
Light ScattersSo we know that light rays will travel and on straight paths, but since most surfaces they strike are not perfectly flat and reflective, especially at the microscopic level, individual light rays will bounce off those surfaces at many different angles as shown in Figure 1.3. Put that together with the fact that our little rays of light might continue on to bounce off other surfaces in the room, and you’ll have light effectively bouncing around all over the place.
Light emitting from any source tends to do just that; bounce around and scatter. Controlling or tak-ing advantage of this behavior helps us with things like filling in shadows and managing contrast on our subjects.
Figure 1.2. Light reflects off a highly reflective surface (like a mirror) at a known angle.
Figure 1.3. Light reflecting off of a less reflective sur-face scatters in many directions.
The Relative Size of Your Light Affects Contrast A large light source, relative to your subject, will provide a wider, smoother transition from light to shadow. You might think of this as softer light, or less contrast. Likewise, a small light source, relative to your subject, will create a shorter transition from light to shadow. You might think of this as harsh light, or more contrast.
Why does it work this way? It’s really very simple. If you can trace a clear (line-of-sight) path from any part of your light source to some part of your subject, that part of your subject will receive some illumination. Whatever the very edges of your light source can “see” of your subject, it will reach with some light rays. The parts of your subject that are closest to the light source will receive the most rays and therefore the most light. The parts that are farther from the light source will re-ceive fewer rays and less overall illumination.
This is why you can get a nice, wide light-to-dark transition from a large softbox or shoot-through umbrella placed close to your subject. Notice in Figure 1.4, that rays can reach the closest part of the subject from every part of the front of the umbrella. As fewer areas of the subject are visible to fewer areas of the umbrella on a given side, that side of the subject receives an increasingly smaller amount of rays, thus, less illumination.
But will that same large light source work its magic if it’s moved farther away from your subject? No, not really. That’s because, relative to your subject, that umbrella will get smaller as distance increases. It won’t be able to “see” much more than the very front of your subject. In Figure 1.5, we see how a smaller light source (a flash without an umbrella modifier) and a slight increase in distance can really affect the look of the lighting. You’ll get more contrast this way and the light can start to take on a harsh look.
Figure 1.4. Larger light source (umbrealla-modified flash) creates the look of softer light.
Figure 1.5. Smaller light source (just a flash) creates the look of harsher light.
Direct & Diffuse Light So, now it should be easier to understand why a flash unit pointed straight at your subject, from several feet away can create the look of harsh lighting. The flash unit, if you think about it, is a small light source, relative to your subject, even at a short distance; the face of the flash head might be no larger than a standard business card. The harsh look is there because the size of the light relative to the subject is very small.
A flash diffuser, like the STO-FEN Omni-Bounce shown below, would likely help in this situation, but it’s important to understand why. These types of modifiers are designed to scatter the light from your flash unit around the room as they simultaneously direct some of the light toward your subject. The actual light rays moving directly toward your subject from your diffuser-modified light are still just as harsh and direct. But with a diffuser there is a little extra light bouncing off the ceiling and walls, too (depending on your modifier). Light coming in from these different angles around your subject helps to fill in shadows produced by the more direct light. This fill light effect cuts down the contrast which produces a softer-looking light.
Some modifiers like the foam bounce card showing in Figure 1.6, are designed to make the light coming from your flash position a little larger in relation to your subject, which can also help.
Figure 1.6. (Inset) STO-FEN Omni-Bounce flash diffuser. (Main) Dimensions of a DIY foam flash bounce card. Verticle and Horizontal orientation, secured with a rubber band.
With flash units and mixed-lighting situations, you can simply keep a pack of small color correction gels with you and slap them over your flash unit(s) if necessary. Some flash units even have built-in filters for this purpose. It’s important to know that your flash unit emits a somewhat “daylight” color, so it’s on the cool side of the color temperature scale. If you’re indoors and want to record some ambient light along with flash in your pictures, but you don’t want the two light sources to appear to cast different colors, you’ll need to do some light color-balancing.
Color Temperature Orange (CTO) gels will warm the color of your flash, to match the warmer colors emitted by tungsten sources, such as standard household light bulbs. Put a CTO filter over your flash (see Figure 1.8) and shoot with your camera’s white balance set to tungsten. If you have standard fluorescent (not daylight balanced) lights to contend with, instead of tungsten, there is a green filter for that.
If you’re not interested in using color-correction filters on your flash unit, don’t sweat it. You can make quick ad-justments to color during RAW processing or individual image editing if need be. Selective (area) color correc-tion is common and really easy to do in post-processing. There are times when it makes sense to take corrective action for color-balancing while you’re shooting, but both-ering with little gel filters on my flash unit is something I’d rather not do, unless absolutely necessary.
Color of Light Light comes in different colors (see Figure 1.7). That’s a pretty simple concept. None of those col-ors are really right or wrong. So why all the fuss about color mixing and white balance? Well, we like to have some control over the color of light in our photographs in order to get the effects we want. Sometimes we’re after a warmer look, sometimes a cooler one. Sometimes we add gels to alter the colors of light for a stylized look, or simply to help match one light source’s color to anoth-er for a consistent look and to avoid an unwanted “color cast.”
Figure 1.7. Approximation of light sources relative to the Kelvin scale of light color temperatures.
Figure 1.8. CTO gel attached to Canon flash unit.
Light Loses Intensity as it TravelsWith distance, light becomes weaker, sort of. It’s not so much that individual rays of light become less intense as they travel, but they move farther apart as they leave the light source. This is because they are traveling at slightly different angles from each other. As distance increases, the light quickly becomes less focused or concentrated. Less rays actually reaching your subject means that he will receive less overall light.
In Figure 1.9, you can see that when the subject is in position A, he is receiving a large number of rays. When he moves to position B, farther away from the light source, only a fraction of the original bundle of light rays will reach him. The rest of the light rays are traveling at angles that will miss hitting him directly.
This is all related to something called the Inverse-Square Law which states that when doubling the distance of a light source from your subject, you are effectively reducing the light to 1/4 of its previous intensity on that subject. Adjustments to camera settings and/or lighting power have to be made in order to maintain similar exposures as light-to-subject distances change.
The takeaway is that small changes in distance between a light source and your subject can have a surprisingly big effect on how much light that subject receives.
Figure 1.9. Fewer light rays will strike your subject as distance increases, this is why light loses intensity with distance.
Camera & ExposureCHAPTER TWO
When you depress the shutter release button on your digital camera to take a picture, the shut-ter opens, “exposing” the image sensor to the light coming in through the lens. The quality of this exposure will greatly affect the look of your image. In many cases you’ll allow your camera to make some (or all) of the decisions regarding exposure and flash output via its program modes and metering system. This is fine, but a skilled photographer also knows how to manage their own camera and flash settings in order to really control the look of their photos.
In this chapter, I’ll provide an overview of what I call the “light pipeline;” the logical flow of light through the camera’s mechanisms of exposure control. We’ll also discuss how the use of flash factors into your camera settings and exposures. If you’re new to these concepts, I’ll warn you now; it might take some effort to internalize what’s in this chapter. But if you do it, it’s going to pay off in a huge way. You can learn this and it’s important. So, let’s get started.
How We Measure LightWe manage exposure by controlling the amount of light reaching the image sensor, taking the sensor’s ISO setting into consideration. In order to manage our exposures in a consistent way we need a standard, easy-to-follow system of measurement that ties into our camera settings. In pho-tography, the traditional unit of light/exposure measurement is the basic “stop.” As we adjust an exposure control setting (e.g., shutter speed) from one major increment to the next, we move up or down a full stop. This either doubles or halves the previous amount of light, or its effect, on the exposure. First some examples, then explanations. It will all come together as you progress.
The following are examples of one-stop differences:
• If you start with an f-stop of f/8.0, and change it to f/5.6, you will double the amount of light coming in through the aperture (f/5.6 is 1 stop wider than f/8.0).
• If you start with an ISO of 200, and change it to ISO 400, you will double the sensitivity of the sensor to light (ISO 400 is twice as sensitive to light as ISO 200).
• If you start with a shutter speed of 1/60 second, and change it to 1/30 second, you will double the amount of time light is allowed to pass through to the sensor.
Going the other direction with any control “halves” the light, time, or sensitivity:
• If you start with an f-stop of f/8.0, and change it to f/11, you will halve the amount of light coming in through the aperture (f/11 is 1 stop narrower than f/8.0).
• If you start with an ISO of 200, and change it to ISO 100, you will halve the sensitivity of the sensor to light (ISO 100 is half as sensitive to light as ISO 200).
• If you start with a shutter speed of 1/60 second, and change it to 1/125 second, you will halve the amount of time light is allowed to pass through to the sensor.
APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED, AND ISOIn the following sections we’ll discuss how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are not only useful creative tools, but also the most important components of exposure; the Big Three. They are also interdependent; any change made to one of these settings requires a reciprocal change to another to maintain the same overall exposure.
ApertureThe first exposure control in our lighting pipeline is aperture. When we think of camera lenses, we usually think of the clear optics in them that project the image of our scene or subject onto the sensor plane to create a photograph. But one of the most important parts of the lens is the built-in adjustable diaphragm that creates a hole (aperture) for the light from the scene to pass through, before it reaches the sensor (see Figure 2.1).
By adjusting the aperture setting on your camera, you’re telling the lens how wide, or narrow, to make the hole. Because of the way the optics work, the diameter of the hole actually affects how much of the scene is in focus (depth of field or DOF). Photographers will often refer to aper-ture settings in increments called “f-stops.” F-stops with lower numbers indicate wider apertures, whereas f-stops with higher numbers indicate narrower/smaller apertures (see Table 2.1 and Fig-ure 2.2).
As the aperture in the lens is adjusted up or down (wider or narrower) the actual amount of light moving through the lens in a given unit of time is going to change. A wider aperture will allow more light to strike the sensor in less time than will a smaller aperture.
Figure 2.1. Cut-away view of a lens showing the aperture mechanism. The hole allowing the light to pass through the lens can be adjusted via the aperture setting. These adjustments are measured in f-stops and control depth of field and the volume of light reaching the image sensor during the time of exposure.
Aperture affects two important things:
• DOF (how much of the scene is in focus) as shown in Figure 2.3;
• The amount of light passing through the lens onto the sensor (in a given unit oftime) as shown in Figure 2.4.
In order to get a good exposure, your camera’s image sensor must receive enough usable light from a scene while the shutter is open. By adjusting the aperture, we are able to adjust the amount of light the image sensor receives during exposure.
Aperture Setting Options
Your digital camera has modes that allow for automatic aperture adjustments. Using these modes, your camera might not always choose the best apertures according to your preferences. In cases where you’d prefer to maintain a specific aperture, or control aperture directly, you’ll want to use Aperture Priority or Manual modes (see Shooting Modes). Aperture Priority mode allows you to control the aperture as the camera makes automatic reciprocal adjustments to shutter speed to maintain good exposures. Manual mode also allows for full control over aperture settings but requires you to make the necessary reciprocal shutter speed adjustments on your own.
Figure 2.2. Approximation of the size of aperture openings corresponding to common f-stops.
Table 2.1. Common Apertures.
Common F-StopsFast Lenses Apertures grow smaller from left to right on this chart.
1.4 2.0 2.8 4.0 5.6 8.0 11 16 22 32
Figure 2.3. With automatic changes to ISO and shutter speed to maintain proper exposure, this sequence shows how DOF is affected by aperture adjustments (we’ve used f/1.8 but skipped f/8.0 and f/11 to maintain a six-shot format for this sequence). Notice the background detail at different f-stops.
Figure 2.4. With ISO and shutter speed remaining constant, this sequence shows how exposure is affected by aper-ture adjustments.
Shutter SpeedThe second exposure control in our light pipeline is shutter speed. As you’ve already seen, your camera’s image sensor must be exposed to light in a controlled way in order to properly record a picture. The mechanism that controls the duration of the exposure is called the shutter. The shut-ter’s job is to block the light coming in through your lens until you press the shutter release button to take a photo. When you press that button, the shutter slides open, exposing the image sensor to any constant light, and/or flash, coming in through the lens, then closes to block the light from the sensor again, ending the exposure. Your camera is capable of a wide range of shutter speeds (see Table 2.2).
Common Shutter SpeedsLeft to right: Slower (longer duration) to faster (shorter duration).
1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000
Table 2.2. This is a range of common full-stop shutter speeds. These are fractions of a second, but shutter speeds can be several seconds or minutes long and as fast as 1/8000 second on some DSLRs.
Usually, the shutter remains open for only a fraction of a second, but the duration can be longer. We refer to the length of time the shutter remains open as the shutter speed. Shutter speed is either controlled by the photographer directly, or by the camera in some automatic modes.
Shutter Speed and Blur
Your camera’s image sensor records any light projected onto it when you take a photo and the result is saved as a single still image. If there is no movement during exposure, the sensor only records stillness. However, if there is movement during exposure (either in the scene or from camera movement) it will may be recorded as overlapping areas of light in the frame. This produc-es blur, ghosting, light streaks, and other effects. Sometimes these effects are used creatively, as shown in Figure 2.5.
Figure 2.5. A fast shutter speed and slow shutter speed give different effects to this waterfall photo. By using a slow shutter speed creatively, we’re able to get the soft, flowing water effect on the right.
To help prevent blur due to camera movement, a tripod or monopod can be used. Image Stabiliza-tion (IS), Vibration Reduction (VR) and similar technologies are lens and camera features that can also assist in minimizing this type of blurring. While these will help minimize the effects of camera movement, they will not reduce blurring caused by movement in your scene — but faster shutter speeds will.
The faster the shutter speed, the shorter the duration of exposure; the sensor will have less op-portunity to “see” anything move or change in the scene. Many cameras are capable of shutter speeds as fast as 1/8000 of a second. At high speeds, you can capture images with virtually no motion blur regardless of subject or camera movement.
Slower shutter speeds are useful, too. In low-light conditions slower shutter speeds offer the ability to capture the constant/ambient light in a scene when higher ISO and wider apertures are not practical. In other words, in dim light a slower shutter speed can allow time for the image sensor to collect enough constant light for proper exposure of that light. Again, the trade-off is that a slower shutter speed increases the potential for blur due to movement of the camera and/or the subject.
Shutter Speed and Exposure
As the shutter speed is adjusted up or down (shorter or longer durations of exposure) the actu-al amount of constant/ambient light reaching the image sensor is going to increase or decrease (given the same aperture). Slower shutter speeds allow more constant light to strike the sensor because the exposure is longer, while faster shutter speeds allow less constant light to strike the sensor (see Figure 2.6).
Shutter speed affects two important things:
• The amount of ambient/constant light motion blur visible in an image;
• The amount of time constant light is able to build up onto the sensor.
A good exposure requires that the camera’s image sensor receive enough usable light from a scene in a given amount of time. Your shutter speed is going to control the duration of exposure, and your aperture setting is going to control how much light the sensor is exposed to in that time. By adjusting the shutter speed, we are able to control the amount of time constant light is allowed to build up on the image sensor.
When flash photography is introduced into the mix, shutter speed has much less to do with the areas of the image affected by flash. The duration of the flash is only a fraction of the time of the overall exposure; so a longer exposure (slower shutter speed) does not receive any more light from the flash than a much shorter one.
Put this all together and what it means is when you adjust your shutter speed, the exposure of the subject receiving flash illumination stays about the same but the amount of constant light being recorded changes. For practical purposes (other than flash sync), think of it this way: shutter speed doesn’t affect flash exposure.
Shutter Speed Setting Options
Your camera has modes that allow for automatic selection of shutter speed. In these cases, your camera might not choose the best shutter speeds according to your preferences.
Shutter Priority mode allows you to set the shutter speed manually as needed (for example with sporting events, it’s often necessary to use shutter speeds above a certain range, say 1/500 second or faster). Aperture Priority and other modes adjust shutter speed automatically for you and are quite good choices as long as you make sure speeds remain in acceptable ranges.
X-Sync & High-Speed Flash Sync
You can use flash with your camera’s native flash sync shutter speed (x-sync) or any slow-er shutter speed. This has to do with the way the shutter opens and closes past a certain speed. Check your manual to find out what your camera’s flash sync speed is. This is usu-ally the shutter speed you’ll want to use in manual flash setups. If you need to use flash with higher shutter speeds (e.g. 1/8000), it’s possible using a camera and flash combination that allows for high-speed sync (HSS). Because of the way HSS works, the trade-off for using it with faster shutter speeds is diminished flash power; the flash pulses like a short-lived constant light source during exposure and the total output of the pulses are weaker than the power of a full instantaneous flash burst.
Figure 2.6. With ISO and aperture remaining constant, this sequence shows how exposure is affected by shutter speed adjustments.
ISOThe final stop in our light pipeline through the camera is our sensor and its ISO setting. ISO is the camera setting we use to control the relative “sensitivity” of our camera’s sensor to light. When you take a picture, the lighting conditions of the scene, as well as shutter speed and aperture settings determine how much light is striking the image sensor during exposure. ISO determines if that amount of light is enough to record a properly exposed image. If enough light strikes the sen-sor according to the ISO setting, adequate data is recorded for producing an acceptable image.
ISO and Exposure
The sensor has a maximum amount of light that it is capable of recording (per each pixel). If that maximum is reached or exceeded, the data can only be interpreted as being the brightest possi-ble tone. In our images, this is often what specular highlights or pure, blown-out white areas, are made of.
Conversely, it’s possible for the sensor not to receive enough light to record adequate data for all or part of a picture. It might be that the scene is too dim, or that your shutter speed and aperture settings are cutting down on the amount of light necessary to record the desired detail during exposure. Whatever the reason, less light striking the sensor can mean a darker image, or lack of detail in darker parts of the image.
If we had no way to adjust the sensitivity of our camera’s sensor, we’d always have to adjust shutter speed and/or aperture to suit such a rigid constraint. This might result in slower than useful shutter speeds in low light or smaller than desired apertures in brighter light.
By having a way to adjust how the sensor reacts to the amount of light reaching it, we are given more control over our aperture and shutter speed settings. The camera’s ISO setting is our conve-nient way to tell the sensor to act as if it is more, or less, sensitive to the light during an exposure. A normal or low sensitivity response (normal or low ISO) allows the sensor to report light informa-tion under normal exposure conditions. Whereas a more sensitive response (higher ISO) might allow the sensor to report the same amount of light under lower lighting conditions.
Just as with aperture and shutter speed, adjustments to ISO can affect exposure and will cause an image to record as darker or brighter if aperture and/or shutter speed are not adjusted as well (see Figure 2.7).
ISO and Image Quality
How exactly does adjusting the ISO setting make the sensor more “sensitive” to light? It might be helpful to understand that in order for our cameras to deliver enough information from our sensors, sometimes that information needs to be “turned up” just like the volume on a sound recording when the recording is too low.
For example, say that you made a recording of a distant or very low sound. The signal is stored on the recording media, but in order to clearly make out the sound, you must boost the gain (or
volume) which also makes some unwanted noise audible. With digital cameras, turning up your ISO is very similar; sometimes you need to “turn up” the signal in order to record enough useful information. The problem with amplifying the information signal is that, just like the sound record-ing example above, a lot of unwanted noise is also amplified. With our images, conspicuous noise (with a look similar to film grain) is a by-product of higher ISOs (see Figure 2.8).
Figure 2.7. With aperture and shutter speed remaining constant, this sequence shows how exposure is affected by ISO adjustments.
ISO Setting Options
Your camera might have modes that will automatically select the ISO setting for you. In these cases, your camera might not choose the best ISO according to your preferences. Another feature of some digital cameras is the ability to use special low or high ISO settings outside of the normal range for the camera, and/or incremental ISOs like ISO 160 or ISO 320 (as opposed to ISO set-tings like 100, 200, 400, etc.).
In general, I recommend you start with the standard ISO numbers and adjust them in standard doubling or halving increments. It’s easy to remember that ISO 200 is half as sensitive to light as ISO 400, just as ISO 3200 is four times more sensitive to light than ISO 800. Simple.
Aperture, Shutter Speed, & ISO in BalanceGiven the amount and type of light we have to work with when taking a picture, finding the balance we desire of these three components: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is always our goal. You might adjust one, two, or all three in various ways, but all three have to add up correctly to create the desired exposure. And there is more than one way to get that exposure as shown in the group of Tables 2.3 below and in Figure 2.9. For example, with regard to exposure, if we start off with the following combination for a given constant amount of illumination on our subject, all four exposure setting combinations shown will result in the same exposure.
In the case of flash illuminated subjects, shutter speed plays less of a factor and adjustments you can make for flash exposure on the camera are basically limited to ISO and aperture. There is a little more to it than that, but the takeaway right now is that shutter speed shouldn’t be thought of as a way to control flash exposure.
So, in a nutshell, we generally measure light in “stops” and control it with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Within any of these components, each standard incremental change either doubles the light (or its effect), or cuts it in half. We have to balance these components and compensate for a change in one, with a change in the other(s) to get similar exposures across adjustments.
Figure 2.8. A close-up crop showing noise produced at ISO 400 and ISO 6400. The full-crop image is shown in the inset.
Table Set 2.3. Various exposure combinations.
Figure 2.9. This sequence shows how different combinations of aperture settings and shutter speeds can result in the same exposure. ISO could have also been changed between shots as long as one, or both of the other settings also changed to maintain the same exposure. Notice however, that the same exposure does not necessarily mean the same effects in the image; the changes in aperture here resulted in noticeable differences in DOF.
With the following settings as a starting point for a good exposure...
Aperture (F-Stop) Shutter Speed ISOf/8.0 1/500 400
We can achieve a similar exposure with each of setting combinations in the following tables:
Aperture (F-Stop) Shutter Speed ISOf/5.6 1/500 200
2X original light allowed SAME 1/2 original sensitivity
Aperture (F-Stop) Shutter Speed ISOf/8.0 1/250 200
SAME 2X original light allowed 1/2 original sensitivity
Aperture (F-Stop) Shutter Speed ISOf/16 1/125 400
1/4 original light allowed 4X original light allowed SAME
Shooting ModesYour camera is capable of making complex exposure decisions for you. As a matter of fact, there is some highly sophisticated, computerized programming that goes into many of the shooting modes. Some of these modes take most, if not all, of the guesswork out of taking pictures and can produce interesting effects and provide special exposure enhancements. Essentially, your cam-era can even function as a point-and-shoot, with the benefit of creating better quality images than
you’d get with a smaller, compact camera. As you get more confident with your camera, you’ll want to graduate to more sophisticated shooting modes.
Just to give you some context, shooting modes are what you use to tell your camera how you’re planning to use it. There’s no way we can cover all of the specific modes and terminology used by all of the different camera manufacturers, across all the models of cameras out there. But, generally speaking, a shooting mode sets up the way your camera will function in terms of handling exposure settings.
Fully Automatic ModeMore than likely, your camera has an all-encompassing automatic mode. On Canon and Nikon cam-eras this full-auto mode is denoted by a green icon on the mode dial. On your camera it might be under a different icon, or simply under the word AUTO. You can think of full-auto as sort of a point-and-shoot mode. Few camera settings are controlled by you, and the actual decisions about expo-sure are made entirely by the camera. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are determined based on what the camera’s programming thinks is best for the scene. While this might seem like a great way to shoot, it provides you with very few creative choices and not always the intended results.
To use this mode, just set your camera to AUTO or the green icon, and you can start shooting just as if you were using a point-and-shoot. The camera will make all of the important exposure deci-sions for you including whether or not to trigger the internal or pop-up flash if your camera has one.
Again, just as with all of the automatic and easy shooting modes, you’ll have limited creative control over your exposure settings and the camera will not always make the best decisions on your behalf. That’s definitely a point you should be aware of. If you want more control, you’ll have to abandon these modes and move on to the ones that put more control into YOUR hands. We’ll get into those modes as we progress.
Basic/Scene ModesNow, besides full-auto, some cameras also have modes designed for very specific shooting scenar-ios like “Portrait” or “Landscape” shots, night shooting, action and other situations. Depending on the camera manufacturer, these might be called BASIC or SCENE shooting modes on your camera. These are more than likely found on consumer and some prosumer models than on high-end cam-eras. As you might expect, if you want the camera to attempt to make good exposure decisions for you, you’d select the BASIC or SCENE mode that matches up to your shooting scenario. I’ll stress this one last time: the camera’s not always going to make the best choices, and your creative op-tions might be very limited, but these modes could make shooting a little easier for beginners.
Program or Program Shift (P) ModeProgram mode is another easy-to-use mode that gives the camera initial control over the aperture and shutter speed settings. The camera controls the balance between the aperture and shutter speed, but it allows you to shift the exposure mix in case you’d like to see one of the other settings in a different place.
For example, let’s say your camera is showing an aperture at f/5.6 and shutter speed at 1/60 sec. If you’d like to open up your aperture to f/4, you can turn a dial until you see that adjustment as your camera automatically makes the reciprocal adjustment to the shutter speed (in this case, to 1/125 sec.). This is usually done via one of the adjustment “wheels” on the camera. This type of exposure control shifting is a handy way to exert a little more control over the exposure settings than you’d have with the full-auto mode.
Besides allowing you to shift the exposure settings up or down, P mode also allows you to set the ISO and dial-in Exposure Compensation, which we’ll cover later.
Shutter Priority (Tv or S) ModeControlling things like the aperture setting and shutter speed will become very important to you as seek to gain more control over the look of your images. When you want to deliberately control shut-ter speed, or the duration of your exposure, Shutter Priority mode, often denoted with the symbols “Tv” (time value) or “S”, allows you to select and adjust the shutter speed as you shoot, while the camera automatically adjusts the aperture to compensate for any change in exposure. If you’re taking pictures at a sporting event for example, you might want to capture the images at shutter speeds no slower than 1/500 sec in order to freeze the action. As background and other lighting conditions change, your aperture will be adjusted automatically.
Of course, the camera’s ability to maintain good exposures through automatic aperture adjustments is limited by the aperture range of the lens used. In other words, if the camera would otherwise adjust the aperture to f/2.8 to compensate for a change you’ve made to the shutter speed, it can’t if the lens’ widest built-in aperture is f/4. In those cases, a simple manual adjustment to your ISO will put you back into a good exposure range.
Aperture Priority (Av or A) ModeThis can be thought of as the flip side to Shutter Priority mode and can be found on your shooting mode dial under “Av” or “A.” You’ll use Aperture Priority when you want to have direct control of your aperture setting while allowing your camera to automatically adjust the shutter speed for you to maintain proper exposure. Although using this setting means you’re less concerned about the exact shutter speeds being used, you’ll want to keep an eye on the shutter speeds your camera is selecting for you. Stopping your aperture down too far can lead to slower shutter speeds and blurry pictures. Aperture Priority is the mode I recommend for most outdoor photography.
Manual (M) ModeManual mode (“M” on the shooting dial) gives you total control over all camera exposure settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This means you, and not the camera, are responsible for getting a proper exposure. The camera’s metering system will still provide you with feedback to help you judge the potential for over/under exposure, but it won’t take over to correct your exposure settings. Where lighting conditions are inconsistent, you’ll have to make frequent adjustments. Since you can freely adjust aperture and shutter speed independently of each other, you’ll find that you have a great amount of creative freedom with manual mode. But since you’re doing all the thinking for the
camera (as far as exposure goes), you might be spending more time dealing with the settings than you’d like.
Manual mode is very useful in situations where you can take your time composing and making creative adjustments to exposure. It’s also great for portrait setups using flash/strobe because in those situations the lighting conditions tend to remain consistent throughout a series of shots; few if any exposure adjustments have to be made unless there are changes made to the lighting setup and/or the ambient lighting conditions.
Note that Manual camera mode and Manual flash are not the same thing; camera and flash modes can be used independently of each other. For example, your camera can manage TTL flash metering for automatic flash output control while you operate that camera in Manual mode. Probably less effectively, you can use your flash in Manual mode with your camera set to one of the automatic modes.
Bulb (B) Mode
Another version of Manual mode is Bulb mode. Here, you can control all aspects of the camera as with manual, but instead of pre-selecting a shutter speed, the shutter simply remains open for as long as you hold the shutter release button down (or maintain the open shutter with a remote shutter release). This is a very inaccurate way to manage the duration of the exposure, but it can be useful under the right conditions. Bulb is best used with a tripod and some type of remote/ca-ble release to prevent blur from camera movement. It’s often used to photograph fireworks, the night sky, and other low-light scenes.
Easy Adjustments With Two Simple Exposure ControlsMost professional and prosumer cameras offer very two handy camera controls (check your camera’s manual for specific instructions on how to locate and use them): Exposure Compensa-tion (EC), and Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC). These controls effectively give you on-the-fly override power of the camera’s exposure and flash output decisions. They are like throttles for light control. You will use these two controls to dial-in light just the way you want it to look.
Flash Exposure CompensationWhen using automatic flash control (e.g., Canon’s E-TTL II or Nikon’s i-TTL) which we’ll refer to as simply, TTL throughout this book, it’s often advantageous to “ride” your camera’s Flash Ex-posure Compensation (FEC) control. Which is to say, adjust the setting to increase or decrease the amount of light your flash pumps out, overriding your camera’s flash metering decisions. For your camera this might simply be a matter of quickly pressing a button and rotating a control wheel left or right.
For example, if your subject is wearing a light-colored outfit, your camera might determine the scene requires less flash output than it actually needs, underexposing the scene. This is an easy
correction for you, because you’ll simply dial in a little more flash power for your next shot with the FEC control as shown in Figure 2.10. This compensates for the way your camera wants to under-expose the shot.
Similarly, if your subject is wearing a dark-colored outfit, your camera might overcompensate by applying too much flash, overexposing the scene. Again, you’ll simply dial in a little less flash pow-er for your next shot with the FEC control.
Figure 2.10. TTL flash metering underexposed the shot on the left but dialing in a little more flash power with FEC corrected it.
Exposure CompensationExposure compensation (EC) works in nearly the same way as FEC. However, it’s not used to control flash output, but rather controls overall exposure (of constant/ambient lighting), overriding your camera’s metering decisions.
Now, in Aperture Priority mode, moving the exposure compensation dial really just changes your shutter speed. This is because your aperture is set by you, and your camera automatically sets the shutter speed. In order to shift the exposure up or down, your camera must adjust the shutter speed accordingly.
This is why exposure compensation doesn’t really have a place when your camera is in Manual mode. In Manual, you are already in full control over both aperture and shutter speed. So, to ad-just exposure, you’d simply adjust one of these settings directly.
When not using flash, EC simply allows you to dial in more, or less, light for the whole scene. Again, useful for times when metering in modes other than fully manual, and your camera isn’t quite capturing the scene the way you’d like. But, when using flash with Aperture Priority mode for example, EC is quite a useful control, especially outdoors. It will allow you to adjust the ambient light independently of the flash exposure. Useful, for example, if you want a darker background than the camera’s metering gives you, while maintaining the same exposure on the subject with the flash (see Figure 2.11).
Of course, setting your camera to Manual mode will give you complete control over the ambient lighting (while your flash, under TTL control, maintains an independent output). But, it’s good to know that EC is there if you want to adjust things without slipping out of one of the priority modes.
When To Use These ControlsWhen using TTL-controlled flash: you’ll ride the FEC both indoors and outdoors. Manual flash does not require FEC adjustments because the flash output is controlled directly. You’ll use EC outdoors when your camera is in Aperture Priority mode. Again, the mode I recommend for most outdoor photography. As for indoor flash photography, I recommend you use the camera’s Manual mode. In that case, there’s no need for the EC control. You’ll just adjust shutter speed for the ambi-ent light, and use FEC to control the way the TTL-controlled flash illuminates the subject.
Outdoors, use the camera’s Aperture Priority mode for speed and simplicity. Again, FEC helps you adjust the way the TTL-controlled flash illuminates the subject (I usually like to dial the flash down a bit outdoors to create a subtle fill light effect). EC can help you adjust the background light.
For most practical purpos-es, however, your camera’s metering will likely give you a good ambient exposure with-out any EC adjustments. So, the FEC might be your main adjustment control outdoors.
Note: Different manufactur-ers implement and limit the use of FEC and EC in differ-ent ways. Be sure to check your camera manual carefully to make sure you have your preferences set correctly to take full advantage of EC and FEC controls.
Figure 2.11. Flash exposure remains the same, but the image on the right has a darker background with EC dialed down.
StandardizationWe’ve covered the lighting theory and camera controls that are most important for good flash pho-tography. Later, you’ll see examples of common lighting scenarios that should cover most of what you’ll want to do when starting out. But here is where I’ll present a working methodology that you can apply to just about everything when working with flash. I strongly believe this approach can make you more confident and capable.
By standardizing your basic camera and flash settings, and the way you work with your light, you will find a simplicity and consistency that will allow you to become a master of your preferred techniques. Working under a standard method doesn’t have to be a constraint. As a matter of fact, it can be more freeing to your creativity than having too many choices and technical concerns to deal with. Giving yourself fewer options to worry about will keep your focus on the subject of your picture, and that’s always a good thing. You’ll naturally start to think in ways that bend your situa-tion to your method instead of the other way around.
When time permits, stretch the self-imposed limits of standardization to further your technique. Do-ing this at a reasonable pace will allow you to expand your skill set over time. But, it’s still going to be your core techniques and standardized settings that will provide the consistent magic you can depend on. No more walking into a situation without knowing where to start. And when it counts the most standardization will save you.
How Standardization Works At its essence, standardization, as it pertains to our discussion, is all about simplicity and consis-tency. It’s about empowering yourself by eliminating the things that create uncertainty and waste valuable time when you need to step up and get the well-crafted shots that are expected.
Have you ever been amazed by a friend’s ability (or even your own) to get great pictures with a simple camera phone? Have you been surprised to discover that one of the photographers you admire uses only one lens, or one type of film, or a single light setup that rarely varies? All of these are examples of success via simplicity and consistency. With fewer options you are forced to simply work with what you have. And human nature drives the incremental improvement over a process that uses simple, relatively unchanging tools. Mastery is an eventual outcome.
To put it another way, it’s easier to become really great at your photography when you keep it sim-ple. While I’m not proposing you do all of your work with a iPhone from now on, I am suggesting you commit to a methodology that involves creating just TWO default starting points that you will use for virtually ALL of the situations you’ll encounter.
The following are examples of how you might do this. You’ll see that the main idea is to bring the number of settings you have to think about to a minimum. Where camera-mounted flash is concerned, I want you to virtually reduce your camera and flash to one simple tool. You’ll have only one or two controls to adjust, while still giving you the option of full creative control of your exposures. This works, so let’s put it to use.
Default Flash SettingsYour flash unit is a powerful and dependable source of light. Use it however it will work, on or off the hot shoe of your camera. The only thing that matters is that you get the results you want. If you have little time, little space, or just don’t feel like carrying around extra gear, keep your flash unit attached to your camera and make some great pictures that way.
We’ll assume, for the purposes of the following examples, that your flash will remain on your camera and that you’ll have your camera set to an overall metering mode using TTL for automatic flash exposure. So, let’s run through the gear and settings for both indoor and outdoor flash pho-tography:
IndoorsHere are my suggestions for getting great results when using flash indoors.
Always Start with these Settings:
• Camera in Manual mode
• Use the highest ISO possible that will result in acceptable noise for your purposes. Example: ISO 800
• Use the fastest normal sync speed (x-sync) for your flash. Usually 1/200 or 1/250 depending on your camera.
• Use the widest aperture that your lens will allow while still delivering acceptable sharpness. Example: f/4.0.
Adjustment Controls To Use
Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) and shutter speed should be the main controls for adjust-ments for indoor camera-mounted, TTL-enabled flash.
• FEC. If you need more, or less, power from your flash.
• Shutter Speed. If you want more, or less, ambient light to show in a scene.
Putting It To Use
When using flash indoors, use your camera’s Manual mode. You probably do not want to use Aperture Priority mode because if you do, the camera will dictate shutter speed based on its assessment of the ambient light, causing long shutter speeds resulting in blurring and sometimes unwanted ambient light effects.
In practice, you’ll be all set with your indoor default settings when you walk into a room, ready to go. If you take a couple of shots and notice you’d like to have a little more warmth or ambient light appear in the photos, just slip your shutter speed dial down to 1/60. Want more? Try 1/40 or 1/15. Just ride your shutter speed dial to get the ambient lighting to look the way you want it to. Just remember that as the speeds get slower, the potential for noticeable blur increases. Depending on the look you’re going for, some creative blur can really work for you, too! But, it’s all up to you and that one little shutter speed dial. There’s a lot of power there.
If you need to make any adjustments to the amount of light you’re getting from the flash, that’s when you use FEC. You won’t need it often, but if your subject is wearing light colors, you might have to dial the FEC up a bit, otherwise your camera might underexpose the shot. If your sub-ject is wearing dark colors, you might have to dial down the FEC to compensate if your camera is overexposing the shot. Your camera controls the flash output based on what it thinks the best exposure is, so sometimes you have to force it to accept more or less light from your flash to get things to look right.
That’s it for indoor shooting. Shutter speed and sometimes FEC.
OutdoorsIndoors, your flash is usually the predominant light where your subject is concerned. But, when shooting outdoors during daylight hours, your flash usually serves as a fill light. Here are my sug-gestions for how to approach outdoor flash photography.
Always Start with these Settings:
• Camera in Aperture Priority mode.
• Use a lower ISO setting. Example: ISO 100.
• Use normal sync speed for your flash if possible. Example: 1/200 or 1/250 depending on your camera. But have HSS ready.
• Use the widest aperture that your lens will provide while still delivering acceptable sharpness and being suitable for daylight. Example: f/5.6 or f/8.0.
Adjustment Controls To Use
Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC, with TTL-enabled flash) and Exposure Compensation (EC) should be the main controls for adjustments. Adjust aperture for changes to DOF.
• FEC. If you need more, or less, power from your flash.
• EC. If you want more, or less, ambient/background light to show in a scene.
• Aperture. If you want to change depth of field.
Putting It To Use
You should realize that in Aperture Priority mode, by adjusting EC what you are actually doing is overriding the camera’s shutter speed selection. If you were shooting in Manual mode, you’d simply adjust shutter speed directly for the same effect. And, in Manual mode, you’d have a much wider range of control. The EC offers a limited number of stops over or under normal exposure. The trade-off is that Manual mode often requires more thinking and attention to your gear outdoors than does Aperture Priority. So, that’s why Aperture Priority is the right choice for outdoors when speed and simplicity are desired.
With your default settings in place, there are just two controls to think about now: EC and FEC. EC dialed down -1 stop or more will give you deeper sky colors and darker backgrounds. This is a starting point, but by no means do you have to keep it there. EC is your tool for easily adjusting overall exposure. Dial it down for darker, dial it up for brighter. Simple.
FEC dialed down -2/3 stop or so keeps it from looking too “flashy” on your subject. Again, this is only a suggestion. You’ll have to do some testing to determine what you like best as a starting point. Realize that FEC serves to make your flash more of a fill light as you dial it down and more of a main light as you increase flash output.
That’s pretty much it. Unless you want to adjust the aperture, too.
Aperture adjustments are good for changing DOF, without affecting the flash exposure on your subject (because with TTL, flash output will automatically adjust itself). The more you close down your aperture, however, the harder your flash will have to work, possibly not being able to put out enough power at smaller apertures. But, you can always make up for that by bumping up your ISO.
Now, various factors might cause your shutter speed to increase past 1/250 sec. (e.g., higher ISOs, wider apertures, brighter ambient light scenes). This will cause your flash’s high speed sync (HSS) mode to kick in, if you have it set to automatically do so. That’s fine. That’s why it’s there. When this happens, your flash has to work in such a way that it may not produce enough light to meet the needs of your shot. One solution for this is to move in closer to your subject. Chimp your camera’s preview monitor to make sure things are looking right.
Note: Outdoor flash photography at night can essentially be approached the same as indoor flash photography. Just set your camera on Manual mode and use FEC for flash control and shutter speed for ambient light exposure. In other words, use indoor settings.
Making Standardization Work For YouThe examples above may be good starting points for you, but I suggest you test them out for yourself. See if you can find better settings for your camera and flash combination. Once you find something that works, write it down and stick with it! Learn to do really great work without altering your default settings. Use EC, shutter speed, and FEC and stick to just one or two lenses. I believe maintaining a simplicity and consistency will work well for you. You should be able to rely on the standardized settings you have determined work best for your gear and shooting style.
Standardization takes the guesswork out of the equation so you won’t have to doubt yourself or spend time considering what the best settings are for a given situation; you’ll already have some-thing that you KNOW will work. Then just use FEC and EC/shutter speed as needed!
Standardization can also work for you when you move your flash away from the camera position, whether in TTL or as manual flash. When using manual flash, just create a separate set of stan-dardized settings for your go-to lighting setups. This is what I do; I keep it so simple that I really don’t have to think much about it when I’m on assignment. I know what my settings are going to be on my camera and flash, and I know where I like to place my lights (see Figure 2.12). Easy!
Figure 2.12. This head shot was easy work with my standardized setup. This allowed me to focus on the posing.
Manual Camera & FlashWe’ve already discussed how using your camera in Manual mode indoors can give you a great amount of control when it comes to capturing ambient light. I think it’s fair to say that full manual control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO puts the most powerful components of in-camera expo-sure in your hands. Couple that with intelligent lighting and you’re virtually unstoppable!
But if manual control of your camera is so powerful, why are there so many other modes to choose from? Why do even the best professional photographers often shoot in Aperture Priority or other modes? Speed and simplicity is the reason. Camera modes other than Manual allow the photogra-pher to focus his attention on the control(s) most important to him at the time, while letting the cam-era’s metering system call the shots on the other controls to maintain good exposures. For example, in Aperture Priority mode, the photographer can make adjustments to the aperture setting while the camera adjusts the shutter speed automatically. While in Shutter Priority mode, the photographer can select different shutter speeds and let the camera decide the best aperture for proper exposure for each one.
Similarly, if the photographer changes the ISO setting, the metering system will, in Aperture Priority mode, adjust the shutter speed, or in Shutter Priority mode, adjust the aperture accordingly. And as we discussed earlier, there are camera modes that seem to do ALL of the thinking for you. An auto-matic mode like Program AE (P), or a fully automatic mode, might control, from shot to shot, DOF (aperture), areas of focus, shutter speed, ISO, flash usage and output, and even the format or qual-ity your images are recorded in. These offer the photographer the least amount of control over the camera, but can be good to use for quick point-and-shoot situations. For the most part, I’d suggest you stay away from the fully automatic modes.
Any modes that maintain the proper balance for good exposures can make life easier for you, while manual control will give you all the rope you need to hang yourself. Because, in Manual mode, any adjustments to aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are on you (in Manual mode, some cameras might automatically select ISO for you. I’d suggest you turn that feature off so you can fully control the ISO adjustments yourself). The camera won’t automat-ically correct your shutter speed to compensate for an aperture adjustment you make, for example. Sure, the camera will give you feedback on your settings via the exposure level indicator, but that’s all. You’re still free to take all the pictures you want, good exposure or bad.
So, why use manual at all? Simply put, manual camera and flash settings can produce very good, consistent results (see Figure 2.13). There are sev-eral situations where Manual mode is going to be your best choice:
Figure 2.13. Jennifer’s head shot was created with a single shoot-through umbrella setup. Manu-al everything, 50mm, f/4, 1/250, ISO 100.
Indoor Flash Photography
When using flash indoors, the ambient light tends to be very dim compared to the light your flash emits. If you are NOT in Manual mode, your camera will make its own decisions about how to handle this. Sometimes this will result in acceptable images, and sometimes it won’t. Either way, you have little control over the outcome.
If your camera is set to Aperture Priority mode for example, you will have no direct control over your shutter speed. While TTL will give you a proper flash exposure, the camera will make its own shutter speed decisions to try to correctly expose for the ambient light. Sometimes this means the camera will default to its slowest standard flash sync speed (e.g., 1/60), and some-times it means you’ll get shutter speeds that are just too slow to work with.
Without the ability to control your shutter speed, you can end up with blurry images, light streaks, and other effects you might not want. Using Manual mode in this situation, however, gives you full control over how much ambient and/or blur you would like to record. TTL will adjust your flash’s output for good exposures of your subject, while you simply ride the shutter speed dial for the ambient, to your liking.
With regard to the above examples, you might be wondering why Shutter Priority mode isn’t a good option, since it gives you direct control over the shutter speed. The problem is that Shutter Priority mode gives the camera full control over aperture adjustments, a side-effect you probably don’t want. Using your camera in Manual mode when using flash indoors is easy. TTL takes care of flash exposure, leaving you with just the FEC and shutter speed dial to adjust as needed.
Outdoor Flash Photography
As you know, daytime outdoor ambient light is much brighter than the ambient light you’d find indoors. Recording ambient light outdoors during the day doesn’t require extremely slow shutter speeds. As a matter of fact, the ambient light usually provides enough illumination for your sub-ject that you can do without flash entirely. Outdoors, your flash is often regulated to the role of “fill light” rather than main light.
Outdoors, it’s often easiest to set the camera to Aperture Priority mode to take advantage of the camera’s automatic shutter speed adjustments. Here, as with indoors, your flash exposures will generally take care of themselves with TTL. Your camera will likely balance out the ambient light nicely. The light is bright enough outdoors so properly exposing for ambient won’t mean slow shutter speeds; you don’t have to worry about blur or light streaks as you would indoors. If your particular camera system allows it, you can even adjust ambient exposure with the EC dial while maintaining the same flash exposure on your subject.
If you would like full control over your outdoor exposures, Manual mode is the best choice when you have time to mange adjustments, or your lighting and other conditions are sufficiently con-stant and static. Since your camera isn’t managing exposure for you in Manual mode, you have to keep an eye on exposure variables at all times, so watch the exposure level indicator. Doing so is harder when things are moving quickly.
For outdoor work, Manual mode is a good choice for low-light, or nighttime situations. In these cases, you’re essentially dealing with the same issues as with indoor photography. You can
handle them the same way. Let the flash (now your main light) do its job, while you adjust shutter speed for the ambient light as you see fit, and FEC if necessary. Also, there may be times when you’d like to go for a special effect like overpowering the sunlight with flash, or blowing out the background light around your subject, etc. Manual mode may be the best choice in these situa-tions, as might, manual flash control.
Switching your camera to Manual mode allows you to fully control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings independently of each other. But, your flash and camera are smart enough to work together to allow you to control these components, while keeping the flash exposure of your sub-ject on target with TTL. What happens when you go the final step, and put your flash under manu-al control along with your camera?
Manual flash power settings simply allow you to set your flash output power from lowest to highest in varying increments. As with your exposure controls, these increments indicate either halving or doubling of the light involved. Power settings range from 1/1 (full power) down to 1/64 or 1/128 power with most flash units. This is useful when your flash is used on a light stand or when multi-ple lights are used (so you can manually setup lighting ratios).
For editorial and portraiture work (see Figure 2.14), where time allows, I will often use a one- or two-light setup with everything set to manual. However, I’ve standardized my camera settings, manual flash unit settings, and light-to-subject distances so there is little guesswork involved. Just a few small adjustments here and there as I fine-tune the settings based off feedback from my camera’s preview monitor. Do the same and you can make short work of most portrait jobs.
Figure 2.14. Justin’s head shot taken with my typical two-light setup using my standardized manual settings.
Flash Gear & Concepts CHAPTER THREE
In this chapter, I want to give you an overview of the flash gear and concepts we’ll be covering. Later, you’ll learn all about setting everything up.
Shoe-Mount FlashAlthough they’re not considered professional studio lights, shoe-mount flash units can be just as expensive as budget studio strobes, or more so. So you might wonder, why spend more money on smaller, less powerful flashes? Small flash units offer many advantages over larger studio strobes; they’re more compact, lighter, operate on convenient size-AA batteries, and they’re ac-tually very powerful for their size. They also give you the option of using TTL, automatic flash metering technology (e.g. Canon’s E-TTL II or Nikon’s i-TTL) and simplify flash ratio control. Many photographers prefer them for their size and portability. There are also many light modifiers and other accessories for these types of strobes making them very suited to portrait work. The flash models that offer the most versatility include flash heads that rotate and tilt.
Flash Units by ManufacturerCanon LineupCanon has several flash units perfect for small studio work and outdoor shooting. Speedlites can be can be mounted to light stands and positioned anywhere around the scene and controlled with E-TTL II, Canon’s version of TTL flash metering and output control.
Of the models listed below, the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT, can be mounted onto your camera and serve as an optical controller for any of the units listed here when those units are set to slave mode. It, and the 430EX III-RT can also serve as radio master controllers to matching models.
Here is a list of some of models you might find useful:
• 270EX II. While this model’s flash head doesn’t rotate (it only tilts vertically), that becomes much less of a limitation when remotely mounted to a light stand and/or swivel adapter; in that case, the flash head can be positioned as needed to point light in any direction. The settings for this unit are limited and can only be adjusted via a direct cam-era connection or E-TTL II optical wireless master. Unfortunately, it has limited use in multiple light setups where you’d want to control it as part of a designated group; it only operates as a member of E-TTL II Group A and will fire regardless of the channel setting on the master controller. This unit is the smallest and least powerful in this group, but it can still serve as a good secondary light. I’ve found it especially useful as a hair light or rim light. This Speedlite is best used as part of an E-TTL II configuration and not a fully manual setup.
• 320EX. This is an interesting model that boasts a built-in LED light which can be useful for some DSLR video recording when better light is not available. The LED can also serve as a modeling lamp and focus assist. As an off-camera slave unit, it allows you to manually adjust the Speedlite group and channel you wish it to operate on. As with the 270EX II, it’s great for use in an E-TTL II setup, but it will be of limited use in a fully manual setup.
• 430EX II. For more serious off-camera shooting, I’d recommend going with no less than the 430EX II. Unlike the 270EX II and 320EX, the 430EX II will allow you to make important settings adjustments directly on the unit, including manu-al output control. It’s easy to navigate its menu with the LCD monitor and a few simple buttons. It can function as a slave unit (Canon’s optical wireless system).
• 430EX III-RT. The new 430EX III-RT is the second Canon flash to incorporate radio as well as optical signal transmission and can function as a master con-troller in radio mode.
• 600EX-RT. This is the first Canon Speedlite capable of radio wireless transmis-sion to slave units as a built-in feature (see Figure 3.1). Of course, this requires the use of slave units capable of receiving radio transmission from the master unit (i.e., the 430EX III-RT, 600EX-RT). You should also be aware of the fact that some of the more advanced features of this unit cannot be used with Canon DSLR models introduced prior to 2012. As a master unit in radio transmission mode, the 600EX-RT can control multiple slave units on one of 4 channels split into as many as 5 groups.
Although the 600EX-RT and 430EX III-RT can be used as wireless optical/radio and wireless radio, respectively, two special master con-trol units are available that don’t have the high profile of actual flash units: The ST-E2, which provides optical wireless control of all Speedlite models, and the ST-E3-RT, which only provides radio control when used with 600EX-RT and 430EX III-RT slaves.
Finally, Canon cameras with built-in (pop-up) flashes, beginning with the introduction of the 7D, are equipped with integrated Speedlite transmitters, meaning those cameras and their built-in flashes can control remote/slave Speedlite units via optical transmission. Ratios and other settings are controlled via the camera’s menu system in this case. This feature is similar to Nikon’s Commander mode.
Figure 3.1. Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT.
Nikon LineupJust as with Canon Speedlites, Nikon’s Speedlights (note the subtle difference in spelling) also give you the advantage of automatic flash exposure through the i-TTL/CLS system. Speedlights are controlled via optical transmission much the same as Canon’s. Here are a few Nikon models of interest, excluding the ones that cannot reliably be used as wireless slaves.
• SB-500. The Speedlight SB-500 has a flash head that tilts and rotates and can function as a commander (master) or remote slave unit using Nikon’s i-TTL/CLS. The unit will operate on any of the four channels (1,2,3 or 4) and one of two groups.
• SB-700 and SB-910. These are the top two Speedlights in the Nikon lineup (see Figure 3.2) which can perform master and remote/slave functions while taking full advantage of the latest CLS features.
Even with all the great on-going improvements in TTL automatic flash metering and output control technologies, it should be noted that any good flash unit capable of being set to manual mode and triggered via optical or radio sync will do the job. As a matter of fact, for any shooting situation where your light and subject placement will remain fairly static for several shots, manual camera and flash settings will often give you the most predictable, consistent results.
So, you don’t need to use the features of E-TTL II or i-TTL to get great portrait lighting. However, those automatic features can be useful when you are going to be moving lights around frequently, or in fast-moving shooting conditions (like event photography).
Budget Flash UnitsThere are many low-cost, third-party flash options available. I’ve purchased some that I initially considered great deals but within a few short months discovered other-wise. Keep in mind that some manufactur-ers are able to offer very low cost options because they’re using inferior components and substandard quality-control methods. If you’re tempted to cut costs by investing in cheap flash units, please be sure to do your homework; don’t just read the reviews on online sales pages, see what people are saying in your favorite gear review forums. There are fewer things worse than having your flash suddenly malfunction during an important shoot.
Figure 3.2. Nikon SB-700 and SB-910 Speedlights.
Remote Flash TriggeringIf you’re using dedicated TTL flash gear, you can trigger your remote flash units with the optical or radio signals as your system allows (see Figure 3.3). But you’re certainly not limited to using one brand of flash with your camera. We can mix and match flash units and trigger them in many differ-ent ways.
Dedicated Sync CordsDedicated sync cords like the one shown in Figure 3.4 are brand-specific and configured with electronic contacts that match up to your camera and flash. Essentially, these extend the connection necessary for the cam-era to relay automatic output control messages to the flash. This way, your flash can be positioned within arm’s distance of the camera, or even farther with longer cords or by daisy-chaining two or more cords. Of course, if you don’t need TTL, you can still use these cords with other flash units set to manual mode.
PC CordsWhile not a wireless solution, and certainly not E-TTL II/i-TTL compatible, the PC cord, as shown in Figure 3.5, (and having nothing to do with “personal computers”) is a quick and easy way to sync your camera to a manually set flash unit located somewhere away from the shooting posi-tion. If your camera has a PC connector terminal or a hot shoe adapter that provides this type of connection, you can plug a PC cord into it, and plug the other end into a flash with a similar con-nector or adapter. PC cords with the screw lock feature are less prone to accidentally detaching from their terminals than their more basic counterparts, but they still have a reputation of being unreliable.
This, and fact that they’re a wired solution, makes them more prone to accidents and failure and somewhat restricts the photographer’s movement during shooting. Also, it’s not always possible to reliably hook up more than one flash unit at a time using PC cords. The one advantage a PC cord (or any simple cord connector) has over optical wireless transmission is that there is no line-of-sight signal problem to contend with.
Figure 3.3. Canon ST-E2 wireless (optical) flash transmitter can control/trigger several remote Canon flash units.
Optical SlavesIf you’re looking for a very simple low-budget wireless solution for syncing any number of manually controlled flash units, optical slaves might be a good option. These are typically small units that connect to your flash (See Figure 3.6), either directly or via a hot shoe adapter. An optical slave flash trigger is essen-tially an “electronic eye” that responds to the flash burst from a “master” flash or other flash in your setup by sending an electric signal to the flash it’s connected to, causing that flash to also fire. So, when you take a picture and the flash connected to your camera fires (or any flash fires), each remotely positioned flash equipped with an optical slave, will also fire. This happens instantaneously so all flash units contribute to the exposure.
There are a couple of important things to be aware of when using optical slaves:
1. Do not use E-TTL II/i-TTL or any automatic feature that creates a preflash or otherwise uses a connected flash for anything but the actual exposure. Since any flash-type pulse of light will trigger a standard optical slave, the re-mote flash will likely fire during the first pulse it sees. In the case of preflash, the optical slave will react to the preflash, causing the remote flash to fire and end before the shutter opens.
Of course, this means the remote flash won’t have enough time to recycle and fire during, or contribute to, the actual exposure. Some op-tical slaves are designed to take preflash into account, ignoring a first pulse, and triggering on the second pulse (presumably the flash of the actual exposure). These however, have re-ceived mixed reviews from users. It’s just best to set the camera for manual flash when using optical slave triggers.
2. Make sure you use an optical slave that is compatible with your specific type and/or brand of flash unit. When using Canon Speedlites, for example, it’s recommended that you attach
Figure 3.5. PC cord attached to the PC sync termi-nal on a Canon Speedlite.
Figure 3.4. Dedicated sync cord.
Figure 3.6. Sonia brand optical slave attached to Canon Speedlite. This model is specially designed for use with Canon EX-series flashes.
optical slaves that are explicitly compatible with the EX series of flashes. Of course, there will still be a line-of-sight limitation, as with any optical wireless transmission/reception solution, but again, you won’t have a problem with most close-quarters indoor shooting because even if your optical slaves aren’t directly in-line with your master flash, they’ll likely pick up the light pulse as it bounc-es off other surfaces (i.e. walls) and fire at the appropriate time. Outdoors in bright daylight, might be more of a challenge.
Radio TriggersAlthough Canon now has a radio transmission solution to the line-of-sight problem associated with the optical wireless transmission of E-TTL II signals, third-party radio solutions have been avail-able for quite some time. RadioPopper, PocketWizard and others have come up with ways to cap-ture and relay the proprietary signals from Canon and Nikon cameras to their Speedlite/Speedlight units.
There are many basic radio triggering solutions available for non-TTL (manual flash) applications, including the PocketWizard transceivers (see Figure 3.7), and many low-cost triggers from other manufacturers. One note of caution: before investing in a set of radio triggers, make sure you do your research and look for models with good reviews. A lower-priced set of radio triggers might sound like a bargain until you’r