Hot shoe flashes, known as speedlites (or speedlights) are incredibly capable little flashes that can put just the right amount of light in the right spot. While it’s a very well known fact that studio strobes can deliver much more light output, they aren’t as portable or nimble as speedlights. However, there is much more that you can do to get more out of them just by tweaking some settings in your camera or working with it in a different way.
This is how to get more out of your speedlight.
I have a confession to make: ever since getting involved in the whole strobist world, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect light modifier. It has lead me down paths to experiment with beauty dishes, softboxes, ring flashes, umbrellas and octabanks. While every light modifier is very capable of doing their own thing very well, I’ve found that umbrellas are the most versatile. And because of this fact, I own four of them.
Umbrellas are great! They give beautiful catchlights in the eyes, can bring out lots of detail in a subject, have a beautiful and inefficient light spread that isn’t really directional but can be made so, and they’re super portable.
And more so than any other light modifier, I believe umbrellas rule them all.
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A beauty dish and an umbrella can accomplish different looks due to the way that they diffuse light. While an umbrella will more or less spread the light out in pretty much every forward facing direction, a beauty dish will bounce it off of a plate then reflect it back around a dish area. YouTube User Ticknor Photography decided to do a demonstration of one modifier against the other when it comes to headshots. The only criticism that we have of the otherwise very informal video is that the light modifiers aren’t the same size. Otherwise, you’ll want to turn your speakers up because the sound is a tad low.
His findings are that the beauty dish delivers more texture on the skin–which you’ll either not want if you’re retouching the image or want if you’re trying to get all the skin details. In general, beauty dishes are used more for fashion photography and portraits that are meant to have a very fashiony look. If you want a similar look from an umbrella, you need one with a silver interior.
The video is after the jump.
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When shooting portraits of someone and using a flash or studio strobe, there is a big secret to getting more details and extra beauty out of the shot. It first starts with specular highlights–which are extra details that are brought out by adding in extra light to a scene. But sometimes specular highlights render something even better: catchlights. Catchlights are usually associated with what you see in the eyes–and they have to do with a reflection of the light usually on the irises. What the catchlights look like vary depending on the light modifier. However, it is generally accepted that umbrellas, octabanks, and ring flashes often deliver the best catchlights in the eyes.
Getting them is fairly simple: simply place the light and light modifier in front of your subject and shoot. But in general, the rule also states that the bigger the light modifier and the closer it is to your subject, the better the catchlights will be. So to get better catchlights, we encourage you to first use a really large light modifier then place it close to your subject. Make sure that the light is in front of them and a little bit above them while facing downward. As an extra tip, we recommend also not moving the light modifier anywhere beyond a 45 degree angle of the subject while they’re facing the camera.
Then just shoot. For the absolute best results, set your flash’s power output to a setting that lets you shoot just slightly stopped down with the eyes in focus.
Creating the Photograph is an original series where we interview photographers about a photo that they shot and how it was achieved. The results are some knowledge passed on to you. Want to be featured? Email chrisgampat[at]thephoblographer[dot]com.
Photographer Corey Boland is a physical therapist that wears the photographer cape and cowl at night, but like the great Williams Carlos Williams before him, he surely has a creative and artistic side. We found the image that is the center of this post when he posted it on Reddit–naturally though, we know exactly how it was lit. But even though the methodology is fairly common, many don’t know how a photo like this is achieved. Nor do they always have the creative vision to pull something like this off in a very smart way.
Here’s Corey’s story.
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In the photo world, there are loads and loads of tricks that you can use to make viewers of your images believe that you’ve shot something with either all natural light or with one primary light. And if you have only a single light to begin with, there are ways that you can make your image appear as if two lights were added to the scene. All it requires is a bit a strategic placement of your lights or some extra knowledge of exposures.
For starters, keep in mind that when working with an artificial light (strobe or flash) that your aperture will control your flash exposure while your shutter speed manipulates the ambient lighting in the scene. Somehow or another, you’re going to have to figure out a way to balance the two out.
So how do you do this?:
– A very large light modifier in relation to your subject: Usually a six or seven foot umbrella being placed in front of and slightly above your subject can make your scene look like it was lit with two lights when the according shutter speed is dialed in.
– One Light and a Reflector: When your light is on one side of the subject, either set the light to its widest zoom setting or put it into a large softbox.. Next, place a reflector on the other side of your subject–we recommend using either white or silver. Then use the shutter speed to mix in enough ambient lighting to fill in the shadows while balancing out the flash output.
– One light and the shadows for evenness control: To make this one work, you’ll need to work outside and in a shadowed area of some sort. Bounce the light off of a surface or once again make the flash zoom out to its widest setting. After this, you’ll just need to mix the ambient lighting from the shutter speed accordingly. We recommend underexposing your shutter just a bit then raising the shadows in post.
Now get out there and go experiment.