Things that Flash

I have been working hard on learning how to light with off-camera strobe lights. A great resource for anyone interested in using flashes is the Strobist Blog. One thing that I’ve found out quickly is that once you head down the strobe path, there is a whole bunch of new things to learn.

I love to learn new things!

There is also an endless amount of money to be spent on equipment (strobes, radio triggers, cables, light modifiers, books, etc.), which can lead to a hefty credit card bill quickly if you lack self restraint and like shiny new electronic toys.

I love shiny new electronic toys!

Taking photos with strobes presents a unique challenge that involves a balance of creative and technical skill. It especially appeals to me because it means really considering the image you want to create, and shaping the light to serve the vision for that image.

Below is my first real attempt to use multiple light sources to shape an image. My son loves to read and can often be found oblivious to the world with his head tucked deep into the folds of a novel (especially a Harry Potter novel). I wanted an image that captured his love of reading and the sparkle in his eyes when he is caught reading one of his favorite books.

I took a layered approach to building this image. First I calculated an exposure that reduced most of the natural light in the room. The curtains were quite bright and I did not want them to overpower the bulb in the lamp. My exposure was:

ISO 200, 1/200 sec., f /5.0

This effectively took all the ambient light influence out of the photo, leaving just the strobes to light Ryan and the chair and table set piece.

I then added a fill light which was a flash shot through an Westcott shoot-through umbrella just to the left of my camera.

This guaranteed me that I would see detail in the left side of his face, the book and the furniture, and that the bulb in the light would be visible. The flash setting on this was:

Canon 580 EX II Flash at 1/16 + 1/3 power on Manual Mode

The last step was to add the key light, which I wanted to be warm and be far enough back that it felt like it could have been generated from the mica lamp. My first attempts had the flash too far back, which was not very flattering and spilled distracting light on the lamp.

I adjusted by moving the key light forward and attached some black cardboard to keep it from spilling on the lamp and background. The final set-up looked like this:

This gives you an idea how much light was actually coming through the windows, but with the fast shutter speed it was almost all canceled out so that the strobes would be the primary light sources in the shot. The key light strobe was shot through a Lastolite 24: McNally Ezybox with a full CTO gel for warmth. The flash setting on this was:

Canon 430 EX II Flash at 1/4 + 2/3 power on Manual Mode

The 580 EX II was connected to my camera using a long TTL cable. And both flashes had Pocket Wizard TT5 radio triggers to fire them, although I could have used Canon’s built-in flash triggering system if I wanted to.

Here is the lighting “diagram” from my note pad:

It was a fun little project, and the best part was that I ended up with a nice shot of my son!



Filed under Photography

3 responses to “Things that Flash

  1. The final product looks great, it has a very cozy feel, which is perfect for a reader! I like how you included photos of the set up and your sketch, I could really get a feel for what you were trying to do and what you had to do to achieve it. I would never have guessed how much light was coming through that window without the pullback photo. You’ve inspired me to want to try some flash stuff myself…and I’m normally pretty wary of flash-related anything! 🙂 nice job!

  2. Fantastic photo, it really does look cozy. Nice breakdown of how you created it! 🙂

  3. viviennemackie

    A really interesting post, thanks. Great that you have such an obliging son!!

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