Off-Camera Flash For Portraits
So, let's take a look at a video that we shot here to walk you through this, real world with a model, and give you another view on doing these same things, adding a little bit of flash to your subject. A really common situation for a lot of people is taking a portrait of somebody else. We have Rachel here and she's put on a fancy outfit with a really elaborate hat that I wanna get a photograph of, and so what do most people do when they want to take a photograph of their friend? They're like, hey, you look great right there, let me take your picture, and they set everything up, and then you look at it and you're thinking, wait a minute, there was a refrigerator in the background and that doesn't look so good, and there was some other junk that doesn't look so good in the background, and that's one of the most important things to think about in any photograph is the background, and it doesn't look real good here. So, we can move a little bit, let's just move over here a little bit right...
here, and that's fine right here. Now, so if I take this photo again, I have a really clean background. That's kinda nice but it's, in fact, it's so clean here it looks like we're in a studio, and I wanna show a little bit about where we are, so let's go a little bit further over to the windows, and now this gets us a little better light, as far as if we turn around towards the windows, we now have some better light coming in on the face, but I need you facing towards me a little bit, and now I need to figure out exactly what do I want in my background? 'Cause I can have the refrigerator, which I don't want. I can have some of the lights here, er, the window background, but now it's kinda strong on the backside and it's dark on the inside, but let's just shoot it just to see how it comes out with. And let's take a shot here. Looking at that photo, it still seems a little bit on the light and bright side, and so, I think what I wanna do is I want to move over to a new window which has some better lights over here 'cause we have a better exposure to the outside here. We have no overhang and so light's coming in here pretty clean, and so now we have good light, and if I'm careful about my position, I have a decent background. So let's just try it. We're not really working too much with posing, we'll fine tune that as we go along here. And so, this one is looking a little bit better, we have some decent light, but one of the other things that's really simple, that doesn't cost a lot of money, is adding a reflector into the situation, 'cause we have all this light coming in this direction. If we have a reflector to bounce that light back, that's gonna help out, bring a little bit more light on the face. So if we take a reflector, and these can be purchased for not too much money, and you know, technology wise, these stay around for a long time. They don't update these every two years like they do the cameras and so you can keep these around for years and years. Now, they have stands that you can put these on, you can hire an assistant, but you can also just hold it yourself if you want to, and if you're doing just a head and shoulders type shot, 'cause I'm just shooting about down to mid-stomach level here, I can just hold it in right here, or actually I can have the subject hold it in as well, and as long as you don't have it in the frame, no one's gonna know the better of it. This has some pretty nice light on her face, I can see her eyes nice and clearly, and I can see that hat really nicely. Let me just adjust my position, and I'm shooting this with a pretty basic lens. This is a crop frame camera and it's a 50mm 1.8 lens. This lens cost me about $100, 125, something like that, it's a real cheap lens but it's a great lens for shooting portraits. Alright, so we're gonna take this up a step and we're gonna start adding flash. With flash, there's a lot of different ways that you can do that. The first way is just simply with built-in flash right here. Now, the built-in flash is not known to be the best flash in the world. Let me have you stand against this white wall over here because this is the wrong way to shoot, and so we have a built-in flash, and we kind of have an ugly background, so we're really highlighting this. And so, I'm framing out my subject, and this one I need to adjust my exposure a little bit because we're getting a little bit too bright. We've added flash so we can use a lower ISO now, and let's make a little adjustment right there. Okay, so let's try this again. Alright, this is your typical bad photo. We have a really significant shadow on the background and it looks like you're getting your Department of Motor Vehicle license picture taken right now 'cause it's just flash just right on the camera and it's really harsh. Technically, it's the right amount of light but aesthetically, it doesn't look right. Almost all cameras that have built-in flash have something called flash exposure compensation, and you can dial it down by increments of 1/3 of a stop. If I dial it down 1/3 of a stop, we're not gonna see much difference. Let's dial it down 2/3 of a stop, we'll do a test there, and at a couple of other settings. So, here we are, same basic setup, this is minus 2/3 of a stop. Let's dial it down to one full stop, and so now the flash is a little bit less powerful, and we're getting more natural skin tones. Skin tone isn't being blown out perfectly white, and in this case, I'm gonna say that I prefer the minus one stop. That's looking pretty good, and so, with a built-in flash, that's about as good as you're gonna get. Now, we are getting a really significant shadow on the wall, and a good way to get rid of that is to get away from the wall, so let's take a few steps back so the wall's not nearly as close now. Let's go ahead and try the same shot again. Now, I can still see just a smidgen of shadow, and if I turn just a little bit, my subjects not even moving, I'm just moving a little bit, and now I have these brighter windows as a background, and the flash is filling in the front side here, so I'm getting reasonably good results. Let's adjust the angle of view just a little bit. I got a post I'm trying to work with in the background. Now, we're not getting that shadow at all in this photograph. That is kind of the limitations of what you can do with a built-in flash. You are limited because it is so physically close to the lens. The next step is using an add-on flash, and that's what the hot shoe is for on the top of the camera. This is gonna get the flash further away, it's also gonna add more power, have bouncing capabilities, and we're not gonna get into all of that in this particular setup. I just wanna get that on camera flash on and then what we're gonna do is take a few shots with that. Alright, so the on camera flash, there's many different sizes and styles available. Mounts right on there, locks on, turns it on, and so now the camera is communicating with the flash about how much power it needs. Earlier when we were talking about flash exposure compensation, it still applies to this flash here. So if we wanna power the flash down, we can do that. Let's go ahead and let's dial this back up to normal, even power just to do a test. Focus in on our subject, and give me just a little downward tilt on the chin, a little too much, come back a little bit. There you go, okay. Actually, make sure that black spot on that veil is not right on the camera there, there you go, so it's kinda in between there. It looks like a beauty spot from this location. Alright, this is definitely too powerful and so I need to power this flash down, and I have found this true on all the systems, that you need to power the flash down if you want a naturally pleasing skin tone on your subject. You need to dial it down 2/3, one stop, maybe a stop and 1/3. I'm going one full stop right here. I'm getting that black spot, so turn your head just a little bit, there you go. Little things matter, and I'm making sure to frame the entire hat because that is really interesting in this case. Alright, so, that is a little bit better light than the built-in flash. It also allows me to shoot my subject from much further away. In this particular case, I'm not too far, so it's not really needed for power but it is for better location. The next step is to use some sort of diffuser on this. One of my favorite ones is a bounce diffuser. This is a flat piece that I have Velcro put on my flash right here so I can quickly attach this bounce diffuser, and what's gonna happen is it's gonna bounce in this, and it's gonna increase the size and the distance it is from the lens. So there's many different models of this, and a lot of them are very similar. They just have Velcro on them and you can attach them here, and now the size of this light is greater than the size of that light, and size matters in this case. We are also moving it a little bit further from the lens, and so if I shoot, a little bit of a head turn, there you go, and so now we're getting a little bit different light than we had before and it's still quite good. Now I'm not getting shadows on the background, I'm getting a little bit more diffused edge line on those shadows in the background, and my subject doesn't have this sharp light coming in at one point. Now, you can always take things one step more. The next step, in this case, is getting this off the camera. But now I need the camera to trigger this, and I'm using what's known as TTL flash here. This is where the camera fires automatically through the lens and it figures out all the computations of how much power to fire from this. And if I wanna do this the simplest, easiest way to do it is with an off-shoe cord, and all the camera manufacturers make this, who make flashes, so let me get my off-shoe cord, and these are usually pretty robust cables and I'm gonna plug the connections on the top of the camera in, lock that in, and in the other part, connects onto the flash. And now, it's just as if the flash is attached to the camera. It has the same level of communication. It is a relatively short cord so it's limited in how far you can take it, but it just seems to be right about the length for reaching out with your own arm, so if you wanna shoot this by yourself, you can do this, and put the flash in various different places. A little bit more of a head turn over in this direction, there you go. And I'm trying to hold the flash generally above the plane of where the lens is. Down here, things can be kind of interesting and we might try some interesting shots down here, but generally we wanna mimic where the sun is or where the lights are in the room, and let's go ahead and fire that, take a look at that. Okay, now, that definitely looks different than any of the on-camera flash stuff. Alright, let's do a couple more of these, and yeah, let's be careful of that spot on the veil, a little bit of variance here. Alright, so now we're getting some reasonable results for minimum effort in making this better. Now, the final step, if we wanna go that far, is getting this in even larger light source. Now, there is all sorts of complicated studio equipment, we're not gonna get into that at all right now. We're trying to keep it really simple, but for not too much money you can get this into a small portable soft box. So let's get things set up with a small soft box. This is a relatively small soft box, and what we're trying to do is we're trying to increase the size of the light. Now, they do make many, many much larger soft boxes but they require quite a bit more power than one of these on-camera flashes. This is about the largest soft box that you can get and have it be powered by an on-camera flash like this, but this is what I wanna do, I just wanna keep it nice and simple and so, what you need is you need a soft box, you need a speed ring so that you can mount all these ribs that hold this together in here, just like a little tent, and then I have a mounting system on here where I can mount my flash, right in here. Another little bit of money. Now I'm gonna get my flash positioned in there, I'm gonna get the zoom set properly. I wanna spread the light in here as much possible, and the better of these flashes have a little pop-out diffuser here so it spreads the light out, 'cause I want the light spreading out, I don't want it hitting a hot spot right in the middle. Mount it in here, lock it in, and I've added my own little custom grip here. So this has just a short, it's like a monopod off of a, a really, really short monopod, but then I have some nice grip tape on it so that I can hold this very comfortably if I just need to do this myself. Now, of course, if I was gonna be doing this real seriously I might mount it on a tripod, but I am working very portable here, so you could be walking around being a paparazzi on the street with this. You could be shooting in a wedding going around, and granted, this is a fairly big setup to have, but in this type of situation it's something that you can do by yourself. So, I still have the camera in TTL flash mode, and I have everything else set up pretty basic as we had it before, but now, we have a much larger light source. Now, let's have your chin that direction, yeah, chin down a little bit. I wanna get that hat, I wanna be able to see the top of that hat there. Let's have this held up as high as I can get it, right here. Chin away from me a little bit, there you go. Take a look at that. And now it looks like we're in the studio 'cause we're getting essentially studio quality light. Okay, let's do creepy one. If you wanna do kind of weird looking shots, Halloween shots are always done down below, but this is kind of a mysterious hat and so these might be kind of fun. So let's take a look at these photos. Down below, yep, they look kind of fun. Up above they look a little bit more normal, but you can see how putting a little bit of time and effort and thinking about the different steps that you can take to improve your photographs. Working on a better background, getting better lighting, maybe adding some flash, not too much, power it down a little bit, and then getting that flash further away from the lens and in a bigger light source. The further down that road you go, the better portraits you can get. Take it as far as you want and as much as you can, but all this can be had for relatively a little amount of money. Alright, so hopefully that gives you an idea of how it works in the real world, and for most people, it's just go, where am I comfortable at now? Let's just add one step and see what we can do at that point. Get comfortable with that, and then you maybe go one step further and you'll find where you're comfortable doing whatever it is your doing, and you can use this for portrait photography, but as you saw in those cross country running, you can take this and just use it for almost anything that you can imagine. It's a very good skill set to have for your future of photography.