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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 26 of 28

Shoot: Using a Softbox

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

26. Shoot: Using a Softbox

Lesson Info

Shoot: Using a Softbox

Let's talk about soft boxes. Alright, let me pull this one down and get this one off set. Collapse that, and to do this, you know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna move to a different trigger technology as well, just so I don't have the cables laying around, but before I do that, I'm just gonna talk about soft boxes. Okay. So umbrella, the umbrella was round, okay? Soft boxes aren't. Soft boxes are kind of rectangular, and that's important because it actually does change how the light works. It changed how the catch lights look in the eye, but also, it changes how the light falls onto the subject. See, with the umbrella, it's like a controlled grenade. Light still goes this way, but it goes everywhere, but with a soft box, you actually get to fix and determine exactly where that light starts, where it finishes. So soft boxes give you a ton of control. I really like soft boxes, and I highly recommend you buy them eventually. Start with an umbrella, and then plan on getting a soft box within ...

the next year or so if this photography thing is growing on you, which I know it will. So here we go. Here's a soft box. There's a ton of different sizes of soft boxes. They are not cheap. I hate to say it, but you're gonna spend some money, at least a hundred bucks for a relatively inexpensive one. This is again, this is Profoto. This is a two foot by three foot, and again, this is probably in the multiple hundreds. You have to figure out some way to attach the soft box to the flash, and that's what this little doohickey is. It's called a speed ring. Maybe you've heard that term before, a speed ring, and specifically, this is a speed light speed ring or a strobe speed ring. It's designed to work specifically with your little flash. So most of these have these little color-coded symbols. Blue to blue, so I just look for the little blue holes here on the speed ring, plug those in. And one of the reasons it's called a speed ring is because once you get it set up, you can actually rotate it and spin it around when it's on a stand. So you can kinda go horizontal or vertical or diagonal or whatever you need to do, and so spend a little bit of money on a product that lets you adjust the orientation of that setup. So next, most of these speed light speed rings have something like a cold shoe. So depending on your technology, your trigger technology, you might use the cold shoe, you might not use the cold shoe. It just depends on how we're gonna trigger. I haven't decided how I'm gonna trigger yet. So we'll get to that in a second. Okay, next is how does this all mount on the stand? Again, back to the stud, stud right here, so that stud is going to go into the base of the speed ring like that and lock this sucker down, and then that mounts right into here just like that. You notice I flipped that around. I did that on purpose. I like to be able to control the locking knob with my right hand and then control the orientation with my left hand. If you're left-handed, you can swap that around. It's just a habit that I have. You know all of us working pros, we've got these little idiosyncrasies, and that's mine. It has to be on the right hand. Otherwise, I can't function. (laughter) Okay, inside of this, let me just point this out as well, inside of this, there is a double diffusion. Double diffusion. In other words, there's a diffusion panel here, and then, you actually have the front diffusion panel as well. The reason why we do that is it helps soften the light even more. So that's the positive. The negative is that it sucks some of the energy and some of the power from these little flashes. So if you find you're just not getting enough oomph, enough light onto your subject, you might pull out that inner diffusion. Just recognize the light might be a little bit harsher, but again, we're splittin' hairs here, my friends. You know, the light quality difference with that second diffusion panel and without, it's just subtle, ever so subtle. Okay. How do you position a soft box? Well it's similar to how you position an umbrella. The size of a soft box dictates how far away from the subject it should be located. So if it's a three-foot soft box, you want it to be about three feet away. And again, you have to imagine there's a shaft of light comin' out here, so that shaft of light basically points towards his nose. Not always, but that's the general consensus, and a little bit higher than his head, maybe something like that. Cool. Cool, cool. Now what I'll do a lot of times is I'll talk to the model. Say I'm gonna actually get this pretty close to you. Don't worry, it won't hurt ya. And I'm gonna try to shoot just right along the edge of the soft box for a lot of my photography. You'll find I do that, just right along the edge, unless I do something like lighting from the back or lighting from the side. Alright, let's talk about triggers. Let's trigger this maybe with just a simple optical trigger, you know, very low technology. So I think to do that, you know, just to remind you what I'm talkin' about here, I could trigger it with something like that. Alright, that was the $10 optical trigger. I could also trigger it with something like this. This is the Nikon SU-4. Again it's just an optical trigger. I'm gonna actually trigger with the SU-4, and the reason why is because it's just physically a little shorter than this one, and I've found that if I use this optical trigger in this thing, it pushes the flash up a little high. You know sometimes when I put my flash in the light system, the flash is too high for the hole in the back. So you might have to figure out the correct height of these, just the physical dimensions. But there's also some of these speed ring things that have adjustable height for your flashes. So shorter flashes or taller flashes, they actually can adjust up and down. This one doesn't, so I'm just gonna use this Nikon SU-4. SU-4. So I'll put that in here and turn on my flash. What do you think, TTL? Manual, you're right. She got it right. So I'm pushing the mode, and I go to manual mode. And I'm just gonna guess. I'm totally gonna guess the power output. Based on experience, I'm gonna think somewhere in the eighth to quarter power range, something like that, and we'll see. So I'll start this out at eighth power. And this is gonna screw in right here. Excellent. Okay. Eighth power and now, (beeping) Cool, just making sure that it actually fires when it's in there. Okay so now I have to find a way for that to trigger. I'm shooting with my D500. My D500 doesn't have a little pop-up flash, so I have to find some way to send a dinky little pulse of light that way. So if you have another accessory flash, any flash will do, you can send a pulse of light that way. If you do have a pop-up flash that you own, well then you could do that little pop-up, but because we're tethered with my D500, I'm just gonna find another way to send a little pulse of light. Oh I know, how about my $30 Aperlite flash from eBay or Amazon or wherever I bought this thing, and I'm just gonna set the power there for really low, manual output, and power's going to be one 128th power. And the only purpose of this is to send a pulse of light out into the ether so that receives it and pops the real one. Did that make sense, what I just described? Okay. I understood it. I just wanted to make sure that I didn't speak some language that didn't make sense to everyone else. Okay. And to do this, actually, I'm gonna take this out of the way for this first shot, just so you get a feel for what that looks like. Okay, so just a summary. Manual, one eighth power, yep. Manual exposure, I'm still at a 250th, I'm still at F five six, and I'm still at ISO 400. And then this little guy, it's just sending out a pulse of light to trigger that. Okay my friend, thank you for your patience. You got a smile left in you? Maybe one. Alright, cool, I'll take 'em. One, two, three (clicking and beeping) And again, one, two, three (clicking and beeping) And yeah, we'll have you turn away, nice. One, two, three (clicking and beeping) Okay. Let's see what those look like. Okay, what do we notice? A little bit bright? Yep, definitely, it's a little bit bright. Well that's very encouraging. You know why? Cause that's means, I'm at, I'm gonna do a little droppin' numbers, I'm at one eighth power. So that means I still have like three stops brighter that I could go, which means that my camera, I can go to like F eight, I can go to F 11, and still get decent exposed photographs. So I know one eighth power, I still got a lot of range to work with here, cool. But I don't need it one eighth, so I'm gonna drop down the power. I'm gonna drop it by a full stop. So I'm gonna go from one eighth down to 16th, yes. Alright cool, there you go, 16th, and I push the okay button, and same shot again. One of your awesome smiles. One, two, three (clicking and beeping) And that was just a grab shot just to check exposure. Oh yeah, gettin' better. I'd say it's still a little bit too bright, just ever so slightly bright. So now I'm gonna go 16th, and then I'm gonna go minus two thirds beyond a 16th. So that's 16th minus two thirds. Or minus point seven. Some flashes have decimals, and some have fractions. Okay this one's for real, so I know you been hidin' that real smile, let's see a real one. Nice, and last one. (clicking and beeping) Cool. Not the last one, but the next one. Yeah, lookin' good, eh? Alright, so we got our exposure, and again, back to this fear thing. Don't be fearful. This stuff is so easy. You just take a shot and take a look. Oh it's too bright, no problem. (beeping) Drop down the power. Let's look at the catch lights in the eyes. Oh that's a nice looking catch light. Yeah, I like it. Makes me happy. Oh what's that second catch light from on the right side? Any guesses? Okay, some are saying a reflector, but that's not the Oh she got it. It's here. Oh actually, no it's not here. I think it's the house light. I think it's the video light for the studio. I think that might be it, or it could be here. So remember, you don't necessarily want this to be contributing, so you might consider flagging it ever so slightly. Let's just do another test and see if that was it. Let me focus it first. And I'll flag it with my hand. Okay, one, two, three, (clicking and beeping) Nope, that wasn't it. So that was the house lights. Okay, so you're the boss. You could tell them to turn the house lights down. I'm not going to. Don't do that. Don't turn the house lights down, but that's what's causing those other reflections in his eyes. Okay, so let's go back to discussing the theory and the rationale of the soft box. Oh we're gonna stay here in the light room, thanks guys. So the soft box, we get to really control the look. We get a really nice catch light in the eye, and the light doesn't splatter everywhere. It's very controlled. I think of it like a, I don't know, a soft box. That's what I think of it as. It's just a controllable light. It's a controllable light tool, and it's so cool. Now we're wireless, so I can move this anywhere. Let's do some fun stuff. I'm gonna put the soft box behind him. Okay, just like this. And this is gonna cause a rim light off of his shoulder and nice hair light there. So this is going to still provide the main illumination for the subject, but I'm gonna need something on his face to shine light back onto his face. So reflector? I'm gonna use a reflector. And I'm gonna move this in as close as possible. Okay. Yeah, how's that feel? A little tight? It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable. Good, but as long as you're talking to your subject and helping them understand what you're doing and why you're doing it, it's always gonna be mo' better. And I wanna arrange this in such a way that I shoot just along the edge, but I don't get the soft box there in the background. And I think this arrangement will work. I may have to change lighting here. We'll see, or change positions. Okay, oh yeah, nice. Here we go. One, two, three (clicking and beeping) I already know what's gonna happen. I already know, I don't even have to look at the photo. Okay, so how do I fix that? How do I solve that? A couple things. Here, what I've got is I've got his body kinda faced towards the fl, or you know, his face is getting a little bit of that back flash. I don't necessarily like that, so I'm gonna have him turn so the light's coming over his shoulder, so you gotta turn that way. And now I'm gonna have to increase the power of our flash. So I'm probably gonna go up to half power. You can see his face is really dark there, so probably gonna go half power. So I'll do that. Flash power up to half. Alrighty, cool, We were at a 16th, and now we're at a half. So anyone who's following me mentally, 16th, eighth, that's a stop. Quarter, that's a stop. Half, that's a stop. So I'm three stops more light coming out of that little flash. Let's see if that did it. Try not to bump my cable. Cool. Here we go, one, two, three, (clicking and beeping) Nice. Okay, so what happened? We got mo' better lighting, that's cool, but something else happened. A little bit of lens flare. A little bit of lens flare, so I'm gonna have to think through that. I might have to move that flash a little further away. I might have to move it a little bit higher. I might have to hit the front of my lens with a little bit of flag, but that's lens flare right there. I do like the illumination level on that side of the face. It might be slightly bright. Let's look at the catch light in the eye. It's a nice looking catch light. Yeah, nice catch light. That's from that big reflector, so that's pretty cool. And look at what we've got. We've got all this shaping. We got a little bit of shadow here on the face. That's cool. Light here, light here. So now we have this three-dimensionality to the look, all by just moving the soft box back behind him. So you don't always have to keep your lights in the front. You can move them in the back, and then use other reflectors to fill in the shadows. Pretty awesome. Question. Question, I think my reflector came with white, silver, black, and gold. Five in one. Yeah, it was one of the Neewer filters, although, I mean, uh reflectors. N-E-E-W-E-R, yeah brand name. Yeah, and so I was just wondering, in a situation like this, would you ever use the black reflector or what other one? Okay good, so why the five-way? Let me just answer the five-way question in broad terms. So you can get these reflectors, and they come with these zip-off covers, and the zip-off covers are actually reversible. So on one side, it's white. On the other side, it's kind of a silver. You flip it over, and one side's gold. Then there's a black, and then you take that cover off completely, and it's translucent. So you can shine light through it. So that's why it's five-ways, five different types of lighting options. Why black? Well the reason why is because sometimes you want all light to be removed on that side of the face. So maybe we were doing this really cool-looking 1940's black and white photograph where this side is almost completely black. You don't want any of the reflection off the wall or anywhere else, so you turn the black, and it's the wrong term, but I'll call it a light sucker. It takes away the light. It absorbs the light. Sometimes you want that. Very rarely, though do you actually use it. Most photographers are finding ways to add light to the subject. Okay, let's do another example with this, unless you have a question, Kenna. Well, Mike, I'm wondering, Ron had asked why are you at ISO 400? And I'm wondering maybe if you could recap in these scenarios to kind of how you approach, from the beginning of setting your ISO, setting and choosing that aperture, choosing the shutter speed? I chose ISO 400 because these are little flashes, and the truth of the matter is, I couldn't do this, what we were just doing in this example, with the flash behind, and the reflector in the front, I couldn't do that at ISO 100. We're already at half power, and I don't want to go into too much techie detail here, but we're already at a half power. What's the only other option I got? I got another full power, that's it. I could go one more stop brighter, but if I drop down two more stops with ISO, that means still I'm gonna be one stop too dark. So ISO 400 gives you a lot more flexibility when you only have one little speed light. It just gives you more aperture range to work with. It gives you a little more shutter speed to work with, a little more distance with the remote flash. I think ISO 400 is a great option to use in the studio, even 800 if you need to. So backing up, where I'm at with my exposure, and why am I choosing these? So if you recall, I'm at ISO 400. I'm at F five six, and I'm at a 250th of a second. Let's start with shutter speed. I'm at 250th of a second because I want to cut out the ambient light. All of these house lights will impact my photo, especially if I go with a longer shutter speed. Let me show that to you. I'm gonna quickly rearrange the lighting here. Just do a little bit more of a traditional look to the light. And remember I was at half power, so I'm gonna bring it back down to 16th where we were at before. Alright cool, hit okay, good. And to do this, I'll just take this away, just to simplify everything. Okay. So here's the photo again at a 250th. Good, one, two, three (clicking and beeping) Oops. Okay, cool. I got a little of the, little bit of the soft box in the upper corner, but that's okay. Let's take this same photo now at a longer shutter speed. Let's allow more house light to come into the frame. And let's see what happens. So I'm at a 250th of a second. I'm just gonna push my info screen right here. I am now going to change my shutter speed down to like, let's go to a 30th of a second, just for the grins and giggles. Here we go. I'm gonna have you turn the other way. Right on, nice. One, two, three, (clicking and beeping) Oh did you hear the longer shutter speed? Let me do it again (clicking and beeping) Clunk, clunk, you could feel it. That was visceral. And the reason it was visceral is because it was allowing (laughter) more, yes visceral. Hey let's get rid of that one. Here we go. One, two, (clicking and beeping) here we go. (laughter) I was wondering what you were laughing about. I was like that wasn't a funny joke. Alright good. So look, look at the difference here. Let's do some lightroom magic. We'll do these two images and put them up next to each other. Wrong sequence. This was the one with the fast shutter speed, and this was the one with the long shutter speed. What do you notice? Well I know you don't have your microphone, so I'll tell you what you notice. The long shutter speed allowed tons of house light in, and the fast shutter speed excluded the house lights, and so this light is only from the flash. And here you can actually see on his face, there's even more light from the house hitting his face. We've got a little reflection there on his forehead. This is the reflection from the flash, but that's the reflection from the house lights right over there, so that's why I chose the 250th. I chose the 250th cause I didn't want to have to fight the house lights, and these are little things, but they matter, especially if those house lights were a different color than my flash. So that's a great question, Kenna, is review why I'm doing what I'm doing. I'm at a 250th cause I want to exclude the house lights. So let me, I think I saw another question brewing, but let me answer the second part of this. Why the aperture I'm at? I'm at F five six. I don't know, it's a nice aperture. Yeah, you know, it's big enough that the background goes a little bit blurry. If I had an F one eight or an F one four lens, I might try that so the background becomes really blurry, but five six, you know, most lenses, the people that are watching, a lot of people have these kit lenses, and really F five six, that's what I've got. I can't go any bigger than F five six. I could go to F 11 or F 16, but I'd get more of that brick wall in focus, and I don't want that. So ISO, aperture, shutter speed, that's the rationale. Thank you. Yeah, cool. Alright, so I'm gonna change my shutter speed back to a 250th, and just to show you, I'm gonna turn off my flash, and let's just take an ambient light exposure with those settings (clicking and beeping) Oh sorry, I keep getting you when you're not looking great, but it's okay. We can't see him. Can't see him anyways. Yeah, very dark. So that's how much ambient light is hitting the photo. Remember I'll reiterate that. Every exposure you take with your flash is the sum total of two exposures, ambient and flash. And you get to decide how much of each you include in that photograph. I feel like I've heard this before that different light sources will have different shaped catch light. Is that true? Like a round umbrella will be more round, and this would be more Square? Square, is that true? Exactly, in fact, that's why we choose our light sources a lot of times is because people have preferences for the shape of the catch light. For me, umbrellas, especially less expensive umbrellas, you always see the rods, the stays in the catch light, so what you get is a round catch light, but it looks like a little spider in there, and for me, that bugs me for some reason. I don't like it. So higher end umbrellas, the more expensive, the stays are actually painted white, so you can't see the grid or the radiant stays. Soft boxes just give you a nice square catch light, and I like that. In a minute here, I'm gonna show you Octa, and an Octa Box is octagonal with eight sides. So it's up to you to decide what shape you like. I think for my money, and for the simplicity and the control, I think a soft box is probably the next high-end purchase you should make. Let me show you one more thing with the soft box, and then I'll go to the Octa. So speed ring, I'm gonna rotate this just like that. We're gonna go sideways with the soft box. I'm gonna move the soft box right, basically in front of the camera like this. Raise it up a bit, cool. And now, I'm gonna have you actually hold this reflector. And this is something you can do. Basically have the, hold it about like that, and I want you to keep your elbows in, not out, cause when your elbows go out, kinda look, especially on women, you look a little bit broader. So elbows in just like that, and what we'll see here is basically a clamshell lighting setup. Some of the light's gonna shine down on him. Some of the light's gonna reflect up from the reflector. I might end up doing something like this or like that. We'll try it a few ways. And here, angles matter, and if you're looking at this from a studio audience, or maybe even from the camera over there, you'll see, I don't quite have the right angle set up yet cause most of the light's shining at him or even over his head. So I'm gonna get that all angled properly, about like that. Increase this up like there. And we'll try it. Again, it's digital, just take a shot, take a look. I moved it in pretty close. I'm still at a 16th power. I bet it's gonna be too bright. We'll see. Okay Andre, are you ready for this? Yup. Yup, yup, here we go. One, two, three (clicking and beeping) Did it not go? Didn't go cause I forgot to turn on my flash. Alright cool, and we're still connected over here. Yep, alright, here we go again. One, two, three (clicking and beeping) Cool. See what that looks like. Nice, now the catch light's on the top. Let's, uh, it's too bright though, right. It's too bright. So here you start to run into some of the problems, when you're doing all of the manual setup is ah shoot, I gotta lower the thing down. Look up here. Alright, so that was a 16th, and if you have aging eyes like I do (laughter) It's so annoying. Old, oldness, age. It ain't for the weak. So here we go. So we'll take this shot again. And what I want you to do here is I want you to take this up just a little bit more, a little bit closer. And we'll do about like that. Cool, and I'm just again, I'm shooting basically just the torso, upper, shoulders and up. Here we go. One, two, three, (clicking and beeping, and we'll do one more. One, two, three, (clicking and beeping) You hear that little beep? That beep is important. And one of the reasons I like the little Nikon slave, is it tells me when it's ready to take a picture again with the little beep, beep. Aww, nice man. Nice look. Let's pull this out of the way a little bit. Let's look here at the face. And it's a little bit hard to tell, but you can see there's a catch light above the eye, and then a catch light down here a little bit below, and that's the reflector. I want to get a little more catch light in his eye, on the top, so I'm gonna drop this down just out of camera range. Cool, just like that. Okay, are you ready? Nice smile. Cool, thank you. Alright, so there we go. We got a little more catch light on the top of the eye. So just a nice happy shot. Fantastic smile, engaged, I love it. You can come back. I'll have you again. That's fantastic. (laughter) I love it. Cool. So that's a soft box. We just went through a bunch of different lighting scenarios with the soft box. Some of the front, one from the back. This is more of a clamshell type of look with the soft box.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Every photographer encounters situations where the light on their subject is less than ideal. A small flash can have a huge impact on your photos and is easier to use than you think! Photographer Mike Hagen joins CreativeLive to show you how to use your external flash quickly and comfortably. Mike will walk through the different flash options available and how to sync your camera and flash. He’ll walk you through different scenarios and demonstrate how your flash can improve your shots. After this class you’ll walk away knowing: 
  • How to set up your flash with your camera and what to look for when shooting 
  • How to use a flash in scenarios like event photography, portraits, and tabletop photography 
  • Which light shapers work best for your work and how to utilize them 
  • How to use your flash off-camera, working with TTL cables, wireless triggers, and other gear
  • Techniques for using modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes, and reflectors with your off-camera flash 
Don’t get stuck in a low light scenario without the confidence and tools you need to produce an amazing image. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Single Flash Lighting Diagrams

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Single Flash Gear List 100 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 250 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 1000 dollars

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Yasemin Soyen

First of all I am very happy to discover Creative Live and since then I learned, enjoyed many classes! This week for the first time I was in the live audience and their sincerity, hospitality made the experience even more valuable. About this class, it was a pleasure to meet Mike Hagen. Besides his wide knowledge, creative thinking and information sharing, he was a very humble, nice teacher, with great positive energy. Thanks everyone!


Fantastic course - Mike is an engaging and entertaining teacher and this course was just what I needed to start using my external flash with confidence. I have had my external flash for a few years but have rarely used it as mastering all the settings was daunting and the results I got were inconsistent. This excellent course changed all that and I'm having great fun taking much better shots with my flash. I highly recommend!

Candy Smith

This class was fantastic. Mike is excellent under pressure when things don't go perfectly, love his style and grace and how encouraging he is to his models, great mentor. I learned so much about using flash, and my pictures are so much better.