Lighting Equipment & Styles


Introduction to Flash for Dramatic Images


Lesson Info

Lighting Equipment & Styles

And now it's time to start talking about the equipment, the actual gear, and the modifiers and the flashes themselves. So what do you actually need to pull this thing off? There's my list. You need one camera (laughs), one lens, and I'll talk about lenses in a second. You need a flash, and you don't have to spend a lot of money on a flash. I'm gonna show you today you can do this with a $27 flash. You need a light modifier. Well actually, technically, you don't even really need a light modifier 'cause I'm gonna show you how to shoot some which are just direct flash, but you need something like an umbrella, a softbox, a beauty dish, and then you need a really cool background. And that really cool background might just be a piece of paper or it could be an awesome muslin like I'm gonna show you in their second segment today. What kind of camera do you need? Well I recommend the DSLR or a Mirrorless. I love Canon. I actually do love Canon. We had an arm wrestling match earlier, Canon vers...

us Nikon, I lost. I love Nikon, I've been shooting Nikon forever. They're great cameras. I love Sony as well. Sony's fantastic. The new Sony a7 series, excellent, excellent cameras. The point I want to make with your camera is that it doesn't really matter that much, as long as you can adjust your shutter speeds, as long as you can adjust your ISOs, and most importantly, as long as you can tell a remote flash what to do. So like hopefully your camera has some type of a hot shoe on top so that you can connect a transmitter, or you can communicate with a remote flash. That's the most important thing. Some cameras don't have a hot shoe, you know the lower end cameras, like a point and shoot. You don't really want to use those for this type of photography. I have a feeling most people watching today aren't using point and shoots for studio work. (laughs) How about lenses? Well we're doing portraits, and in this case we're not just doing head and shoulders. We're gonna do a lot of that, but a dramatic portrait can even be a full length portrait. It could be a full body portrait. So you typically would bias yourself maybe slightly more towards the wide angle to mid-telephoto range. And I know I say 85 and 105 and 70-200 here, but I would say it'd be okay to go with something like a 24-105 lens. Canon makes an excellent one of those lenses, so does Sigma and so does Sony. Nikon makes a 24-120, which is really great for this type of work. You could also use a 24-70, which, let me pull that out here just because I like props. The 24-70 is a good overall lens, but if you want to do tighter shots, 70 millimeters isn't quite long enough for my general purposes. So that said, most of the time when I'm doing portrait work, I like an 85. And I shoot a prime, this one here on my camera's an 85 millimeter f1.8. Another one of my favorite lens is the 105 macro. Love this lens. This is great for macro photography, but it's also a great portrait lens. It's got a f2.8 maximum aperture so if I need to I can blow that background out and make it all nice and blurry and soft. It's not cheap but it is a fantastic portrait lens. And then one of my favorite portrait lenses that I don't always use because it's heavy is this one, and this is a, it's a typical 70-200 f2.8. Really fantastic lens for studio work. One of the reasons why we go with the longer focal lengths is because they're more flattering on the subject. They make the subject's lines look skinnier and longer and taller versus wider angle lens tend to distort the face a little bit. So something like if you shot a 24 or a 40 millimeter, you get a little bit more distortion. I like the longer look because it flattens things out and makes things look a little bit more aesthetically pleasing. So those are my lens choices and my recommendations. Today I'll be doing most of my work with my 85, and then when we, I think later on I'll do a full length portrait, I'll switch over to my 24-70 so I can get that full range of heighth. I'm gonna take this off so it doesn't fall over. Okay. How about your flashes? Well, this is-- you can spend a lot of money on an OEM flash, Original Equipment Manufacturer. If you're a Sony shooter, and you buy that Sony flash, it's 500 something bucks. If you're a Nikon shooter and you get the top of the line Nikon it's 550. The Canon one is around 495 or 500. So you know, you're-- she says five. Yeah, so it's 500. $500, $600, and I love them. I shouldn't say it like that. I love my wife, I like my flashes. But I love using these types of flashes. This is like the Nikon SB-5000. This is their current flagship model. You know it's $550 or $600, something like that, and then I have to get some other gizmos to get it to talk correctly with my camera. By the time I'm all said and done, you're into it for $600, $700 maybe, and it's small and it's not all that powerful. So why would we spend all that money on these flashes? Well because they're dedicated to the camera bodies, and I can adjust all my flashes from the camera, they work seamlessly, you know they're tested, and tested, and tested again with the manufacturer. So sometimes it just makes sense when you're a pro and you want things to always work all the time, you go with the OEM models. But I'll tell you what, this doesn't necessarily produce any better look in my final photo. No, I can get the same look with a $50 flash, or a $27 flash as long as I can trigger them, and that's the key. You gotta be able to trigger your remote flashes. Let me look at a couple of other options for you. I've got three options here in various, I can only hold two, so I'll show you two. (laughs) One of them is this company called Phottix. They sent me a couple flashes over the last week to try out. I love it. It's working really well for me. It's the Phottix Juno. And what this is is a all manual, so there's no TTL capability in this flash, but it has a receiver built into the unit itself, and then the transmitter is right here on the camera. So this up here is the Phottix transmitter, and now I can control this with this built in system. This flash is around 200 something dollars. It's a really good set up. It's reliable, consistent, powerful, all that good stuff. The question is does it produce any better light than my Nikon? No, it's the same. It's just less money and well, in this case, I have to have this big transmitter on top, whereas on the Nikon stuff it's a much smaller transmitter. How about this? There are lots of other options out there. If you go to Amazon, Amazon has this line of products called the Amazon Basics line, and I was surprised to find that an Amazon Basics flash with a built in slave mode. And so this mode, it's a slave mode that will trigger the flash when it sees a single pulse of light. So if I can produce a single pulse of light somehow on my camera, (pop), pop, it will trigger this to fire and I don't need any wires to trigger it. $27.99, something like that. You know, for that price you can buy a whole kit of them, five of them, 10 of them, whatever, and you can fill out your studio for around 100, $150. Does it work? Of course it works, and I produced some excellent photos with them over the years, and they're dirt cheap. So if you're looking for a really inexpensive way to get into this, this is the way. And by the way, for those of you who are watching online, we have a gear list available for you, and in that gear list I have links to all of these flashes that I'm showing off today, and all the gear that I'm using today. So those are your flashes. Don't worry so much about what type of flash you're using, rather learn how to use the flash 'cause most of photography's right here. It's not always in the gear. As much as we like to talk about Nikon versus Canon and she and I had an arm wrestling match earlier, really when it comes down to it, it's all about the image and using your tools to create the image. For batteries, I recommend nickel-metal hydrides. My favorite type of battery is the rechargeable. A little tip for you, go to IKEA and buy their nickel-metal hydrides. They're really inexpensive and they're excellent quality. I was just at a store last week and I saw them there and well, I already own a ton of batteries so I didn't buy any myself but I've read some good reviews in the last few weeks and they're excellent. Consider another battery pack. So I often will use something like this. This is a battery pack where I throw in I think it's six other batteries, and that then plugs into my flash and it reduces the cycle time of my Nikon flash or my Yongnuo or whatever flashes I'm using. It just means I can shoot at a faster pace. These are relatively inexpensive if you buy them third party. If you buy the Canon or Nikon they're more expensive. (laughs) On the order of 100, $150 for this. But the third party brand I was able to get, this is made by a company called Neewer, and I think I paid $50, $40 or $50. So these are very useful. Basically what you do is you just plug it into the front of the flash, and then this is my own little DIY hack, do it yourself hack, I just put a cord in there and then I can hang this on the light stand and so it can move around on the light stand just like that. Okay, let's talk about the gear, all of the lighting gear, all the equipment. So I've got a bunch of it here today, and we're gonna use, I think I'm gonna use just about everything you see back here in a different arrangement. Let's start talking about the umbrellas and then I'll talk about a softbox and kind of what the purpose of what each of these lighting modifiers are. Overall the reason why we use a lighting modifier is to make the light bigger, to make the surface area larger. It's always about size, and size is important when you're thinking about the look that you want to create. So let's say you're trying to create a very harsh, hard, movie-style, maybe Clint Eastwoody style look. Well there you want a very small light, and very specular, very directional. So you want a small modifier, maybe like a one foot softbox, something like that. On the other hand, let's say that you're photographing someone who you want the light to wrap around them a little bit more. So then we need to go with a larger surface area, maybe something like an umbrella. Maybe you're photographing two or three people in a scene and you only have one flash, you need that light from that flash to envelope everybody. Well then we need to go with a really big modifier like that giant umbrella that I have back there, okay? So again, the whole purpose of the light is to change the shape of-- the whole purpose of the modifier is to change the shape of the light so that you can create the look that you're after. And the point is you can use all of this, but know that each of them has kind of a specialty. So let's really quick talk about why I would use one versus the other, starting with umbrellas. Okay, this is about a medium size umbrella. It's about 42 inches, I think is the size of this guy. It's good for traveling, like sometimes I'll go on vacation with my family, go to Hawaii, I bring my lights and we take family portraits on the beach. This is the type of thing I would take with me 'cause it can travel with me on the plane. I can throw it in my, not my carry on 'cause it's a little bit long, but I can throw it in my check luggage, and then pull it out on the beach, put my, I don't know, wet swimsuit on the bottom, keep it from blowing over and now I can take great beach portraits. In a studio environment, this is a little bit small, it's a little bit small overall, so I recommend going bigger than 42, but it'll do in a pinch. So today we'll shoot some photos with this. You'll get a good feel for what it looks like. The smaller the light is, the harsher the light will be. The bigger the light source is, the softer it'll be. One of my favorite light modifiers is this. Highly recommend getting a big umbrella. It's about a five and a half or six footer. Get even a bigger ones if you can. I think I paid $79 for this on my favorite online shopping store. Starts with an A, I've already mentioned their name, Amazon (laughs). And so it's just fantastic. I mean I love working with this light because it is so forgiving. I mean you don't even have to position it perfectly and the light just wraps and envelopes the subject. I'm using these great examples of words that just, it's beautiful light. So go big with your umbrella. You will never regret it. The downside of going with a big umbrella is if you have a low ceiling, you can't really fully utilize the umbrella. Most ceilings in most homes are about eight feet high and so right there I'm already almost up to the maximum height that I can go for my house. That's about it right there. Well look, the center of the umbrella is below the torso of the subjects so in order to use something like this, you may have to have your subject go on a stool or do something even lower to the ground in order to get like a high light on that scene. These are better for high studio ceilings like we have here at CreativeLive. Okay, next, umbrellas are good, but next let's talk about softboxes. I'm gonna pull this one over here. I love softboxes because they produce a nice, square, rectangular type of catch light in the eyes. Another reason I love softboxes is because you can control the direction of light and that's really what we're getting, and that's why you would buy a softbox, because it's controllable. You can prevent light from spilling onto the background. Whereas an umbrella tends to send light everywhere, a softbox gives you a lot more control. So for today, for the dramatic class, dramatic lighting class, we a lot of times want to prevent light from getting on the background and the way you do that is by I'll say columnating, columnating or making the light kind of in a column. You columnate the light, and that's what a softbox does 'cause notice the diffusion panel's a little bit behind the edge flange. There's my inner engineer coming out. I'm sorry. Edge flange, inner panel. And then (laughs) you can also sometimes put in some what's called an egg crate. Let me pull that out here. Hmm, I lost it. It's all right, maybe later we'll pull it out. Basically have this crate here that further columnates the light and prevents it from spilling over. We'll do that later, I'll pull that out and show you how we can either incorporate the background by letting some light spill onto it, or eliminate the background. As always, bigger is better. So if you have a chance I recommend buying at least a two foot by three foot softbox. And if you can go bigger than that, then go bigger than that, Three foot by four foot or even larger. You'll never regret having a larger size diffusion tools, larger size modifiers. Then the last one I want to show is something called a beauty dish. Now this isn't actually a beauty dish 'cause a beauty dish is a slightly different product, but the shape of it is similar to a beauty dish. All right. So you can see the front of this here is round. And for those of you watching online, if you go quickly and go Google beauty dish, you'll see that they're basically, it's like a bowl and then inside that bowl is a little reflector. The light goes into the reflector, reflects back to the bowl and down to the subject. This will give you a very similar look because it's round. Why would you use something like this? Well a couple of reasons. One is it's round. I like the look. I like the catch light in the eye. It's a beautiful look. Another reason is, is because it works kind of like a softbox. I can really control the direction of that light, and then I can also throw in some egg crate in here, some-- what's the name of it? I'll call it the egg crate, whatever. And I can prevent the light from spilling all around to the background. So this one's made by Phottix, but there's lots of other companies out there who make similar types of products. Should you buy this? Mmm, maybe not. It just depends on what you want to achieve as a photographer. These are never cheap. You know, beauty dishes are, depending on the manufacturer, anywhere from $75 to $250. It's a very specific look and you notice it's not that big. The size isn't really that big, so it takes a lot of skill to create a photo that looks good when using these tools. I would say if you're just starting out in this, get a big old honking umbrella, and then you're next purchase should probably be a softbox. Those two things will give you a lot of mileage in the lighting game. All right. The last type of lighting modifier that you need is some type of reflector. Everyone should own reflectors. They're the cheapest lighting tools you can buy and they're very, very good. So I use typically a silver reflector on one side with a white reflector surface on the other. This is a 40 inch or a 42 inch, something like that, and I would call, for me personally this is kind of a smaller size reflector. I also have bigger reflectors. They're like four foot by six foot, and I use them all the time in almost all of my lighting I use reflectors because they're inexpensive. I don't have to buy more flashes. I don't have to buy a lot of other gear. Reflectors can serve the purpose of multiple flashes, and I'm gonna show you how that all works today. Talked about umbrella considerations, I talked about softboxes and beauty dishes. Talked about the reflectors. Oh, let me say something about gold. You can get a gold reflector, eh, usually we don't do a lot of that. Gold tends to cast a funky color. It's a very warm, almost yellow color onto the subject. I tend to shy away from solid gold. I will sometimes use-- have you guys seen these before? They're like half gold, half silver, like a partial gold. I use those every once in a while just to add a little bit of color, especially if it's the winter time. You know, my daughter, I never let outside ever 'cause I don't want any guys to see her. So she stays nice and pale. So I use gold to make it look like I let her outside every once in a while. I'm just kidding Allison, you know I'm kidding. That's my daughter. I love her dearly. Let's talk about backdrops. Background is important, but you don't have to spend a lot of money. So one of the first things and the best things to do is just buy a black sheet from the local store, okay, from the department store. Just buy a black king size sheet, iron it and then just tape it to the wall, and that works great for what we're gonna do today. Black fleece, I went to the fabric store not too long ago and I bought some polar fleece, some actual fleece material, and that works really well too because it doesn't really wrinkle and it stays unwrinkled in almost all of my photographs. And if it had wrinkles it doesn't really show 'cause it absorbs a lot of the light. And then another option is to go with a muslin, and I think, do I have a slide on the muslin here? No, I just have the black versus gray. So let's talk about black versus gray here. In fact to do that, I will walk over here. I'm gonna start out today with black. Sometimes in our dramatic shots we want the background to go full black. And what that does is it makes your subject almost tend to just like pop out of nothingness. Sometimes that's a good look, but a lot of times it doesn't give you any context, or it doesn't give you any sense of place, or sense of dimension, right? So when you use black, if you're a long ways away from it, it will be solid black. If you move in closer to the black with your lighting, you will actually make that a little bit gray. And sometimes having a little bit of gray in the background really, really helps. So we're gonna do the experiment with just black today. And then you can see here, the next one up, I've got gray. Sometimes for my dramatic portraits I like using a gray backdrop better because I don't have to be so close to it to get gray, and here's the weird thing, I can actually make it look black by moving the subject even farther away. So gray is kind of the one type of backdrop that gives you the most flexibility for this type of lighting. You could also use white if you wanted to, but you gotta be pretty far away from that white backdrop to make it gray and very rarely will you be able to actually even make it look black. So for this scenario, if you want to just get one type of background, I'd recommend kind of like a medium to darker gray. And then back here we've got a muslin, and this muslin is fantastic. They're hand painted. What's the name of the company? Do you remember? We're gonna-- I'll figure it out. Get the name of the company. They're fantastic. But they're great for this type of work because they provide a nice sense of space. The subject has a little bit of texture behind them and it's not like they're like popping out of nothingness. So I like to have a little bit of texture in the background for these types of photographs., great. Yeah, they provided these backdrops for us and they're really fantastic. They have five or six, maybe eight different models. They're all hand painted and they're all designed by really great photographers in the industry. Some of them even teach at CreativeLive, and so they've got these special backdrops by each of the photographers. So we're gonna use one later this afternoon, or later in the next segment. Reflectors, we talked about those, so I'm gonna skip over that slide. And we talked about background, about being in close proximity to the background, or farther away from the background. And I like talking about using gray if you want a sense of place, kind of you want some presence to the photograph, some depth. One of the things that I wanted to do, and I think we'll do this when we start shooting is I want to show you how you can actually create that black to gray just by shooting in a variety of scenarios. So I'm gonna actually save this slide for later. I'm gonna take some pictures when we get our model set up here in a minute and I'm gonna show you how changing position close to the background can really impact the overall look and feel of the photo. And if you at home want to try this on your own, I encourage you to try shooting with the subject one foot away, and the subject three feet away, and then the subject five feet away just so how you can see that with one light you can dramatically change the overall look and feel of that image.

Class Description

Creating a dramatic image for your client requires you to know how to manipulate lighting to set the mood for the photo. Photographer Mike Hagen will teach you how to use your flash to create an heirloom photo that your client will treasure for years to come. He’ll teach you how to use the flashes you already own in a new way that will create an interesting look to add to your portfolio.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Set up your flash to create ambiance.
  • Use various modifiers like reflectors, softboxes, and umbrellas with your flash.
  • Incorporate light shapers that will help create the mood.

Learn how to incorporate a new genre of photography into your business by becoming more confident with your flash skills.


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