Ok, so you probably already know how to shoot the rather vanilla portrait above. Find a clean background and some open shade. Then open up that aperture and blast away. That’ll do. Could have stopped right here. If you’re like me however, you’ve spent some long hours searching for that little extra “pop” in your portraits that the pros seem to get even in
crappy less than ideal lighting conditions.
So at this point in the session, I already have a safe ambient light photo. Not brilliant, but completely usable. The light is smooth and even, there are no offensive highlights and the colors are pretty accurate (the white balance on my camera was set to custom, based on the shady conditions). The contrast is a bit weak, however and her eyes are looking downright dull due to a lack of frontlight. The sun is quickly sinking behind the nearby trees as I tinker with my gear. Luckily, I have got a Canon Speedlite and a couple of small light stands in tote. Also, the parks and recreation lady seems to be cool with my presence at this point. She gave me a little glare when I planted a light stand in the garden, but no verbal objection.
To imitate the color of evening sun, I have taped an amber gel over my remote flash. Without the gel, the light still would have been acceptable, but if you have one, its worth the 30 seconds of scotch taping to get the color just right without Photoshop. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, make yourself a velcro rig you can reuse next time you need to take the gel on and off.
The off-camera light is a Canon 430ex II (in slave mode), which I set up behind her to throw a rim light on her hair and arms. On my camera, I mounted a 580ex in master mode to use as a trigger. This will give me in-camera control of the remote flash power which is a nice luxury. If you only have one speedlite, however, the same could be achieved by triggering the remote light with a Pocket Wizard. By using a flash as a trigger, I can put the remote flash in ETTL mode and let it figure out the power value. Very little of the remote light will fall on my subjects face, however, so the speedlite is more than likely going to pick a value that is way too high. So I just dial it down a stop or two by simply changing the flash compensation in my camera.
The reflector hanging from the other light stand will help throw a bit of light back into my subject’s eyes. I got a small catchlight that I can augment a bit in post production if needed. Aim the flash and hit the test button just to make sure you’re hitting your subjects hair and spilling some extra light onto the reflector. Be careful not to aim your rim light directly back at your camera. This can result in flare problems and an overall haze. To be safe, zoom your flash head as much as possible (105mm on Canon) to create a narrow beam of light that hits your target(s), but not your lens. Hey, by the way, try zooming the real sun to 105mm, or positioning it so it only hits the reflector and your subjects hair. Still convinced that natural light is the only way to go?
Final settings, ISO 400, F2.8 at 1/100. Amber gelled flash from behind, gold reflector in front at camera right.
Rim light setups are a great simple way to begin your adventures using off-camera flash. Here are a couple of good reasons:
1.) The power of the remote flash is a negligible factor. Since its only acting as an accent light, dial it up or down to taste and “chimp” the results using your LCD screen. No need for exact metering.
2.)The camera and remote flash are in direct line of sight. This means less hassle getting your remote flash to pick up the signal.
Next time the sun leaves the party a little early, bring along a small flash and your best sweet talk for the parks and recreation lady!
Images and Article © 2009 – Author Rob Szajkowski