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Off Camera Flash

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    Off Camera Flash

    When the flash is on the camera it tends to create "flat" lighting. Better lighting is produced by the light coming from the side of the image. In a prior tread I discussed using window light from the side and a reflector to fill the shadow. In this thread I will be replacing that side window light with a flash. So how do you get your flash off the camera? For these examples I am assuming your camera manufacturer sells a TTL flash. TTL means the flash is measured Through The Lens and the flash head is automatically turned off when enough light has entered the camera to produce a properly exposed image. In order to get this level of communication between the flash head and the camera more than just an on and off wire needs to exist between the two. Look at your camera hot shoe and see if it has many metal "dots" to make the extra connections. These extra "dots" communicate the TTL function. Nikon has had this system for a long time and I expect Canon has had it also. This is what a Nikon TTL flash cord looks like. It is Nikon SC-17.

    So how does it look when we place the Nikon SB-600 flash on a book to the right of our watch to create that side light? Not so hot at first. Look at this photo and see if you can identify the problems.

    Do you see how the right side of the photo is "burned out" because the flash is too strong in that area? But the left side of the photo has shadows that are too dark. And the beads are reflecting too much in the dial of the watch. Our lighting isn't "flat" any more but it is too "unflat" now.

    Let's first use the plastic diffuser over the SB-600 to mute that "hot" lighting on the right. Here is what the plastic diffuser looks like over the flash head.

    Here is the effect it has. Notice a reduction in the highlight in the right corner. Notice how the diffuser also cuts the brightness of the light hitting the beads and therefore reduces the reflection of the beads in the dial.

    We are getting better but now lets deal with the too dark shadows on the left by using the white side of our reflector to fill in those dark shadows.

    Starting to look pretty good, isn't it? You may want to stop here. But what if we used the aluminum foil side of the reflector to further fill in those shadows? Here is what that looks like.

    Now our lighting is quite nicely balanced and we could stop here. But we could also go on. What if we used our exposure compensation feature to try deepening the colors about 1/3 f-stop? Look at your owner's manual under exposure compensation to see how to do this on your camera. Here is the same composition exposed now with diffused off camera side flash, aluminum reflector and -0.3 exposure compensation. Notice we are getting "richer" colors. Remember your exposure meter is designed to expose to a "gray card" which reflects 18% of the light falling on it. BUT your subject may reflect only 15% and that exposure compensation feature tells your exposure meter to "darken" the subject a bit from the default 18% reflectivity.

    Getting better, aren't we? What if we darkened more to -0.7 exposure compensation. Here is the result.

    We are now entering a matter of personal preference. Some people may prefer the stronger contract created by the white card fill over the lesser contrast created by the aluminum foil fill. If so, perform your exposure compensation variation using the white card as your reflector. Some people may prefer the "standard" exposure over the -0.3 or -0.7 exposure compensation exposure. Here is a -1.0 (one full f-stop underexposure) exposure compensation.

    Personally, I feel that going more than -1.0 would produce an image that was too dark so I stopped at that point. I prefer the -0.3 or the -0.7 image. But you may like to go to -1.3 or more. Nothing wrong with darkness and nothing wrong with trying it. It doesn't cost you anything to try different things with digital photography, just a few electrons stored on an SD card.

    Here is a photo of the overall scene so you can see the background chosen, the reflector position and the flash position. For this photo I placed a Kleenex over the flash head to illustrate what you can do to soften the harsh light if your flash doesn't come with a built in diffuser. A word about the background: the watch was chosen to be something different than I had used in my other Shutterbug posts because people may be getting tired of looking at that watch, the jacket was chosen to complement the watch and is a recreation of one worn by Buffalo Bill in his Wild West shows. The book was chosen for its leather color to complement the jacket and watch. The composition was created simply to give the viewer an interesting and pleasing image when illustrating "hot spots," deep shadows, diffused flash lighting off camera, reflectors effects, and exposure compensation.

    If you are a Canon owner please post the number of Canon's TTL off camera flash cord so people know what that it.

    I think these TTL flash cords can be obtained on line from B&H Photo or Adorama.

    Please try this yourself at home and post some example of your work.

    Looks nice. What camera are you shooting with?

    I have a SB-700. It came with a stand and I recall briefly reading about the off-camera flash-ability. For candid shots of people, I've found the best luck with bouncing the flash off the ceiling and using the white card to bounce some light and fill the faces...

    Overall, the composition looks great! Not too distracting... nice leather match on the book and the watch band. I'm curious if you tried the flash a little further away from the subject?


      Great DIY, really reminds the beginners to OCF to keep experimenting.

      Personally, I would have never chose that background/prop setup. Even with the fill, and lighting the watch just gets lost in it all.


        My experience might help.
        I am an amatuer who used off camera flash for ten years. I did full length portraits emphasising the body and almost ignoring the face. I deliberately went for an "amateur" look, with funky backdrops, shadows and a little bit of flash glare.

        [Today is a "Golden Age" for amatuer photography. This is because the "key lighting", fully lit, commercial type lighting method has gone out of style. How long this fashion will last, I do not know.]

        I would place my flash about four feet to the right or left of the camera. One benefit of this method is that it makes heavy women look more slender. Be advised that it also can make a man look more sinister.

        I prefer to connect my camera with a PC cord because a remote slave is not as dependable. Also, many remote slaves are set off by the on camera flash. The on camera flash will ruin the whole side lighting effect. If you tape up the on camera flash, it will not set off the slave flash. I do not own a tranceiver, but I have used them in professional work. Many digital cameras are not as "manual" as they claim to be. If you are a photo noob, you need to get well versed with using your camera's manual controls. Be advised that when you shoot manually with a digital camera, your fingers will often change your settings, so try to use some kind of setting lock or at least double check your settings.

        A great advantage of this method is you can get your flash units for $5 or less. Flash units with controls are preferable, but not necessary. I usually adjust the light by moving the flash unit forward and backward from the subject. The old 1980's flash units will not damage your digital camera (pre-1980's flash units I would not recommend). You connect your off camera flash with a holder/clamp that will cost you about five bucks. The clamp will screw into a tripod. The PC cords will cost about five bucks.

        With a multiple connector for about five bucks, you can fire off multiple flash units. I used to do this when I used vintage cameras with slow lenses or if I did not want a side lighting effect.

        In the days of film, I would set the camera at 5.6 and 1/125. I never had to change the setting.

        I would add a photo, but I am not linked.