Saturday, May 4, 2013

Anatomy of a Portrait | Off Camera Manual Flash

One of my favorite techniques, now that I understand it and realize how easy it is, is off camera manual flash. My eyes were opened to this technique last September when I attended WPPI U in Portland.

This is something that I can use for a more formal portrait shoot, or I can use it for the casual playground portrait such as the one above. It's quite simple and something that I am happy to have in my arsenal.

Leading up to this image, I was following my young daughter around the playground and taking some natural light shots with my Pentax 50mm lens on my Canon camera. That's probably a subject for another post, and indeed it may be some day.

I decided that I wanted to get some better shots, so I switched to a Canon lens to give me auto-focus capability, and pulled my flash out of the bag, along with my off camera cord.

So, here's my "playground" technique. I put the camera into manual (M) mode, set my shutter speed to 1/200th (to be within the flash sync limit), set my aperture to f/11 (previous experience led me to start here), and took a test shot. This allows me to get an exposure value for the background that will work well. Notice the blue sky in this shot, it may be a little dark for the tastes of some, but I would rather have a darker sky/background than to have it too bright and taking attention away from my subject. (ISO 100 for those needing to know.)

Now, with my shutter speed and aperture set (I stayed with the initial f/11 choice), I turned on my flash. Again from previous experience I knew what settings I wanted to use. I put the flash on manual mode and set it to 1/2 power. Now, as long as I keep the flash around 6-8 feet from my subject I'll get a great exposure. If I had needed to use a different aperture setting, say f/8 for example, I would have adjusted the flash power accordingly to maintain the proper exposure at that distance.

Since I'm in "playground" mode here, the camera is in my right hand and the flash (connected to the camera with the off camera cord) is in my left. I can do a pretty good job of judging my distance, focus as needed, and hold the flash off to the side. I try not to hold the flash right next to the camera, otherwise I might as well just leave it on the camera. Occasionally move the flash to put it in front of or behind the camera a bit to get the right flash to subject distance.

What happens if the flash to subject distance isn't quite right? Well, you probably wouldn't know it from looking at the final image, but I was a bit too close. This resulted in an image that was a little too bright. Thankfully I shoot in RAW and it was an easy fix in Lightroom.

Besides a few minor adjustments in Lightroom, I also took the time to remove most of the black scuff marks on the surface of the slide. It didn't take very long, but makes the image look a lot cleaner.

Here are a few more samples using this flash technique.
I'm in "playground" mode for this one again. Taken last fall.

All three girls. In "studio" mode my flash is on a light stand as slave with a master on camera.

This simple technique provides excellent results. Certainly there are some situations that call for flash, but don't really lend themselves to this. Canon's E-TTL flash does work well, and is what I relied on 100% before learning how easy this was.

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