Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It Takes A Lot Of Lights To Make It Look Like You're Not Using A Flash

Last night a group of friends were invited to a local firehouse to shoot pretty much whatever we wanted (the sleeping quarters were off limits).  People wandered in and out of the station, shooting inside shots, outside shots, shots from outside looking in, shots inside looking out and just about anything in between.  A young friend (I'm talking teenager here) told me at one point that he didn't like shooting with flash and preferred "available light".  Well, I brought a couple bags full of small lights.  I carry twelve pairs of lights and one set of three matched speedlites.  I told my young friend that it took a pretty good amount of gear to make it look like you're not using flashes.  Today's image is typical of using flashes to create a reasonably dramatic lighting situation.  I spent most of the time at the station working with people who had Nikons but were unfamiliar with Nikon's CLS (Creative Lighting System).  One friend was using a 50mm lens and kept getting ahead of the softbox used as the fill light.  She's quite a good shooter and her work can be seen as covers on local magazines and the pictorial portion of articles, menus, advertising, etc.  She's used to working with her Radio Poppers and just couldn't get with the limitation (the need for a sightline to the sensor) of CLS.  She got some god shots, but also got pretty frustrated.  The Canon shooters kept asking if their on camera flash would set off the lights in the setup.  Some got a little confused when I said they'd have no effect on the lights in the setup.  To learn how the lights were set to get today's image, hit the "read more".

Being a cheap SOB, the lights used were three Nikon SB 600 Speedlites. I have a theory that letting Nikon's CLS do the heavy lifting is the way to go. If I had an SB 800 or SB 900 and used 1/3 of their maximum power I can probably get the same light with a SB 600 firing at 2/3s or max power. What's lost is recycle time. If the SB 800/SB 900 allows fairly rapid shooting (one click per second), the SB 600 might be five to ten seconds. As long as you have a good line a patter to keep the subject engaged it's not too bad.

The camera setting were 1/125 sec @ F5.6 (I like to keep with full, natural F-stops) set at an ISO of 400 (one stop above the Nikon's normal 200). The lens was a Nikon 18-200 and, for a shot like today's image, racked out to 135mm or more. For face and hat only shots it was probably closer to 200mm. There wasn't any worry about camera shake having a shutter speed lower than the shooting length because the flashes are there to freeze the action.

Okay, we have the justification for the equipment. We have the camera settings. All we need now is where to put the lights. The idea was to get some drama and hold detail throughout the face. Two of the lights were setup with grids and placed at 45 degree angles behind the subject. I didn't want light splashing all over the place and wanted to keep any stray light out of the lens, so the grids were used. The fill light was a third SB 600, with a diffuser, through a 24" x 36" softbox. A buddy of mine, who sells photographic equipment didn't think a small flash could be used in that big a softbox. Oh well. The lights were set in a triangle and the softbox light turned up a stop to compensate for the diffusion.

The setup resulted in some shots I believe the fire fighters will be happy with. It's the least we, as photographers can do.