Dave Johnson's Photography

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Experimenting with Speedlites

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I wouldn’t say I’ve recently become obsessed with speedlites, or strobism, as the cool kids say, but I have been spending quite a bit of time experimenting with different setups. My experiments with flash started when I was preparing myself for the Wedding of The Year, where I knew I would need to be able to control both ambient and flash in order to get balanced exposures that don’t resemble the deer caught between the headlights kind of shot – normally associated with on-camera flash from compact cameras.

I also invested in a couple of books, one from the master of speed lighting, Syl Arena, and the other by an accomplished wedding photographer called Neil van Niekirk. If you are interested in improving your speedlite technique then I would definitely recommend these books. Out of all the information in the book the one piece that has stuck with me and allowed me to get more creative and achieve better results is that ambient light exposure is controlled by shutter speed whilst flash exposure is controlled by aperture. What this basically means is that by choosing a suitable shutter speed for the ambient light conditions you can achieve wonderfully balanced shots that don’t even look like flash has been used!

The other thing that has got me interested in maximising the use of my speedlite is that my pop-up flash on my Canon 7D can act as a wireless master and trigger external flash units. What this means is that I can now set up my speedlite (in slave mode) off-camera and use my camera to trigger the unit – with or without the pop-up flash firing.

I am going to be brave and post a few shots of some of my experiments to show what I have been up to. Some of these include off-camera flash but a couple are also about using flash to fill in harsh shadows or for taking photos against the sun. Finally, With the recent purchase of some coloured gels I can now play around with some funky effects. As I said before, this is all about experimenting but any comments or tips would be greatly appreciated. Dave

The composite image below was taken in the woods earlier today. The shot on the left was with no-flash and due to the sun coming from the right hand side you can see that the light across the image is quite variable. This made it quite tricky to get the correct exposure of Mummy and Mia without the rest of the highlights in the image completely blowing out. By adding some fill-flash it allowed the ambient light to be controlled a lot better resulting in a more balanced shot. The shot with flash was used with the camera in manual but the flash used E-TTL II to determine the flash exposure.

Woods_fill flash

This next composite is with off-camera flash being held behind Ben by my trusty assistant. As I said, this is all experimentation at this point which is why you can see said trusty assistant (and her side kick) in one of the images. It’s pretty obvious where the flash was placed but the idea would be to soften the brightness of this flash to give a nice backlit effect – as can be seen around Ben’s head. The second of the shots Lou held the flash at a 90 degree angle to the children – as can be seen by Mia waving at the flash!!

Off-camera flash

This composite is of M playing in the bath. The speedlite was gelled and placed off-camera with the Canon 7D pop-up flash firing and also triggering the speedlite. I was using my wide angle lens for these shots and Unfortunately, as can be seen in the image on the bottom, there is quite a considerable vignette being caused by the pop-up flash. In an ideal world a second speedlite would be used, again either on or off-camera which would eliminate this problem.

Coloured gels_bathtime

Final composite is again of M in the bath with the external flash being gelled red. What I am trying to achieve with the gelled shots is to get the subject (i.e. M) exposed correctly but without the colour cast from the gel. The gel is to provide some background interest to an otherwise bland white bathroom. In the final shot the speedlite was placed in the bedroom, triggered by the pop-up flash of the Canon 7D.

Coloured gels_fun

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One thought on “Experimenting with Speedlites

  1. Pingback: More experimentation with speedlites « Dave Johnson's Photography

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