Saturday, November 14, 2009

Directional Lighting

Off Camera Flash: Part One of Many

One thing that I tell people getting into photography is - get out there and shoot different things. In order to expand your skills you need to push yourself; that includes getting past your comfort zone. I recently followed my own advice and photographed a friend's band practice. I never did anything like it before and asked permission, just for my own growth. I hadn't seen them practice and knew nothing ahead of time other than it was in a studio a few towns away. With the band's blessing I packed up my gear and headed out one cold October night.

By now you at least know that I have limited lighting equipment so when I walked into this tiny, DARK room I almost panicked. Thank god, I thought to myself, this was not a paying client. The room was small and filled wall to wall with at least 5 guys, plus me, equipment, wires, speakers, stands, amps, et al. The walls were a dark blue hard carpet and there were 2 pathetic fluorescent light bulbs offering just enough light to see who you were talking to. I guess I should have been thankful they weren't blinking!

I knew ahead of time that I was shooting in black and white. It was the vision I had in my mind. Seeing the poor lighting first hand removed any doubt. There was no way these shots would have had half a chance in color. The tonal qualities and "noise" would have been, well, not good. Black and white can be a great healer in poor light (just another free tip from OP).

A true professional taking "real" shots (for a cd cover or promo materials) would have set up multiple light stands and assorted lighting gear. My target audience clearly doesn't own that - but I really don't either, so I went with Plan 'B'. In all the shots, I used a cable for my Speedlite flash. This took the flash away from the camera and gave that directional lighting

In the picture just above you can tell that the light is coming from the right of the camera (I was holding it in my hand). This allowed lighting other than dreadful head-on. It also casts a nice shadow on the left of his face and under-exposed the background helping it fade away. As a side note- if this had been a "pro" shot of mine, I would have removed the white board, but since I was just playing I left it. I also liked the fact that there were all the band members' names clearly visible.

To get the shadows and underexpose the background, I shot ALL the pictures on Manual. This way I could control all the exposures. It isn't difficult, I played around until I found the recipe I liked. It helps when you have a cheat screen right on the back of the camera! I was lucky; the carpeted walls I loathed when I walked in really helped suck in the light and gave great dark backgrounds.

Before I end this post I want to explain why I hate head-on (on the camera flash). Simple: it looks awful. Photos are all about lighting. It is the key element. No light, no photo. So following that logic a little further...
 > no light = no photo
 > bad light = bad photo
 > decent light = decent photo
 > amazing light = amazing photo (OK, I know it is not that simple, but you get the idea)

In the simplest terms, the further the flash is from the lens, the better the lighting will look. That is precisely why wedding photographers have those brackets that get the flashes up higher and thus further away from the lens. In the photo at right, I have the flashed stretched on the cable as far away from the camera as it would go. Look at the shadow behind his head, you can see that it lands at a 90 degree angle from the camera and the effect is pretty cool, right? If you compared it to an on the camera flash there would be stark differences. For one, it would be far less dramatic. Second, he would have appeared very flat. In the future I will take some comparative pictures that I know will speak for themselves and better illustrate my point. If you are serious about improving the quality of your photos, you need to invest in a flash and (at least) a cable. The holidays are coming up. You can buy, or receive, a decent pivoting-head flash for under $200.

So I hope these photos help demonstrate what a single, directional light source can do to improve your photos. For a band I thought the effect was perfect. Dramatic, contrasty, a little edgy. Leave some comments and let me know what you think.

In any post that I use pictures, I will end with details on what I have done with them, post process.

POST: None were posed, all were candid. Slight underexposure and enhanced contrast.
PS - Thanks Joe!


Camilla said...

I really like your blog! I love photos but I take really bad ones! You explain things in an easy way and give great tips! Thanks!

Cory said...

Camilla - Thanks. I'm glad you are able to get some ideas that can help you take better photos. Feel free to comment as often as you like!