Flash Wrap-up and August Assignment(s)!

It is so fun every month to see our regular community of Mamas growing and growing! This month over 30 of us enjoyed listening to LaRae Lobdell’s presentation on Working with a Flash. She had such detailed notes, and was kind enough to share her PDF- I am pasting the notes here for the Mamas that couldn’t attend. I’ll also post the PDF  in our Mamas With Cameras Google Group archives for those that want to make a printed handout.

I definitely want everyone to get going on the print assignments for this month! Our next meeting is coming up on August 16th, summer is flying by!

Lastly, one slot just opened up for the August 7 introductory workshop because someone has a schedule conflict, so if you know of anyone who would like to grab it, tell them to just put their email on the waitlist at the registration site. Thanks!! And now, onto the assignments!

Assignment #1: Flash Portraits!

OK everyone, we want to see what you can do with your flashes. Choose a subject (this time, it can be a grown up, we don’t want to make things TOO complex here!) and experiment with shooting indoor and outdoor portraits of that person. For your indoor portraits, experiment with the direction that the light is bouncing from: illuminate the broad side of the face closest to the camera (flattering for men), and bouncing the light behind the face to illuminate them from the back side of the face (most flattering for women). Experiment with slow shutter speeds like 1/25 of a second. For the outdoors, experiment with your flash either at night time, or during the day as a “fill light” to compensate if the shadows from the light are too harsh. If you don’t have a shoe-mount flash (one that can rotate around), experiment with diffusing the light from your flash with a piece of scotch tape, a kleenex, or a piece of copy paper.

I want everyone to have fun with this and I REALLY WANT everyone to bring in BOTH your best AND most disastrous picture (note the settings so you can share them)- remember we will all learn a ton from each other’s triumphs AND mistakes, it’s not a contest, it is just your own personal best & worst and your for Circle Time, everyone’s photos are always good enough to share in this group. Nobody bites, and if they do, they’ll be leashed ;-)!

Assignment #2: Summer Fun

This one is a bit easier since #1 will be more challenging, just bring in your favorite portraits that you’ve taken of your kiddos enjoying the summer so far (now that it has arrived finally!). There are bound to be some cute stories to share here!



I’m pasting LaRae’s notes directly here. She let me know this week that starting in the fall, she will be offering private lessons for those who are interested. Check her out at photosister.com and leave her a comment if you want to get in touch!

Flash Techniques- [Notes Courtesy of LaRae Lobdell]

Natural looking flash

Making flash not look like flash:

I try and make the use of flash not appear intrusive in photographs.  I use an on-camera flash and try to diffuse it or bounce it wherever possible. I avoid direct flash as much as I can, except outdoors where I try and use available light, and use flash only to lift the shadows and reduce the contrast. However, sometimes it is just best to overpower the ambient light with flash – but still try to make it look natural.

I strive to have no discernible flash shadow. It isn’t always possible, but that is what I try for in every photograph. To achieve this, I use a hint of flash by bouncing it so that I didn’t need to blast a ton of light from my strobe.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give regarding using bounce flash, is not to get stuck on the idea that you need a ceiling above you to bounce flash. Look around for other surfaces that can be used. Making the light source larger than just the area of the small flash tube makes the light softer. This is why we bounce flash.

Flash + ambient light

Using flash need not look unnatural or spoil the ambient light. Meter for the ambient light (make sure ambient exposure is correct) and use flash to lift the shadow areas and make it a better image than it would’ve been without flash.

Dragging the shutter

When balancing flash with the available light, the combination of settings is usually chosen so that the mood of the place and surrounds is retained – or at least have the available light add to the image.  In doing so we “drag the shutter”: using a slower shutter speed and allowing more of the ambient light to register.

Dragging the shutter is a very simple technique. Let’s pause and consider ambient exposure. We have three controls for our exposure – shutter speed, aperture and ISO. With flash, we have to consider both manual flash and TTL flash separately, since their behavior and how you control the exposure for each, are fundamentally different.

Balancing manual flash with ambient light:

Looking first at manual flash – we have 4 controls:

– aperture, ISO, distance, power. The distance would be the distance from your light source to the subject.  The closer you move your manual flash to your subject, the brighter the light would be. If we increase or decrease the power setting on our manual flash, this too would affect exposure.

Now there are two common controls – aperture and ISO.  This means that  shutter speed becomes the independent control for available light exposure.   So when we balance manual flash and ambient light, start by adjusting the shutter speed, since adjusting the aperture or ISO in an attempt to change the ambient exposure, will also affect the manual flash exposure.

You just need the entire picture area (frame / digital sensor) to be open to be lit by the burst of flash from your speed light.  In lowering our shutter speed, we reach a stage where the ambient light registers for our subject.  If our settings were such that our subject is under-exposed, we could effectively use flash to bring the exposure for our subject up to a correct level.

This technique of using a slower shutter speed to allow ambient light to register more and more, is usually called “dragging the shutter.”  With this, you’d use your camera’s light meter like you normally would … but instead of using it to expose perfectly for just the ambient light, now you use it as a guideline as to how much ambient light you would like to register.  Somewhere around 1.5 to 2 stops under-exposure will still give you enough detail in the background [note from mary: this would be the (-2) in the numbered scale that you see in your camera’s meter] – and then you use flash as your main light source, and use the light from your flash to expose correctly for your subject.

Balancing TTL flash with ambient light

TTL flash is a different beast altogether than manual flash.  With manual flash you had the 4 controls for flash exposure – aperture, ISO, distance and power.   With TTL flash however, none of those have an influence (within reason) on flash exposure.  Your camera & flash will follow our chosen aperture and is combination (and change in distance), and give you what it deems to be correct exposure, by adjusting the output (ie, power) from your flash gun.

This implies that we can now use aperture and ISO and shutter speed – all three controls – to control available light, without having an influence on our flash exposure.  (Of course, common sense needs to be applied here with your settings.  You can only squeeze so much light out of your flashgun.)

With manual flash, if you decided to change any of your settings (aperture / ISO /distance / power), you would’ve had to juggle something else to still keep correct exposure.  In other words, if you were at f5.6 and wanted f2.8 for shallower depth of field, you’d have to change one or more of the other settings accordingly maintain correct exposure for manual flash.  But if you changed your aperture, this would then affect ambient exposure too, and you’d have to adjust the shutter speed and / or ISO accordingly.

With TTL flash, if you decided to change your aperture to control your available light, then (in theory at least), your TTL flash exposure will remain the same  since your camera and flash would still give you (what it deems to be) correct exposure.  The same goes for ISO and distance.  These settings in effect become transparent to TTL flash exposure.

With manual flash, shutter speed was the only independent control for your available light, and you would “drag the shutter” to allow more available light in.  With TTL flash, you could change your ISO and aperture as well (and not just be bound by the single option of shutter speed as your control) to adjust the available light exposure.  You would have to adjust your flash exposure compensation then to adjust your TTL flash exposure.

So now with TTL flash, if you wanted the same effect – allowing more available light in – you need not resort to a slower shutter speed.  You could as easily change your aperture or ISO to allow ambient light to register. For example, you can allow the background to register by choosing a fast aperture and a high ISO instead of the traditional choice of lowering shutter speed.  This freedom comes from TTL flash exposure’s ability to follow my settings and adjust accordingly to give me correct exposure.

Specific settings:

The actual shutter speed chosen will depend on circumstance and the effect that you want,

– and the amount of ambient light that is available,

– and whether you have a tripod,

– or can shoot with a steady hand at slow shutter speeds,

– and the f-stop chosen,

– and whether you can bump up the ISO to allow more ambient light in,

– and how much subject movement there will be, or you will find acceptable.

[Note from Mary: this is an interesting article if you want to read even more on shutter speed. The most common speed to start out with a flash is 1/60 of a second, so if you’re just experimenting, start there and then experiment with slowing things down. This is also a fun flickr group discussion where there are some pictures of people experimenting with different settings on their flash. ]

Short (or Narrow) Lighting

In short lighting, a relatively small area of the face is illuminated by the key light. More of the face is in shadow. One of the benefits of using short lighting is that it makes the subject look thinner because less of the face is lit. As you learned in 45 degree lighting, the key light is the dominant light source in a portrait, providing the driving force for the look. So with the key light set up at 45 degrees to your subject, have her turn her face toward the light. Not too much, or the light will fall straight on to her face and the effect will be lost.

Broad Lighting

Broad lighting illuminates the larger portion of the face visible to the camera. The area of the face that is highlighted is now larger than the area in shadow. Because of this, the face looks slightly larger and fatter, especially when you’re doing low key portraits and the subject is really standing out against a dark background.

To accomplish broad lighting, simply do the opposite of short lighting. Have your subject turn her head away from the key light. This will expose more of the lit area of the face to the camera.


• Be careful about posing for broad lighting. If you turn the head too far away from the light, you’ll expose the ear to the camera, and it will be

highlighted against the (usually) darker background. This will make it stand out.

• For a more dramatic photo, eliminate the fill light and just use the key light.

• Use short lighting to help make your subject appear thinner.

• You’ll find that most people generally prefer short lighting for portraits.


One response to “Flash Wrap-up and August Assignment(s)!

  1. Pingback: August Meeting: Photographing Newborns with Carmen Chan! | Mamas With Cameras

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