For my birthday this year I bought myself some more camera equipment. Specifically a Canon 600 EX-RT Speedlite, the Canon ST-E3-RT radio transmitter that goes with it, and some various accoutrements.1 This begins my descent into the special hell that is known as flash photography.
I have been an ardent supporter of the “never use your on-camera flash” school of thought. The only time you should do that is if you want a flat, blown-out snap of your friends at a bar. Otherwise, using your on-camera flash is the best way to ruin a good photo.
The important phrase in there is “on-camera”. Using an off-camera flash opens up new realms of photography and also requires me to do something that I’ve resisted for a long time: study.
I’m an amateur photographer; I make no bones about that. While I occasionally serve up what could be considered a good photo, I do that through quantity rather than quality. Thank god for digital photography. However, this flash thing I just bought was purchased so I could do studio-esque photography. This means that no matter how many shots I take, if the lighting sucks, it sucks and that’s it.
I have a lot to learn.
For example: Bad Lighting #12
First off, there’s Griffin’s pose with his “back, foul beast!” warding gesture, but with a timer, it’s hard to fix that.3 Then there is that horrible shadow on the backdrop. The fill lighting on the left side of our faces is not filled enough, and of course there’s me stealing the key light from Jenn.
Then there’s this one. I picked this as the front page image of the blog post I made yesterday, but honestly it’s one of the worse ones that I displayed. It made the cut because it’s the only one where Griffin’s face could be seen and he wasn’t warding off his demon parents. There’s the sharp shadow of Griffin’s head on Jenn. There’s again the lack of a good fill light in the shadows on my face. There’s the little key-light spot that showing up on my right cheek. For some reason there weren’t any good defining shadows on Jenn’s face which makes it look flat compared to mine and Griffin’s. Etc.
I could go on, but I won’t. This isn’t a tutorial.
There are a number of great websites out there that give you tips and hints (here’s one). A Google search is all you need to get started. Or, I should say, all I need to get started. I will probably follow the old “see a good picture, then try to duplicate it” style of photography until I understand what I’m doing with the flash. I still haven’t gotten all the way through the manual yet.
You can see some of the other setup or experimental shots I took recently in my flickr set related to flash. If nothing else, this will show how I’m improving (or not!) over time.
Oh. One other thing. If you’re paying attention, you’ll note that I bought just one Canon 600 EX-RT flash. I would love to have two (or three or four) but the budget isn’t set up for that. Instead, I’m using two 150 watt clamp lights along with Alzo 27 Watt daylight-balanced light bulbs. In order to get enough fill light, without adding significantly to the exposure time, I may need to add another couple more. The nice thing about the clamp lights is that they’re easy to move around. The bad thing is that you have to jury-rig a stand for them, and the clamps don’t hold position very well. Despite the image at the link, I ended up up clamping them to the edges of an empty cardboard box and shifting that around.
- Rechargeable batteries, rechargeable battery recharger, light stand, light stand flash/umbrella/gimbal hanger-on-thingy. [↩]
- Note that I’m going to be concentrating on what’s wrong with these pictures, not what’s right. My wife and son are, of course, beautiful and wonderful. These photos will be part of an important life collection. They are, however, also part of an important photographic lighting lesson. [↩]
- Don’t bug me about the condition of the backdrop. Sometimes you have to make do, and this is cheap and ironing was too much for my back yesterday. [↩]