Saturday, March 29, 2014

91 - Workin' It

My favorite models glamming it up for the camera.

I've had this shot in mind for while. One easy formula to take pretty portraits: Find a pretty landscape, then put people in it. We have several nice little parks in our neighborhood that are great photo settings if the lighting is right. As we were heading home from dinner, it was still over an hour away from sunset but  I noticed that the clouds seemed well-formed for a nice one. So when we got home, I asked the boys to keep their shoes on (they didn't, of course), I slapped together a simple one-light rig that my wife could hand-hold, and I waited until about 10 minutes before I thought the sunset would be at its prime.  Then we went to a nearby park. You have to work fast in a sunset because you have maybe 10 or 15 minutes when the light will be at it's best.

You can really craft the final look of an image when working with mixed ambient and flash lighting. That's because you have independent control over how much the background (ambient sunset light) and foreground (flash) is lit. A camera flash is a very short, but intense burst of light. It's so short that it will fully drench the subject in its light regardless of the shutter speed, up to the "sync speed" of the camera which is typically 1/200 or 1/250 of second on a modern camera.  The shutter speed will therefore control how much ambient light is in the photo, but won't affect the flash at all. Conversely, the flash will have controls to adjust its intensity and therefore the amount of flash light hitting the foreground subjects. Meanwhile the aperture and the ISO speed will affect how much of both kinds of light are in the image.  Between all of these controls you can dial in a custom mix of background and foreground lighting. I went with a somewhat underexposed sunset because that causes the sunset colors to be more rich and saturated.

Now, this works fine with an on-camera or pop-up flash, but it doesn't look nearly as good as it can. Having the flash so close to the lens basically gives you light that is shadowless from the lens' point of view (objects block their own shadows from the lens' view). That is not very flattering light. You get that camera-at-a-party snapshot look, plus it practically guarantees red-eye on anyone looking at the camera. The first way to improve the look is to take the flash off the camera and simply aim it at the subject from somewhere else (which means that you have to have a way to trigger the flash remotely). Moving the flash away from the camera will cast shadows, providing depth and contour to people's faces and other objects. It makes a world of difference. Second thing is to put the light through some kind of diffuser to soften the shadows so there's a smoother gradient between those highlights and shadows you've introduced. In my case, the flash is to the left of the camera. I ran it through a softbox so if you look at, say, the light on the left boy, you'll see a smooth gradient between highlight and shadow on his left cheek and arm, instead of a hard shadow line.  It gives a softer look that is more flattering, especially to people, unless you're deliberately going for a harsh look (like, say, for a sports photo).

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