I thought about taking some bad shots to illustrate why on camera flash sucks, but lets be honest you have all seen this, flat light on the face, no shadows, redyes. Even witht the technology of modern flash’s they will expose the image correctly but it does not mean the image will be aesthetically pleasing. When the light is close to the axis of the camera itself you will always get a better shot. This is an exercise I will leave up to you and you can even do it with the pop up flash if you camera has one. Pop it up and shoot somebody straight on to the camera (Auto is fine). Even if it is exposed propely, the image it self will be a bit blah, no shadows to highlight features. Now get some white card or paper, put it in front of the pop up at 45 degrees so that the light is reflected up to the ceiling instead of straight up at the person. Shoot it again. Now compared to the last image which looks better? Which looks more natural. Where was the light coming from? Was it on the axis or from the ceiling?
Just to reiterate, this is about the mechanics, not the theory, yet. This will get you shooting faster, I believe that if you can start to see results your learning will improve faster. The out come of these articles will give you a taste and let you get out and experience it for yourself. I have read a few guides that go through all the theory first trying to explain it and then you shoot. You will have the penny dropping moment, but you need to have some practical experience first.
Now before we go one make sure that you know how to or have done the following, switch it to manual, can adjust the shutter, aperture and iso. AND that you have turned off auto iso. This is continually the source of bother for students at my workshops.
For the lens I have chosen, it is the nikon 50mm f1.8D. This is the cheapest lens nikon make and is the same for most manufacturers. If you do not own this lens go out right now and buy it. Its ok, I’ll wait… (yeah I know, we did that joke already…)
This is lens that will help unlock the creativity in your photography. Especially if you have been using the kit lens, not there is anything wrong with that lens but it will open up (
A flash. The key here is to have a flash that can be adjusted manually. There are units coming out of china for less the $40 these days. Whilst not perfect they are a start. I would recommend using one that has at least 1/2 stop increments or 1/3. I will be shooting with a Nikon SB-600 for this but I have some Yongnuo’s in my bag that where cheap.
A light stand
You can get away with a cheap stand HOWEVER, make sure you weigh them down, especially outside. I have had 2 high power strobes break on me from falling, once i upgraded to good stands it was much better. A basic stand will be fine for indoor use and the purpose of this article.
DON’T waste you time on a funky little ball head. Get a B bracket. They can cost as little as $8. buy 2 even. You will lose one.
A reflective umbrella
If you only ever had one modifier this would be it. You can pick them up for next to nothing however you will get what you pay for. If you just experimenting then the cheaps ones are ok, but expect to replace them every few months. Purchasing a convertible umbrella may be a good idea and is where i started.
A set of triggers, some systems, such as nikon and canon will allow their speedlites to talk to their cameras via the pop-up flash. Otherwise you can pickup a basic set from ebay for about $30. (Max sync speed) Pocket Wizards are the industry standards but are expensive. You basicilly need to have a way to remote trigger and move around. For the sake of the price these days don’t even bother with a cable. You will just break something.
RF-602 or the 603
How to assemble it.
First get your flash and constult the manual on how to set it to manual power. Set it for 1/4 power and give it a test flash.
Next get your flash and your triggers, put them together as per manufacturers instructions. Power up all units and test to make sure your getting a flash.
Move along to your flash stand, set it up and open you umbrella. Place your B bracket on the stand and insert your umbrella into the hole about 1/4 the length of the shaft. Finally place your flash on the bracket securing method. Now the key here is to make sure that the flash head is pointing int the center of the umbrella. If if is not, check you have the bracket and umbrella on the right way (some are angeled) or you may have the flash on back to front.
Finally the last thing you need is a white wall. It does not have to be dead white, just white-ish and even. Preferably with several meetings of space in front of it for you and your model.
Next week 102 “Light it up”
Note: Yes for those that want to be picky. I have not discussed the inverse square law. I will discuss at length soon but those those keen, light falls of from the main source at a given rate, it also spreads at the same rate. Believe me it does.