Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lighting Outside with Flash

Off Camera Flash Outside
Today we will take a look at using off camera flash to supplement natural light. I know that someone will wonder, why would I want to do that? After all, isn't natural light the best light? In my opinion, the best light is the light that looks best. Sometimes a reflector will work wonders for an all natural light sitting, but things are not always such that one can make use of reflectors. This is especially true when shooting candids and even more so when there is nobody to assist.

Doing It Naturally
Here is a photo of a little sweetheart helping with the flower garden. The exposure was made entirely with natural light on a partially overcast day. I used an 85 mm lens at f/2.8 1/200 and ISO 100. Not a bad photo by any measure. It captures the moment and is well exposed, but our subject doesn't quite pop out the way I would like.

Naturally Lit with Flash
For this shot everything is the same, but I've added a bit of flash metered about the same as ambient, which combines to about a stop over ambient. Notice how she pops out of the frame and there appears to be more depth to the image. The effect of the flash is subtle enough that most people would never guess that a flash had been used. This is the goal when using flash to supplement natural light. I want the result to complement the subject and look natural. Compared to natural light only shot, I think this is a big improvement for hardly any work. I could be happy with the shot just as it is and be done with it, but it is fun to see if something more can be made from it, so I'll show you the post processing in the following sections.

The observant eye will note that the ambient is just a tiny bit darker. This was an adjustment made during raw processing.

For flash power I used a Vivitar 285 on auto meter with a remote sensor mounted to the camera's hot shoe. Metering was set for f/2, but it probably metered closer to f/2.8 due to the verdant surroundings. The flash was hand held to the left and slightly above her head, trying to avoid on-axis lighting. I would like to have had the flash farther to the left, but there is a limit to my reach and I was on the front porch with the house limiting where the flash could go even if I did have it on a stand.

A Smidgeon of Spot Editing
Here I have added a very slight contrast boost to her face using a custom tone curve. Her surroundings are exactly how I want them, but the lighting on her face was a tiny bit flat, so using Bibble 5 I feathered in a contrast boost on her face. This is something I used to do in Photoshop, but with Bibble 5 having spot editing capability, Photoshop doesn't get used as much these days.

One Final Spot Edit
Her white shirt reflected a bit more flash than I intended, so I used Bibble's highlight recovery tool to cut back on the white and bring out the detail. This was applied as a spot edit, so only the shirt is affected. Again, this is something I used to do in Photoshop, but with Bibble 5 having spot editing capability,

To be honest, I really should have cut the exposure back, but wanted to use f/2.8 for a softer background and my shutter was at the max sync speed of 1/200. This is where a flash with HSS (High Speed Sync) would really come in handy. A neutral density filter would do the job of cutting back the exposure without affecting aperture or shutter speed, but I didn't have time to pop one on, when opportunity knocks...

The Non-Flash Approach
Another approach would be to simply retouch the natural light shot to get a similar effect. I edited the natural light shot in Bibble, adding contrast and exposure boost to the face. I also added contrast and exposure boost to the hair, shirt, and hands, but less. As you can see, the result is similar and is also quite good, though not quite the same. Digital retouching really is a wonderful tool, but that's a post for another day.

My preference is for the flash lit version, as I like that spill from the flash added a slight boost to the nearby flowers and slight fill light to the plants in the background (camera left) giving a more layered look to the lighting. This could of course be done with retouching, but I think the flash does the job nicely and with less work. This would be even more true if I had an assistant aiming the flash more precisely than I could do free hand while working the camera. For a formal portrait session, the flash would be mounted on a stand and probably fitted with an umbrella sitting just out of frame.

Coming Next
That's it for this post, hope you found something useful here today. I have one more from this session that shows a different approach to using flash outdoors. It deals with pushing the sync speed for unusual results, and I think you will find it interesting.

Until then...


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