Off camera flash is one of those techniques that is difficult to practice on a commissioned shoot. It is, however, a very useful tool to have in your box of tricks for those situations that might need a bit of drama to lift them out of the ordinary.
Rupa and I were determined to have a go at this, and armed with several Canon 580 EX11 Speedlights, and a number of Pocket Wizard radio transmitters and receivers, we arranged a portrait session. Rupa had photographed Parveen and Gurpreet’s wedding a few months ago, and they agreed to be our models for this practice session, encouraged with only the promise of receiving a set of images, no matter how badly they turned out!
Rupa’s studio is in the very east of London – go any further east and you’d get wet. Trinity Buoy Wharf is a wonderful collection of Victorian workspaces and container studios. It was the perfect gritty urban environment for our off camera flash session. We started late in the afternoon, as we wanted to use flash light against the setting sun. Here is our first set up, taken on my iPhone:
Damian Evans from Aldeburgh Films is covering the shoot on video for us, and I hope to be able to post the film here too.
This first set up is using one Canon 580EX11 Speedlight on a stand with a Pocket Wizard transceiver attached to trigger it, fired by the signal from the transmitter on the camera hot shoe. The flash light is aimed directly at the couple, with the power dialled down to one eighth power. These flash units will throw out a huge quantity of light, so when used close to the subject like this, and aimed directly at them, the power needs reducing considerably.
The camera settings are ISO 400, lens 35mm, f16 and 200th second.
Rupa and I both like shooting into the narrow side of the face, in other words, the side that has the least light on it. As Rupa shot images, I was looking over shoulder and trying to see the angle she was shooting from, and as she directed the couple, I’d move the light to keep Parveen’s face towards the light. We didn’t always achieve this, as we were shooting quickly, and as Rupa started using the sun to glance into the lens, I left the flash where it was and Rupa got the broad side of her face. Which still looks pretty good!
Last image in this set was shot on the 70mm lens, all other settings stayed the same.
The next set was shot using a backdrop of the Victorian workshops.We decided to use two flash units here, with varied success. You can see the two flash heads on stands in the iPhone images below, one as the main light on the couple, and one to the right aimed at the doors behind.
The camera settings are ISO 400, lens varied, f16 and 200th second. The ambient light was almost gone by now, so there’s very little light around other than the flash light. The colour of Parveen’s jacket really makes the shot. Again I was moving the main light around to try and keep the shadow side of her face nearest to the camera.
Settings for the shot above are ISO 400, lens at 24mm, f16 and 160th second.
Our next venue was back onto the river front to see if we could get some of the city light into the background. Using one light again, and changing the setting on the camera to accommodate the low light.
ISO 1000, lens 50mm, f4 and 50th second. Focussing in the dark getting tricky here!
Finally, we moved across to the amazing red lightship that is now moored at Trinity Wharf permanently, to try another two flash light set up. The idea was to use the second flash unit to light the side of the ship, while keeping the one main light on the couple. I have to say we struggled to get the second flash to fire, which was a shame, as when it did periodically work, it looked great.
On our way back to Rupa’s studio to warm up with large cups of steaming tea, we couldn’t resist trying a quick shot with the old lighthouse illuminated in the background. Again shot with one light, and finally into the narrow side of Parveen’s face!
A great session – a lot learned. The radio triggers are definitely something we need more practice with, they don’t always speak to each other! The practicalities of shooting and using off camera flash definitely needs two people, one shooting and one lighting. Of course it is possible to set it all up as a single photographer, but a lot easier and quicker with two. There is loads of online info about off camera flash, but there is nothing like having a go yourself. We’ll persevere with the technique, and report back with our experiences here.