Off-Camera Flash in Daylight  

Whatcha Got?

Perfect lighting

A little to the left

Teamwork

The right light

Ya gotta get wet

Who cares about the water

Lets see

Flash the Cadillac

 

This past weekend I lead another workshop for photographers about using off-camera flash when photographing portraits outside in bright light. As with past lighting workshops my goal was to help participants understand how to use flash in different environments during daylight, and gain techniques that I hoped would help them transform the harsh daylight of outdoor portraits into beautiful light.

I was fortunate to have a great rural location where participants began in the morning photographing our model using a speedlight and a diffusion panel in a bright meadow, then moved to a large, well lit, open barn with two-flash lighting using a shoot-through umbrella and softbox until lunchtime.

After a healthy lunch provided by Versatile Studio we set up by a small tree covered stream, getting both our feet and our model’s feet wet. We finally finished the day photographing the model posing beside an old 1970s Cadillac in a nearby field.

I enjoy guiding serious photographers through their first attempts to use flash as a tool to create better photos, I want them to think of the flash being more than an uncontrollable device perched on top of the camera when it’s too dark in a room to take the photo.

I have been offering off-camera flash courses since the early 1980’s, and still believe they are an important segment of a portrait photographer’s education.

So much has changed in photography, and yet here I am 35 years later, still helping photographers learn how to use off-camera flash. Modern cameras are amazing with sensors that are so much better at capturing light than film was. But just as 30 years ago, serious photographers realize how much more flattering off-camera flash is on someone’s face than just harsh daylight.

Off-camera flash gives a photographer the ability to choose the best direction of light.

There are times when I am forced to photograph a person without using a flash. I think “forced” is the best word, because I will always use flash if I can, and as those that have taken my advice have learned, in most instances using flash for portrait photography indoors or outdoors is better than not using a flash.

Those attending last weekend’s workshop began to get comfortable using flash.

David Hobby, lighting guru and founder of the blog, http://strobist.blogspot.ca, wrote,

“Learning how to light is incremental, creative and fun. There is almost no math involved, nor any difficult technical know-how. In fact, good lighting is less like math and more like cooking. It’s like, you taste the soup and if it needs more salt you add some salt. You’ll see that when we learn to balance a flash with the existing, ambient light.”

“Controlling harsh natural light – one of the most important things to know as a shooter is how to use bad light well. Taking hard, nasty daylight and turning it into beautiful light is actually pretty easy.”

One more outdoor lighting workshop.

A. An outdoor studio  B. Workshop participants  C. Adding light  D. Outdoor shooting  E. Softbox by the buggy  F. Thumbs up  G. Outdoor with softbox  H. Ladder and reflector  I. Got it.  J. Portraits in the barn  K. Gold reflector  L. Umbrella in the barn

I’ll begin with a quote from an interview with American photographer, and author of the Strobist.com lighting blog, David Hobby. “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist…”. What “I hear is, “I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead.”…. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it…”

 I wish I had read that interview with Mr. Hobby before I began my series of workshops on off-camera flash. I would have started every class with his quote. With that, I thought I would let readers know about the last day of what became an enjoyable and successful day for everyone, the photographers, our model Danya, and me.

Unlike the last session’s stormy overcast weather, the day this time was warm, sunny, and we didn’t have to contend with a cold, constant breeze. However, I couldn’t have asked for two better learning environments. An overcast day demands different lighting techniques than those that accompany a bright, cloudless day, and all I had to do was present the participants with opportunities specific to each so they could begin experimenting, and learning how to effectively use off-camera flash.

In the first session I introduced the ten participating photographers to basic outdoor portrait photography, and off-camera flash techniques that would help them transform their outdoor portraits into something special.

This time I continued by putting together different lighting setups. In the meadow, I erected a backdrop, and placed a 4×6 foot light diffusion panel with a wireless flash to one side. The second set up was a lean-to that used a 4×6 light diffusion panel. For the third set up, I placed in the barn a softbox and a bare flash on stands. I also left extra wireless flashes on stands and a few reflectors outside the studio, ready for photographers to use when they wanted to select their own location.

My goal was to give participants plenty of options as they put into practice what they had learned about adding flash to natural light.

We positioned the 10×12 foot backdrop, made out of an old painter’s drop cloth, so it blocked the sun and swathed our model in diffused light, and then fired a flash through a diffusion panel placed on the left.

The lean-to was constructed with a diffusion panel on one side. It softened the sunlight, giving a subject a diffused glow that could easily be manipulated with a reflector or flash.

The softbox was perfect for the open shade in the barn. The large metal-sided barn gave lots of room and an interesting patterned backdrop. In that location the softbox, a flash and umbrella, and a reflector were used.

I always use a flash when I am photographing people, inside or out. I can’t control the lights in a large room, or the sun shining on my subject from 93 million miles away. Participants discovered how to control the light they added from small off-camera flashes in the natural ambient light, and by the end of the workshop were using flash effectively, and learning about creating and controlling shadows rather than just filling them.

We live in a time when cameras can almost see in the dark, and the art of adding light to a scene is under-appreciated. Those photographers ready and willing to turn down that ISO dial and learn about off-camera flash are beginning a journey of discovery that will remind them that photography is all about light. And I expect they might finally ask themselves, why not try to have the most perfect light possible…and instead of waiting for that perfect light, learn to control that light by adding flash to make the best of the situation.

I really appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com