Sunday, April 29, 2012

Multiple Flash Indoors

You have to love wide angle lenses. The "stretch face" curse has become so commonplace that viewers look at these images without giving it a second thought. Unfortunately, the challenge of incorporating key visual elements within the confines of a photograph often forces me to choose the widest lens I have and live with the curse.

Flash indoors should have become obsolete with the advent of high ISOs on our digital cameras. But available light isn't always the most flattering. Indoors, light almost always comes from above, making for deep-set eye shadows and extremes brightness variations between the shadows and highlights. Sure, you could expose for the shadows and have completely blown highlights, or expose for the highlights and let all shadow detail disappear. But in the end, a photo that compromises one for the other will never reproduce well when it is finally printed.

Now there are many who might say that adding artificial lighting while making a photograph is "altering" the environment in an unethical manner. I agree that it does alter the look, but not necessary the content. I consider lighting as a tool to reveal, not conceal.

Supplementing exiting light gives me a chance to present to the viewer a scene that more closely resembles how the mind recorded it. The human eye, coupled with the human brain, is capable of compensating for the extreme variations between the highlights and the shadows. All the additional lighting does is make the image closer to what we remember, giving back the detail that was lost to the shadows. I consider this as "moral" as the flash bulb fired by a Speed Graphic, or the Vivitar 283 attached to a Nikon F. Now the bother of setting up additional lights? That's another story.

The event was "Fashion For  Compassion", and fundraiser for the Peninsula Humane Society. The animal fashion show was a bit if kitch, but always challenging and fun. As in all fund raisers, the tables closest to the stage are a bit more expensive, and to insure the highest returns on this prime real estate, packed closely together. This limits one's choice of shooting positions, so looked for a spot as close to the stage as possible to gain maximum control of the photo. When shooting up close at a low angle (don't block the view of the paying guests!), you get a lot of ceiling to contend with. The beautiful chandelier identifies this as the Airport Hilton, a detail that improves the local angle.

Now for the key light. I mounted an SB-800 on a light stand after I gelled it with a full CTO to match the incandescent lighting in the room. I placed the light stand right next to the mounted speakers to protect it from being bumped. I extended the stand as high as I could so the light would travel over the heads of the guests nearest the stage. This can be checked by simply standing or kneeling on the stage and looking for the light. If you can't see the light from the stage, you'll know that your subject won't be lit in that particular location.

Here's the view from the stage. You can see the flash in the background, next to the speaker box. At first, the balloons were actually casting shadows on the stage. Luckily for me, the balloons would be popped as part of a raffle.

The next test shot showed that my key light was casting a shadow on the ceiling. I added a Rogue Grid to the flash, and with the light now concentrated away from the ceiling, the shadow disappeared. That being done, I adjusted the exposure by photographing my hand while standing on the "mark", or point of focus. I programmed the key light to 1/4 power manual, based on this test. Finally, the fill light. I simply dialed the on-camera commander to a minus 2 stop output, gelled it with a full CTO, and I was ready. Here again is the selected shot.

This was my favorite from all of the runway shots. Making the photo was a bit difficult since the dogs really don't care about photographers and usually don't stand on their marks for very  long. Close inspection will show that I was a bit off focus, as the nearest dog is a wee bit soft. But sometimes a photo opportunity is a gift, one that you take as it is presented and simply say thank you, even if it's not what you really hoped for. 

The fill light is a bit strong on the near dog, something that is going to happen, no matter what. But the highlights are quite salvageable, and a few quick passes with the Burn Tool will fix this right up. The significant advantage to the off camera key light is in the shadows. Notice how they extend from camera left to right, just discernible on the runway carpet. The fill light does cast its own shadow, but you would have to really look for it. The chandelier on the ceiling maintains a textured appearance, and there is enough light to clearly see the audience. Yes, it's a flash photo, but the ambient light is certainly given its due.

Since it was a secure location, I frequently left the main presentation area and went looking for photos. I was now free to use ceiling and wall bounce by simply changing the output of the on-camera commander to plus 2/3 of a stop, my normal output for bounce flash. I do this because I prefer a slightly overexposed image when bouncing since it is "safe" light and doesn't block up the highlights as direct flash often does. 

I wanted to use bounced flash for the shot, so I positioned myself with my back toward a light colored wall, and asked these dog lovers turn so that they faced me. By using an ISO of 1600 and a relatively slow shutter speed, I was able to keep detail in the background. It was all a matter of waiting for Joey, a black chihuahua mix, to give a "look", which he eventually did.

Ceiling bounce was used in these two photos. The young woman on the left was speaking to somebody just outside of camera range. Just then Charlie looked up and I made this shot.

Poor Cupcake is feeling a little hot and tired. I found out the she was born deaf, and was trained to respond to hand signals. She had an incredibly sweet disposition, and the few minutes I spent with her reminded me how much I missed having a dog in my life.